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.


  1. My library has that Aira book, Rise, so let me know if you need that source verified. In the meantime, I like that Roberto Arlt is placed top center in that pantheon of Lat Am authors on the cover--how ironic given that he was often vilified for being a "bad writer" by his contemporaries!

  2. Yes please, Richard, if you have the time.

    I'm interested myself in discovering Arlt's so-called "literature of doom".

  3. That Elena Garro entry is definitely by Aira, Rise, although I'm not sure where Amazon got the "Coastal Management Sourcebooks" thing from since it's not to be found anywhere on the real book. I believe Aira's "dictionary" was first compiled in 1985 and then revised later, but I'll have to revisit the book some other time as my library considers it a reference work and hence doesn't allow it to circulate. Anyway, the author entries appear to be mostly straightforward from what I could tell so far, but there are some inherently funny or cutting descriptions here and there like the comment that Macedonio Fernández's Adriana Buenos Aires is a "curious blend of Arlt and Jane Austen"! I kid you not...

  4. Gracias, Richard. It's a reference work alright. But then any book is a reference work. :p

    This book interests me a lot. I hope an English publisher takes notice.