The second author up today in the Month of a Thousand Forests series is Eduardo Mendoza. Rather than quote from his interview, I’m just running part of the bio that Valerie Miles wrote for him along with a bit from The Truth about the Savolta Case.
As with all the other posts in this series, if you order A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
Mendoza has acknowledged that the cult of literature within his family influenced him in his vocation as a writer. He was going to call his first novel Los soldados de Cataluña, a title that would have had trouble eluding the Francoist censor, so he decided to call it La verdad sobre el caso Savolta, a title that was more in keeping with the central storyline, the mysterious atmosphere where the plot unfolds, and better, in any case, at concealing the novel’s political undertone.
Published in 1975, a short time before Franco’s death, La verdad sobre el caso de Savolta, was a breath of fresh air in the dubious Spanish fiction of the time; in it, Mendoza presents an innovative structure, open to various narrative discourses, functioning like parts of a puzzle that, all together, end up resembling Barcelona at the beginning of the twentieth century, a city that found itself in the middle of tension and the struggles of unions and revolutionaries.
In his next novel, El misterio de la cripta embrujada (1979), he started down another literary path, the detective saga, through which he sought, via an exceedingly peculiar character (a nameless detective locked in an insane asylum), to parody the noir novel and the gothic genre and, at the same time, to offer his vision of Barcelona at that moment. In 1982, this first title was followed by El laberinto de las aceitunas; and the trilogy culminated in 2001, with La aventura del tocador de señoras. [. . .]
Humor, one of the secret weapons of Mendoza’s oeuvre, almost a genre all its own, also characterized other essential titles of his like La isla inaudita (1989), which tells of a Catalan executive’s trip to Venice in search of love; Sin noticias de Gurb (1990), which presents the delirious and personal diary of an extraterrestrial who arrives in a city that is preparing to receive the Olympic torch; or El año del diluvio, in 1992. In 2006 he published Mauricio o las elecciones primarias, a novel whose plot unfolds in the years leading up to the Transition, also set in Barcelona, and in 2008 El asombroso viaje de Pomponio Flato, a satire that explores the confines of the Roman Empire. The writer’s most recent novel, El enredo de la bolsa y la vida (2012), where he revives his famous nameless detective, has already garnered enormous popular success.
“Inspector Vázquez, you must hear me out. Just listen to what I have to tell you and you won’t be sorry. A crime is always a crime.”
Inspector Vázquez threw the papers he was reading down on the desk and focused a fulminating stare on his ragged confidant, who was rubbing his hands together and balancing first on one foot, then on the other in a desperate attempt to be noticed.
“Who the hell let this bird into my office?” bellowed the inspector, addressing the peeling paint on his ceiling.
“There was no one here, so I took the liberty . . . ,” explained his confidant, advancing toward the desk covered with newspapers and photographs.
“I swear by Christ’s blood, by the eternal salvation of my . . . !” Vázquez started to say, but he stopped when he realized he was using the same religious terminology as his annoying visitor. “Why can’t you leave me in peace? Get out!”
“Inspector, I’ve been trying to speak with you for five days now.”
There were only two days left of the seven the conspirators allotted Nemesio, and he hadn’t found a single clue related to Pajarito de Soto’s death. The Savolta murder had cut him off, and the police were concentrating on solving that crime to the exclusion of all others. Also, his efforts to find the conspirators and warn them of the fact that Inspector Vázquez was looking for them in connection with the Savolta affair had been met by an absolute rejection from every one of the sources he’d approached during those five unlucky days.
“Five days?” said the inspector. “They’ve seemed like five years to me! Let me give you some advice, buddy. Get out and stay out. The next time I see you snooping around here, I’ll have you locked up. You’ve been warned. Now get out of my sight!”
Nemesio walked out of the office and down to the ground floor filled with dire foreboding. But he was soon distracted by an unexpected incident. As he reached the bottom stair, Nemesio detected unusual movement: there were shouts, and policemen were running in every direction. Something’s going on. I’d better get out of here now. He was trying to do just that, when a uniformed policeman grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the far corner of the room.
“Out of the way.”
“What’s going on?”
“They’re bringing in some dangerous prisoners.”
Nemesio waited, holding his breath. From his corner, he could see the entrance, and, parked in front of it, a paddy wagon. A double file of armed police formed a path from the wagon to the building. They brought the prisoners out of the wagon. Nemesio tried to run, but the policeman still held him by the arm. The silence was only broken by the clinking of chains. The four prisoners entered. The youngest was weeping; Julián had lost his beret,
had a black eye and bloodstains on his sheepskin jacket, held a manacled hand against his ribs, and his legs gave way as he walked; the man with the scar looked serene, although he had deep circles under his eyes. Nemesio thought he’d die.
“What did they do?” he whispered in the ear of the policeman guarding him.
“It looks like they’re the ones who killed Savolta.”
“But Savolta died at midnight on New Year’s Eve.”
He didn’t dare say that he’d been with the prisoners at that precise moment in the photographer’s studio, that Julián had brought him there by force. He was afraid of being implicated in the matter, so he obeyed and kept silent. Uselessly, however, because the man with the scar had seen him. He nudged Julián with his elbow, and when Julián caught sight of Nemesio, he shrieked, in a voice that seemed to boil out of his guts, “You finally sold us out, you son of a bitch!”
One of the guards hit him with the butt of his rifle, and Julián fell to the floor.
“Take them away!” ordered an individual dressed like a poor man.
The sad procession passed by Nemesio. Two agents were dragging Julián by his armpits, blood pouring out of him. The man with the scar stopped opposite Nemesio and gave him a freezing scornful smile.
“We should have killed you, Nemesio. But I never thought you’d do this.”
He was pushed forward. It took Nemesio a few seconds to regain his composure. He tore himself violently away from the policeman holding his arm and ran back up the stairs. In the hall, he ran into Inspector Vázquez.
“Inspector, it wasn’t those men! I swear. They didn’t kill Savolta.”
The inspector looked at him as if he were seeing a cockroach walking over his bed.
“But . . . you’re still here?” he said, turning bright red.
“Inspector, this time you’ll have to listen to me whether you want to or not. Those men didn’t do it, those men . . .”
“Get him out of here!” shouted the inspector, pushing Nemesio aside and striding forward.
“Inspector!” implored Nemesio, while two powerful agents dragged him bodily toward the door. “Inspector! I was with them, I was with them when Savolta was killed. Inspector!!”
(Translated by Alfred Mac Adam)
And on the 23rd Day of Awesome, we correct our mistakes . . .
First off, if you’ve had trouble getting to the tag for this entire series, that’s because Textpattern and its codes for italics defeated me. Click here and you should be brought to the page listing all 22 Granta “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.”
More importantly, due to Internet issues in Bay City, MI (yes, they do finally have it there), I missed one author . . . So today, we’re featuring Peruvian author Carlos Yushimito, whose “Seltz” was translated for this special issue by Alfred Mac Adam.
Carlos Yushimito is one of the few authors featured in this issue who currently live in the U.S. He fled his native country in 2008 to study at Villanova (which, once again, has a scary good men’s basketball team) and now lives in Providence, RI where he’s working on a doctorate at Brown (whose team is a little less than stellar). He’s published four story collections: El mago (2004), Las islas (2006), Madureira sabe (2007), and Equis (2009). He’s currently finishing his first novel.
Also mentioned in the Granta intro is the fact that his stories are inspired by Brazil, although he has never been there . . . The Brazilian connection is also mentioned by Tibor Fischer in the bit he wrote for Granta‘s website.
After Borges, (particularly in the Spanish world) one has to be circumspect about bandying around once-simple words like author and story (I don’t think I can ever forgive him for that). Kindly, Yushimito flags up his game straight away. Catch the word ‘costume’ in the first line of ‘Seltz’. Yushimito slips on Brazil just as his protagonist slips on his crocodile costume. The great thing about a costume is that you can see but you can’t be seen.
All the guidebook references you would expect from Brazil are present in Yushimito’s camouflage: cachaca, caipirinha, Ipanema, Daniela Mercury. The only things missing are football and favelas (and you have to save something for another story).
Disguising yourself or dressing up (to change your station or your gender) is more a device of the theatre than prose, and generally goes one of two ways, either the transformation is a resounding success for comic or dramatic effect or a failure for comic effect. [. . .]
In charting Toninho’s trajectory from clown and poverty to plutocratic playboy for a night (by simply donning a good jacket), Yushimito is more delicate and oscillating. But judge for yourself.
And to make the Toninho reference make sense, here’s an excerpt from “Seltz”:
I was in the back room taking off the costume when I felt his hard cachaca breath next to my ear. It was Bautista, the manager. His face was sweaty. I assumed that, as usual, he must have been partying hard already by the way he twisted his mouth and how his disconnected words rushed toward me. So it wasn’t at all odd that I was overcome by a strange feeling of shame. A furtive sense of guilt. For a few seconds I felt as if someone were watching a pair of lobsters copulate in slow motion and that I was standing next to that person in front of twenty television sets all showing the same picture. In slow motion, extremely slow motion.
Zé Antunes says the best advertising strategy for an electronics shop like ours is to keep every television set in the place tuned into the Discovery Channel. ‘For example,’ he would say, ‘let’s imagine they’re showing a rock concert or a football match: parents associate television with drugs or squandered leisure time. Whenever they show a movie, women in their forties, married and with kids in college, usually remember with nostalgia and subconscious anger that their husbands almost never take them to the movies.’ Zé Antunes says the educational channels increase the probability of making sales, and it must be true because to parents education will always seem a good investment and they’ll never stint when it comes to that. ‘That’s the area we should be attacking: the jugular vein of sales,’ he declares.
Zé Antunes knows a lot about the animal world, but not as much as he knows about sales and marketing. Which is why I try to listen to him often, so I can pick up all that knowledge of his. But it’s different with Bautista. While I stared at his exaggerated gestures, almost certain that his well-pruned nose had poked into a good party that afternoon, I thought about his idea of happiness and about the good deal he’d most certainly have made with the Draco distributor. One thing leads to another; anyone knows that. And Bautista knows the business well because he’s the owner’s son, and the owner is one of the most important and richest men in Rio de Janeiro.
‘Tonight I’ve got a new disguise for you, Toninho.’
Patting me on the back complicitously, Bautista was still on the alert, not realizing that I had no desire to spend another bad night at his side. That’s why, even though he insisted, I didn’t raise my head to affirm or deny anything. I went on with my capricious striptease until I recovered my human shape.
He finally gave up, perhaps stymied by my extreme confidence.
He made a pistol with his hand, and a trigger squeezed in his eyes fired.
‘I’ll wait for you in the car.’
He was waiting for me in the hall, not the car.
‘Did you make sure to turn the water off all the way?’ Zé asked.
I told him I did but the suspicious prick made sure to check for himself. He came back a minute later drying his hands.
‘Forewarned is forearmed.’
By then the sliding metal gate had sealed the main entrance. Only the three of us were left inside, bottled up among white tiles and television screens all showing the same screen. A red-maned lion lumbering away with the last piece of a crotch in his mouth, wagging his backside while some hyenas fought over the remains of what had been a zebra. They ate with ardour, with an African appetite. Bautista and Zé Antunes, paying no attention to me, went on chatting animatedly next to the register.
‘In the trunk you’ll find a jacket and some good hair cream,’ said Bautista, interrupting their talk for an instant. He moved his hands, as if his head were a fortune-teller’s crystal ball. ‘Put on the jacket and get in the car.’
He tossed me the key.
Before we left, Zé handed him a small yellow envelope.
It was the kind used by the accounting department at the end of the month. Zé Antunes has been working in the shop longer than anyone else. It’s he who has the job of putting the padlock on the gate, of turning everything off and disconnecting the electricity.
He’s the last to leave and the first to arrive, except on Tuesdays, when he has the morning off. During the four years I’ve been working here, I’ve never seen him miss a day or take a vacation. And I’ve never heard him complain, curse out or pester anyone who didn’t deserve it.
He’s a man everyone should imitate.
When I shut the trunk, I felt livelier and more alert than before. I put on the freshly dry-cleaned jacket, finished rubbing the cream into my hair and leapt into the passenger seat. I looked myself over in the rear-view mirror and wasn’t terribly disgusted. I turned on the radio. The voice of Daniela Mercury growled from the speakers with the same sensuality as her body: Vem ai un baile movido a novas fontes de energía. Chacina, política e mídia. Bem perto da casa que eu vivia . . . eletrodoméstico . . . eletro-brasil . . .
Open shirt, brown tweed jacket, slick hair. After a few minutes I’d become another Bautista, hardly different from the original, though smaller and less elegant. My chest, a bit exposed, enjoyed the air that kicked its way in, broken into gusts through the window of his Audi. I really liked the role of the carefree man who goes out on a Friday night to get rid of the stress that comes from unpredictable business deals. I had that tense look – as if I were about to explode – that so attracts women. I looked myself over in the side mirror. I looked again and again. Yes, I really did feel elegant, sophisticated. Freed from my usual worn-out, cheap clothes, I was a born seducer: the seducer’s instinct was boiling up silently, fighting to burst out of me.
Even so, my new self-image only lasted as long as a flash of light. Bautista is a rich kid who competes in sports, rarely for fun, and wears pricey threads I could never buy, not even with five months’ salary. He knows how to handle himself in society and doesn’t have to work for things to fit properly in either his body or his life. He’s got green eyes like two fireflies in the night and a good bone structure that simply reeks of testosterone accompanied by the smooth aroma of Gucci. I only wish I had his ability to seduce with words, that conductive determination (as Zé would put it), when he wants to get a pretty girl into bed with him.
And after a long night . . .
We open up the shop at ten. I’d only managed to rest for fifteen extra minutes. Far from what I might have thought, the people outside flowed by with a disturbing continuity. It was a long train of infinite heads, hasty marches and unsatisfied needs. It was life in motion. On my corner, opposite the main entrance, I’d managed to get the costume on properly: the big stomach with green spots, the enormous head on top of the small human head; the jaw; the two soft fangs; the pair of well-disguised holes that were my eyes. I was once again the grand crocodile that promoted the electronic devices sold in Mattos Electronics, dancing for children. By using my talent, I quickly attracted and gathered kids and their parents. With the bounce of my long legs, with the strength of my arms, I lured them to the Draco refrigerator department, and there Roberto’s skills did the rest. I went back to my corner and kept on dancing. I never stopped for even a moment. Half an hour later, I saw a married couple, followed by Zacarías and an enormous 21-inch television set, along with a free complimentary coffee-maker. They were smiling, holding hands tightly.
And there we go. For real this time. “Normal” posting resumes tomorrow . . . .
As we mentioned last Friday, we’re going to spend the next 20 days highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. All past and future posts related to this issue can be found by clicking here..
Today we have a special interview with Federico Falco, whose new story “In Utah There Are Mountains Too” appears in this issue.
Emily Davis: What does it mean to you to have been named by Granta one of the Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists?
Federico Falco: First of all, a recognition of this caliber is a great joy, it means opportunity for my work and my career, something that I value very highly. At the same time, it is a sign that I am heading in the right direction, that I ought to continue on that path and also, of course, it is a great responsibility. One has to try not to disappoint the expectations that come of a recognition like this one.
ED: Where did the desire to be a writer come from?
FF: When I was small I lived in a village where there were no bookstores and the only libraries were not very well stocked. Fortunately, in my home and in the home of one my aunts, there were a lot of books. I grew up watching my parents read—something that not all the adults I knew did—and they always gave me a lot of freedom to rummage through the bookcases and pick out the books that interested me. As a form of entertainment but also of escape, my infancy and adolescence were marked by reading. Maybe because of that, the desire to start writing my own stories developed naturally. When I was ten or eleven I had already started and abandoned several novels and I couldn’t wait to get to high school because I figured that there they would teach me to write better.
ED: What writers have influenced you?
FF: Tons. Chekhov, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Carver, Cesare Pavese, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Eugenio Montale, Natalia Ginzburg. Among Argentines, Juan José Saer, Antonio Di Benedetto, Manuel Puig, Daniel Moyano, Andrés Rivera, and many more.
ED: Do you have a favorite writer among the others on the new Granta list?
FF: I haven’t read all of the authors. There are several that I didn’t know before they appeared on the Granta list and, up until now, I’ve hardly read what they published in this issue of the magazine. Also, some of their books are hard to come by outside the country where they were initially published, so it would be difficult for me to respond to this question without being partial and unfair. Of course, among those I know and have read, there are many that I like a lot.
ED: You were born in a small city in the interior of Argentina. Does that experience figure into your stories? I am thinking for example of Villa Carlos Paz in “In Utah There Are Mountains Too,” your new story published in this issue of Granta. Is there perhaps some resonance there?
FF: Villa Carlos Paz is a fairly large city or, at least, medium-sized. Besides, it is a touristic city, and that makes it very peculiar, the social ties among neighbors are different, there are people arriving and departing all the time. General Cabrera, the village where I was born and lived until I was 18, doesn’t have any of that and so, I don’t know how much my village experience resonates with this text in particular. But certainly in many of my earlier stories the village appears as a geographic space, the pampas plain as the landscape, General Cabrera itself, a little mythologized, but barely transformed.
ED: Where did the idea for “In Utah There Are Mountains Too” come from?
FF: This text was part of a novel that I am writing, but it took on a life of its own, gained autonomy and, for structural reasons, ended up outside the original plan and became an independent story. The novel takes the form of a biography, I am writing a semifictional and novelized biography of a poet from my city and she, in her adolescence, fell in love with a Mormon missionary who couldn’t reciprocate. That was the initial anecdote that gave rise to the story.
ED: What are you working on now?
FF: On two projects at the same time, both novels. One is a false biography of Cuqui, a poet and performer from Córdoba who is my age. The other text is still in a more embryonic state, the premise is that it takes place in the sierras of Córdoba, a place that I conceive of as mythical: it’s where people flee to from the big cities, in search of peace, tranquility and contact with nature. It is also a place of hope and second chances, the characters will attempt to create a new life there, among the mountains and skies of Córdoba.
And don’t forget, Granta has a special offer for all readers of Three Percent: if you subscribe now you’ll receive this special issue featuring the “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” for free
Up next: Carlos Labbe.
The video is now available of last week’s (and, dare we say, our best to date) Reading the World Conversation Series event with the internationally bestselling author Jorge Volpi and preeminent translator Alfred Mac Adam. Parts 1-3 are Jorge’s reading, and parts 4-8 are the questions/answers between Jorge, Alfred, and the audience.
Here’s the skinny on the event:
Oct. 20, 2009 – Jorge Volpi—author of international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, and a founder of the “Crack” group—reads from his latest novel, Season of Ash, and discusses the new generation of Mexican writers.
Season of Ash puts a human face on the earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet communism and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapse of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project. Praised throughout the world for his inventive story telling and stylistic ambition, Jorge Volpi has become one of the leading innovators of twenty-first-century world literature.
After reading from Season of Ash, Jorge Volpi is joined in conversation by Alfred Mac Adam—professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College-Columbia University since 1983 and translator of novels by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Julio Cortázar, as well as Season of Ash.
(This event is hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.)
If you happen to be here in Rochester, you should definitely come to U of R’s Plutzik Library at 6:30 for tonight’s Reading the World Conversation Series event with Jorge Volpi and Alfred Mac Adam.
Jorge is one of the founding members of the “Crack” group—a collection of young Mexican writers who put together this manifesto about breaking with the (derivative) tradition of magical realism, and writing structurally complex, cosmopolitan books. Simon & Schuster published In Search of Klingsor a few years back, and we just got our copies of Season of Ash back from the printer.
Here’s the description:
Jorge Volpi’s international bestseller Season of Ash puts a human face on the earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet communism and the rise fo the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapse of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project. Told through the intertwined lives of three women—Irina, a Soviet biologist; Eva, a Hungarian computer scientist; and Jennifer, an American economist—this novel-of-ideas is part detective novel, part scientific investigation, and part journalistic expose, with a dark, destructive love story at its center.
Praised throughout the world for his inventive storytelling and stylistic ambition, Jorge Volpi has become one of the leading innovators of twenty-first-century world literature. Season of Ash calls to mind the best works of Richard Powers and Carlos Fuentes, and it is a stunning, singular achievement.
Here’s a promo bit from this morning’s news program (which, fantastically, always interviews out RTWCS authors):
Jorge’s an impressive guy, and when I was with him at the Guadalajara Book Fair, he was the equivalent of a literary rockstar. And his translator Alfred Mac Adam is equally interesting. Alfred has translated Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jose Donoso, and Julio Coratzar among others. He also used to edit Review: Latin American Literature and Arts and currently teaches at Barnard College.
The event should be really interesting, both in the discussion of the book itself and in talking about the future of Latin American literature. (All next week we’ll be running a five-part essay by Jorge about the future of L.A. lit . . . ) And for those of you not fortunate enough to live in Rochester (or, you know, whatever), we’ll be videotaping this and will post it as soon as possible.
(Also want to take a line here and thank both the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts for making the entire Reading the World Conversation Series possible.)
Our second Reading the World event in Rochester, NY, is right around the corner, and it’s going to be a great one featuring internationally best-selling author Jorge Vopli and Spanish translator Alfred Mac Adam. One and all should come. Here are the details:
OCT. 20, 2009
Plutzik Library (in Rush Rhees Library)
University of Rochester
(free and open to the public)
Jorge Volpi—author of international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, and a founder of the “Crack” group—reads from his latest novel, Season of Ash, and discusses the new generation of Mexican writers.
Alfred Mac Adam is the acclaimed Spanish translator of Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, among others.
Jorge Volpi’s new international bestseller Season of Ash puts a human face on the earth-shaking events of the late twentieth century: the Chernobyl disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet communism and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, the cascading collapse of developing economies, and the near-miraculous scientific advances of the Human Genome Project. Praised throughout the world for his inventive storytelling and stylistic ambition, Jorge Volpi has become one of the leading innovators of twenty-first-century world literature.
After reading from Season of Ash, Jorge Volpi will be joined in conversation by Alfred Mac Adam—professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College-Columbia University since 1983 and translator of novels by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Donoso, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Julio Cortázar, as well as Season of Ash.
(This event is hosted by Open Letter and University of Rochester Arts & Sciences. It is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.)
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It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
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Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .