10 September 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I’m going to have to double up on these for a while in order to catch up and make sure we cover everyone before the end of September, so expect a lot of “Forests” over the next week or so.

Rafael Chirbes is up first today. I’ve been interested in his works for a while, and just today gave his newest book En la orilla to a student to do a reader’s report for me. In looking back through my email though to see if I had a PDF of Crematorio anywhere, I found an email about the “Big ABC Survey” of the best Spanish novels of the twenty-first century, which might really interest all of you. Here’s the bulk of the email:

The “Big ABC survey” that was carried out among a hundred writers, editors, literary agents and cultural figures has chosen The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa as the best Spanish language novel of the twenty first century.

In second place appears Crematorium by Rafael Chirbes. In ABC’s words, “In a true tête-à-tête with the winner, the work of Rafael Chirbes stands out enormously. Using a realist point of view it has understood how to depict the profound (economic, moral, almost total) crisis of Spanish society in a painful and accurate way”.

In third place appears Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marías followed by Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Infatuations by Javier Marías, The Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol, Montano by Enrique Vila-Matas, Lizard Tails by Juan Marsé and The Day Tomorrow by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón.

Of the nine authors listed there (Marías appearing twice), five of them are included in A Thousand Forests in One Acorn. In fact, this collection contains excerpts from both of the top two books: Feast of the Goat and Crematorium.

More reasons that you should get a copy of A Thousand Forests in One Acorn. And through the end of the month, if you use FORESTS when you check out, you’ll get it for $15.

Rafael Chirbes (Spain, 1949)

There are a lot of deceased authors I love crowding my bookshelves at home. I talk to them; I listen to them. From Aub and Galdós, to Tolstoy, Montaigne, Yourcenar, Lucretius and Virgil, Faulkner, Döblin, Proust, Balzac, Eça de Queiroz, and on and on. I don’t leave the house much, so I reread them either at random or impelled by some intuition that tells me that this one and no other is the dead author I should hear at a particular time. For the most part, I’m not mistaken. I also dream about the dead people I knew when they were alive; I’ve touched them, even, and now they’re nowhere, and knowing that they’re not here and that I can’t talk to them or hear their voices distresses me when I go to bed. Some nights they take control of the room: their absence leaves me breathless and I have to turn on the light so I don’t suffocate. With the light on, it’s easier to send them back to the peaceful nothingness they’re struggling to escape from.

You said once that literature is like a lover. Either you go all the way or they leave you. You have to know the value of hitting bottom.

I think texts betray any sort of imposture on the part of their authors; they’re an extremely sensitive detector. They contain what the author wants to say, but also—and almost more importantly—what’s up his sleeve. And yes, I have the impression that writing saves me—I know, I know it’s sort of a romantic idea—don’t ask me from what, even if it’s from myself, it helps me stay afloat. It puts my doubts, my anxieties, at a certain distance and, more importantly, in the service of something.

Do you think there’s an ethical place for literature or is it merely an aesthetic exercise?

I don’t believe in an aesthetic without ethics, there’s no such thing: all aesthetics suggest a particular outlook on the world, and no outlook is innocent.

*

From Crematorio

(Crematorium)

[A Novel]

You have to go up, even if it’s no more than a few feet, a few yards; after all the sky starts a few feet above your head, but you must experience height, look at things from above, even if it’s only a few yards, and then you will be able to chart a course; but the high and mighty Gothic tower refused to help me take that flight. Hermetic, closed, completely sealed off. Deaf, mute, blind stone. Unfeeling stone hewn from God knows what quarry. Showing off the fact that, in its dense structure, there wasn’t a single weakness, not a single hole to let the water of feeling seep through. Unmentionable was the god who said let there be, fiat, and there was light, who said, open, and the earth broke in two, and a hole opened up to be filled with the blue waters of the swimming pools, the multi-story abyss rose straight up and the air-conditioning units started humming on its walls; everything in the cells of the rising honeycomb switched on, the ovens in the kitchens, and the ceramic stovetops, and every cell was filled with life, those cavities were filled with the shouts of children running down the stairs of their houses with inner tubes and plastic flippers and scuba goggles: the joy of a seaside vacation. All the blue of the Mediterranean, all the calm of the Mediterranean. My God, what would the bus drivers in the big European cities do if there were no Mediterranean, the clerks, the secretaries, the welders, the butchers, what would all those poor people do if on the horizon of their sad working lives there were no Mediterranean. And what about the millionaires who like to float around on rafts, and swim without getting their clothes wet. At this point I know all of this so well it bores me. Now everything can turn stupidly transparent (despite what Guillén thinks). Through the aquarium glass the children watch how whales mate and how sharks sharpen their teeth before going for their morning swim, the world squeezed into a fish tank where everything is visible, like in the houses on those TV shows, Big Brother, The Island of who knows what, you can see everything, the enormous fish tank of the world, the sharks swimming over the heads of the aquarium visitors, showing their teeth to the kids who aren’t afraid of anything anymore. There’s something childish about that zeal for transparency, as if societies, like homes—public life is, after all, a simulacrum of private life—didn’t need to have their dark zones, the places where potential energy accumulates. We, ourselves, our own bodies, have glass walls. All it takes is the push of a button to show our insides functioning on a screen.

(Translated by Emily Davis)

19 March 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Emily Davis on Zbinden’s Progress by Christoph Simon, translated by Donal McLaughlin (and with an introduction by Barbara Trapido), recently out from And Other Stories.

Due to some schedule hiccups (prep for AWP, AWP, post-AWP) and other interference (Scranton, PA, tinkering with the Web World in a manner that made the site inaccessible from outside University networks for the past two days), we finally kick back into our regular schedule of reviews and review posts. Not much more to say on that subject, so just take a look at And Other Stories’s covers—they’re fun! And we like the And Other people (People?, capital P?) in general, so that, too.

“Walking” novels seem to be something authors go back to again and again, reaching as far back (and probably farther) as Jane Austen (yes I did just go there), using it as a tactic to drive dialogue, narrative, etc. Open Letter’s own Sergio Chejfec uses walking frequently in his prose as a wonderful narrative device. What strikes me as fascinating is the many ways in which walking is put down on paper—no two authors seem to approach or apply the action quite the same way, rendering very different and delightful results. Here’s a part of Emily’s review (which I know for a fact she wrote, inspired, after taking a walk. FULL CIRCLE.):

The narrative style of Zbinden’s Progress is a sort of monodialogue: it’s not quite a monologue, though Zbinden’s is the only voice we hear. Nor is it a dialogue exactly, though Zbinden occasionally asks Kâzim a question and we can infer, from Zbinden’s side, that Kâzim both answers Zbinden’s questions and asks him some of his own. Zbinden is constantly interrupting himself to greet and have short conversations with all the other residents and caretakers he meets on his way down the stairs, but again, even though there are pauses to indicate the other people’s responses and we can more or less infer what they’ve said based on Zbinden’s replies, the only words on the page are the ones Zbinden speaks.

In a way, the narrative form mimics a walk: walking can be a social activity, and you might interact with any number of people (or animals, or trees, or buildings, if that’s more your style) along the way, but at its heart, walking is a highly individual experience, in that the impressions left by the walk, although they may be influenced by others, are ultimately the walker’s own.

Walking—and to be more specific, going for a walk—strikes me as a very human activity. We might go for a stroll around the neighborhood or a hike through the woods; our ancestors may have trekked across a continent as pioneers on the Oregon Trail or in much earlier migrations as hunter-gatherers. Walking is one of the simplest, most ancient ways of interacting with and exploring the world we live in, and as humans in an increasingly indoor and insular world, we might do well to take Zbinden’s advice and take the time to get to know the world outside.

For the full review, mosey on over here.

18 December 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Emily Davis on César Aira’s The Hare, from New Directions.

Emily is a graduate of the University of Rochester’s MA in Literary Translation Studies program, and now lives in India, rubbing elbows with other awesome translators, and is also one of the contributing translators to Open Letter’s forthcoming Spanish fiction anthology. (She’s also the original East Coast version of me—or I’m the original Midwest version of her. For those of you who know either of us, you know both of us.)

Here’s a bit of Emily’s review:

It’s hard to boil down a wild, digressive, fantastical plot into a neat, compact, simple summary, but here’s an attempt: Clarke, a British naturalist, is traveling through Patagonia in, say, the 1830s, and as he meets more and more of the local Mapuche people, he gets more and more caught up in their mysterious politics as he’s asked to help find a chief who’s disappeared into thin air, all the while also searching for the so-called Legibrerian hare. And, for those of you following along at home, some parts of the story here are loosely (very loosely) based on actual events that took place in Argentina in, say, the 1830s. Juan Manuel de Rosas, “the Restorer of the Laws” himself, features in the opening of the book, and Calfucurá appears (and disappears) prominently as well.

The real star, though, is the pampas. This isn’t anything new—the Patagonian wilderness plays an important role in many of Aira’s books—but The Hare is all about the setting and its special, otherworldly properties. Clarke is obsessed with the pampas as heterotopia—a place where the otherwise impossible is possible, because the laws of physics that govern the rest of the world don’t seem to apply here. At least, the geometry’s wonky, and the way you can see (or can’t see) things on the pampas doesn’t always make sense.

For the entire review, go here

18 December 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

“I should say at the outset that there is a lot of absurdity in the whole thing.”

As the shaman Mallén prepares to explain to Clarke the legend of the Legibrerian hare, I can’t help but read “the whole thing” as not simply the legend, but indeed the entire novel. At nearly 300 pages, The Hare is a great deal longer than Aira’s usually much thinner volumes, and accordingly, there is a lot of Airian absurdity in it.

It’s hard to boil down a wild, digressive, fantastical plot into a neat, compact, simple summary, but here’s an attempt: Clarke, a British naturalist, is traveling through Patagonia in, say, the 1830s, and as he meets more and more of the local Mapuche people, he gets more and more caught up in their mysterious politics as he’s asked to help find a chief who’s disappeared into thin air, all the while also searching for the so-called Legibrerian hare. And, for those of you following along at home, some parts of the story here are loosely (very loosely) based on actual events that took place in Argentina in, say, the 1830s. Juan Manuel de Rosas, “the Restorer of the Laws” himself, features in the opening of the book, and Calfucurá appears (and disappears) prominently as well.

The real star, though, is the pampas. This isn’t anything new—the Patagonian wilderness plays an important role in many of Aira’s books—but The Hare is all about the setting and its special, otherworldly properties. Clarke is obsessed with the pampas as heterotopia—a place where the otherwise impossible is possible, because the laws of physics that govern the rest of the world don’t seem to apply here. At least, the geometry’s wonky, and the way you can see (or can’t see) things on the pampas doesn’t always make sense. Clarke is constantly thinking about this, as he compares the vast empty landscape to an urban labyrinth:

I’ve also lived in London, and what this desert we are going through reminded me of was in fact London, the greatest city in the world. Strange, isn’t it? They would seem to have nothing in common, and yet the effects are the same, even down to details. If you head in any direction, either along its streets or out into this endless wilderness, the sense of being in a labyrinth where there’s no labyrinth, of everything being on view, of homogeneity, is exactly the same . . .

and desperately tries to explain repeated sightings of a “wanderer” whose position and movement appear to be logically inexplicable:

Once, a lone rider who remained in their sight for hours caught their attention. He was travelling along what was for them the skyline, and his trajectory seemed to be moving from one side to the other, not in the manner of a normal zigzag (in which case they would have noticed him moving closer then drawing further away) but rather as if the whole space between observers and observed were tilting. . . . The alarming thing was that they saw him again two days later, but this time at a completely different point, separate from the horizon. . . . Clarke became worried. . . . drawing a diagram with a twig in the dust when they stopped to camp. He was trying to work out how the rider’s position had changed, but contradicted his own calculations when he tried to include the tilting in space he thought he had detected on both occasions.

And then there’s the story about the enormous ducks—ducks the size of humans—that could only be possible within this mysterious world, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Another element of The Hare that’s worth pointing out, especially to those of you who are interested in translation (and considering where you’re reading this, I’m assuming that’s, like, all of you), is the interplay of languages. Not only is Clarke an Englishman traveling in an officially Spanish-speaking country, but most of the people he converses with speak either Huilliche or Voroga. This means that when we read Nick Caistor’s English translation—depending on how willing we are to jump down the rabbit hole—much of what we’re reading is essentially a translation (from Spanish) of a translation (from Huilliche or Voroga). This is all well and good and not that unusual, but I imagine it must be satisfying, when translating, to end up writing a line like “The joke was different in Huilliche of course, which was the language they were speaking in. But it survives the translation.”

What’s more, there’s even special acknowledgment of the difficulties inherent in translation, especially where there are ambiguities of meaning:

In the Huilliche tongue, these last two nouns had several meanings. Clarke could not immediately decide how they were being used on this occasion, and asked for an explanation. He knew what he was letting himself in for, because the Indians could be especially labyrinthine in these delicate issues of semantics: their idea of the continuum prevented them from giving clear and precise definitions.

Of course here, as well as in the line “He [the Voroga chief, Coliqueo] created monstrous sentences, joining the subject of one with the predicate of another, in order to increase their vagueness,” I can’t help but wonder: are you describing your characters’ language, or your own narrative style? And, to be honest, this is precisely why I like it. I realize not everyone is as obsessed with self-referential style as I am, nor as prone to spot examples of it everywhere, almost compulsively, so I’ll stop myself there and skip right to this:

The Hare is disorienting from the start, and yet as the setting turns more disorienting (and the protagonists more disoriented, the plot more convoluted), things start to fall into place. The crazy tale culminates in a bizarre series of plot twists worthy of a daytime talk show, but the biggest surprise of all is that it actually comes off as kind of charming.

15 March 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Emily Davis on The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira, the most recent Aira book to come out from New Directions, and which is translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver.

Emily is a graduate of the University of Rochester’s Master of Arts in Literary Translation, and for her thesis she translated Damián Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography, which we hopefully will be publishing in the not-too-distant future.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this blog isn’t already familiar with César Aira. New Directions has published seven of his books, including Ghosts, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, The Literary Conference, and How I Became a Nun. And this is just a fraction of Aira’s incredible output—he’s published more than 50 works, including 2-4 every year since 1993. (According to Wikipedia, the World’s Finest Information Source.)

Here’s the opening of Emily’s review:

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Doctor Who lately, and I’m therefore liable to see everything through science-fiction-colored glasses. But when the pages of The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira refer to “the totality of the present and of eternity” and the narrator drops phrases like “all possible worlds,” can you blame me for reading this book as a sort of exercise in shaping a reality that’s beyond what we would normally consider reality?

Let me back up, and let me be fair. A book that claims to be about miracles is not going to be fully grounded in reality. Or rather, it might be grounded in reality, but sooner or later it’s going to move beyond, above, outside of, maybe even to someplace that’s simply adjacent to reality. At the same time, those who are already familiar with César Aira’s books know that even the most normal, most mundane circumstances are likely to be interrupted by fantastical creatures or seemingly impossible events.

The Miracle Cures is a bit different, though. It’s subtler than the blue worms of The Literary Conference, or the armadillo-car of The Seamstress and the Wind. It’s more a meditation on what’s possible and, perhaps more importantly, what makes certain things possible. The Miracle Cures focuses more on the abstract.

Aira is no stranger to abstraction in his writing: his narratives often wander into abstract musings that can be frustrating or enlightening (or both), depending on how much mental energy you’re willing to devote to them (or how coherent he’s made them in the first place). Here, however, far more than I’ve seen before, Aira calls himself out on it. Dr. Aira, the protagonist of The Miracle Cures, is, as it turns out, an aspiring author. He plans to write and publish a series of books about the Miracle Cures. In writing these books, the narrator tells us Dr. Aira refuses to write in the standard, expected way: that is, using specific examples to illustrate his points. He prefers to remain in the abstract realm. Not only that, but even Dr. Aira’s drawings, which can be found in his many notebooks alongside his written notes about the Cures, always turn out abstract. Very rarely and only by accident do they ever represent something recognizable.

Click here to read the review in its entirety.

15 March 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Doctor Who lately, and I’m therefore liable to see everything through science-fiction-colored glasses. But when the pages of The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira refer to “the totality of the present and of eternity” and the narrator drops phrases like “all possible worlds,” can you blame me for reading this book as a sort of exercise in shaping a reality that’s beyond what we would normally consider reality?

Let me back up, and let me be fair. A book that claims to be about miracles is not going to be fully grounded in reality. Or rather, it might be grounded in reality, but sooner or later it’s going to move beyond, above, outside of, maybe even to someplace that’s simply adjacent to reality. At the same time, those who are already familiar with César Aira’s books know that even the most normal, most mundane circumstances are likely to be interrupted by fantastical creatures or seemingly impossible events.

The Miracle Cures is a bit different, though. It’s subtler than the blue worms of The Literary Conference, or the armadillo-car of The Seamstress and the Wind. It’s more a meditation on what’s possible and, perhaps more importantly, what makes certain things possible. The Miracle Cures focuses more on the abstract.

Aira is no stranger to abstraction in his writing: his narratives often wander into abstract musings that can be frustrating or enlightening (or both), depending on how much mental energy you’re willing to devote to them (or how coherent he’s made them in the first place). Here, however, far more than I’ve seen before, Aira calls himself out on it. Dr. Aira, the protagonist of The Miracle Cures, is, as it turns out, an aspiring author. He plans to write and publish a series of books about the Miracle Cures. In writing these books, the narrator tells us Dr. Aira refuses to write in the standard, expected way: that is, using specific examples to illustrate his points. He prefers to remain in the abstract realm. Not only that, but even Dr. Aira’s drawings, which can be found in his many notebooks alongside his written notes about the Cures, always turn out abstract. Very rarely and only by accident do they ever represent something recognizable.

The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira is hard to summarize. The most I can do is set it up: Dr. Aira has the power to perform miracle cures, and everyone knows it. His power is legendary. The hospital chief is constantly developing elaborate traps designed to trick Dr. Aira into performing a miracle cure on command, and Dr. Aira tries his best to avoid these tricks. Dr. Aira is also a sleepwalker, or rather, to use the words of the novel itself:

He suffered from a type of somnambulism, and it wasn’t all that unusual for him to wake up on unknown streets, which he actually knew quite well because all of them were the same.

On one such morning, Dr. Aira finds himself talking to a Lebanon cedar, delivering a rather deep philosophical monologue about humanity and its position on the planet and its relationship to Nature, when suddenly he pauses and adds:

Of course I am personalizing this quite perversely, reifying and externalizing forces that exist within us, but it doesn’t matter because I understand myself.

This is not only a comment that might make a frequent Aira reader laugh (“you might not have a clue what I’m trying to say here, but rest assured that at least I get it”), it’s also an indicator of one aspect of Aira’s writing style. Here, and in his books in general, Aira is a master of using high-register vocabulary in a matter-of-fact way. Why mention sleepwalking when he can easily fold in somnambulism instead? That his character is talking to a tree, like a madman? Why not seamlessly incorporate a word like reifying?

Of course, we ought to remember that Aira writes in Spanish, and this sort of styling—in particular, a stylistic trait that depends on certain vocabularies—does not simply transfer from one language to another on its own. That’s the work of a skilled translator, and here as ever, Katherine Silver does not disappoint. I can only imagine the feat it must be to translate Aira; nonetheless, The Miracle Cures is remarkably smooth while remaining anything but flat.

The final scene of The Miracle Cures is the most lively, most visually interesting, most mentally engaging of the entire book. Unfortunately, the ending itself is disappointing. Without giving it away—here I am going into abstractions myself—the ending does make the opening scene make a little more sense, but it doesn’t quite connect enough of the dots. I don’t expect all the dots to be connected—Aira usually leaves a few disconnects—but I just get the feeling he could have done more with this one. It just falls, and not enough in the “oh, this makes a lot of Aira-sense” direction. There seems to be a little too much truth to the narrator’s comment as Dr. Aira is wrapping up his actions in the final scene:

As often happens with difficult jobs, a point came when the only thing that mattered was to finish. He almost lost interest in the results, because the result that included all the others was to finish what he had started.

7 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Book Review section is a piece by Emily Davis on Ana Maria Shua’s Death as a Side Effect, which is translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger and available from the University of Nebraska Press.

Emily Davis a MALTS student here, and translates from Spanish. As you might be able to tell from the final line of her review, she wrote this months ago, at which time she emailed it to me and I promptly misfiled it. So.

Emily’s review is really positive, and makes this sound extremely interesting, and like a possible BTBA longlist title . . .

bq.If we were to ignore for just a moment the fact that Death as a Side Effect was originally published (in Spanish) in 1997 in Argentina, we might be tempted to read it in the context of recent healthcare reforms and debates in the United States, with the world painted by Ana María Shua nestling easily among the nightmares of death-panel-phobes. Luckily, this book is much more than that.

As Ernesto struggles to come to terms with his dying father, he discovers that the world he lives in is ruled not only by violent gangs of vandals and professional thieves who make even simple activities like walking outside so dangerous as to be unthinkable, but also by the medical professionals at state-run hospitals and Convalescent Homes that strip their patients—or maybe more like prisoners—of any say in their own healthcare. In the meantime, his mother is going crazy, his sister is of little help, and his girlfriend has left him. Add to this the fact that the entire narrative is told by Ernesto and is explicitly directed toward his absent (read: already lost) lover—think one-sided epistolary tale, or a novel-length version of Elena Poniatowska’s “El Recado” (in a somewhat less neurotic voice and with much more really going on)—and you have a main character buried in layers of complications that make his world difficult, if not nigh impossible, to navigate. (No wonder he occasionally flips to the Suicide Channel on the television.) It is, in part, precisely these multiple layers and their expert unfolding in narrative time that make this novel so compelling. Having read the book with only the jacket copy as preparation, I found it to be far more intriguing—and on many more levels—than I had expected.

Click here to read the entire review.

7 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

If we were to ignore for just a moment the fact that Death as a Side Effect was originally published (in Spanish) in 1997 in Argentina, we might be tempted to read it in the context of recent healthcare reforms and debates in the United States, with the world painted by Ana María Shua nestling easily among the nightmares of death-panel-phobes. Luckily, this book is much more than that.

As Ernesto struggles to come to terms with his dying father, he discovers that the world he lives in is ruled not only by violent gangs of vandals and professional thieves who make even simple activities like walking outside so dangerous as to be unthinkable, but also by the medical professionals at state-run hospitals and Convalescent Homes that strip their patients—or maybe more like prisoners—of any say in their own healthcare. In the meantime, his mother is going crazy, his sister is of little help, and his girlfriend has left him. Add to this the fact that the entire narrative is told by Ernesto and is explicitly directed toward his absent (read: already lost) lover—think one-sided epistolary tale, or a novel-length version of Elena Poniatowska’s “El Recado” (in a somewhat less neurotic voice and with much more really going on)—and you have a main character buried in layers of complications that make his world difficult, if not nigh impossible, to navigate. (No wonder he occasionally flips to the Suicide Channel on the television.) It is, in part, precisely these multiple layers and their expert unfolding in narrative time that make this novel so compelling. Having read the book with only the jacket copy as preparation, I found it to be far more intriguing—and on many more levels—than I had expected.

Death as a Side Effect is a book about aging, death, absence, coldness, fear, and entrapment—which, taken as a group, makes it sound like a horribly depressing read. It isn’t, though, because even amid the darkness there are bright sparks of humor. Take, for instance, a bit of Ernesto’s evidence of his mother’s going crazy: “Yesterday Mama threw a pot of stew down the stairs,” or his comically erudite description of a part of his reaction to having witnessed an act of violence: “As the car had new upholstery, I was circumspect enough to vomit on the street before I climbed in.” It is especially in such careful word choice and construction of tone that Andrea G. Labinger’s translation shines, as the prose seamlessly shifts among the range of emotions in this novel, as in Ernesto’s darkly humorous reflection on his dying father’s belongings:

Sadly, I realized there was nothing, absolutely nothing there that I might want to keep, except maybe that naked, reclining woman, whose oversized breasts were salt and pepper shakers and which struck me as the most touching symbol of my father’s bad taste and his enthusiastic vitality.

In addition to the temporary—and incomplete—lightening of mood afforded by these periodic dollops of humor, there are also moments of hope—hope for some kind of freedom—such as this dream of Ernesto’s:

I fell asleep. I dreamed I was flying. With a single leap, I gained altitude and soared through the air, very high above the city. It was pleasant, and it filled me with immeasurable pride. In my dream, I realized that flying was very unusual. Only I, among all men, could fly, only I in the entire history of the human race. I advanced effortlessly, feeling the breeze against my face, floating with an ease I never had in water. Then, without any transition, we were in the country, and I had gathered together a group of acquaintances to watch me fly. I ran and leaped, trying to rise, but my leaps were just that: enormous leaps, twenty or thirty yards long, that lifted me quite a bit above the ground. No matter how hard I attempted to run full speed, to try every which way, it did me no good. In real life, these boundless leaps would have been extraordinary. In the dream, they were simply proof that I couldn’t fly. The observers began to play poker.

His freedom is imperfect, its exercise incomplete, the outcome laughable and a touch unsettling; but still, the dream hints that there may be something beneath the surface that threatens the fearsome authority of the dystopia, something that flirts with a sort of balance in Ernesto’s world that could, perhaps, make it tolerable after all.

In the screwed-up world of Shua’s novel, perhaps the only sanity rises from Goransky, the film director with delusions of grandeur for whom Ernesto works as a scriptwriter and later as a makeup artist. Goransky has made only one successful film: a short documentary set in Antarctica. Still, he has dreams even bigger than he—“an enormous, heavy man with the brightest eyes you could ever imagine, in constant motion, a hippo on amphetamines, a bear hypnotized into thinking he was a squirrel”—dreams of making the great feature film of his era, a film also set in Antarctica. He throws a party to support his film project—a Coldness-themed party, which is at once over-the-top decadent and ridiculous, as well as strangely comforting in its absurd play at an alternative world:

There was a tea for Arctic foxes. And a cluster of Lapp huts, where exquisite dishes were served, not always in keeping with the central theme of the party as far as ingredients were concerned, but authentic in their presentation. The roofs of the huts sloped to the floor, and in the terribly hot interior, attractive, sweaty men, bare-chested and dressed in reindeer hide pants rolled up to their knees, served oysters shaped like snowflakes with white sauce and meringue, and extra-tender unborn veal steaks rotating over a fire, as if they were a single slab of flesh stuck to the enormous femur that served as a central skewer: a bear leg.

By turns horrifying, touching, thoughtful, comical, and even absurd, Death as a Side Effect is not likely to disappoint. And at just over 160 pages, you can probably still squeeze it into your summer reading mix.

25 May 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Emily Davis on Christian Oster’s In the Train, which is translated from the French by Adriana Hunter and available from the stylish Object Press.

Emily Davis is a grad student in Literary Translation here at the University of Rochester, and is currently working on a number of projects, including a sample from Damian Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography. She was one of the many students in my class who loved In the Train for its creepyish humor . . . I think this book is absolutely brilliant, which is why we’re running this review more than a year after the book came out.

You know those niche documentaries about people who are really into some specialized hobby or interest—old-school arcade games, typography, central Asian throat singing? The ones that make you think: wow, these people are so kooky, they make me seem normal! and yet at the same time you can almost, in a way, see where they’re coming from? I don’t mean that you can necessarily relate to their specific interests, though naturally that is possible. For the majority of us who are neither typeface designers nor reigning Donkey Kong champions, though, what draws us to the protagonists of these films is their passion—persistent, imperfect, somehow essentially human—for their hobbies, their professions, their artistic pursuits.

In the Train is like that, in the sense that its narrator is undeniably odd and yet, despite—or maybe because of—his social ineptitude and mild-to-moderate neurosis (his characteristics and motivations are identifiably human, only taken to extremes), also strangely endearing.

Oster’s novel begins in a train station in Paris, where Frank, the narrator-protagonist, notices a woman (Anne) on the platform struggling with a heavy bag—which Frank immediately identifies as a potential premise for getting to know her. However, Frank does not operate on whim, exactly. On the surface, his actions may appear unhindered by a second thought, but the truth is that he thinks everything through and takes pains to justify (to himself, to the reader) every action that might otherwise seem out of the ordinary or socially unacceptable.

Click here to read the full piece.

25 May 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

You know those niche documentaries about people who are really into some specialized hobby or interest—old-school arcade games, typography, central Asian throat singing? The ones that make you think: wow, these people are so kooky, they make me seem normal! and yet at the same time you can almost, in a way, see where they’re coming from? I don’t mean that you can necessarily relate to their specific interests, though naturally that is possible. For the majority of us who are neither typeface designers nor reigning Donkey Kong champions, though, what draws us to the protagonists of these films is their passion—persistent, imperfect, somehow essentially human—for their hobbies, their professions, their artistic pursuits.

In the Train is like that, in the sense that its narrator is undeniably odd and yet, despite—or maybe because of—his social ineptitude and mild-to-moderate neurosis (his characteristics and motivations are identifiably human, only taken to extremes), also strangely endearing.

Oster’s novel begins in a train station in Paris, where Frank, the narrator-protagonist, notices a woman (Anne) on the platform struggling with a heavy bag—which Frank immediately identifies as a potential premise for getting to know her. However, Frank does not operate on whim, exactly. On the surface, his actions may appear unhindered by a second thought, but the truth is that he thinks everything through and takes pains to justify (to himself, to the reader) every action that might otherwise seem out of the ordinary or socially unacceptable. Take this passage from the second page, an early glimpse into Frank’s inner monologue:

My immediate problem was knowing whether I should offer to carry it, her bag, or, more rationally, more economically, in terms of effort—as much mine as hers—to get her to agree to put it down. The second solution was definitely short on panache, on gallantry even. The first, in comparison with the second, didn’t have that obvious necessity without which any man feels that addressing a woman betrays premeditation.

Now there was nothing premeditated about what I was doing, I just instantly felt a need to help this woman.

The irony, of course, is in Frank’s trying to pass off his action as unpremeditated, immediately after having described exactly the thoughts he struggled with as he was premeditating it. This is just the beginning of the humor woven through the entire book. It is worth noting that the sole reason Frank has come to the station in the first place is not to go to any particular place for any particular reason, but, essentially, to pick up a woman:

At best, mind you, I was picturing a sort of honeymoon: I met her, she liked me, we more or less traveled together, depending on the availability of seats. It was more than the beginning of a story, it was a story. At worst, either I set off on my own or I went home to my apartment alone, having asked for a refund on my ticket.

If you think about it, the “at best” scenario is not so outlandish to imagine. And if you really think about it, who among frequent or even occasional train travelers has not entertained a similar storybook fantasy? People meet by chance in all sorts of places, and every so often those places are trains (in fact, I’m speaking from personal experience here—but I assure you the original and principal purpose of my taking an overnight train from Seattle to San José was to get home). Normal people might allow such a meeting to happen by chance, the companionship to develop naturally, whereas Frank has the express goal of making such a “chance” occurrence happen on purpose. As it happens—or rather, as it is made to happen—the “at best” scenario is more or less how the story plays out, thanks not to any special chemistry between Frank and Anne, but rather to Frank’s persistence and his patently strange, creepy, stalkerrific behavior.

Therein lies the vital difference—what makes the novel a parody of the human condition, specifically the human desire for companionship. As readers we can, on a certain logical and psychological level, understand Frank’s motivations; the difference is that he acts out in a way no person in their right mind would dare. And yet Frank’s constantly analyzing and justifying his thoughts and actions are clearly his attempt to demonstrate that he is in his right mind. This is part of what makes the book so hilarious, and the humor shines in Adriana Hunter’s English translation. There is a delicate balance to be found in the narrative voice of In the Train—a balance which, in order for the book to be effective both as a whole and at every point along the way, must have the reader continually teetering on the fulcrum between sympathizing with Frank and thinking him completely mad—a balance that Hunter has navigated with incredible sensitivity to nuances of rhythm and tone.

To better illustrate this seamless duality of the voice, here is one final example from the text. Having already accompanied Anne on the train and then secretly followed her to her hotel, Frank is now wrapped up in the task of locating her within the hotel by what seems to him a perfectly rational and unproblematic means: systematically knocking on the door of every guestroom in the building until Anne answers one of them.

In the meantime, more doors, other doors, kept opening. Some at the same time as each other, in fact, because my knocking proved so firm. It saved me time, at least. I gave my apologies to two people, even three or four at once. And on I went. On my travels I met a few reps, at least people who I took to be reps, initially seeing them just as sales people, sales representatives, but then, when I thought about it, simply as representatives of humanity, because I felt for the first time that I was meeting it, humanity. It was all there, it seemed to me, laid out in samples in that hotel, and every time a door opened the spectrum grew wider, I felt not only that I was integrating myself in it but that I too was opening, and all this, as usual, was because of a woman, it was always women who brought me to other people. Except that in this instance, as I’ve said, I’d never seen so many people, or established so much contact. So it was as if my sociability improved with every door, I felt more and more comfortable, and by the time I got to the last few doors it felt like a routine, I could see myself as a visitor, in the same light as a hospital visitor, watching over not only distress but every ramification of human feeling, surprise, irritation, intolerance, joy, sometimes, that the door should be opened, shyness, generosity, not to mention the women, of course.

Frank’s behavior is so embarrassingly awkward that the scene becomes increasingly uncomfortable to witness, as Frank draws more and more people out into the hallway and into his delusional world, and yet—and yet, there are occasional moments like this one where his calculating thoughts digress to something approaching perceptiveness… until they crumble once more under the weight of his social dysfunction topped with cluelessness.

In the Train is a short novel, yet it is anything but superficial; on the contrary, it manages to be deeply disturbing—in a productive, thought-provoking way. What’s more, it’s immensely entertaining. If you’re easily embarrassed by laughing out loud in public, I recommend staying home with this one… but by all means, read it. A little added skepticism of unusual men in train stations aside, you won’t regret it.

7 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

The latest addition to our “Reviews Section”: is a piece by Emily Davis on Juan Jose Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington, which is translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph and was published by Open Letter earlier this year.

As noted in the past, we don’t run a lot of reviews of our own books on this site, but Emily wrote this for her translation class, and since Saer is one of my personal favorites, I think we can make an exception . . .

Emily Davis is one of the MA students in Literary Translation (aka, the MALTS program) here at the University of Rochester. She was an intern with Open Letter last semester, and did a marvelous sample translation of Damián Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography. You may also know her from the 22 Days of Awesome series that ran all last month.

We’re going to be publishing at least three Juan Jose Saer titles, including Cicatrices (Scars), and La Grande (La Grande?). All three of these are translated by Steve Dolph. Sixty-Five Years was also reviewed in the New York Times a couple weeks back . . .

Here’s the opening of Emily’s review:

It is a sunny spring day in the city you have recently moved to, and on your way to work in the morning, you decide on a whim to get off the bus and walk instead. You are on a major boulevard, but at the point where you begin walking, removed from the city center, it is fairly empty. Your thoughts begin to wander, as they tend to do on a walk alone in the city, and soon you run into an acquaintance, the Mathematician. He has just returned from a trip to Europe, and the two of you fall into step and into conversation about the recent birthday party for Jorge Washington Noriega, which neither of you was able to attend, but which the Mathematician heard all about from Botón—“Button,” a nickname whose origin you do not know, and a person you have never met, but whose word you are more or less forced to trust as the Mathematician begins to narrate the story of the celebration of the sixty-five years of Washington.

Such is the premise of Juan José Saer’s novel, only that “you” are in fact Ángel Leto, a young man who has just moved to the small city named Sante Fe and is working a number of bookkeeping jobs. The effect is the same, however, as Leto essentially becomes a reader of the Mathematician’s story (according to Botón): as he listens, he goes forming a picture in his mind of the scene and the people involved, much as you might do when reading a book—some objects incomplete or indefinite, facial features hazy or purely imagined, where those details are left out of the narrative:

“Leto, who is listening now to the Mathematician, has had to add an unforeseen pavilion and a grill he can barely picture, since most of the story takes place under the thatched roof of a generic pavilion, more or less the idea of a pavilion, without an overly defined shape, staked in a patio he can’t picture with absolute clarity, where familiar and unfamiliar people possessing, as the Mathematician mentions them, distinct gradations of reality, drink a kind of beer that Leto has never seen, smelled, touched, or tasted [. . .]”

Click here to read the full piece.

7 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It is a sunny spring day in the city you have recently moved to, and on your way to work in the morning, you decide on a whim to get off the bus and walk instead. You are on a major boulevard, but at the point where you begin walking, removed from the city center, it is fairly empty. Your thoughts begin to wander, as they tend to do on a walk alone in the city, and soon you run into an acquaintance, the Mathematician. He has just returned from a trip to Europe, and the two of you fall into step and into conversation about the recent birthday party for Jorge Washington Noriega, which neither of you was able to attend, but which the Mathematician heard all about from Botón—“Button,” a nickname whose origin you do not know, and a person you have never met, but whose word you are more or less forced to trust as the Mathematician begins to narrate the story of the celebration of the sixty-five years of Washington.

Such is the premise of Juan José Saer’s novel, only that “you” are in fact Ángel Leto, a young man who has just moved to the small city named Sante Fe and is working a number of bookkeeping jobs. The effect is the same, however, as Leto essentially becomes a reader of the Mathematician’s story (according to Botón): as he listens, he goes forming a picture in his mind of the scene and the people involved, much as you might do when reading a book—some objects incomplete or indefinite, facial features hazy or purely imagined, where those details are left out of the narrative:

Leto, who is listening now to the Mathematician, has had to add an unforeseen pavilion and a grill he can barely picture, since most of the story takes place under the thatched roof of a generic pavilion, more or less the idea of a pavilion, without an overly defined shape, staked in a patio he can’t picture with absolute clarity, where familiar and unfamiliar people possessing, as the Mathematician mentions them, distinct gradations of reality, drink a kind of beer that Leto has never seen, smelled, touched, or tasted [. . .]

This is a book about storytelling and reading, and we quickly begin to get a sense of the multiple layers making up Saer’s masterfully crafted narrative. Its structure is Cervantine in its multiple nested narrative frames, where a typical scene in the book may be a joke told by Washington, relayed by Botón to the Mathematician, who then tells it simultaneously to Leto and to us readers, all of which is ultimately framed by the narrator of the text we hold in our hands. To make things just a touch more complex, we can add one more frame to that structure by taking into account the fact that this is a translation.

As translator, Steve Dolph makes a wise move in choosing to preserve the long sentence structure (it is not infrequent to read more than a dozen or even a couple dozen lines of text before reaching a period) and complex syntax of Saer’s text. The style is an essential complement to the layered narrative structure of the book, and it is extremely well executed, in that it draws attention to itself as being extraordinary without being off-putting or feeling too “foreign.” Mechanically flawless, the sentences are not messy or nonsensical, and where they might demand extra attention from the reader to follow the narrative thread, the narrator himself restores balance with his habit of casually checking himself, as in “he—the Mathematician, no?—” or “—Botón I was saying, no?,” or repeating pieces of information, to clarifying and often comedic effect:

Leto follows the Mathematician’s story [. . .] with some difficulty [. . .] transparent passages that allow his imagination, turning on and off intermittently, to construct expressive and fleeting images: there was a feast at the house of someone named Basso, in Colastiné, at the end of August, to celebrate Washington’s birthday, and they had started discussing a horse that had stumbled; the Mathematician—it was Tomatis who gave him the nickname—heard about it from Botón the Saturday before on the Paraná ferry, Botón, a guy he has heard about several times but whom he has not had the pleasure of meeting, and then Washington had said that the horse was not an acceptable example for the problem they were discussing—Leto asks himself darkly, without daring to make the case to the Mathematician out of fear that the Mathematician will look down on him a little, what the hell the so-called problem could be—that the mosquito, if Leto understood correctly, would be a more appropriate creature [. . .]

Besides having multiple narrative frames and sentences with extraordinary numbers of commas, the text is impressive in its several concurrent narratives. There is of course the narrative of Washington’s birthday party, as well as perhaps the most obvious narrative of the characters walking down the street. Besides those two lines, there are shorter strands consisting of, for instance, the Mathematician’s commentary on his trip to Europe, or his telling of his running into Botón on the ferry to Paraná to watch a rugby game. In addition, as readers we are given access to the unvoiced thoughts and memories of Leto and the Mathematician. In Leto’s case, his thoughts are preoccupied by reflections on the recent loss of his father and childhood memories relevant to his relationship with his father and mother. The Mathematician, on the other hand, is haunted by the memory of what he calls “The Incident,” wherein he temporarily went mad in response to being stood up by a Buenos Aires poet who had promised to discuss with him the Mathematician’s laboriously crafted thoughts entitled The Fourteen Points Toward All Future Meter. The Mathematician does not reveal any portion of this story to Leto; it is only as readers of Saer’s text that we are privileged to play witness to this episode that is so telling of the Mathematician’s character. Later, we will see the Mathematician on a plane to Sweden, fleeing the military dictatorship in Argentina and recalling his meeting in Paris with Pichón Garay who, years after the event, attempts to recall once more the details of Washington’s sixty-fifth birthday party. This episode naturally does not figure into the Mathematician’s conversation with Leto on their walk down San Martín Boulevard, since it will be years before the dictatorship comes to power. Again, as readers of the multiply framed text, we are privileged to enjoy additional depth of context, in this case, the revelation of a darker sociopolitical setting for a mostly lighthearted comedy.

All this narrative richness is made possible through an omniscient narrator who is, atypically, also a first-person narrator. While the narrator is not himself a character who plays a role in the novel, he does take on some personality by virtue of narrating in the first person. This unusual combination creates a sense of listening to a narrated film or an audiobook: the narrator can report and comment on the observable story as well as on the characters’ unspoken thoughts, in the way no typical player could, and yet we are continually reminded that there is a human voice behind the narration. The reader, just as Leto—who joins the Mathematician on the street for a stroll and a story—walks alongside the narrator while he unravels his tale.

In his debut translated book, Dolph brings us a delightful read, with language that tickles the brain and a style that highlights Saer’s inventiveness and expertly conveys his sense of humor—muted, pseudo-academic, at times a little bit sad, much like Washington’s own “subtle irony, which should probably leave you thoughtful and could, at the most, make you smile, inwardly more than anything“—the kind that elicits more a half snicker than an LOL, less likely to attract strange looks from, say, fellow commuters as you read The Sixty-Five Years of Washington on your way downtown.

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

As we mentioned an eternity ago, we’ve been highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s _“Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. Today is the final post in this series, the entirety of which can be found by clicking here. &nbsp



Our final entry is by Emily Davis and features Bolivian author Rodrigo Hasbun—one of my favorites from the issue—whose “The Place of Losses” was translated by Carolina de Robertis.

Born in 1981 in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Rodrigo Hasbún is currently working on a doctorate in Ithaca, New York. His writing was featured in last year’s Latin American issue of Zoetrope: All-Story, and his stories have appeared in various anthologies. His first book of short stories, Cinco, was published in 2006, and his second collection, Los días más felices, will come out in 2011 (Duomo Ediciones). Hasbún has also written a novel, El lugar del cuerpo (2009), and he was awarded the Latin Union Prize for the Most Original Spanish American Short Fiction.

“The Place of Losses,” translated by Carolina de Robertis, is a new story that appears in the Granta issue. The narrator of this piece is himself a writer, and in the text we get to glimpse some of the fragments he has scribbled into his notebook. It is in those portions, perhaps, that Hasbún’s writing really shines, evoking the most photographic images, sometimes chilling, sometimes violent, sometimes simply joyful, always sensorially eloquent and almost palpable . . . What I’m trying to say is that this is beautiful and inviting writing all around. Below is the opening to the story, followed by a special interview with the author. Enjoy.

I

Take your shit with you, all your memories, I wanted to say before she stood up, but then, when I started to stammer it, when I finally got up the courage to say it, it was too late, she had turned around, she was already walking out of the cafe, out of my life, to the street, into someone else’s life. Take your name with you, bitch, thief, woman, I wanted to say, to wound her, to return some of the pain she was causing me. Take everything with you and please don’t come back (because Valeria always comes back after leaving). And please don’t come back this time, Valeria, I wanted to say to her, that’s what I ask above all, that you leave forever and take your memories and your scent. And, if it’s easier for you, think that you’re leaving because I want you to leave, like in the bolero song, like in so many other lives (but I only want you to leave after you’ve left). Take yourself with you, the ghost you summon. Take your body. And don’t come back, I wanted to say, this time don’t even think of coming back. Please, if you’ve really stopped loving me, don’t come back.

But one week later, we were there again, at the only table by the window. It had to seem as though we’d run into each other by chance and it had to seem as though I hadn’t found anything out or that I’d already put away the hurt. So I took the photos out of my backpack without saying anything, without reproach, and I left them on the table, next to the coffees that had just been served and were still steaming. Valeria looked at them for a good while.

She didn’t understand because she hadn’t gone to the last session of the workshop, to which, in spite of everything, I’d only gone to find her. One of them took place in a train carriage. An old man appeared looking slightly lost, possibly he’d got on the wrong train or perhaps he’d forgotten where to disembark. Perhaps he was still stuck in some war, escaping fire and bullets. In the other photo, still alive, or not, covered entirely by a white sheet, a man appeared in a hospital bed.

They were strange photos. One couldn’t really tell whether they were assembled, staged, or whether they’d come directly from reality. From the reality in which I told Valeria that she should choose one and write a story from it for the next session. Did you pick them? It was at random, you know how Madeiros is. Which one do you like best? The one with the train, I said. Well, she said, in that case I’ll take the other one. Why didn’t you come the other day? Because I didn’t feel like dealing with all that foolishness.

Her tone and cruelty hurt me, and at the same time I liked them. Bitch, I wanted to say to her as I remembered what had happened the week before and sought her gaze and sipped my coffee. Thief, I wanted to say, woman. And I put the cup back on the table and reached my hand out to take hers. Madeiros’s exercises are less and less interesting to me, she said, far away from everything I might be feeling. I don’t know what he’s trying to accomplish, I’ve stopped seeing them as necessary. The old man knows what he’s doing, I said, trying to defend him, although in truth I’d lately thought the same thing. Also, writers should invent themselves on their own, added Valeria, who for months had been the most enthusiastic participant in the workshop. My hand was still over hers but they were dead hands, hands that no longer belonged to us. Will you stop going? I asked, afraid. She answered by making a face I didn’t understand and then we were silent again.

It was four o’clock on a Friday afternoon like any other, and I realized in that moment that I would write my story about those hours. We, the characters, would talk about the photos while we slowly destroyed ourselves, while we grew into our betrayal, our oscillations and sex and coffee, our useless words. And the most certain thing is that Madeiros would detest it. He’d be bothered by its self-referential nature, the absence of a clear plot, the absence of local colour, the sentimentality or what hovered too close to it. This damn exercise was supposed to do the exact opposite! he’d surely shout a few days later, with that voice destroyed by cigarettes, to make you tell me about what you saw in the photos, to take you out of yourselves! And he’d get too worked up to speak and spit in a corner before finishing off his beer.

Are you all right? asked Valeria, bringing me back to us, to the tiny cafe.

Yes, fine, I replied. She was there. As were the long calm hours in which we’d have a good screw, the hours in which I’d forgive her again.

I smiled and she smiled and we separated our hands and downed the rest of our coffee.

Then we paid the bill and left.

II

each time you think of me pinch your hand. each time you think of me, valeria said, jump three times or start dancing. it’ll be fun to imagine you that way.

a night on the piss with madeiros. i accompanied him. when we got to his house, he lay down in the front doorway, saying he wanted to sleep there. i told him he’d get sick. he said he needed to know how vagrants felt, with no place to return to.

idea. an artist turns on a camera, puts it on a tripod, opens the window, squeezes eyes shut and jumps. the apartment is on the fourth floor, the fall only manages to break a few ribs. months later, another attempt. this time the camera is positioned on the ground, to record the moment in which the body hits cement. the damage is worse but the artist doesn’t die. the artist sells the tapes to an important museum and becomes relatively well known in the city.

she asked me to suck her toes and also wanted me to spit in her face. she had seen it in a movie the night before.

these notebooks are my place, here i learn, here i lose. (what i mean to say is that to know how things work you must destroy them first . . .)

her tongue, when she smiles. and her breath. and her hands and ankles. her broken tooth. the small scars on her knees.

what we need: lemons in our mouths, to lie in the sun. a precipice or a war. to kill fifteen ants and feel no guilt, to tear the wings from six flies and smile. to throw our garbage away on the neighbours’ patio.

what we need: a fight in the middle of the night that keeps us from sleeping, to look out of the window and find violence or the simulation of violence beyond the glass. a tremor. subtler revenges. to say yes or no or more or less to the same things, to be ridiculous in a similar way. for her to be good and never leave. love or the simulation of love.

to be together forever. never to let go of each other’s hands. that’s what i said. she said: every time you think of me, start clapping. seven times in a row. hard.

Estranged Lives

Lies would have been sweeter, not to have known, to have known less. Lies, perhaps, could have saved us. We could have cancelled them out after a while, become used to them, believed in them only later to plunge them into that silence of days and months and life. To be capable of smiling every once in a while without remorse or guilt. Without this shit. But it’s also because of the dog and because of Dad, the world isn’t just her any more. With lies the world might have continued being only her. With lies we might have been able to invent a less sad story, she’d still be here and the dog would never have gotten sick, although one thing is not related to the other in any way, and we wouldn’t be killing the dog and Dad wouldn’t have to hide his need to cry from us. The dog can’t move any more, he watches the world for maybe the last time. These are the decisive minutes that all of us will have to face one day. Dad can’t bear the sight any more, he lets Juan go, undoes the embrace and joins in, he throws himself to the floor, strokes the dog, kisses his snout, his ears. Mario says something to him but it’s no use, he doesn’t even respond. He approaches and tries to pick him up. He can’t, the old man pushes him away, insisting on saying goodbye in this manner. As if searching for instructions, confused, he looks at us (the only one who seems to have kept some remnant of childhood is Mario, with his still-vigorous body, ready and willing, cheeks closely shaved). Neither Juan nor I say anything. Meanwhile, the animal’s breathing slows down. I’m sorry, Dad murmurs, I’m sorry, little one, but he refuses to cry. A quiet afternoon, three brothers together after long separation, the father of the three lying next to a dog that may already be dead. Juan looks at me. I suddenly realize that behind the bags under his eyes, his unkempt beard, behind his silence . . . I want to talk to you, he says.

I’m getting a divorce, I’m considering a divorce, I think I want a divorce. We’re in the car, the dog in a bag on the back seat. I stay silent, again, thinking that he hasn’t chosen the best moment to announce this. Why? I ask. The relationship isn’t working any more, we don’t love each other much any more. His hesitation, the awkward oscillations of his voice, and the almost imperceptible quiver of his chin, which hasn’t been visible in years, make me suspect that he isn’t telling me everything, that he’s hiding his true motives. I think of those streets, of that city, of the cafes she could be entering. I recall the way she smokes. You two, who loved each other so much, I say. Yes, us. It starts to get dark, I accelerate. Do you know the place well? Yes, we’re close. Juan won’t ask about her because he doesn’t know anything, because I never told him much, he thinks she was just one more in my life, toward the end of the list. I look at the bag on the back seat through the rear-view mirror, it seems to be moving. I turn on to a dirt road and slow the car. Is there something you’re not telling me? I want to be able to hear him think, to hear the thoughts of everyone around me. It would be terrible, almost as terrible as reading the emails your girlfriend’s lover writes to her, but I still wanted to. I still want to. The lies, having made me forget, would have . . . Nothing, says Juan, the relationship is worn out and neither of us is prepared to force the issue. The same old story, he says, don’t look for anything sophisticated in it. I stop the car and turn the engine off, there’s very little light left. We go out, take the shovels, and start to dig.

Nobody says anything at dinner. Alone, irrevocably alone, and even more so when we remember or imagine or dream, or when we love from afar, without saying so. Juan will not mention his imminent divorce. Mario has already exhausted all his resources and is also slightly drunk. Dad was never much of a talker.

i don’t like that ending. (i never know where to stop. that is to say: i’m not a good writer . . .) i don’t like a narrator who is so hard to see. i’m going to rewrite the whole story. tomorrow or later on today, directly on the machine.

but i read it to her anyway. she said she was proud of me. then she yawned. and smiled. and said: bet you don’t know how to do this. and she made herself cross-eyed for several seconds. i missed her already even though she was half a metre away. i told her i wanted to read her new stories. she said: i ate them all. i seasoned them with olive oil and ate them.

Emily Davis: What was the first thing you ever wrote?

Rodrigo Hasbún: In my adolescence I was a guitarist in a grunge band. In the beginning we did only covers of songs we liked, but little by little we started leaving them behind and we began to write our own songs. So the first things I ever wrote were songs, sometimes with my friends, sometimes on my own. At that time I was sure that I was going to dedicate my life to music. But a few years later, when it was going pretty well for us, it was time for some of us to go off to school and a short time later we couldn’t handle the rhythm of our double lives and the band broke up. Surely we didn’t have what it took. I was seventeen and from one day to the next, without realizing it, maybe to protect myself from everything I felt I was losing, I started reading more and more seriously and also keeping a sort of diary and, in that diary, I wrote my first stories. As had happened before with our first songs, they were unintentional versions of what I was reading.

ED: Who are some writers who have influenced you?

RH: Sort of continuing with what I was saying earlier, I feel that my true formation as a writer came through music. The possibility of a more sensory experience, that exalts or moves you with the rhythm and atmospheres it creates, is something that music offers in such a natural way and I’ve tried to keep it present when I write. Later I was drawn to writers and filmmakers who were tremendous in that sense. I am thinking of Onetti and Saer, of Bolaño, Coetzee and Tóibin, Cheever. And also Cassavetes and Godard, Béla Tarr, the Dardenne brothers, Wong Kar-Wai. I admire every one of them unconditionally. But that, unfortunately, does not mean that they have influenced my writing or that I have learned enough from them.

ED: Do you have a favorite writer from among the others on the Granta list?

RH: I really like what several of the writers are doing, but if I had to choose just one, I would say Alejandro Zambra, whom, significantly, Alberto Olmos and Patricio Pron also mentioned when you asked them this same question. There is in him and in his books an honesty that is very easy to lose over the years—the urgency of a poet, a young poet to whom nothing matters except poetry—as well as a very generous and pleasant sensibility belonging to extraordinary writing.

ED: What are you working on now?

RH: Until just recently I was working with Martín Boulocq, one of my closest friends (he was the drummer in the band), on the latest short film that we co-wrote together. It’s called Los viejos and it will premiere next year, a long time after the project began. And now I am revising and correcting the stories for my next book, Los días más felices, which will also come out next year.

ED: Do you do some other artistic activity besides writing?

RH: Without meaning to, I’ve already answered this question somewhat. I am always flirting with film and I want to continue doing things in that field. And someday I would love to be in a band again, not to play live or to record, but just to get together once or twice a week and, for a few hours, travel together back to adolescence.

ED: And as a new resident of western New York myself, I have to ask, how do you like all that snow in Ithaca?

RH: Personally I love it. Particularly if it’s on the other side of the window, while I sit in some café with a bottomless cup of coffee.

Boom. The “22 Days of Awesome” are now officially over.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Granta, and thanks.

10 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 7 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.



For today’s update, Emily Davis interviewed Alberto Olmos, whose “Eva and Diego”—the first chapter of his new novel—appears in this issue in Peter Bush’s translation.

Today’s post is brought to you by the number six.

Segovia native Alberto Olmos is one of six Spaniards on the Granta list of Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists. He is also one of six writers on the list who were born in 1975, and he has written six—count ’em, six—novels. At age twenty-three (!) he published his first novel, A bordo del naufragio (1998), which was a finalist for the Herralde Prize. His more recent novels are Así de loco te puedes volver (1999), Trenes hacia Tokio (2006), El talento de los demás (2007), Tatami (2008) and El estatus (2009). He is also the editor of the volume Algunas ideas buenísimas que el mundo se va a perder (2009), compiled from internet-based texts. Olmos taught Spanish and English in Japan for three years. Currently he can be found in Madrid as well as on the interwebs.

He generously agreed to answer some questions about the writers who have most influenced him, technology and contemporary literature, and the effects of the Granta honor.

Emily Davis: What writers have influenced you?

Alberto Olmos: I will name three: the Spanish writer Francisco Umbral has shown me the way of style, in the preoccupation with the sonority of words; Henry Miller clued me in to the fact that one could say anything in a novel, and be aggressive and solipsistic; and William Faulkner will continue always to be the great master of narrative structure, of the zeal to tell a story in a different way.

ED: Do you have a favorite writer from among the others on the Granta list?

AO: To name one, Alejandro Zambra.

ED: Among your novels are the titles Trenes hacia Tokio (2006) and Tatami (2008). Where did your interest in Japan come from? And the experience of having lived in Japan, has it influenced your work in some way?

AO: I believe that a large part of my literary vocation comes from my desire to leave my mark in writing, that is to say, to write autobiography. Because of that, everything that happens to me in life is susceptible to becoming literature. I lived in Japan for three years and it was inevitable that some pages came out of that experience. But nothing is further from my intention than to become one of those authors who only write about a country in which they lived for a short time.

ED: Where did the desire to be a writer originate?

AO: It’s a mystery, but I believe that solitude has created more writers than all the writing schools in the world.

ED: What are you working on now?

AO: I should be reading over the first draft of my new novel; I am somewhat dazed by the reverberations of the Granta list and I am looking for the calm necessary to read my own writing with objectivity.

ED: In “Eva and Diego” the iPod appears as the product itself and also as a symbol of the epoch in which we live. How would you say that technological or consumerist motifs fit into the literature of today? Is it something unique to twenty-first-century literature?

AO: Those motifs (technology, consumerism) will always be current, given that, as we know, Facebook has changed the human species in greater measure than all the literature written in all the world in the last fifty years. It is a shame, but there it is. However, as central themes, consumerism and technology are somewhat out of fashion.

ED: What does it mean to you to have been named one of the best young Spanish-language novelists by Granta?

AO: It’s an important recognition that has given me new encouragement to write. As Cyril Connolly said, the “menopause” of a writer comes at 35 years (my age) and it consists in losing in certain measure the youthful passion for writing, the faith in your own talent and in the talent of readers. In that way Granta has made me about ten years younger.

The current issue of Granta features “Eva and Diego,” the first chapter of Olmos’ new novel and translated by Peter Bush. Here is just a snippet of it to get you interested:

The day I bought my iPod, forty-five people died in a terrorist attack. When an important piece of news breaks, part of my section collaborates with the ‘affected’ section (National or International Affairs, usually); additionally, the Culture pages are reduced in number and, as the one in charge, I’m left with almost nothing to do. I’m bored and look out of the window.

The bombs exploded at 8.56 a.m. in a Madrid shopping centre. They were hidden in the changing cubicles on the women’s clothes floor. Thirty-two victims were women; twelve were children. Only one man died. Several dozen more were injured, in a similar ratio in terms of sex and age to those who had died.

Responsibility for the attack pointed to Arab terrorist groups.

I saw one photo and refused to look at any more. A dummy clad in human flesh. The bomb had completely wrecked one individual’s body and her skin, bones and organs had splattered all over the front half of a dummy.

‘We’re next.’

Journalism is essentially pessimism. I left the office before lunchtime.

To go spending.

I like buying new technology because it takes me quite a long time to realize it is pointless. I read the instructions, hit the keys, connect a cable here and another there, and feel as if I’m confronting a huge mystery I have to solve. And I enjoy it. Then there is no mystery, only a useless gadget I jettison in any old drawer.

I bought my iPod because the sales assistant was very handsome. The shopping centre was strangely devoid of people (or not so strangely: forty-five dead, after all). I’d decided to use the morning to pay Diego a visit, so I opted for the ground floor rather than the sixth. I take less time to buy a microcomputer or PDA than to buy a pair of shoes and the result would be the same.

The sales assistant was very handsome.

I spotted him within five minutes. He was reading a magazine on the counter of his Apple stand. I have thousands and thousands of CDs at home and the last thing I’d have thought of would be to purchase a gadget that would force me to get rid of them all.

I assumed his drive to sell had been deactivated by the lack of customers. The least he could do was offer me a fucking iPod.

I walked past the young man again, much more slowly and nearer this time. He ignored me.

I finally went over to him.

‘Hello,’ I said.

The young man took off his headset (I’d not noticed it) and smiled.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said.

His mouth was very sweet.

‘How can I be of help, madam?’

‘I’d like one of those.’

I pointed to the most expensive iPod on display. Indeed, I pointed at the price tag, not at the gadget itself.

The sales assistant headed over to the display cabinet. I gave him a good look up and down while he unlocked one of the glass doors.

He turned round and stared at me.

‘What colour would you like, madam?’

‘Red.’

Remember: For the next seven business days—through the end of this “22 Days of Awesome” series—you can get a copy of this issue for free by subscribing to Granta..

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

As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 8 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 post is an interview by Emily Davis of Spanish author Elvira Navarro, whose “Gerardo’s Letters” was translated by Natasha Wimmer for this special issue.

Born in Huelva, Spain in 1978, Elvira Navarro has published two novels: La ciudad en invierno (Caballo de Troya, 2007) and La ciudad feliz (Mondadori, 2009). La ciudad feliz won the Jaén Prize for best novel and the Tormenta prize for best new author. She currently teaches writing workshops in Madrid and has an ongoing project called ‘Madrid es periferia’ (Madrid is Periphery) in which she explores the various undefined and marginal spaces of Madrid. Those writings can be found online here. Today we get to hear from the author about the draw of these kinds of spaces, how they relate to her writing, and what inspires her.

Emily Davis: How did you become a writer? Where did the initial desire come from?

Elvira Navarro: I don’t believe that a book can be written from any other place than from the need to express something of yourself that demands the construction of a narrative territory in order to betray oneself as little as possible. It is there where the desire to be a writer resides, and what lights the way to becoming one. When that impulse is transferred to the work it becomes authenticity, a virtue that for me is absolutely necessary, to the point where I abandon books that are well written if I do not find them authentic, that is to say, necessary for those who write them. If a book is dispensable for the author, it will be even more so for the reader.

ED: Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

EV: From my life, from the dirty corners, and from what I have said in answering the previous question.

ED: What writers have influenced you?

EV: Among recent Spanish narrative, Belén Gopegui is, along with Juan Marsé, the writer who has influenced me the most. I have discovered that certain parts of my writing are close to Cristina Fernández Cubas, but that is a discovery that I made a posteriori. I am pretty devoted to Enrique Vila-Matas and Javier Tomeo. If you had asked me what writer I would have liked to be, I would have chosen Dostoyevsky. And Marguerite Duras seems to me an example of a radical writer and writing: she is always on the verge of being ridiculous, but it ends up being brilliant. I would also cite Ana Blandiana, Julio Cortázar, David Foster Wallace and Coetzee.

ED: Do you believe that it is possible to speak of a national Spanish literature?

EV: Spain, just like any other country, has a tradition (although here it would be better to speak of many traditions), even if in a globalized world it is making less and less sense to attach a [literary] tradition to a geographic or linguistic border.

ED: In addition to your novels you are working on a project called ‘Madrid es periferia’ which is an exploration of the less visible areas of the capital. What is it that attracts you to peripheral spaces in general, and in particular with regards to writing?

EV: It occurs to me something that the painter Antonio López said in an interview, that what inspired him was not the center, but rather the outskirts. When I see a picture of, for example, Paris’s Rive Gauche, Manhattan, or Madrid’s Gran Vía, I can’t help but see a postcard. These are places that are profusely talked about, that embody our current myths, that is to say, they support the narratives that identify us. In that measure, they are overinterpreted, and their legend is set in the realm of History, not of mystery. Overinterpretation can be fruitful for many writers, after all literature does nothing but tell the same story over and over again. However, I can’t put myself into this type of setting; their signifying weight is too heavy for me, and I prefer to go to places that are undefined, with an open plan, peripheral. Sometimes I get the impression that my writing is synonymous with flaneûr, and that the storylines that I cast are an excuse for justifying that my characters travel across certain spaces that tend to go from one urban periphery to another where the city dissolves. I am exaggerating, yes, but not much. Honestly, I don’t know what it is that brings me to explore inhospitable territories; that said, I guess it has to do with the unknown and with possibility and, with relation to the latter, at times I believe that the periphery, that decomposition of the habitable, represents us better, since we are failed city dwellers. Also I think that putting my characters to prowl through godforsaken places or in places that people don’t go is a way of making that territory habitable, converting it into a polis.

And finally, here is the opening to what appears in the Granta issue as “Gerardo’s Letters,” translated by Natasha Wimmer and a part of Navarro’s novel in progress. From the first sentence it is clear that we are dealing with the kind of in-between, uninhabitable space that Navarro describes above, and this setting becomes the frame for what turns out to be an emotionally tumultuous portrait of the relationship between the narrator and Gerardo.

Two roads, separated by half a mile of wasteland, flank the hostel, and I suggest that we cross over to see whether we can find some patch of countryside, but Gerardo says it’s late, we’d better explore the fields.We walk straight ahead until it’s completely dark, and we return guided by the lights of the hostel and the cars. We can’t even see our sneakers, and looking down produces a kind of dread, as if we were about to plunge into the void or step on a nest of scorpions. When we reach the basketball courts I instruct Gerardo to hold my ankles while I do sit-ups. The ground is cold and it’s hard to bend; having Gerardo crouching in front of me, with his head brushing against my knees, begins to seem unpleasant, and I stop at what seems a reasonable limit for a beginner. I feel absurd and it occurs to me that this is the nature of couplehood: the abjection of observing and participating in the other person’s obsessions. Like my sit-ups at ten at night on the dark basketball court of a hostel a mile from Talavera. Maybe there’s something positive about this that I’ve lost sight of, or maybe this foolishness applies only to defunct couples, like me and Gerardo, who claim that everybody else in the world takes such things for granted. ‘You’re crazy,’ he tells me when I try to explain what I mean, and then I feel this craziness of mine as a searing loneliness, even real madness. When I’m with him I lose my sense of judgement, and since Gerardo is the keeper of reason, I suddenly fear that without him I won’t be able to function in the world.

We get to the dining room just as they’re about to put the trays away. It’s not even eleven; we ask an old woman in a net cap why they’re closing so early. The old woman says that if we wanted to eat late we should’ve stayed at a hotel. The menu: shrivelled peas with something that looks like York ham but turns out to be chopped cold cuts, and breaded cutlets in perfect ovals whose greasy coating hides some kind of processed chicken. All I eat are the peas. The chopped meat and the processed chicken are the same pale pink colour. ‘The cutlets are raw,’ says Gerardo. At a big table the girl from last night is talking to three boys of about the same age, who must be the other high-school students. They’ve finished eating, and they’re smoking, flicking their ash on the tray; then they put out their cigarettes in what’s left of the peas. The girl doesn’t look at us.

‘I’m going to shower,’ I tell Gerardo as we enter the room. I takemy robe, toiletry bag and flip-flops out of my duffel bag, and whenI’m about to open the door Gerardo says:

‘You can get undressed here. I won’t touch you.’

I undress with my back to him. I’m conscious of his efforts to communicate his lust; it registers as a disagreeable weight on the back of my neck that makes me get tangled up in my trousers and fall down. I stand up and leave wearing my robe over my bra and T-shirt. Fortunately the hot water works and I stand under the shower head, which spits out water in fits and starts, until my fingers are wrinkled and the bathroom mirror is steamy. I don’t want to go back to the room; I pace back and forth, opening the doors of the shower stalls, where those little black bugs that seem to inhabit every dank place collect. I make a racket with the doors and stir up the bugs; a whole swarm ends up flying around the mirror, which is dripping with water. My feet are cold and I decide to get in the shower again, but the sides of the stalls are covered with insects now and I don’t have the strength to shoo them away. I go back to the room. Gerardo is lying in bed masturbating, with his pants around his ankles. He doesn’t look at me. I gather up my clothes as fast as I can and, trailing the cord of the hairdryer, I leave the room before he comes.

I return to the bathroom; the insects have retreated to the nooks and crannies of the showers and are now undetectable. I’m afraid there won’t be any outlets; if there aren’t, I can go to the TV room and dry my hair there. I imagine the four high-school students sprawled on the vinyl sofas, watching a celebrity survival show.

Asking the high-school students for permission to make a noise with my hairdryer while they watch their show doesn’t seem very appealing; and yet I’m determined not to go back to the room, even if Gerardo thinks the creepy gnome of a hostel manager has chopped me into bits and stuffed me in the pool-bar freezer. This is a good moment for us to break up once and for all: at six in the morning, while he’s asleep, I’ll go up for my duffel bag and call a taxi. A break-up plan like this might be out of the question for another couple without involving the police and having the hostel searched for the vanished loved one; but Gerardo and I have become accustomed to bad behaviour and extravagant gestures. If I decide to spend the day hanging upside down from a tree, he’ll leave me there, though he might tell me twenty times that I’m a nut. This is another one of the things that, until a year ago, made leaving him unthinkable, because I hate normal life, and in some sense and despite the awfulness, with Gerardo I seem to be safe from a certain kind of normality. With him, through the process of taking everything to the limit – rage, contemplation, disgust – I attain a kind of exasperated life and I’m convinced that this exasperation must violently propel me somewhere.

You can read this complete short story—and 21 more—in the new issue of Granta, which you can receive for free by subscribing now.

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

As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 11 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.

This post marks the half-way point in our “22 Days of Awesome” series . . . It’s an interview of Argentine writer Patricio Pron conducted by Emily Davis. Enjoy!



If you flip through Granta’s new “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” issue, you’ll see a photo of Argentine writer Patricio Pron above a paragraph that begins “At the age of twenty-eight, Pron learned how to ride a bicycle through the snow in Germany, the country where the majority of his favourite childhood authors were born.” Even his biography reads as literature. And when his new story published in this issue is called “A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs,” how can you not turn the page and keep reading?

Here is a taste of the story, translated by Janet Hendrickson.

My situation was relatively different from that of the other writers from the provinces who regularly arrived in the capital, like insects that assault a cadaver and eat it and lay their larvae inside and so obtain some life from death. I hadn’t left any cadaver behind; I had some money and a few assignments — I was a journalist, a relatively bad one but for some reason in demand — and besides, I had a place to sleep. An apartment, I supposed, where I would write my first truly cosmopolitan works, insufflated with an air that I believed only blew in the capital, which for its part bragged about the quality of that air. Naturally, I was an imbecile or a saint.

At that time I wrote stories that were more like farces, stories that were dumb and sadly ridiculous. In one, a boat caught fire along the coast of a city, and its residents gathered to contemplate the spectacle and did nothing to help the crew because the spectacle was so beautiful, and so the boat sank and the crew members died, and when the only survivor of this disaster made it to the coast and asked for help, the city’s inhabitants beat him for ruining the spectacle. In another story, a horse appeared which had been dressed like a man so that he’d be allowed to travel on a train; part of its education took place on this long train trip, and when the train finally reached its destination, the horse — which had somehow learned to talk — demanded to be called ‘Gombrowicz’ from this point forward, and he wouldn’t let himself be saddled; I still don’t understand what I wanted to say by that. I’d also written a story about this guy who invited a girl he liked on an outing to the countryside, but then the girl constantly changed the radio station in the car and ate with her mouth open and did things that made this guy think he could never declare his love to her and maybe it was better that way, and I think everyone died at the end in an accident or something like that. In that story I’d tested my talents for comparison and simile; I’d written things like, ‘He and she had never seen each other before. They were like two little doves that had never seen each other, either’; and ‘The boat peacefully steered itself towards the still pool, just like a car driven by a madman heading towards a group of children.’ Those were the things I was writing: occasionally, certain people have inferred an unambiguous relationship between a person’s imaginative capacity and the quality of his or her fiction, but they leave out the fact that imaginative excess can have catastrophic results for the quality of what one writes, and still, that imaginative capacity is indispensable to every writer’s beginnings; it gives him breath and sustains him and makes him believe that his errors are correct and that he is or can be a writer. Well, I had too much imagination during that time.

The dry and self-deprecating humor here is perfectly tuned (and the backhand pun on Buenos Aires? golden), and the whole story is worth reading for Pron’s narrative voice that feels very genuine, in this piece falling somewhere between storyteller and essayist.

Today we also have a special interview with the author, so allow me to introduce him with a few biographical essentials. Born in Rosario, Argentina in 1975, Patricio Pron is a writer, translator, and critic currently living in Madrid. He earned his doctorate in Romance Philology from the Georg-Autust University in Göttingen, Germany. His three volumes of short stories and four novels include El vuelo magnífico de la noche (2001), Una puta mierda (2007), El comienzo de la primavera (2008) and El mundo sin las personas que lo afean y lo arruinan (2010). He was kind enough to answer our questions about his latest work, the Granta honor, and what it’s like to be a critic and a translator well as a creative writer.

Emily Davis: What does it mean to you to be named one of the best young Spanish-language novelists by Granta?

Patricio Pron: Naturally it is a pleasure, besides being a bit of good news in a year that, at least for me, has been especially generous with good news.

ED: Where did the desire to become a writer come from?

PP: Perhaps from the same place it always does, from the perception that there was something that existed that had not yet been said and that I could say, and from the conviction that I knew how to say it.

ED: Do you have a favorite writer from among the others on the new Granta list?

PP: Yes, I am especially interested in the work of Alejandro Zambra.

ED: What writers have influenced you?

PP: A good hundred living writers and a similar or greater number of dead writers.

ED: You’ve said before that you were influenced by German writers. And the experience itself of having lived and studied in Germany, does that figure in your work in some way?

PP: Yes. My last two books (El comienzo de la primavera and El mundo sin las personas que lo afean y lo arruinan) feature that German experience as a theme, but perhaps the more visible influence of that experience is in the separation that formed there between literary language and everyday language. There was an acceptance of literature as a labor of exploration in language aimed at creating for me and for my books a personal idiom, halfway between Spanish and the other languages that I speak.

ED: Many people are either critics who do not write, or writers who do not practice criticism. What is it like to practice both professions? Does one influence the other, do they complement one another, or do they oppose each other?

PP: Both experiences complement one another well, contrary to what people usually say, since a great number of writers are also readers and we have opinions about what we read. Not all writers read, however (and we may blame that for the worst calamities of recent literature, including literature written in Spanish by writers under thirty-five years old), but those who do, do not see any obstacle to talking about what we read, in particular if we are talking about books that contribute beauty and sense to a world that tends to be lacking in both.

ED: How did you come into a translation career as well? Do you work with a certain metaphor that describes your own way of approaching the act of translation?

PP: My wish when I began working as a writer was basically to act as a bridge between literature in German and literature in Spanish, as a way to enrich as much as possible both literary traditions. I don’t have any specific metaphor to describe what I do when I translate, except maybe that I act as a ventriloquist, making others speak with a voice that is mine.

ED: Your new story, “A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs,” is it autobiographical at all?

PP: Yes. Not exactly in its plot, which is imaginary, but yes with regard to the narrator’s opinions about literature, and to the question that permeates the entire story of why and from where the young writers in Spanish come from, and about what it’s like to become a writer based on interpretation, and the undesirable but at the same time also inevitable misinterpretations of the works of writers that we love.

ED: What are you working on now?

PP: Right now I am taking notes for an extended essay, to be published probably in 2012. In May 2011 my new novel El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia will be published in Spain. Faber & Faber will publish it in the UK, and Knopf in the US. Around that same time, a personal anthology of short stories called Trayéndolo todo de regreso a casa. Relatos 1990-2010 will appear in South America.

Don’t forget that if you subscribe now, the good folks at Granta will throw in a copy of this special issue for free . . .

24 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.

....
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