30 November 2011

Enrique Vila-Matas, literary executor of Enrique Vila-Matas

Pedro M. Domene: If I may, I’d like to begin this interview by asking how much in your texts is fiction, and how much is autobiography?

Enrique Vila-Matas: The broad passageway that joins fiction and reality is cool and well-ventilated, and the air within blows about with the same natural ease with which I mix biography and invention.


PMD: In [Dublinesca], you persist in rendering homage to your favorite writers with extraordinary tributes, as you have done for years. In this case, it’s Bloomsday, Joyce, and the Irish saga.

EVM: The atmosphere in this book is that of the Irish novels. The more rainy passages of Dublinesca touch upon it. «Old age, disease, the gray climate, a silence of centuries. Boredom, rain, sheer curtains closed up to the outside world. Familiar ghosts from Aribau Street. We needn’t seek out palliative remedies to ease the pain of our parents’ drama, or of our own. Aging is disastrous.» This gray atmosphere and this boredom are there in Dublin, and in the Irish novels.

PMD: Does Dublinesca assume a celebration of the intellect with its abundant references to books and authors, as well as the constant shadow of Ulysses?

EVM: A celebration of the intellect? It’s clearly not my place to say so.


PMD: ... [W]ho will foresee the end of literature first, a publisher or a writer?

EVM: I am sure that one day there will come a writer who will be the last. There will be a last writer; there has to be. I see him without any publisher, and I couldn’t really say why. The last publisher will come before the last writer. The writer will be alone in the world, ultimately and without a doubt, alone. And he’ll think these kinds of things, for example: «The creative work belongs to the author.»


PMD: What have you inherited from the old Vila- Matas, I mean the author previous to Exploradores del abismo (2007)?

EVM: I am his executor. I manage his work. I maintain the friendships that he had. I’ve advised him upon relocating to another neighborhood and a new house. I’ve also given him advice on changing his character, and now he’s more pleasant. I manage his life sensibly

- from an interview with Enrique Vila-Matas where he talked about his novel Dublinesca (Dublinesque, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey, 2012).

Enrique Vila-Matas has written several books in Spanish; three are currently available in translation: Bartleby & Co., Montano’s Malady (also published as Montano), and Never Any End to Paris. At least five of his books were admired by Roberto Bolaño – La asesina ilustrada, Una casa para siempre, Bartleby & Co., Para acabar con los números redondos, and Suicidios ejemplares.

Related links:

Literary brotherhood (related posts)
Official website (English page)
"East End" (fiction)
"Adhesive Tales" (in Spanish)
"Doctor Vila-Matas" by Ednodio Quintero

César Aira on Argentine literature

On his books:

I must say that all my books are experiments. They are thought as such, but they are not done with methodical seriousness of a scientist. They are, rather, done with the non-methodical seriousness of a crazy wise person or a boy who plays with a chemistry set and mixes two substances to see what happens.

On postmodernism:

My motto continues to be the famous verse of Baudelaire: “To go ahead and always in search of the new.” That attitude is not postmodernist. I believe that postmodernism undoes that, erecting a species of supermarket where they organize the culture of the past in one aisle, the one of now on that other aisle, and the one to come in yet another compartment. With them it is a matter of formulating combinations at random. That is not me.

On Borges:

I was too young and even so I felt all the greatness, the elegance, the exquisite quality of his texts, almost like a poison because later on all others seemed not to be of the same caliber. All writers in Argentina have had to find themselves against Borges.

I saw that the only option was an anti-borgean path, in which I went to Rimbaud: life, life that enters and is one with literature. Borges is another thing: he is cold; he is an Everest of intelligence and lucidity uncontaminated with reality. But I have made peace with Borges.

On Juan Jose Saer and Ricardo Piglia:

In the first place, Saer and Piglia are ten years older than I, from another generation, another atmosphere, another world. In fact, I read them as a youngster. Piglia is a serious writer, an intellectual. I appreciated Saer very much; he is almost a classic modern Argentinean, he is also a serious writer, but I have looked for other models. Saer no longer attracts me; with time I have been moved away from that serious, responsible position towards society.

On Manuel Puig, Alejandra Pizarnik and Osvaldo Lamborghini:

I found them brilliant models, for different reasons, of life, of attitude. Sometimes one takes a model and later does all of the opposite, but the model continues acting on us. 

On 19th century Argentine Literature:

The best thing is the gauchesca, our great invention, and within it the “Martín Fierro,” a book we no longer think of as such because it has been turned into an Argentinean fetish. Without a doubt, it has great literary merits. In the twentiehth century, all good Argentine writers looked for that point of connection.

On Borges-Bioy Casares-Silvina Ocampo:

We went downhill from there, or to paraphrase Oliverio Girondo, you can say the best Cortázar is a bad Borges. It is hard but an unavoidable truth.

On Roberto Arlt:

Paradigms are repeated every time, the right and the left exist everywhere, but also there are intermediate lines, like Roberto Arlt. He for me is a great one. Good, it would be necessary to say one of the best, the other being Borges. So different and similar. My work comes from that intellectual, borgean line, but with vigorous arltian affluences. 

On Alejandra Pizarnik:

I wrote a couple of books on Alejandra Pizarnik, one is a study on her poetry, done with the intention to redress an imabalance, because with Alejandra that myth of distress has been created, of the sleepwalker, the small shipwreck, etc., so all her criticism fell in that metaphorical field, of her as a celebrity and it does not do her justice.

On Ernesto Sabato:

And yet it surprises me a little that somebody like him can be taken so seriously. He has very laughable edges, that vanity, the “malditismo,” that tragic figure that does not match with his personality.

On Julio Cortázar:

There are some stories that are good, but as I said, his best is a bad Borges, or a mediocre Borges. Uglier in Cortázar is the prologue for the edition of the Ayacucho Library stories of Felisberto Hernandez, of a paternalistic tone, where he practically comes close to say that the greater merit of the Uruguayan writer was to seek him, when in truth Felisberto is a brilliant writer to whom Cortázar could not aspire at least to shine his shoes.

More topics in "César Aira: Against Everybody" at Latino Weekly Review (October 2004).

28 November 2011

Limpidity and deformity

One quality that’s distinctive among writers of an experimental bent is his limpidity: his prose rarely draws attention to itself; most of the time, the reader is fully occupied imagining what is being recounted and described. Aira has said that the “correctness” of his prose, which he has sometimes rebelled against (as in “How I Became a Nun”), may have been a side effect of his work as a translator. But as anyone who has read him knows, the “correctness” is only syntactic: his sentences are well formed, as the linguists say, but his stories and his books are, well … deformed, swerving wildly, jumping from one kind of fiction to another, as in “The Musical Brain”.

- Chris Andrews talks about his translation of "The Musical Brain" (subscription only) by César Aira, at The New Yorker blog. Read more from the interview here.

26 November 2011

If you could save only five books ...

EPG: If you could save only five books from a fire that would consume all other books in the world, which ones would you pick?

JC: That’s the kind of question you cannot answer while the tape recorder is on.

EPG: Should we turn it off?

JC: No, because then the answer will be too pat, too well thought out. You say books, I don’t know; I think, for example, that one of the five works that I would like to save is a poem, a poem by Keats. Do you understand?

EPG: Yes.

JC: One of them.

EPG: Which one?

JC: Any one of the ones I love, the great odes: "Ode on a Grecian Urn" or "Ode to a Nightingale" or "To Autumn," the great moments of Keats’s maturity. And while we’re talking about poetry, I’d like to save the Duino Elegies by Rilke. But five is an absurd number.

EPG: I know it’s an absurd number and it’s very difficult, but I’d like to know now, right now.

JC: OK. There’s a book of prose that I’d save, Ulysses. I think Ulysses is somehow the sum of universal literature. That would be one of the five books. I really should have punished you for this kind of question. Do you know how Oscar Wilde answered? They were more generous with him. They asked which ten books he would save. And Oscar Wilde answered, "Look, up till now I have only written six."

EPG: You’re very humble to have not included any of your books.

JC: I don’t have to, I always carry them within me.

EPG: And what about Marx?

JC: I was thinking of literature. Of course, when you said books, I should have thought, from the historic point of view, of course, Marx and Plato’s dialogues.

- from an interview with Julio Cortázar, from the online archives of Dalkey Archive Press (which contain interviews with Carlos Fuentes, Fernando del Paso, Juan Goytisolo, Milan Kundera, David Foster Wallace, etc.)

22 November 2011

Readings of Borges, Marías, and Bolaño

Regarding what happened in Symphony Space, there's a podcast with download link here or here.

The program is part of "PRI: Selected Shorts Podcast". Here's how it goes:

0:26 Introduction to Roberto Bolaño

2:08 Introduction to the first story

2:36 “The Shape of the Sword” by Jorge Luis Borges (trans. David A. Yates), read by Charles Keating

21:27 Introduction to the second story

22:15 "On the Honeymoon" by Javier Marías (trans. Margaret Jull Costa), read by Ivan Hernandez

34:15 Introduction to the last story

35:29William Burns" by Roberto Bolaño (trans. Chris Andrews), read by Michael Stuhlbarg

Attack of the zombies

"The Colonel's Son", a story of Roberto Bolaño (not online), appears in the Horror Issue of Granta. I'm presuming this is from the upcoming The Secret of Evil.

The story is about "a B-grade horror flick ... on late night TV." What is online is an animation inspired by this piece.

Nothingbutamovie.com is an HTML5-based animation inspired by Bolaño’s story. It was created by Owen Freeman and web designers at Jocabola.

21 November 2011

Indelible memory

Then there was poor Aunt Giselle, my mother's youngest sister, who came with us on the second-to-last summer we spent at the Del Mar. More than anything else, Aunt Giselle loved bull-fighting, and she couldn't get enough of the fights. Indelible memory: my brother driving my father's car with complete impunity and me sitting next to him, smoking, without a word from anyone, and Aunt Giselle in the backseat staring in ecstasy at the foam-splashed cliffs and the deep green of the sea beneath us with a smile of satisfaction on her pale lips and three posters, three treasures, on her lap, proof that she, my brother, and I had rubbed shoulders with the bullfighting greats at the Plaza de Toros in Barcelona. I know my parents disapproved of many of the activities that Aunt Giselle pursued with such passion, just as they weren't pleased by the freedoms she permitted us, excessive for children, as they saw it, although by then I was nearly fourteen. At the same time, I've always suspected that it was we who looked after Aunt Giselle, a task my mother assigned us without anyone realizing, surreptitiously and with great trepidation. In any case, Aunt Giselle was with us for only one summer, the summer before the last we spent at the Del Mar.

– Roberto Bolaño, from The Third Reich, trans. Natasha Wimmer (full excerpt in NPR)

20 November 2011

"How not to remember the layout of that house."

How not to remember the layout of that house. The dinning room, a living room with tapestries, the library, and three large bedrooms in the section most recessed, the one that faced toward Rodriguez Pena. Only a corridor with its massive oak door separated that part from the front wing, where there was a bath, the kitchen, our bedrooms and the hall. One entered the house through a vestibule with enameled tiles, and a wrought-iron gated door opened onto the living room. You had to come in through the vestibule and open the gate to go into the living room; the doors to our bedrooms were on either side of this, and opposite was the corridor leading to the back section; going down the passage, one swung open the oak door beyond which was the other part of the house; or just be­fore the door, one could turn to the left and go down a narrower passageway which led to the kitchen and the bath. When the door was open, you became aware of the size of the house; when it was closed, you had the impression of an apartment, like the ones they build today, with barely enough room to move around in. Irene and I always lived in this part of the house and hardly ever went beyond the oak door except to do the cleaning. Incredible how much dust collected on the furniture. It may be Buenos Aires is a clean city, but she owes it to her population and nothing else. There's too much dust in the air, the slightest breeze and it's back on the marble console tops and in the diamond patterns of the tooled-leather desk set. It's a lot of work to get it off with a feather duster; the motes rise and hang in the air, and settle again a minute later on the pianos and the furniture.

– Julio Cortázar, from "House Taken Over", trans. Paul Blackburn

18 November 2011

"There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls."

There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl.

I got to them by chance one spring morning when Paris was spreading its peacock tail after a wintry Lent. I was heading down the boulevard Port Royal, then I took Saint-Marcel and L’Hôpital and saw green among all that grey and remembered the lions. I was friend of the lions and panthers, but had never gone into the dark, humid building that was the aquarium. I left my bike against the gratings and went to look at the tulips. The lions were sad and ugly and my panther was asleep. I decided on the aquarium, looked obliquely at banal fish until, unexpectedly, I hit it off with the axolotls. I stayed watching them for an hour and left, unable to think of anything else.

– Julio Cortázar, from "Axolotl", trans. Paul Blackburn

17 November 2011

The chaos of memories

I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood – it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation – which these books arouse in a genuine collector. [...] Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of the books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order? You have all heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned into invalids, or those who in order to acquire them became criminals. These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness. “The only exact knowledge there is,” said Anatole France, “ is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books.” And indeed, if there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library, it is the order of its catalogue.

– Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking My Library"

The construction of the Bolaño backlash

Horacio Castellanos Moya (Image from Sampsonia Way)

If Jorge Volpi presented a novel take on the "Bolaño phenomenon", then Horacio Castellanos Moya wrote something misinformed and misleading about it. The infamous essay was called "Bolaño Inc." and a translation of it appeared in Guernica in November 2009.

I had told myself I wasn’t going to say or write anything more about Roberto Bolaño. The subject has been squeezed dry these last two years, above all in the North American press, and I told myself that there was already enough drunkenness. But here I am writing about him again, like a vicious old man, like the alcoholic who promises that this will be the last drink of his life and who, the next morning, swears that he will only have one more to cure his hangover. The blame for my relapse goes to my friend Sarah Pollack, who sent me her insightful academic essay on the construction of the “Bolaño myth” in the United States. Sarah is a professor at The City University New York and her text “Latin America Translated (Again): Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives in the United States” was published in the summer issue of the journal Comparative Literature.

Albert Fianelli, an Italian fellow journalist, parodies a quote often attributed to Herman Goering and says that every time someone mentions the word “market,” he reaches for his revolver. I’m not so extreme, but neither do I believe the story that the market is some kind of deity that moves on its own according to mysterious laws. The market has its landlords, like everything on this infected planet, and it’s the landlords of the market who decide the mambo that you dance, whether it’s selling cheap condoms or Latin American novels in the U.S. I say this because the central idea of Pollack’s work is that behind the construction of the Bolaño myth was not only a publisher’s marketing operation but also a redefinition of the image of Latin American culture and literature that the U.S. cultural establishment is now selling to the public.

I don’t know if it’s my bad luck or if it happens to my colleagues as well, but every time that I’ve found myself on American soil—at the airport bar, at a social gathering, wherever—and I’ve made the mistake of admitting to a citizen of that country that I’m a fiction writer who comes from Latin America, that person will immediately pull out García Márquez, and will do it, what’s more, with a self-satisfied smile, as if he were saying to me, “I know you, I know where you come from.” (Of course, I’ve found myself with wilder ones who boast about Isabel Allende or Paolo Coelho, which, ultimately, makes no difference at all, since Allende and Coelho are little more than the light and self-help versions of García Márquez.) As time goes by, however, those same North Americans, at those same bars and social gatherings, have begun to pull out Bolaño.

The key idea is that for thirty years, the work of García Márquez, with its magical realism, represented Latin American literature in the imagination of the North American reader. But since everything tarnishes and ends up losing its luster, the cultural establishment eventually went looking for something new. It sounded out the guys in the literary groups called McOndo and Crack, but they didn’t fit the enterprise—above all, as Sarah Pollack explains, it was very difficult to sell the North American reader on the world of iPods and Nazi spy novels as the new image of Latin America and its literature. Then Bolaño appeared with his The Savage Detectives and his visceral realism.

Castellanos Moya's full essay was published here.

There were several strong reactions to this essay, but I think Garth Risk Hallberg at The Millions offered the most cogent refutation of Castellanos Moya's thesis which was inspired by Sarah Pollack's analysis of Latin American literature.

A year after his essay appeared, Castellanos Moya was still patting himself on the back. From his interview in Sampsonia Way:

In “Bolaño Inc,” which appeared in Guernica in 2009, you bemoan publishers’ marketing of Latin-American literature in the U.S and the mythologized image they assign to popular writers such as Roberto Bolaño. Did you see some of the responses you got when that was published?

Yes. Some people sent me emails. But all the anger of these people is normal. Bolaño is an idol, so people don’t read him as a writer. We live in very empty times, so you look for someone to fill your emptiness, and some people read fiction looking for truth, for a kind of salvation, which is why a writer like Paulo Coelho is so popular. And it’s funny, these attacks on that article, most of them came from Latin American residents in the USA, because those are the ones who feel much more vulnerable when you attack all this celebrity crap of American culture that they believe in. [Laughs] When the article was first published in the daily newspaper La Nación from Buenos Aires, the reactions were very positive.

Castellanos Moya is a Salvadoran novelist. He is the author of Senselessness, Dance With Snakes, The She-Devil in the Mirror, and Tyrant Memory. According to Bolaño, who read four of his books, his best novel—"or at least the darkest, a long tirade against El Salvador that caused Castellanos Moya to receive death threats obliging him to go into exile yet again"—was El asco. Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador ("Nausea: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador"). Bolaño wrote further in Between Parentheses:

El asco, of course, isn't just a settling of scores or a writer's response to a moral and political situation that he finds profoundly discouraging, it's also a stylistic exercise, a parody of certain works by Bernhard, and the kind of book that makes you laugh out loud. Sadly, very few people in El Salvador have read Bernhard, and fewer still have a sense of humor. One's country is no laughing matter. [...] Herein lies one of the book's many virtues: nationalists can't abide it. Its acid humor, like a Buster Keaton movie or a time bomb, threatens the hormonal stability of the idiots who, upon reading it, feel an irresistible urge to string the author up in the town square. Truly, I know of no greater honor for a real writer.

I'm not sold on "Bolaño Inc.", but I'm game with El asco. Anything that invoked Bernhard, even in a mode of parody, and apparently doing so with skyrocketing humor, and politically motivated, should have a place in the reading list.

Related links:

"The Peculiar Art of Cultural Formations" by Sarah Pollack (pdf)
"Snatch" (fiction)
Excerpt from the novel Senselessness (1)
Excerpt from the novel Senselessness (2)
"A Dangerous Homage"—appendix to El asco
Interview and excerpts from "Revulsion"
The Nation profile written by Natasha Wimmer
Q&A With Horacio Castellanos Moya
On Heinrich von Kleist
The Poet Versus Lady Macbeth
Read This Next: Tyrant Memory
Snapshot: El Salvador
A Conversation With Horacio Castellanos Moya

"Fragments of a return to the native land" (audio)

The audio came from the "Lit&Lunch" program sponsored by the Center for the Art of Translation. It featured Natasha Wimmer discussing her translations of Roberto Bolaño's works and reading two excerpts: from 2666 and Between Parentheses. The audio file can be listened to here. (It was available for download previously - in mp3 format - but I'm no longer sure of the link.)

The total running time was around 50 minutes, broken as follows:

00:01 Natasha Wimmer was introduced.

01:53 Wimmer spoke about Bolaño’s novels and the challenges of translating 2666.

06:19 Wimmer read an excerpt from "The Part About Fate" in 2666. Part of the excerpt can also be read here.

27:40 A reading from Between Parentheses, which she was translating at that time. She read sections from an essay called "Fragments of a return to the native land." This recounted Bolaño's return to Chile in 1998 after a 24-year absence.

38:07 She took some questions from the audience.

49:31 End of audio clip.

16 November 2011

Who could understand my terror better than you?, or On the order of Bolaño's stories

The stories of Roberto Bolaño are found in four collections, two of which appeared in his lifetime. At least one story – "El contorno del ojo" (The Contour of the Eye") – is still unpublished in book form; it appeared in the online journal 60Watts (via).

All stories in Llamadas telefónicas and Putas asesinas were translated by Chris Andrews and they were contained in Last Evenings on Earth and The Return. Andrews (or his editor, or his publisher) did not use the Spanish titles for the English titles and he rather jumbled the table of contents between the two collections. As a consequence, the dedication pages and epigraphs in the original Spanish books were not preserved in the translations.

When I reread these stories, I plan to follow the original order in the Spanish. If you're curious about which stories appear where, here's the list.

  • Llamadas telefónicas
The stories are grouped into three parts. The collection is dedicated to Carolina López and the epigraph is from Chekhov¿Quién puede comprender mi terror mejor que usted? (Who could understand my terror better than you?)

1. Llamadas telefónicas

Sensini – in Last Evenings on Earth
Henri Simon Leprince – in Last Evenings on Earth
Enrique Martín – in Last Evenings on Earth
Una aventura literaria – "A Literary Adventure", in Last Evenings on Earth
Llamadas telefónicas – "Phone Calls", in Last Evenings on Earth

2. Detectives

El gusano – "The Grub", in Last Evenings on Earth
La nieve – "Snow", in The Return
Otro cuento Ruso – "Another Russian Tale," in The Return
William Burns – in The Return
Detectives – in The Return

3. Vida de Anne Moore

Compañeros de celda – "Cell Mates", in The Return
Clara – in The Return
Joanna Silvestri – in The Return
Vida de Anne Moore – "Anne Moore's Life", in Last Evenings on Earth

  • Putas asesinas
There are two sets of dedication: Para Alexandra Bolaño y Lautaro Bolaño, por las lecciones de vértigo; Para Alexandra Edwards y Marcial Cortés-Monroy, por la amistad. The epigraph is taken from HoraceLa demanda acabará en risas y tú te irás libre de cargos. (You laugh and go scot-free.)

El ojo silva – "Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva", in Last Evenings on Earth
Gómez Palacio – in Last Evenings on Earth
Últimos atardeceres en la tierra – "Last Evenings on Earth", in Last Evenings on Earth
Días de 1978 – "Days of 1978", in Last Evenings on Earth
Vagabundo en Francia y Bélgica – "Vagabond in France and Belgium", in Last Evenings on Earth
Prefiguración de Lalo Cura – "Prefiguration of Lalo Cura", in The Return
Putas asesinas – "Murdering Whores", in The Return
El retorno – "The Return", in The Return
Buba – in The Return
Dentista – "Dentist", in Last Evenings on Earth
Fotos – "Photos", in The Return
Carnet de baile – "Dance Card", in Last Evenings on Earth
Encuentro con Enrique Lihn – "Meeting With Enrique Lihn", in The Return

Sources: Convesational Reading (comment); I Just Read About That; online 'copies' of the Spanish books

15 November 2011

The King of the Forest reissued in new cover

Notwithstanding the incorrect attribution (another pseudonym?), this cover design by INK Illustration for The King of the Forest (Invisible Library, 2010) looks plausible.

For an annotated bibliography of the acclaimed German novelist, I refer you to A Solipsist's 2666.

Image © 2011 by INK Illustration

14 November 2011

The Portuguese Literature Challenge

Amateur Reader (Tom, Wuthering Expectations) has cooked up one of the most tempting reading challenges this year. This was in September so the challenge is now in full swing.


The mechanics are posted here. It will basically cover pre-1920 literature translated from the Portuguese, mainly the period of Tropical Belle Époque.

The reading is to end by April 30, 2012. You can check the reading lists for Portugal and Brazil.

A group reading of The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa is pretty much a done deal sometime in the first quarter of the year. I almost bought this book the last time I went to Manila. So I guess I have to finally buy it.

This year I hope to read ten stories by Machado de Assis from Oxford Anthology of the Brazilian Short Story (2006), ed. K. David Jackson. [It's a selection that aims for comprehensiveness, containing 72 stories by 37 Brazilian writers. The most represented writers in it were Machado de Assis (10 stories, 63 pages), Clarice Lispector (9 stories, 36 pages) and João Guimarães Rosa (7 stories, 56 pages).]

Sometime next year (because my immediate reading queue is now full to brimming) I want to finish Euclides da Cunha's Rebellion in the Backlands, the "Bible of modern Brazil". I started it, and actually loved what I read so far. But the reading requires me to strain very hard. The language is ... the language of the elements. And it's full of science stuff, a bit nerdy, but really good, in a masterpiece kind of way.

13 November 2011

"The Angel" by J. R. Wilcock

Juan Rodolfo Wilcock (1919-1978) is the author of the encyclopedia novel The Temple of Iconoclasts, one of the books that influenced Roberto Bolaño's writing of Nazi Literature in the Americas. No other book of his was translated, but Richard (Caravana de recuerdos) brought to our attention Wilcock's La boda de Hitler y María Antonieta en el infierno ("The Wedding of Hitler and Marie Antoinette in Hell"). It should alert English translators and publishers. The title alone promises supreme infamy.

Here is a link to one of Wilcock's stories. It's translated from the Spanish by Jeremy and posted in his journal READIN. Jeremy is currently reading Los detectives salvajes for The Savage Detectives Group Read. His reading is recorded in these posts.

Bonus link: Jeremy's translation of Slavko Zupcic's story "Requiem" appeared recently in Words Without Borders. It may be the kind of story Borges will dictate from beyond the grave.

Free ebooks

Mostly classic books already in the public domain. So, enjoy. And please let me know in the comments when you come upon similar sites.

DailyLit sends books to your email by installments.

Open Culture has lots of freebies: audibooks, ebooks, movies ...

LibriVox relies on volunteer readers to read and record books. Cool site.

Bartleby.com is another highly recommended site for classics.

Project Gutenberg is the pioneering site that started it all. The ebooks come in a variety of formats.

What happened in Symphony Space, Nov. 2010

Back in November 2010, a live reading of Bolaño's stories was staged in New York. The program was called "Selected Shorts: Roberto Bolano and the Writers He Admired". The event was described as:

An evening of stories by the late Chilean master (The Savage Detectives, 2666) and writers who inspired him, including pieces by Javier Marías, Nicanor Parra, and Jorge Luis Borges. Bolaño is known for a particular noirish, atmospheric, dangerous, edgy, cool, engrossing style that immediately draws you in to a world of writers, policemen, prostitutes, politicians, militants, lovers and dreamers. Bolaño won the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2666. Performers include Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire and A Serious Man), Felix Solis, Ivan Hernandez (the Public Theater's concert staging of Paul Simon's The Capeman) and Charles Keating.

How did the evening go, one may ask. There was, amazingly, a great recap of the show.

It is possible to see the imprint of Bolaño most beloved writers on his novels and stories. The elements of his influence were certainly put to best display on Wednesday. Both Bolaño’s elements of mystery and comedy were visible in the poem and two stories that were chosen for the evening. In Marías’ “On the Honeymoon,” the narrator describes watching a woman walking down the street “adjusting the elastic on a recalcitrant pair of panties.” When later, she gestures up toward the balcony where he is sitting and screams, “You’re mine, or I’ll kill you!” it is easy to recall scenes from his oeuvre. I thought of the three academics in the first section of 2666, who, at first trivially arguing in a taxicab, end up assaulting their driver. We get a sense that, at any moment, the comic banal can descend into violence. In his story, Marías has created a world that is chilling and mesmerizing. The reader is made squirmishly uncomfortable, and yet feels completely at ease. Bolaño’s humorous meditations on writers and literature within his novels was also evidenced in the Parra’s poem “Something Like That,” when the speaker muses: “The true problem of philosophy is who does the dishes.” And in Borges’s “The Shape of the Sword,” a story of an Irishman’s betrayal by a friend who turns out to be the narrator himself, we see where Bolaño found his playfulness with form.

Read the full account here.

By night in Mexico

Among the novels written by Roberto Bolaño, translator Natasha Wimmer was quick to identify The Savage Detectives as her favorite. According to her, it is "just the easiest one to fall for". While working on her translation of the novel, she personally went to Mexico and visited the places mentioned in the book. She talked about it in an interview posted in Granta Online Only:

I know that you spent some time in Mexico City when working on The Savage Detectives, Bolaño’s debut novel – in what way did this affect your interpretation of the book?

Natasha Wimmer: [T]he time I spent there completely transformed my understanding of the book. The Savage Detectives is a love song to Mexico City, and to walk the same streets that Bolaño and his characters walked gave me a very intimate, visceral sense of the city and the novel. There’s something about Mexico City at night, in particular, that’s distinctive. For one thing, it’s darker than most other cities I know, which means that things seem to loom out at you as you walk, and you have the sense that you’re on the verge of the kind of bizarre encounter that Bolaño’s characters have all the time. I also spent time at Café La Habana (the original of Café Quito in the novel), which hasn’t changed much since Bolaño hung out there, and I stumbled over all kinds of cultural details that saved me from translation pitfalls (‘El Santo’??? for example, was one of the notes scribbled on my first draft of the translation; he is, of course, Mexico’s most famous masked wrestler, as I soon discovered).


12 November 2011

National Book Critics Circle Award winners

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award is an annual prize given by the NBCC for the best book in 6 categories, including fiction. Unlike the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this award considers books published in the United States both in English and in translation. In its 37 years of existence, however, it appears only two books in translation won the award.

Official site:


NBCC winners in the Fiction category:

2010 Jennifer Egan A Visit from the Goon Squad
2009 Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall
2008 Roberto Bolaño 2666 (trans. Natasha Wimmer)
2007 Junot Diaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
2006 Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss
2005 E.L. Doctorow The March
2004 Marilynne Robinson Gilead
2003 Edward P. Jones The Known World
2002 Ian McEwan Atonement
2001 W.G. Sebald Austerlitz (trans. Anthea Bell)
2000 Jim Crace Being Dead
1999 Jonathan Lethem Motherless Brooklyn
1998 Alice Munro The Love of a Good Woman
1997 Penelope Fitzgerald The Blue Flower
1996 Gina Berriault Women in Their Beds
1995 Stanley Elkin Mrs. Ted Bliss
1994 Carol Shields The Stone Diaries
1993 Ernest J. Gaines A Lesson Before Dying
1992 Cormac McCarthy All the Pretty Horses
1991 Jane Smiley A Thousand Acres
1990 John Updike Rabbit at Rest
1989 E.L. Doctorow Billy Bathgate
1988 Bharati Mukherjee The Middleman and Other Stories
1987 Philip Roth The Counterlife
1986 Reynolds Price Kate Vaiden
1985 Anne Tyler The Accidental Tourist
1984 Louise Erdrich Love Medicine
1983 William Kennedy Ironweed
1982 Stanley Elkin George Mills
1981 John Updike Rabbit Is Rich
1980 Shirley Hazzard The Transit of Venus
1979 Thomas Flanagan The Year of the French
1978 John Cheever The Stories of John Cheever
1977 Toni Morrison Song of Solomon
1976 John Gardner October Light
1975 E.L. Doctorow Ragtime

11 November 2011

BBC World Book Club


The site contains lengthy interviews with authors and their most famous novels.

The podcasts can be downloaded.

Featured writers and books:

• David Grossman - To the End of the Land
• Hisham Matar - In the Country of Men
• Colm Toibin - Brooklyn
• Henning Mankell - Faceless Killers
• Val McDermid - A Place of Execution
• Boris Akunin - The Winter Queen
• Jo Nesbo - The Redbreast
• Javier Cercas - Soldiers of Salamis
• PJ O'Rourke - Eat the Rich
• Bernhard Schlink - The Reader
• Damon Galgut - The Good Doctor
• Kamila Shamsie - Burnt Shadows
• Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible
• Carlos Ruiz Zafon - The Shadow of the Wind
• David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas
• Richard Ford - The Sportswriter
• JMG LeClezio - Desert
• John Boyne - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
• Andrea Levy - Small Island
• Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss
• James Ellroy - American Tabloid
• Alaa Al-Aswaany - The Yacoubian Building
• Gunter Grass - The Tin Drum
• Lionel Shriver - We Need to Talk About Kevin
• Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Half of a Yellow Sun
• Nawal El Sadaawi - Woman at Point Zero
• Kate Grenville - The Secret River
• Moshin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist
• David Guterson - Snow Falling on Cedars
• Toni Morrison - Beloved
• Derek Walcott - Omeros
• Alice Walker - The Color Purple
• Annie Proulx - The Shipping News; Brokeback Mountain
• David Lodge - Nice Work
• Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
• John Irving - The World According to Garp
• Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner
• Sebastian Faulks - Birdsong
• Jane Smiley - A Thousand Acres
• Patricia Cornwell - Post Mortem
• Edna O'Brien - The Country Girls
• Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose
• Sara Paretsky - Indemnity Only
• Michael Ondaatje - The English Patient
• Armistead Maupin - Tales of the City

BBC's "Read My Country"

At the BBC site, a radio series where writers are asked for book recommendations from their own countries.

"If you had to recommend three books or poems that would deepen a visitor's understanding of your country and culture, what would they be?"

The Strand spoke to some select writers to get recommendations from their home countries.

Two of the writers interviewed were Miguel Syjuco from the Philippines and Santiago Roncagliolo from Peru.

Miguel Syjuco – Philippines

Miguel Syjuco is a Filipino writer now based in Canada. His novel Ilustrado is the 2008 winner of the Man Asian Literary Award. His three choices for the Philippines are:

1. Noli Me Tangere - José Rizal
2. America Is in the Heart - Carlos Bulosan
3. Dogeaters - Jessica Hagedorn

I will also vouch for the first two titles in Syjuco's list. They were two of the best Filipino literary classics I've read. As for the Dogeaters, I have a copy and I hope to read it soon.

Santiago Roncagliolo – Peru 

Santiago Roncagliolo is the author of Abril rojo (Red April). You can listen to his interview at this link. His three choices for Peru are:

1. Un Mundo para Julius (A World For Julius) - Alfredo Bryce Echenique
2. Travesuras de la nina mala (The Bad Girl) - Mario Vargas Llosa
3. Los ríos profundos (Deep Rivers) - José Maria Arguedas

The other interviewed writers were from Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Israel, Iraq, Kenya, China, Turkey, Norway, India, Australia, Ireland, and Jamaica.

You can listen to these writers talk about their choices and read from their selections at this link.

09 November 2011

Kingdom of Redonda

The Spanish writer Javier Marías is one of the claimants to Redonda Island. His ascension to the throne of Reino de Redonda ("Kingdom of Redonda") as Rey Xavier I was told in one of his novels. He created a publishing imprint with the name Reino de Redonda and also an annual literary prize, Premio Reino de Redonda.

Since 1999, Marías bestowed titles to several of his peers. Spanish and foreign artists, film directors, and writers had been granted Redondan titles of Duke or Duchess.

The recipients of Redondan titles are:

Pedro Almodóvar, Duke of Trémula (1999)
John Ashbery, Duke of Convexo (1999)
Pierre Bourdieu, Duke of Desarraigo (1999)
William Boyd, Duke of Brazzaville (1999)
A. S. Byatt, Duchess of Morpho Eugenia (1999)
Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Duke of Tigres (1999)
Francis Ford Coppola, Duke of Megalópolis (1999)
Agustin Díaz Yanes, Duke of Michelín (1999)
Roger Dobson, Duke of Bridaespuela (1999)
Francis Haskell, Duke of Sommariva (1999)
Eduardo Mendoza, Duke of Isla Larga (1999)
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Duke of Corso (1999)
Francisco Rico, Duke of Parezzo (1999)
Sir Peter Russell, Duke of Plazatoro (1999)
Fernando Savater, Duke of Caronte (1999)
Luis Antonio de Villena, Duke of Malmundo (1999)
Juan Villoro, Duke of Nochevieja (1999)
Ian Michael, Duke of Bernal (2000)
W. G. Sebald, Duke of Vértigo (2000)
António Lobo Antunes, Duke of Cocodrilos (2001)
Frank O. Gehry, Duke of Nervión (2001)
Pietro Citati, Duke of Remonstranza (2002)
Michael Braudeau, Duke of Miranda (2004)
Antony Beevor, Duke of Stalingrado (2006)
Pere Gimferrer, Duke of Arder (2006)
Ian Robertson, Duke of Impertinentes (2006)
Mario Vargas Llosa, Duke of Miraflores (2008)
Orhan Pamuk, Duke of Colores (2009)

* * *

Winners of the Redonda literary prize, established 2001:

(They are voted by the current dukes and duchesses and awarded cash and Redondan duchy.)

2001 J. M. Coetzee, Duke of Deshonra
2002 Sir John H. Elliott, Duke of Simancas
2003 Claudio Magris, Duke of Segunda Mano
2004 Eric Rohmer, Duke of Olalla
2005 Alice Munro, Duchess of Ontario
2006 Ray Bradbury, Duke of Diente de León
2007 George Steiner, Duke of Girona
2008 Umberto Eco, Duke of la Isla del Día de Antes
2009 Marc Fumaroli, Duke of Houyhnhnms
2010 Milan Kundera, Duke of Amarcord
2011 Ian McEwan, now Duke of Perros Negros


Rodrigo Fresán, book thief

I remember that afternoon: we left Kentucky Fried Chicken and Bolaño went down the stairs to the platform of his commuter train and I went back home and half an hour later Bolaño rang my doorbell, again. He was soaked by the storm and wild-eyed and shaking as if barely withstanding a private earthquake. "I’ve killed a man," he announced in a deathly voice; and he came into my apartment, headed for the living room and asked me to make him a cup of tea. Then he told me that as he was waiting on the platform, a couple of skinheads had come up to him and tried to rob him, that there was a scuffle, that he managed to get a knife away from one of them and stab the other one near the heart, that then he ran away down corridors and streets, and that he didn’t know what to do next. "What should I do? Should I turn myself in?" I said he shouldn’t. Bolaño looked at me with infinite sadness and said that he couldn’t keep writing with a death on his conscience, that he wouldn’t be able to look his son in the eyes anymore, something like that. Moved, I said that I understood and I’d go with him to the police station; to which he responded, indignant: "What? You’d turn me in just like that? Without mercy? An Argentinian writer betraying a Chilean writer? Shame on you!" Then Bolaño must have seen my desperation: because he gave one of those little cracked laughs of his and, fascinated, said over and over again "But you know I couldn’t kill a mosquito…How could you believe a story like that?
– Rodrigo Fresán, "The Savage Detective" (2007), The Believer, in "Notes Toward an Annotated Edition of 2666" by Natasha Wimmer

Rodrigo Fresán is an Argentinean writer who lives at present in Barcelona. He is the author of 10 novels, only one of which (Jardines de Kensington) is so far available in English (Kensington Gardens, translated by Natasha Wimmer).

One of Fresán’s acclaimed books is called Mantra. It has a great overview, by way of a recipe, here.

Bolaño had this to say about this book in Between Parentheses: "Mantra is a kaleidoscopic novel, shot through with fierce, occasionally over-the-top humor, written in a prose of rare precision that allows itself to oscillate between anthropological document and the delirium of late nights in a city—Mexico City—that superimposes itself on the subterranean cities beneath it like a snake swallowing itself."

Rodrigo is a close friend of Roberto. They talked a lot. They were both book stealers in their youth.

Fresán's "Notes Toward the Memoirs of a Book Thief" appeared in Granta Online Only, where he wrote, Wimmer translating:

Stealing books is actually literature as sport. When we write or read we’re sitting or lying down, almost motionless. When we steal books, however, the muscle of our brain acts in perfect harmony with the muscles of our body. When we steal books, we think and act, and, in some sense, read and write.

When you steal a book, you’re person and character all at once.

In the same site, Fresán has a piece called "Borges and Me, and Me". It's as if it's ready to acknowledge another to be called "Borges and Me, and Me, and Me", and so on, ad infinitum, like a mirror.

08 November 2011

Is that a translator in your machine?

It’s true there’s a wow factor in a point-and-shoot translator app like Word Lens or the statistical analysis approach of Google Translate. Many of [us] use these and other machine-based translators. But human translators are doing just fine too. At least that’s the word from ATA [American Translators Association] spokesman Kevin Hendzel. He told me the industry grew 15% in 2009 and 13% in 2010. Not so surprising when you think about it: American troops are still in Afghanistan. The US government’s 17 intelligence agencies are still listening in to people all over the world. American businesses are still expanding into new global markets.

PRI's The World has a refreshing podcast on translation, "Translators Past, Present and Future". Download/Listen to it here.

Patrick Cox talks to, among others, David Bellos, translator of Georges Perec's "user's manual" and author of the recent Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything (this book's on top of my wish list!).

You can listen to the rest of the "The World in Words" podcasts here (recommended).

07 November 2011

Coming in 2012: The Secret of Evil

For a while, the publication date of The Secret of Evil was set for November 1st. But now it was moved to April 2012. I guess All Saint's Day won't do.

The book design was from a series done by Rodrigo Corral Design. It was, how shall I put it, "a steaming cup of peyote".


06 November 2011

Juan Villoro

Juan Villoro, born 1956, is a novelist and journalist from Mexico City. His most celebrated novel is El testigo (2004, The Witness) which won the Herralde Prize. He is the author of several novels, short stories, nonfiction works, and children's books. Although no full-length book of him is currently available in English translation, he seems to be one to watch out for.


"The Red Carpet" (trans. David Noriega) is Villoro's essay about the political landscape of Mexico. The original Spanish is here.

Sololiteratura has his selected works and reviews of his books in Spanish.

Other translated pieces available online are a story published in n+1; fiction and nonfiction from Words Without Borders, and an excerpt from El testigo (trans. Chris Andrews) in The Quarterly Conversation.

05 November 2011

Belletrista – a great resource on books by women writers

I came across this site devoted to reviews of books by female writers.


Belletrista is "a not-for-profit, bimonthly web magazine which seeks both to encourage cross-cultural understanding through international literature written by women and to increase the visibility of that literature". They also have a blog.

The current issue features a review of The Scale of Maps by the Spanish novelist Belén Gopegui, translated by Mark Schafer. Gopegui is one of the writers admired by Roberto Bolaño.

Also reviewed in Issue 13 are:

Fire from the Andes: Short Fiction by Women from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, edited and translated by Susan E. Benner and Kathy S. Leonard, reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

Who Is Ana Mendieta? by Christine Redfern, illustrated by Caro Caron, reviewed by Charlotte Simpson

Premio Herralde; Premio Rómulo Gallegos

Los detectives salvajes won two major awards in Latin America. One was the Premio Rómulo Gallegos which put Roberto Bolaño's name alongside those of the Boom writers Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, and Carlos Fuentes. The other was the Premio Herralde de Novela, awarded yearly by the Editorial Anagrama to an unpublished novel in Spanish language by a writer of any nationality. The prize, given every November, comes with a purse of 18,000 euros.

Selected winners of Premio Herralde:

1985 Adelaida García Morales (El silencio de las sirenas / Silence of the Sirens)
1986 Javier Marías (El hombre sentimental / The Man of Feeling)
1992 Paloma Díaz-Mas (El sueño de Venecia)
1997 Jaime Bayly (La noche es virgen)
1998 Roberto Bolaño (Los detectives salvajes / The Savage Detectives)
2002 Enrique Vila-Matas (El mal de Montano / Montano's Malady, also published as Montano)
2003 Alan Pauls (El pasado / The Past)
2004 Juan Villoro (El testigo)
2006 Alberto Barrera Tyszka (La enfermedad / The Sickness)
2008 Daniel Sada (Casi nunca / Almost Never)
2010 Antonio Ungar (Tres ataúdes blancos)

The complete list of winners of the Herralde Prize is found here, that of Rómulo Gallegos is here.

02 November 2011

"Elena Garro" by César Aira

Elena Garro (1920-1998) was a prolific Mexican writer. She wrote novels, plays, scripts, and journalism. Two of her books were available in English translation: her first novel Recollections of Things to Come (trans. Ruth L. C. Simms, University of Texas Press) in which the narrator of the story was the setting(!), and the pair of novellas First Love & Look for My Obituary (trans. David Unger, Curbstone Press).

Here's an extract from an informative short profile of Garro, written by César Aira (as confirmed in the comment below), in a translation by Matt Johnson. This is one of the entries from Aira's Diccionario de autores latinoamericanos* (Dictionary of Latin American Writers, Emece Editores, 2001).

She was born in Puebla in 1920. In her youth she was a ballerina and a choreographer. At seventeen, she married Octavio Paz, living with him in Mexico and in Europe. Her first book was a novel, Los recuerdos de porvenir (the title is taken from a verse by Carlos Pellicer): "In 1953, as I lay sick in Berna, and after receiving an intensive cortisone treatment, I wrote Los recuerdos del porvenir"...to great critical acclaim, winning the 1963 Premio Villaurrutia. The narration makes use of a peculiar memory: the prosopopeia; a town, whose character is between dark and ghostly, of the sort made popular by Agustín Yáñez (and brought to its decisively mystic status by Rulfo), tells the story, which employs a delicate magic of temporal sleights of hand. Looking back on the author's career, critics have continued to refer to this book as her most important work. In reality, the peculiar genius of Elena Garro only timidly shows itself in its pages. The same can be said of her following book of short stories, La semana de colores (1964). After these two books, along with one anterior book of theater pieces, Un hogar sólido y otras piezas en un acto (1958), the author did not publish again for nearly fifteen years, during which she experienced a complex personal odyssey. Her marriage with Octavio Paz fell apart in the worst possible manner, and the writer, accompanied by her daughter, Helena Paz, left the country (one of the determining factors being a series of denunciations against Mexican intellectuals pronounced by her after the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968), undertaking an extended flight across various countries that brought her to Spain and later to Paris, where she took up residence.

Continued here (LibraryThing message #44).

The Spanish text is here.

* The Amazon title entry for Aira's dictionary is subtitled "Coastal Management Sourcebooks". Yayks.

01 November 2011

Literary prizes at El Poder de la Palabra; Premio Salambó

I found a site (in Spanish) which compiles all major literary prizes in Latin America. Quite an informative site. Google Translate will come in handy for non-readers of Spanish.

El Poder de la Palabra is a website dedicated to literary writings. It contains excerpts from literary texts in Spanish, as well as biographies of writers.

I'll be featuring here some of the notable prizes. One of these is the Premio Salambó. This award is organized by Club Cultura de la Fnac and Café Salambó. It is given to the best book of fiction published in Spain in the previous year. The jury is composed of 15 renowned authors in Spain and Latin America. It is the only kind of award in Spain in which the winner is chosen exclusively by writers. The award lacks funding however. Perhaps that's the reason why no award was given in the past two years.

Winners of Premio Salambó*:

2001 Javier Cercas (Soldados de Salamina / Soldiers of Salamis)
2002 Javier Marías (Tu rostro mañana 1. Fiebre y lanza / Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear)
2003 Juan Eduardo Zúñiga (Capital de la gloria)
2004 Roberto Bolaño (2666 / 2666)
2005 Alvaro Pombo (Contra natura)
2006 Vicente Molina Foix (El abrecartas)
2007 José María Merino (La glorieta de los fugitivos)
2008 Cristina Fernández Cubas (Todos los cuentos)
2009 -not given-
2010 -not given-

* English titles are added for the three novels available in translation. The entry on Javier Marías is corrected to indicate only the first volume of his novel. The next two volumes have yet to appear in 2002.