7 March 14 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by P. T. Smith on My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron, translated by Mara Faye Lethem, and forthcoming from Knopf.

Pron was one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists, and has already made an impression with this, his American debut. And thus we move quickly back into the review world, back in the zone of being on-schedule. So enjoy the review, it’s good to be back in the swing of things, and the apostrophe in the title is not misplaced: the line is from the Dylan Thomas poem “I Fellowed Sleep.” So there.

Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within your own culture, or that live in a certain parallel universe version of a familiar story (yet another reason to read stories that follow common tropes, but come from a different culture or gender perspective). Nearly midway through his My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain (lengthy, obscure-poetic-sounding titles being a cross-cultural habit, apparently), Patricio Pron writes what could be found only in rare, specific cases in the US: “At this point, to put it another way, the inevitable shift occurred from individual victim to collective victim.” This idea comes to life in the US in social justice cases, in calls for a victimized group to speak together, to be heard, but in Argentina, for those living or raised in the 1970s, Pron sees an entire country as collective victim, an entire country that endured dictatorship, kidnappings, murders, executions—all falling under the catch-all “disappeared.” None of this is to say that this is a novel to read to learn a clear history of the Argentinean dictatorship and its aftermath; in fact, Pron makes no effort to over-explain references, and in her clear translation, Mara Faye Lethem makes no moves to insert awkward clarifications. Instead, knowledge is deployed as if we already understand, or are willing to do the extra work.

Structured into four sections, each broken down into micro-chapters (another cross-cultural, increasingly common, habit—one hopes for reasons other than making it easier to read), Pron sets out to understand how this collective victimhood works, how the silences of history, failures of memory, and personal losses, all become disappearances. The narrator is a drug-addled young man who has lived eight years out of his home country before returning to Argentina to be with his family during his father’s seemingly impending death, which suddenly, strangely, doesn’t happen. Once there, he begins the process of uncovering and recovery: of his self, the why of his memory loss that precedes the drugs; of his father; of the country’s victims, and how that victimhood infects everything it contacts. The heart and bulk—but unfortunately for the success of the book, not the soul—of this investigation lies in a collection of news reports and photos he finds in his father’s study, all pertaining to a man’s disappearance. Reading through, analyzing, the narrator wants to solve both the mystery of the disappearance and of his father’s obsession with it. Though it occurred after Argentina’s dictatorship, and so does not belong to the vast numbers of “the disappeared,” he becomes another victim because of that haunting past. This is that infection of collective victimhood, and what Pron wants to brave against.

For the rest of the review, go here.

7 March 14 | Kaija Straumanis |

Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within your own culture, or that live in a certain parallel universe version of a familiar story (yet another reason to read stories that follow common tropes, but come from a different culture or gender perspective). Nearly midway through his My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain (lengthy, obscure-poetic-sounding titles being a cross-cultural habit, apparently), Patricio Pron writes what could be found only in rare, specific cases in the US: “At this point, to put it another way, the inevitable shift occurred from individual victim to collective victim.” This idea comes to life in the US in social justice cases, in calls for a victimized group to speak together, to be heard, but in Argentina, for those living or raised in the 1970s, Pron sees an entire country as collective victim, an entire country that endured dictatorship, kidnappings, murders, executions—all falling under the catch-all “disappeared.” None of this is to say that this is a novel to read to learn a clear history of the Argentinean dictatorship and its aftermath; in fact, Pron makes no effort to over-explain references, and in her clear translation, Mara Faye Lethem makes no moves to insert awkward clarifications. Instead, knowledge is deployed as if we already understand, or are willing to do the extra work.

Structured into four sections, each broken down into micro-chapters (another cross-cultural, increasingly common, habit—one hopes for reasons other than making it easier to read), Pron sets out to understand how this collective victimhood works, how the silences of history, failures of memory, and personal losses, all become disappearances. The narrator is a drug-addled young man who has lived eight years out of his home country before returning to Argentina to be with his family during his father’s seemingly impending death, which suddenly, strangely, doesn’t happen. Once there, he begins the process of uncovering and recovery: of his self, the why of his memory loss that precedes the drugs; of his father; of the country’s victims, and how that victimhood infects everything it contacts. The heart and bulk—but unfortunately for the success of the book, not the soul—of this investigation lies in a collection of news reports and photos he finds in his father’s study, all pertaining to a man’s disappearance. Reading through, analyzing, the narrator wants to solve both the mystery of the disappearance and of his father’s obsession with it. Though it occurred after Argentina’s dictatorship, and so does not belong to the vast numbers of “the disappeared,” he becomes another victim because of that haunting past. This is that infection of collective victimhood, and what Pron wants to brave against.

The narrator eventually uncovers that the man’s sister was not only one of the disappeared, but was led by his father into political activism. The attempt to recover her by recovering her brother, this transference, has moved onto the narrator himself, now trying to prevent his own and his father’s disappearances. We see again that collective victimhood, swallowing anyone it can. The way this ghost of history and violence stalks through the novel is compelling, and at Pron’s most convicted and skillful, you can feel its encroachment. It is unfortunate that Pron suffers from uncertainty about how to move with a project he is obviously deeply invested in. Because he is dealing with history, both of the country and of his family, with the blend of fiction and non-fiction, there is uncertainty. It is not the uncertainty of the reader, or of a writer questioning how to blend the two, but the uncertainty of a writer unsure if he should. It’s one thing to blend fact and fiction to stare down a culture’s identity, and another to devote a work to questioning the morality of blending the two—but to be unable to choose and not center the complication itself, to want both, weakens to the work.

The collection of newspaper scraps, indented as long quotations and written in reportage style in a claim to non-fiction, make up the significant portion of the My Fathers’ Ghost and this too is unfortunate. They are not only less interesting to read—in fact boring, repetitive, at times—they don’t cut to the quick of Pron’s themes and concerns, precisely because verisimilitude lurks over them. Though they are a necessary core for the novel’s structure, Pron thrives, both in style and substance, in the rest of the book, where fiction takes over.

This structure, of a confused young writer obsessed with a crime and pouring over the evidence, any detail—the number of inhabitants of a town, latitude and longitude coordinates, etc.—possibly mattering, the failure of police, a haunting sense of lurking violence, all point to influences, most pointedly detective novels, and, endorsed by Pron himself, Bolaño. The influence of Bolaño is strong, but Pron is talented enough not to let it dominate. There is no singular moment that is a recognizably specific Bolaño moment or a sense of mimicry, and it is likely the honest comfort with this influence that allows it to work naturally, and for differences, even responses, to spring up. For all of the ways that Bolaño’s characters swing between obsession and detachment, they aren’t usually detached from their obsessions. Pron’s narrator is and moves his investigation through a near fugue state, his obsession separate from him. He only follows, hoping the fugue will clear.
On the other hand, the connection with crime stories is, surprisingly, given Bolaño’s openness to the genre, one the narrator, and seemingly Pron, rejects, even as it swallows him and the novel: “the resolution of most detective stories is condescending, no matter how ruthless the plotting, so that the reader, once the loose ends are tied up and the guilty finally punished, can return to the real world with the convictions that crimes get solved and remain locked between the covers of a book.” This of course is true not of most crime stories, but only of the simplest, the laziest—the type seen in television procedurals. Not only that, but the fight against this mode of the genre, the celebration of the lost detective with no answers, has been ongoing for decades at least, so there is nothing interesting in openly acknowledging it as if it were new and it becomes a claim to complications that aren’t there.

In the end, the novel becomes, for a large middle section, too dependent on a strategy that is neither interesting, nor something that Pron or the narrator seem to believe in. As much as there is little belief in the form, Pron shows a lack of trust in his own clarity, or in the reader. The numbered micro-chapters are not fully sequential. In the first of the novel’s four parts, numerous numbers are skipped, to show the narrator’s fractured memory, but we see this already, and are told it. Later, in the throes of his investigation, the narrator falls ill, and feverish, the numbers skip again, or repeat or backtrack, but again, we know he is losing clarity, and there is no specific reason for each interruption of order.
Yet it should again be emphasized, clarified, anticipated in future books, that when Pron moves away from blocking out his narrative around these newspaper clippings, when he focuses on fiction that’s based on non-fiction rather than non-fiction playing itself off as fiction, My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain gets deepest into its own questions, and finds multitudes. Pron’s narrator wonders how to take on the national identity of Argentine when he has seen the symbols of that identity abused, used “so many times in circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that we didn’t have anything to do with and didn’t want to have anything to do with.” This feeling is so overwhelming that he includes a World Cup1 victory in the same sentence as a war. He wants to be able to embrace an Argentinean identity at the same time as a writer’s identity, while “That a writer could be Argentine and living is a fairly recent discovery.”

The explorations of such questions, some of which fall away as the focus tightens on the newspaper clippings, are more crafted, more affecting when Pron gives his writing free reign, unburdened by the sense of obligation to the idea of “how it actually happened.” In an early passage, Pron’s narrator ponders his relationship with his parents, trying to find how to compare, describe it, and comes to: “Children are policemen of their parents, but I don’t like policemen. They’ve never gotten along well with my family.” In one moment, the focus is his direct relationship with his parents, in the next a simile goes awry and takes him in a dangerous, fearful direction, plunging to the past. The obliqueness, the potential strangeness of fiction, gives reason both to read deeply, and to invest in Pron’s mission of uncovering Argentinean history—personal, familial, and political: a childhood game of killing frogs becomes both the child’s version of unknowingly participating in the violence of his country and the adult’s attempt to reconcile; the fever dreams give us images such as a transparent fish, with a “fistful of autonomous organs with no center of command,” which we cannot do anything but associate with our narrator.

My Fathers’ Ghost is an effort to tell a story that has previously been passed over in silence, while knowing that this secret knowledge is not one of power or liberation, but one that comes with danger and suffering: “You don’t ever want to know certain things, because what you know belongs to you, and there are certain things you never want to own.” Pron’s desire is to fill the silence, not with noise but with clarity and truths. Near the end, the narrator reminds of us inheritance, “My father had started to search for his lost friend and I, without meaning to, had also started shortly afterward to search for my father.”

This inheritance is not only of a search for what has been lost, but also a complicated relationship between the lost, what happens when the lost is found, and the consequences of expression. When talking with his sister, the narrator attempts to gently mock their father for always going out to start the car alone instead of waiting for the kids. The mocking ends when his sister reveals the truth, and the debt that the son owes the father: “journalists were getting killed by car bombs; he went out alone every day to start the car to protect us.” Added to this debt, which came into existence only with revelation, is the narrator’s belief that his choice must be “the truth” or “a compassionate lie,” with the latter being one of escapism and blindness. There is also, and it is glimpsed at times here, a form of lie, fiction, that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the truth. That power is compromised in My Father’s Ghost, a compromise established in Pron’s decision to give his parents veto power over his book. Those glimpses into a deeper soul for the book give one hope that Pron’s next work will be more decisive, expand on seedlings planted here, and for an American reader, give hope that a young American writer can speak to the silences that have overlaid the American atrocities of the last decade.

1 The appearance of an unnamed Maradona, an “obese caricature of a soccer player,” in an airport, wearing a T-shirt with himself on it, is a nice moment of literature and soccer overlapping, a call to Three Percent’s upcoming “World Cup of Literature”.

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 . . .

1 October 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

Today Granta announced the twenty-two young Spanish Novelists that will be in the ‘Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists issue, which is coming in November. The list (which you can see in full below) has two exciting surprises for us. First, our own Alejandro Zambra was named to the list! The issue will feature an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Formas de volver a casa, which I can’t wait to read.

The other surprise was that Samanta Schweblin, Santiago Roncagliolo, Oliverio Coelho, Federico Falco, and Antonio Ortuño are also on the list. Next year (I hope it’s ready by next year, that is), we’re publishing an anthology of short fiction by young Latin American writers called The Future is Not Ours, which was edited and collected by Diego Trelles Paz (here’s a piece he had in n+1 recently). Schweblin, Roncagliolo, Coehlo, Falco, and Ortuño are all in the anthology.

(Excuse us for a moment while we feel fancy for being the publisher of six of the twenty-two Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists.)

To celebrate, we’re knocking 30% off the cover price of Alejandro Zambra’s The Private Lives of Trees. For a limited time (saying that makes me feel so marketing-y), you can get it for $8.99 from our online shop.

Here’s Granta’s blog post that announces the list (followed by the whole list):

Granta’s Best Young Novelists issues have been some of the magazine’s most important – ever since the first ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ in 1983, which featured stories by Salman Rushdie, A. N. Wilson, Adam Mars-Jones and Martin Amis. There have since been two more Best of Young British Novelists lists, in 1993 and 2003, and lists for American novelists in 1996 and 2007. The titles have become milestones on the literary landscape, predicting talent as much as spotting it.

Today, Granta takes a new step in this tradition: our first-ever Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists issue. It will be published first in Spanish as Los mejores narradores jovenes en español and the English edition will follow, coming out on 25 November. The twenty-two writers on the list have been chosen by a distinguished panel of six judges: Valerie Miles and Aurelio Major, editors of Granta en español; Guatemalan-American novelist Francisco Goldman; Catalan critic, editor and author Mercedes Monmany; British journalist and ex-Latin American correspondent Isabel Hilton; and Argentinian writer and film-maker Edgardo Cozarinsky. To be eligible, the writers had to be born on or after January 1, 1975.

  • Alejandro Zambra
  • Carlos Yushimito del Valle
  • Matías Néspolo
  • Alberto Olmos
  • Antonio Ortuño
  • Andrés Felipe Solano
  • Santiago Roncagliolo
  • Elvira Navarro
  • Andrés Neuman
  • Patricio Pron
  • Carlos Labbé
  • Oliverio Coelho
  • Rodrigo Hasbún
  • Sònia Hernández
  • Andrés Ressia Colino
  • Samanta Schweblin
  • Pola Oloixarac
  • Javier Montes
  • Federico Falco
  • Pablo Gutiérrez
  • Andrés Barba
  • Lucía Puenzo
25 March 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments



E.J. mentioned this earlier, but now that we actually have a physical issue in hand, I thought I’d add a bit of information.

As noted in the earlier post, this issue of Zoetrope: All-Story is dedicated to contemporary Latin American writers. All of the writers included in this issue are under 40 (born post-One Hundred Years of Solitude) and the vast majority have never been published in English translation.

From the introduction by Daniel Alarcon and Diego Trelles Paz:

The view of Latin American letters, at least in the United States, has sorely needed an update for quite some time. Magical realism has been one of Latin America’s most profitable exports for many years, operating as the prevailing commercial literary mode long after outliving its usefulness. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solidtude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), two books we would describe—without exaggeration—as perfect, served as precursors to an unfortunate string of imitatons, novels that combined a little magic, a little folklore, and a few miraculous recipes in entirely predictable formulas, creating an exotic, unrealistic, and ultimately damaging vision of Latin America. Perhaps the most dispiriting consequence of this stylistic hegemony is that so many other worthy writers have received less attention than they deserve. Giants like Jorge Luis Borges and Mario Vargas Llosa are widely celebrated, though not widely read in English—to say nothing of Juan Carlos Onetti, Juan Rulfo, Clarice Lispector, Julio Cortazar, or Manuel Puig. In this context, the recent canonization of Roberto Bolano in the United States and around the world is a truly welcome development, which we hope will lead to greater interest in not-yet-famous and emerging Latin American writers.

To that end, they included a diverse list of authors from a range of countries, including: Carolina Sanin (Colombia), Ronaldo Menendez (Cuba), Ines Bortagaray (Uruguay), Rodrigo Hasbun (Bolivia), Alejandro Zambra (Chile), the late Aura Estrada (Mexico), Slavko Zupcic (Venezuela), and several others.

A quick word about the design: Zoetrope is always beautiful, but this time they outdid themselves. The paper so supple, and I really like the inclusion of the original Spanish version of the stories in the back on blue-tinted paper. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was the guest designer and interspersed throughout the issue are wonderful full-color sketches from his notebook.

You can order a copy (and find out more about this issue) by visiting the Zoetrope: All-Story website.

And as pointed out in the comments section by Daniel Olivas there’s a great interview with Daniel Alarcon over at La Bloga.

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