7 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 10 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’s post—which is going up a bit late, sorry—features Spanish author Pablo Gutierrez whose new story, “Gigantomancy,” was translated for this issue by Anna Kushner.

Something about Gutierrez really appeals to me . . . I think it’s this line from his bio: “Currently a teacher of literature at a secondary school in Cadiz, he lives in peace and tranquility, very close to the sea.” Oh, and by “appeals to me,” I really mean, “makes me insanely jealous.” I want some tranquility and seashore!

But seriously, Gutierrez is one of the youngest authors selected for this list, and already has a promising start to his career having won the Tormenta en us vaso Prize for best new author in Spanish for his first novel, Rosas, restos de alas.

Since Gutierrez’s full story is available on Granta‘s website, I thought today I would just post a significant excerpt, so that you can get a taste of his work:

As cadets, we rubbed Coca-Cola on our soles so we wouldn’t crack open our heads while playing outside. The dew soaked the concrete and we glided on the court like an aeroplane when it rains, our hands hidden in our fists, the pavement greasy beneath Saturday’s frost, and just at the mouth of the airport, eleven pale giants fastened to the seats like packages, the pilot narrows his eyes so that the nose meets the blue lines, the wind, the rain, all of the gods’ lightning illuminating our enormous jaws. On those winter courts, how we broadsided those boys from the Salesian school, there go the boys having taken communion – we used to say – there go the boys parading their embroidered crests, no one breathes until the aeroplane rushes on the runway and the pilot releases the brakes. A pitch-dark night: the sky falls in pieces over Treviso, it always rains in Treviso, what does it matter if from here to the hotel and from the hotel to the field we’re watched by the guard dog, oh, how we bit as cadets, how we rushed at anyone, and one Saturday they came to see me from La Caja and they shook my hand like a gentleman, they said, aren’t your parents home? Damn, you can really hit it, how would you like to try spending some time with us? La Caja! With Izquierdo and Lafuente and that tower of curls who was shooting at just fifteen years old, a trunk with elephant ankles who moved slooooowly like a mimic, but when he got it down court, oh, La Caja. My folks said fine, but only if you go on with school, and there was Mom, crying as if I were going off to Antarctica, don’t cry, Mommy, I’ll come home every weekend, all those hours on the bus that brings back the San Fernando recruits, heads shaved and bone-thin as lepers, sad and gloomy-faced with their backpacks hanging at their shoulders, their noses covered in pimples. Two breakfasts, meat at lunchtime, fish for supper, piles of vegetables on tin trays: we also made up an army, an army of gigantean kids with sharpened hands, prominent Adam’s apples and the shadow of a moustache. We followed orders, we had leaders, punishments and uniforms, La Caja’s uniform is so pretty, with gold borders, a name and number on the back, it was the first time I saw my name printed on a shirt, like an idiot I stared at it like someone who stares at the picture of his girlfriend, I would have slept in it if my room-mate hadn’t laughed, serious as a monk and stretched-out and dry, he spent his time reading and he could throw well but didn’t run much, and there you had to run like a deer, run and bust a gut during training so during games you could fly like Son Goku when he took his weights off, we hit any one of them with a hell of a lot of blows, it would be great if you could still play that way now, if it were that easy to glide right past your rivals like an aeroplane on the runway, jump that way, hit that way, laugh and always win that way, but everything now is fight and surround and bite down on your protector so they don’t break your teeth, like here in Treviso when they ripped one of my molars out during the first charge, minute one and boom, down to the floor like a sparring, of course I wasn’t even twenty years old then and I would be shaking as I came on to that court that had the appearance of a gym and the fans shake you from the minute you step on the sporting ring and Perotti the winger ripped my tooth out with a full contact blow of his elbow, I went running to the clinic so they could sew up the hole because I wouldn’t stop haemorrhaging and there was a monsoon-like rain falling, imagine, a guy as big as a castle all covered in blood asking for a doctor, the nurse nearly fell right over at the sight of me, how the Italians shake you in Treviso or Bologna, each point is an Olympic battle, they grab on to your neck like Medusas, I don’t have the heart or the patience any more but there’s nothing else I know how to do, after what happened at the Forum, who would trust me, I thought I would end up training kids for a modest salary, I don’t want a Nordic house on the peak of some mountain or yachts or cars that I can’t park but after what happened at the Forum who would dare put me in a locker room with kids if all I’m good for is being moody and putting on weight, although I’ve also been quite refined and elegant and have kept some of that, like when we were up against Baskonia, down by two, and Otis had gotten the whistle in the fifth and in the last play, they set a trap for the skinny guy and I threw that rock that I thought would end up outside the pavilion but goddamn, it went in like Larry Bird hit them, the stands went wild, in Giants, they did a retrospective on me, I appeared in all the television news programmes, well, if this isn’t going to be my day – I thought – but then what happened at the Forum came, and because of that I understand quite clearly that before the year is up, they’re going to kick me out, if it would at least stop raining, if only I could take off this tracksuit and button up a real coat and escape from this hotel without telling anyone, just looking left and right in case the guard dog is making his rounds as if we were juniors, if only I could rip off this ridiculous smock that’s hurled down on you from a fifth floor when you’re over thirty years old, I’m fed up with being a walking adman for AGR Insurance and Univision Optics, if only I could slip away from this remote hotel dropped down on a traffic circle with decorated roundabouts and carpet-covered hallways and brass banisters, a forlorn, tiny receptionist who looks at me with round eyes from deep inside her cardboard uniform as if I were a sulphuric giant banging the counter asking for the Yellow Pages, the classifieds from the newspaper, for a taxi to take me to the city: to walk wildly, feeling splendid and lazy, sit down at a cafe and invite a blonde girl to join me, ask for a cream puff, wolf it down in one bite, make a call like in the last century from a telephone booth, talk to Luisa about the weather in Treviso, ask her if the little one is asleep already, no, not yet, she’s cheating me in Parcheesi, tell her to get on the line, you’re-so-far-away-I-have-a-burn-mark-on-my finger-I’ve-already-got-two-up-on-her, if I could, I would care very little about what happened at the Forum, but it’s raining like in the Great Flood and I’ve become a prisoner of this room watched over by the guard dog, inside this walking adman costume, sharing a room with this little acrobat boy who thinks he is Vince Carter and who has been playing video games for two hours already, imprisoned as if I were at camp training a pony and riding zip-lines while Mom and Dad go off to Paris for a week to see if they can kiss each other there like they don’t here, and even though I could escape and strip and get into that taxi, I would still be moving this mountain-like body crowned with the face of a chased aboriginal. On that peak, my forehead like a movie screen would stand out like the lamp of a lighthouse: the little blonde would squeeze her knees together like a girl who is peeing herself, there wouldn’t be any cream puffs left at the pastry shop, in this century, there’s no finding a telephone booth with anything more than an amputated cable hanging like a terrible extremity.

Humans against giants. All of those midgets spitting at me from the stands, hanging strips of toilet paper from my ears, urinating on my towel, calling me hair-raising things, the word repeated from their rounded mouths that sounds the same in every language, even syllables and fricatives and different I-don’t know-whats always sound like the same thing.

Click here to pick up reading where this excerpt leaves off.

And don’t forget: by subscribing to Granta while the “22 Days of Awesome” is going on, you’ll receive this special issue featuring the next wave of Spanish-language novelists for free. (The issue retails for $16.99 FYI.)

29 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know, I know, it’s been a while, but the latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Erik Sean Estep on Noberto Fuentes’s The Autobiography of Fidel Castro, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner and published late last year by W. W. Norton. (FYI, the paperback edition will be available in December.)

Erik Estep is someone I know from the long, flat days of Central Illinois. At the time he was working in Milner Library at Illinois State University. Around the time that we all left Dalkey for Open Letter/Three Percent, Erik escaped as well, and is now a Reference Librarian at East Carolina University. Erik is also the most deluded Cubs fan I ever met, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, although we probably should’ve reviewed this back a few months ago, the announcement regarding Castro’s memoirs actually makes this a bit timely. (Planned. Totally planned.)

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

Most of the icons of the Long Twentieth Century (defined by most as stretching from the Great War to the suicide of the Soviet Union) have left the scene. If you were on team communism, chances are you in formaldehyde or you have turned over your kingdom to an heir. If you were on the capitalist side of the field, you’ve likely been given a nice state funeral by the victors, long after, sadly, your brain had turned to jelly. However, there is one leader who is still in game, a survivor who has managed recently even to return to the big screen, via an undisclosed location, to inspire the masses. That man, of course, is Fidel Castro. A stroke may hobble The Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, thus speeding up the transition to the Great Grandson of The Leader, but El Comandante continues to lead.

Castro has not yet published his memoirs, but is said to be working on them since formally relinquishing power several years ago. Norberto Fuentes in his delightful, brutally honest, and satirical book The Autobiography of Fidel Castro has beaten him to the punch. Fuentes was a companero of Castro and his regime until the late ‘90s until he became persona non grata and had to flee to Miami. Jean Jacques Rousseau invented the superstar memoir genre with his Autobiography, and, it is important to note, that the veracity of that book was challenged from the outset. Rousseau, ever the bad boy of the Enlightenment, was said to have shaded things in his direction. Even though we know that Fuentes book is a work of fiction, his many years at Castro’s side have made his work indistinguishable from “true” memoirs.

Click here to read the full review.

29 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Most of the icons of the Long Twentieth Century (defined by most as stretching from the Great War to the suicide of the Soviet Union) have left the scene. If you were on team communism, chances are you in formaldehyde or you have turned over your kingdom to an heir. If you were on the capitalist side of the field, you’ve likely been given a nice state funeral by the victors, long after, sadly, your brain had turned to jelly. However, there is one leader who is still in game, a survivor who has managed recently even to return to the big screen, via an undisclosed location, to inspire the masses. That man, of course, is Fidel Castro. A stroke may hobble The Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, thus speeding up the transition to the Great Grandson of The Leader, but El Comandante continues to lead.

Castro has not yet published his memoirs, but is said to be working on them since formally relinquishing power several years ago. Norberto Fuentes in his delightful, brutally honest, and satirical book The Autobiography of Fidel Castro has beaten him to the punch. Fuentes was a companero of Castro and his regime until the late ‘90s until he became persona non grata and had to flee to Miami. Jean Jacques Rousseau invented the superstar memoir genre with his Autobiography, and, it is important to note, that the veracity of that book was challenged from the outset. Rousseau, ever the bad boy of the Enlightenment, was said to have shaded things in his direction. Even though we know that Fuentes book is a work of fiction, his many years at Castro’s side have made his work indistinguishable from “true” memoirs.

The English translation is roughly 550 pages, which is abridged from the Spanish version that is nearly three times as long. Accordingly, the pacing seems a bit off; there is much about Castro’s rise to power, very little about Cuba’s involvement in the wars in Africa, the rapprochement with the Carter Administration, Glasnost, the fall of the Soviet Union, the execution of several high ranking Cuban officers for corruption in the ‘80s, etc. One can guess that they were left on the cutting room floor and since Fuentes was there for most of the period, perhaps they were left out of the Spanish version as well, just to play it safe.

And it is just as well because this book has the voice of a very young man, making Castro seems very alive, not yet ready for the embalmers needle. As with most political leaders, but especially revolutionaries, any memoir is also about ideology and Fuentes has a lot of fun with the myth of infallibility of dictators. Every single decision has to be correct and it is interesting to see how Castro airbrushes the record. The voyage on the Granma from Mexico to the Sierra Mastre has long since passed into Cuban mythology. What is less well known, is that leaving the Granma intact was a military blunder; Batista’s planes were able to hone in on the ship and trace the movement of the guerillas from that point and pound the insurgents from the air. More chillingly, Castro claims responsibility for Che’s death in Bolivia; it was all according to plan to use Che as a martyr for the Revolution. None of this sounds funny, but the ex post facto reasoning leads to some very tall tales that wouldn’t be out of place in the works of Mark Twain.

A curious omission is the figure of that Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan. Perhaps Castro is jealous and since he is still fighting the good fight; one shouldn’t give credit where credit is not due. What is remarkable, though, is the symmetry between this book and Edmund Morris’s Dutch. Morris, an old public relations hand, was taken to task for inventing a fictional character to carry the narrative along. Alzheimer’s had long robbed Reagan of his memory to remember his own lines so Morris was accused of taking advantage of a senile old man. But Dutch was a blast to read and laid out in a properly elegant fashion, with photographs of the handsome actor breaking up the gushing text. And so, Fuentes has given service to the Revolution he has long since abandoned; by writing Castro’s autobiography for him he has given notice that El Comandante is not ready for the formaldehyde of history just yet.

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