And the Hippies Came (Llegaron los hippies)
Kids these days. They think they’ve invented everything. The McOndo writers and Crack Generation, who so proudly buck the Magic Realist tendencies of García Márquez, who seek to find a place within Latin American letters sans spirits . . . they’ve got their heads in the right place even if their books aren’t always the best. But, having read the stories of Manuel Abreu Adorno, I have to wonder if the Crack and McOndo groups know that their battle was won in 1978.
And the Hippies Came, the collected stories of Abreu Adorno (not to be confused with the other Adorno, who is far less fun to read), is, as the translator’s forward tell us, a neglected classic, a book that resonated with readers upon impact and caught the attention of Julio Cortázar. No wonder: the book is daring, fun, utterly readable, and—why not, let’s use the term—postmodern.
Abreu Adorno’s stories, most of them one part of a conversation, boast a striking immediacy, so much that the experimentation of tales such as “to please ourselves” effectively draws the reader along through a string of references, piled up without punctuation, to an inevitable conclusion. The pop culture mingled with literary playfulness is surely what captivated initial readers, fusing music with literature and echoing the tastes of readers who love Oulipo and the Beats as well as the Allman Brothers and Arsenio Rodríguez. Riffing off of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, Abreu Adorno presents us with “the truth about farrah fawcett majors,” a deconstruction and reconstruction of a sentence that reveals a number of ideas within one very famous source. “what they said to each other for twenty-five dollars” narrates a conversation between a Spanish-speaking prostitute and her john, a CIA agent, neither speaking in the other’s tongue, the Spanish here un-translated in order to effectively communicate the distance between these characters. But the jewel in the crown may be the title story, which celebrates the arrival of a rock festival on the beach of Vega Baja along the lines of Woodstock, an event that promises music, sex, and LSD—but also brings horror:
“I came and saw how some local boys beat up some blonde kids. I came and saw how some stole from the tents of others. I came and saw naked girls everywhere. I came and saw people were smoking and singing . . . . I came and saw colors multiply before my eyes. I came and saw a group of local boys masturbating behind some palm trees. I came and found out they had raped several girls. I came and I was told how some kid had been stabbed that afternoon.”
Perhaps it is a disservice to highlight the grim moments of the story, but I feel the tale best exemplifies the reality behind the hippie illusion, the manner in which American celebrity manifests when exported, and the clash of dominant and subjugated cultures. This was the late 70s, well after the idealism of the hippies was shown to be, at best, a mixed bag. And for the shores of Vega Baja in tiny Puerto Rico, such a grand spectacle of American joyful excess could only end with an equal dose of pain.
Now that I’ve spoken about the steak, let’s talk about the sizzle: kudos to 7Vientos, the small press that resurrected this book. Published as a flip edition with the stories in their native Spanish along with the English translation, packaged with beautiful art printed directly on the hardcover, and loaded with author photos, the book feels like rock and roll albums used to feel in the days before iTunes. Kudos as well to Rafael Franco-Steeves for translating the book, a labor of love that has brought English speakers a neglected literary voice and reintroduced Spanish readers to a lost classic.