2 July 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

From here on out, multiple judges will be voting on each of the matches and the “score” will be an accumulation of these votes.

Just to recap, Tatiana Lobo’s Assault on Paradise (Costa Rica) made it to this point by beating Brazil’s Crow Blue and Spain’s The Happy City.

Laura Restrepo’s Delirium (Colombia) got here by getting past England’s Life After Life and then Mexico’s Texas: The Great Theft.

The winner of this game faces off against The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine (Germany) on Tuesday, July 7th.

On to the match!

Hilary Plum: Colombia

Delirium is gripping and seamlessly made, even its seeming asides proving vital and resonant, and so it outmatches its worthy opponent, whose game is beautifully picaresque but thus less firmly organized.

Colombia 1 – Costa Rica 0


P.T. Smith: Colombia

Delirium wins, as books of madness usually do for me, and Natasha Wimmer proves her adeptness at translating unsettled reality.

Colombia 2 – Costa Rica 0


Meredith Miller: Costa Rica

Again, I’m choosing Assault on Paradise for the win. Both books involve a mystery surrounding the characters’ plights, and I am still blown away by the epic reach Lobo gives Pedro’s story. I found the revolving nature of Delirium’s narrative beautifully hypnotizing, but it failed to create the same sense of urgency that is experienced reading Assault on Paradise.

Colombia 2 – Costa Rica 1


Mythili Rao: Colombia

Delirium. Because the 80s are more fascinating to me than the 1800s, and Agustina seems to be lost in more interesting ways than Pedro is.

Colombia 3 – Costa Rica 1


Hal Hlavinka: Colombia

By turns light-footed, twisted, and toothy, Delirium out paces the great Assault on Paradise in this North v. South American quarterfinal faceoff!

Colombia 4 – Costa Rica 1


Katrine Jensen: Colombia

I vote for Delirium because it manages to combine a fast pace and punchiness with elegance and musicality on a sentence level, which is quite an accomplishment. Because of this, Delirium seems more complete than Assault on Paradise, which can be slow and confusing at times. Plus, Natasha Wimmer’s translation is simply masterful and difficult to compete with.

Colombia 5 – Costa Rica 1


Rhea Lyons: Colombia

I personally just love the perspective in Delirium, the voice, and it’s just more straight up entertaining.

Colombia 6 – Costa Rica 1

*

There you have it—the first semifinal is set, with Germany’s Alina Bronsky set to go up against Colombia’s Laura Restrepo for a spot in the first ever Women’s World Cup of Literature championship!

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page.

And check back tomorrow for the second quarterfinal featuring Burial Rites (Australia) up against Dark Heart of the Night (Cameroon). Promises to be a very tight match . . .

26 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Katrine Øgaard Jensen, blog editor at Asymptote. You can follow her on Twitter at @kojensen.

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page. And check back here daily!

This match between Tatiana Lobo’s Assault on Paradise (translated by Asa Zatz) and Elvira Navarro’s The Happy City (translated by Rosalind Harvey) is really a battle between the epic and the subtle. Representing Costa Rica we have a novel depicting the Conquistadores and the Church invading Central America in the early 1700s, and may I just say that I’ve rarely encountered such a larger-than-life opening (entitled “Pa-brú Presbere dreams of Surá, Lord of the Nether World”!!)

Here’s a random sentence from the very first page, which is almost written as if God herself were the narrator:

The fire slowly expired and the shadows fell, the darkness good for thinking and meditation but not about the external things that anguish us in the officious light of day, rather about the secrets of the womb.

In contrast to this opening from “above,” The Happy City—a novel in two separate yet connected sections, representing Spain—begins very much from below, with the first pre-adolescent main character, Chi-Huei, spying on his father and his aunt from a garden (yes, this boy is witnessing something in a garden; need I say more about where the story is going?):

From the bushes, a chorus of crickets rose up, monotonous and precise, drowning out the hum of the traffic and the neighbors’ voices issuing from open windows. The sultry summer atmosphere oozed with the sweet, acidic scent of the loquats, and Chi-Huei liked to stand beneath the tree, breathing in the strangeness of the night, although he was not aware of its mute vibration just now.

As mentioned, The Happy City consists of two sections, and both of them follow a pre-teen (in the first section it’s Chi-Huei, while the second section is dedicated to his friend Sara) discovering the disturbing complexities of the adult world. This novel is written with a sharp clarity, which Assault on Paradise at times fails to achieve. The “epic” nature of the latter almost forced me to keep a notebook in order to remember certain characters and events—which some readers like, I just happen to not like it—and that earns Spain a goal during the first half of this match.

*

In the second half, however, Costa Rica takes revenge. Although The Happy City covers some steps towards sexuality, it doesn’t stand a chance against the intriguing misadventures of main character and admirer of women Pedro Albarán from Assault on Paradise. Just take a look at this opening sentence for chapter two, which pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book:

Bárbare Lorenzana and Pedro Albarán arrived at the city of Cartago at the same time, slept under the same roof, made love to the same woman, and had not spoken to one another for the past ten long years.

Pedro’s encounters include—but are not limited to—La Chamberga the innkeeper; a local prostitute called The Mother of Travelers; Agueda, wife of an officer in the army; and finally, a mute native woman who embodies the culture that Pedro Albarán’s compatriots seek to terminate. Well done, Pedro. You’ve scored a goal for Costa Rica.
With a score of 1-1, here comes the divine FIFA-like corruption scandal: I’ve decided to leak an out-of-context quote from an email sent to me by fellow judge Meredith Miller, who scandalously allowed Costa Rica to win over Brazil last week. Here’s what she wrote about Assault on Paradise:

Don’t get bogged down by all of the names or disoriented with the mythology in the opening pages.

Well said, Miller. The truth is, Assault on Paradise is epically ambitious in many ways, but it also manages to enthrall the reader with its clever use of low-brow humor combined with an elevated language when the story calls for it. Costa Rica scores the final goal of this match, because reading Assault on Paradise is an utterly entertaining and unique experience.

Costa Rica 2, Spain 1

*

With only one match left to come, we can speculate a bit on what the quarterfinals will look like. Germany’s The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine has clinched a bye, and unless Texas wins by 5, or Delirium by 4, Canada’s Oryx & Crake will automatically advance to the semi-finals as well. The rest of the seedings are still a bit in flux, with the current standings being Australia (+3), Costa Rica (+2), and Cameroon (+1). Tomorrow’s winner could finish anywhere in there . . .

Speaking of tomorrow, the last match of the second round will be judged by Hilary Plum and feature Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa (Mexico) against Delirium by Laura Restrepo (Colombia). And following that, we’ll be able to specify who faces who in the quarter- and semi-finals.

15 June 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Meredith Miller, a Foreign Rights Agent at Trident Media Group. You can follow her on Twitter at @merofthemillers.

For more information on the Women’s World Cup of Literature, click here or here. Also, be sure to follow our Twitter account and like our Facebook page. And check back here daily!

Assault on Paradise vs. Crow Blue pits two very different books from the Americas against one another in a David vs. Goliath match-up. Geographically speaking, Costa Rica is a mere .6% of the total landmass of Brazil, and its population 2.2% of its much larger cousin. Harder, if not impossible to measure is the significance of each country’s respective cultural histories replete with bloody colonization, uprisings, and political upheaval.

At their root, Assault on Paradise and Crow Blue are both stories of exodus—one propelled by the historical events that directly shape and forever alter one man’s life and the other a portrait of a young woman’s life indirectly shaped by the reverberations of a time and place she never knew. Through disparate means, both books achieve what I seek to gain reading literature in translation. Both stories place you directly in a time, with a people, either previously unknown or little-known, shrinking the world just a little bit more to better comprehend our shared collective experience.

In Adriana Lisboa’s Crow Blue (trans. Alison Entrekin), thirteen-year-old Vanja leaves her home in Rio de Janeiro for the suburbs of Denver in search of her biological father and her identity after the untimely death of her mother. Guiding Vanja on her search and assuming the role of de facto father is Fernando, an early ex-husband of Vanja’s mother with a violent past as a guerilla fighter. Multilayered, Crow Blue is also an exploration of Brazil’s sordid political history. The narrative deftly leaps from Vanja’s present day search in the Southwest, which brings together an unlikely family of three displaced souls; to Vanja’s carefree childhood on the idyllic Copacabana Beach with her mother; to the occupied portions of the Amazon in the 1970s with Fernando witness to the atrocities carried out by the Brazilian government. This is a novel that very much belongs to its characters, with prose lush and metaphorical, about the compelling need that we humans have to know who we are and from where we came.

Lisboa secures the first point for Brazil through Vanja’s keen and astute observations—well beyond her years—of migration, assimilation, family, and whether it is “possible for the people and culture of a place not to be enmeshed in the fabric of time and history.” Like many immigrants, Vanja feels the burden of being without a sense of place, observing that “after you have been away from home too long, you become an intersection between the two groups.” Like a Venn Diagram, you come to occupy the space in between. The adults in Vanja’s life have a penchant for entrusting her with their own personal histories. She, by turn, is adept at ferreting out the missing pieces of the story and filling in what is not readily offered.

***

In the second half, Tatiana Lobo scores successive points for Costa Rica with Assault on Paradise (trans. Asa Zatz) for its tragicomic wit, punchy, modern language in spite of its eighteenth century setting, and its unapologetic indictment of the Spanish colonization of Central America. This ambitious, sweeping historical novel follows the misadventures of Pedro Albarán, an escaped prisoner of the Inquisition who has made it to the new world in search of his own personal freedom. Unsure of the crime for which he was arrested, Pedro adopts the philosophy of “play dead dog; be all ears” and “undercover efficiency” to keep a low profile in this strange new world.

Despite his best efforts to lay low, Pedro cannot help himself from pontificating about the hypocrisies of the Church and government and from his obsessive admiration of the opposite sex, escalating his status at one point to living legend. On an expedition to atone for the governor’s transgressions, Pedro falls madly in love with a mute native woman without ever understanding her or the culture his countrymen aim to destroy. Lobo breathes a touch of Mayan mystique and mythology into the mounting tension and ensuing conflict. Though tedious at times to keep track of the many settlers’ names and back stories, Lobo has crafted an engrossing, swashbuckling tale of the tumultuous makings of Central America.

Lobo succeeds in giving a wag of the finger to the bloodthirsty Conquistadors while maintaining a smart sense of humor securing one goal for Brazil, slipping in phrases such as “crotch-transgressions” when the narrative moment calls for it. She scores a second goal for the win with the pace at which she is able to maintain throughout the story, spanning nine years and two continents.

Costa Rica: 2
Brazil: 1

*

Next up, Costa Rica’s Assault on Paradise will face off against either South Korea’s Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah or Spain’s The Happy City by Elvira Navarro on Friday, June 26th.

Tomorrow’s match will be judged by Sal Robinson, and features America’s Toni Morrison going up against Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when Home faces off against Americanah.

5 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

David Toscana’s The Last Reader stands as a challenge for the most dedicated readers. On the upside, it’s a challenge worth taking. Toscana’s novella vaguely imitates a murder mystery, but the real focus lies in blurring the lines between active reading and authorship, and more generally between reality and fiction.

The Last Reader is set in Icamole, a small impoverished village in Mexico, in the middle of a yearlong drought. Wealthy Remigio takes pride (and showers) in water that lines the bottom of his well, until the day he finds the water obstructed by a teenage girl’s corpse. Remigio goes to his father, Lucio, for advice, and here we meet the titular character. Lucio is Icamole’s last and only reader. When Remigio presents the problem of the corpse, Lucio reacts with the bibliophile’s instinct—he looks to his library. He zeroes in on a French novel, The Death of Babette, whose heroine’s physical description matches that of the corpse. Lucio names the corpse Babette, and suggests Remigio bury Babette in his garden, like the killer in The Apple Tree.

With this premise, Toscana’s scheme is set in motion. Lucio, the esoteric, lovably bookish father, quickly wins our hearts. (By contrast, Remigio, selfish with his water and wary of Lucio’s advice, seems a bit more questionable.) It’s fun to read about how Lucio organizes the abandoned library with great dedication and verve. Books he likes find a place on the library shelves, but any book he deigns trite (including the amusingly obvious anti-racism manifesto The Color of Heaven) or otherwise lacking gets marked “Withdrawn” and thrown into a cockroach-infested “book hell” with other rejected titles. As he works, Lucio offers the reader tips to quickly evaluate book quality. For example, he claims the ending of a book (though not the beginning) is an effective measurement of overall quality.

With such qualifications about good and bad novels, Toscana sets up a high standard for his own novel, and yet he does not disappoint. Toscana’s cleverly created characters, one bound to please and the other to disappoint, ultimately challenge the reader’s surface-level assumptions. Also challenging is Toscana’s stream-of-consciousness prose, translated by Asa Zatz. The novel does not employ quotation marks to distinguish between dialogue and the other text. This forces readers to tread carefully, especially when Lucio offers everyone direct quotes from his favorite books. As with many of the challenges and frustrations in Toscana’s book, this device serves a bigger purpose, eliminating the distance between Lucio’s total obsession with the fictional world and the readers’ own blind acceptance of Toscana’s words.

Thus, Toscana’s challenges to the reader are far more purposeful than arbitrary, and the result is that the clever little book (some will argue too clever for its own good) has won numerous awards, most prestigiously being shortlisted for the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize. And the journey to the novel’s astounding conclusion, if rigorous, is hardly painful. Toscana’s rambling, and at times distancing, prose occasionally tips toward the luscious:

There is nothing like the smoothness of [Remigio’s] avocadoes, for which reason, on some nights he throws a few in the bed and stretches out with them. He offers them caresses, flattery. They are lovers with supple hands and noticeable breasts, disposable lovers, no name, no obligations, and no future, because they wake up squashed on the sheets after having sacrificed everything for love. The avocado was the fruit of temptation, without a doubt, although people liked to believe it was the apple, an inept whore with a smooth skin but a rigid body, sticky, no discretion in biting, which gets old all at once and consorts with flies and other insects. He knows that his girl is better off [buried] under the avocado tree.

If Lucio occasionally gets lost in his favorite prose, well, perhaps we cannot blame him. But this is entirely Toscana’s point: he has crafted a novel specially for bibliophiles, a novel that highlights the perils, perversions, and joys of losing oneself in a fantastic book.

5 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Sara Cohen on David Toscana’s The Last Reader, which is translated from the Spanish by Asa Zatz and available from Texas Tech University Press.

Sara—a summer intern and student here at the University of Rochester—is working on reviews of a few books in Texas Tech’s Americas Series. We wrote about this series a few months back, and it looks like we’ll be highlighting at least one of their forthcoming titles in the not-too-distant future.

But more on that later. For now, here’s the opening to Sara’s review of Toscana’s novel, which was shortlisted for the Romulo Gallegos International Novel Prize and won the National Colima Prize, the Premio Jose Fuentes Mares, and the Antonin Artaud Prize.

David Toscana’s The Last Reader stands as a challenge for the most dedicated readers. On the upside, it’s a challenge worth taking. Toscana’s novella vaguely imitates a murder mystery, but the real focus lies in blurring the lines between active reading and authorship, and more generally between reality and fiction.

The Last Reader is set in Icamole, a small impoverished village in Mexico, in the middle of a yearlong drought. Wealthy Remigio takes pride (and showers) in water that lines the bottom of his well, until the day he finds the water obstructed by a teenage girl’s corpse. Remigio goes to his father, Lucio, for advice, and here we meet the titular character. Lucio is Icamole’s last and only reader. When Remigio presents the problem of the corpse, Lucio reacts with the bibliophile’s instinct—he looks to his library. He zeroes in on a French novel, The Death of Babette, whose heroine’s physical description matches that of the corpse. Lucio names the corpse Babette, and suggests Remigio bury Babette in his garden, like the killer in The Apple Tree.

With this premise, Toscana’s scheme is set in motion. Lucio, the esoteric, lovably bookish father, quickly wins our hearts. (By contrast, Remigio, selfish with his water and wary of Lucio’s advice, seems a bit more questionable.) It’s fun to read about how Lucio organizes the abandoned library with great dedication and verve. Books he likes find a place on the library shelves, but any book he deigns trite (including the amusingly obvious anti-racism manifesto The Color of Heaven) or otherwise lacking gets marked “Withdrawn” and thrown into a cockroach-infested “book hell” with other rejected titles. As he works, Lucio offers the reader tips to quickly evaluate book quality. For example, he claims the ending of a book (though not the beginning) is an effective measurement of overall quality.

With such qualifications about good and bad novels, Toscana sets up a high standard for his own novel, and yet he does not disappoint.

To read the entire review, click here.

....
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