5 March 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Vincent Francone on Flower & Mishima’s Illustrated Biography by Mario Bellatin, translated by Kolin Jordan, and out from 7Vientos.

Since the site is about a week behind in posting reviews, I thought we’d start back in with a short and sweet one by Vince. We were at AWP in Seattle last week (we had a blast seeing all those familiar faces, as well as making a new set of new superfans!), and it’s been a bit tough coming back from the jet-lag. Anyway, here’s the beginning of Vince’s review:

Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be sure, writers such as Cesar Aria and Medbh McGuckian are doing their part to keep literature interesting and fun, but having just finished Mario Bellatin’s Flowers & Mishima’s Illustrated Biography (published as a flip edition in Spanish and English by the wonderful 7Vientos, translated by Kolin Jordan) I am secure in the knowledge that compelling writing is plentiful.

The book is the latest English translation of Bellatin’s, whose novellas have been steadily earning him a solid reputation among American readers with both their invention and their brevity. Less really is more, and Bellatin continues this pattern of making big impacts in short books with these two novellas, the first, Flowers, a collection of separate narratives arranged like . . . well, flowers, each different and beautiful individually but combined randomly (or so it seems) to produce a startling effect.

For the rest of the review, go here.

5 March 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be sure, writers such as Cesar Aria and Medbh McGuckian are doing their part to keep literature interesting and fun, but having just finished Mario Bellatin’s Flowers & Mishima’s Illustrated Biography (published as a flip edition in Spanish and English by the wonderful 7Vientos, translated by Kolin Jordan) I am secure in the knowledge that compelling writing is plentiful.

The book is the latest English translation of Bellatin’s, whose novellas have been steadily earning him a solid reputation among American readers with both their invention and their brevity. Less really is more, and Bellatin continues this pattern of making big impacts in short books with these two novellas, the first, Flowers, a collection of separate narratives arranged like . . . well, flowers, each different and beautiful individually but combined randomly (or so it seems) to produce a startling effect. Within these quick glimpses, the reader encounters a writer with a prosthetic leg who becomes obsessed with a literary agent’s daughter, a scientist who synthesizes a drug that results in the deformation of hundreds of newborns, a woman who, abandoned by her husband, abandons her child in a most violent manner, and a man referred to as the “Autumnal Lover” for his predilection for the elderly. This collection of oddities comprises a larger tale, though each is compact enough to stand alone. The ideal reader will take them all in, though the book begs for a second viewing where each flower can be examined as a self-contained planet among the larger universe.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the abrupt shifts from story to story before Flowers comes to an end (sort of) and Mishima’s Illustrated Biography begins. And this is where things get very strange. The novella centers on the writer Mishima, who may very well be the long dead Yukio Mishima, though this Mishima exists post-suicide and is headless. Is it so bad to be headless? One only gets a sense of this late in the story, when the narrator confesses that, to Mishima, the worst aspects of this is the “lack” which he must carry with him, conjuring up both Lacanian ideas and Washington Irving’s famous horseman. This Mishima is also, we are informed, the author of several books that savvy readers will recognize as belonging to Mario Bellatin (most notable: Beauty Salon, a fascinating novella that shares more than a few traits with Mishima’s Illustrated Biography). Is this self-reflective literary criticism, meta-autobiographical fiction, or just plain old hijinks? Ultimately it doesn’t matter, as the prose is elegant and engrossing in its directly stated fashion (thanks be to Kolin Jordan) and the ideas are about as exciting as any one might find in literature today. Reflecting on the purpose of writing, Bellatin offers a damn near perfect thesis: “Mishima realized that this mechanism might consist of using a terrible universe as a shield against what that very world produced.” This is why writers write and why readers seek their works. The mirror reflects the horrors of the world, but in the hands of writers like Bellatin, the mirror distorts just enough to offer escape. But we’re never really free from the truth.

19 June 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

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.

19 June 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Vincent Francone on And the Hippies Came (Llegaron los Hippies) by Manuel Abreu Adorno, from 7Vientos.

Vincent is a frequent reviewer for Three Percent, and recently discovered and fell in love with 7Vientos, a brand-new press based in Chicago specializing in Latin-American literature. The press has two books out so far, both with pretty awesome cover art. And the Hippies Came also boasts a neat layout in that it’s a flip book: the original Spanish can be read from one side, and the English translation from the other.

Anyway, here’s the beginning of Vincent’s review:

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.

For the rest of the review, go here

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