8 April 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that the 8th book in the Americas Series from Texas Tech has arrived, it seems like an opportune time to bring some attention to Irene Vilar’s exciting project.

Irene used to run this series out of the University of Wisconsin Press back in the early 2000s, but after leaving and writing a memoir (Impossible Motherhood, available from Other Press), she relaunched The Americas at Texas Tech with the publication of David Toscana’s The Last Reader, transated by Asa Zatz.

(Quick “let’s make fun of people who don’t understand the Internets” moment: I wanted to see which books ended up in the Wisconsin version of this series—I believe the Jorge Amado books were in this, but I can’t remember the others—so I visited this UWP page. Click on the link for “a list of the books in this series.” I dare you.)

The Last Reader sounds fantastic (see this earlier post), as do all of the other titles. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones I’m most interested in:

The Origin of Species and Other Poems by Ernesto Cardenal, translated from the Spanish by John Lyons.

Cardenal is considered by many to be one of Latin America’s greatest contemporary poets, and his work has been getting a lot of love of late. Pluriverse came out from New Directions a couple years back (see our review here), and did a great job encapsulating Cardenal’s 56-year career. This new book will likely get a ton of attention (more on that as it happens), and because of the new publication, Cardenal will be going on an extensive U.S. tour. (Check our translation events calendar for more specifics.)

The War in Bom Fim by Moacyr Scliar, translation from the Portuguese by David William Foster

Scliar—who passed away in February—is one of Brazil’s most beloved writers. A few of his books came out in the classic Avon series of Latin American authors, and a few others popped up here and there from a variety of presses, but I feel like his work has been underappreciated here in the States, and instead, he’s most known for thinking of suing Yann Martel for ripping his ass off for Life of Pi.

The War in Bom Fim sounds like a lot of fun (and will be the first of the series that I’m going to read and review):

What if, as David William Foster poses in his introduction to Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar’s novel, the Germans did choose to invade the Americas in the second World War? What if the Luftwaffe did plan to bomb American cities? [. . .]

With playful irony, homage to the Jewish folktale, a touch of magical realism, and keen insight into the customs and characters of this Yiddish-speaking melting pot, Scliar spins a fable of an imaginary war waged by the youngsters of Bom Fim. Brothers Nathan and Joel and their gang defend their quarter against a pretend German military invasion, while their parents deal with the quarrels and worries of the adult world. But which is more real? In Scliar’s richly layered fantasy Carnival and Pesach, Nazi and Jew, the consumer and the consumed, the grotesque and the quotidian intermingle unexpectedly amid the kitchens and alleys of Bom Fim.

The Fist Child by Lucia Puenzo, translated from the Spanish by David William Foster

Lucia Puenzo was included in Granta‘s “Best of Young Spanish Novelists” special issue, and we wrote about her as part of our 22 Days of Awesome series.

Puenzo is a writer and filmmaker (she received a lot of praise of XXY as mentioned in our Granta post) and the movie adaptation of The Fish Child appeared at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. Here’s the trailer:



Symphony in White by Adriana Lisboa, translated from the Portuguese by Sarah Green

Hut of Fallen Persimmons by Adriana Lisboa, translated from the Portuguese by Sarah Green

Both Lisboa books sound really interesting, and we have a forthcoming review of Symphony in White, which won the Jose Saramago Prize in 2003. Symphony in White focuses on two sisters, a “swirl of dark secrets,” and the “unspoken atrocities of the military dictatorship holding sway in their country.”

Hut of Fallen Persimmons just arrived the other week, and tells the story of Haruki and Celina’s trip to Japan. “Their trip to Kyoto provides a context for each to meditate on the past, their feelings for each other, and the questions of cultural difference. Through a counterpoint of narration and text, the pair’s losses and struggles gradually unfold.”

*

All with striking covers, these eight books make a fantastic collection. And I’m really looking forward to all the books Irene ends up including in the series. With a brilliant advisory board I have a lot of faith in the future of this series.

15 April 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In honor of today’s Ernesto Cardenal event in Ann Arbor, we thought we’d post a review of Pluriverse that Vincent Francone wrote for us.

The collection—which came out from New Directions earlier this year—covers Cardenal’s entire career, and Vincent has nothing but positive things to say about the book:

Readers of English, thank your gods: the breadth of Ernesto Cardenal’s amazing poetic career is now available for your consumption thanks to New Directions and the recently published Pluriverse. Spanning fifty-six years, the book presents Cardenal in all his guises: revolutionary, spiritualist, chronicler of man’s inhumanity to man, chilling visionary, and cosmic quasi-historian. The poems in this collection are often long, deceptively assessable, and quite dazzling.

      They told me you were in love with another man
      and then I went off to my room
      and I wrote that article against the government
      that landed me in jail.

You can read the entire review by clicking here.

15 April 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Readers of English, thank your gods: the breadth of Ernesto Cardenal’s amazing poetic career is now available for your consumption thanks to New Directions and the recently published Pluriverse. Spanning fifty-six years, the book presents Cardenal in all his guises: revolutionary, spiritualist, chronicler of man’s inhumanity to man, chilling visionary, and cosmic quasi-historian. The poems in this collection are often long, deceptively assessable, and quite dazzling.

They told me you were in love with another man
and then I went off to my room
and I wrote that article against the government
that landed me in jail.

When I first encountered the above four lines—the eighth section of Cardenal’s long poem “Epigrams”—I was sure I was reading a Latin American writer concerned, a la Neruda, with love and political strife in equal measure. I was right, but little did I know of the complete depth of Cardenal; little did I know that this poem, which is wonderful, was not necessarily a perfect synecdoche of the poet/priest/activist’s total abilities. “Epigrams” is early Cardenal, written in a period of reaction against Somoza in Nicaragua. Though its deep political leanings manifest before long, the poet as sad bastard makes an appearance first:

This will be my revenge
that one day you’ll hold in your hands the book of a famous poet
and you’ll read these lines that the author wrote for you
and you won’t even know it.

Reading the poem alongside the more famous “Zero Hour,” one can see the development beginning in Cardenal from romantic young poet to mature writer documenting injustice:

     . . . the United Fruit Company
with its revolutions for the acquisition of concessions
and exemptions of millions in import duties
and export duties, revisions of old concessions
and grants for new exploitations,
violations of contracts, violations
of the Constitution

“Zero Hour” remains one of the most striking examples of the poet as witness. The artful translation by Donald Walsh (one of seven translators contributing to this collection) captures the horror and history permeating throughout Cardenal’s long, unsettling poem:

Oh, to be able to sleep in your own bed tonight
without the fear of being pulled out of bed and taken out of your house,
the fear of knocks at the door or doorbells ringing in the night!

Pluriverse jumps from these early works to contemplative, spiritual poems that fuse Cardenal’s socio-political concerns with his religious vocation—“In respect of riches, just or unjust, / of goods be they ill-gotten or well-gotten: / All riches are unjust.” (from “Unrighteous Mammon (Luke 16:9))—sorrowful meditations, such as his “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe” and the nightmarish vision of his classic “Apocalypse,” a poem that seems all the more prophetic when read today:

And the angel gave me a check drawn on the National City Bank
and said unto me: Go thou cash this check
but no bank would for all the banks were bankrupt
Skyscrapers were as though they had never been
A million simultaneous fires yet not one firefighter
nor a phone to summon an ambulance nor were there any ambulances
nor was there enough plasma in all the world
                                to help the injured of a single city”

Cardenal always keeps his eye fixed firmly to his subject, even when bouncing from place to place, as in his “Trip to New York,” a poem that offers North Americans a look at a foreigner’s view of our rampant capitalism:

                      . . . And I look
at the deep canyon, the sunken gorge of buildings
where the hidden persuaders hide behind their windows
          selling automobiles of True Happiness, canned Relief (for 30¢)
                ** The Coca-Cola Company**
we cut through the canyon of windows and trillions of dollars

A seller of old books in the Village in love with my shirt
              my cotton peasant shirt from Nicaragua
he asks me who designed it.

Reading Pluriverse from cover to cover is, in effect, charting Cardenal from his beginnings to his current, Cosmic Canticle era writings—poems that chart the progression of the universe, the Earth, and the individual all at once. The new poems in Pluriverse strive to balance all of creation on the tip of the poet’s pen, fusing a connection between man and the cosmos:

Our cycle follows the star cycle:
stars are born, grow, die; our cycle is short
            — theirs too.
They seem stable
but like us they’re slowly dying.

If the universe is expanding
from which center is it expanding?
Or is every point the center?
So then the center of the universe
is also our galaxy,
is also our planet
(and the girl who once was for me).

The cosmic/mythical quality of these new works matches the storied life of their author. Cardenal, at age eighty-four, after political opposition, after serving as ambassador for the Sandinistas, after forming the Our Lady of Solentiname commune, after being publicly admonished by Pope John Paul II, after being harassed by the current incarnation of the Sandinistas, has earned the right to look not only backward but beyond, into the furthest regions of space. His findings match the remarkable quality of his past poetry. This is essential reading.

....
Writers
Writers by Antoine Volodine
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .

Read More >

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Reviewed by Acacia O'Connor

It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .

Read More >

Stealth
Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Egypt was going through a period of transition. The country’s people were growing unhappy with the corruption of power in the government, which had been under British rule for decades. The Egyptians’. . .

Read More >

Miruna, a Tale
Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

Read More >

Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

Read More >

I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

Read More >

Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

Read More >