8 April 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Tiffany Nichols on Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman and published by Two Lines Press.

Tiffany, who is relatively new to the Three Percent contributors’ club, is an avid reader of literature in translation and runs the mouthwatering food porn and book-geeking Tumblr blog tiffany ist.

Here’s a bit from Tiffany’s review:

When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I could have not been more wrong. Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories makes no direct mention of religion or evil, instead consisting of four dark short stories, each focusing on isolation and detachment. What draws the reader to the characters of this work is that each of us has analyzed such a withdrawn individual in ourselves, or in another, with gross curiosity and misunderstanding.

The first story, “Hi This Is Conchita,” is a collection of telephone conversations, unrelated at first, but which over time magically and seamlessly come together to reveal a social network of underlying love, deceit, and irony among the callers. The conversations are stripped of all literary fluff, leaving only the dialog exchanged on the line. One conversation involves an obsessive-compulsive phone sex customer who cannot reach climax due to his concern of the placement of a green filing cabinet in the office in which he secretly makes the calls. Another conversation concerns an ex-boyfriend who obsessively counts the most mundane things about his past relationship on his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine, trying to attribute these tallies to meaning in their failed relationship. The third conversation concerns a customer who uses a customer service line as his only daily form of human contact. The last focuses on a hit man who falls in love with his target, only to find that he has misidentified the target after it is too late.

8 April 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I could have not been more wrong. Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories makes no direct mention of religion or evil, instead consisting of four dark short stories, each focusing on isolation and detachment. What draws the reader to the characters of this work is that each of us has analyzed such a withdrawn individual in ourselves, or in another, with gross curiosity and misunderstanding.

The first story, “Hi This Is Conchita,” is a collection of telephone conversations, unrelated at first, but which over time magically and seamlessly come together to reveal a social network of underlying love, deceit, and irony among the callers. The conversations are stripped of all literary fluff, leaving only the dialog exchanged on the line. One conversation involves an obsessive-compulsive phone sex customer who cannot reach climax due to his concern of the placement of a green filing cabinet in the office in which he secretly makes the calls. Another conversation concerns an ex-boyfriend who obsessively counts the most mundane things about his past relationship on his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine, trying to attribute these tallies to meaning in their failed relationship. The third conversation concerns a customer who uses a customer service line as his only daily form of human contact. The last focuses on a hit man who falls in love with his target, only to find that he has misidentified the target after it is too late.

“Despoiler,” the second story in the collection, is an intriguing and atypical example of fabulism where Carmen, an isolated women crossing the right of passage of turning forty, is reacquainted with the beloved stuffed animals of her childhood in human form during Carnival. Of course, these animals appear to be adults in costume, but as we all learned at a young age—looks, especially when masks are involved, can be deceiving.

The third and probably most disturbing story, “Butterflies Fastened With Pins,” is a compendium of individuals who have committed suicide and whom the narrator has encountered. What is most troubling about the recollection of the suicides is how detached the narrator is from the victims, but how vividly he is able to describe everyone else’s personal reactions to the suicides and their aftermath. The narrator always remains detached, calculated, and controlled in descriptions of the facts surrounding the suicides, but provides an almost poetic account of how the other observers succumb to grief, misunderstanding of death, and inability to cope with the suicides.

The collection closes with “The Passenger Beside You.” Although “Butterflies” was the most disturbing, “Passenger” is by far the most eerie in the collection. In this account, Roncagliolo explores a corpse’s last moment of intimacy during a final examination by a medical examiner mechanically performing his job function. What is most unnatural about the account is how closely the reader will experience these last moments of intimacy from the perspective of the corpse. The corpse narrator vividly describes the methodical carefulness of the medical examiner’s touch, starting from the outside surface of the body and moving to his calculated exploration inside the corpse’s body. The progression will cause you to shudder, but will also leave you almost invigorated and intrigued by the intimate connection between the corpse and her detached examiner.

Roncagliolo is an incredibly gifted storyteller who is able to execute many writing styles, as evidenced in the shock thriller Red April and the delicate and sensual exploration of the relationships between the connected and detached in Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stores. In each of these works, Roncagliolo reminds us that, although we are isolated by default, we are all connected to each other in some way. For this reason, in addition to Roncagliolo’s partnership with the translator, Edith Grossman, I urge everyone to actively follow the presence of Roncagliolo’s work in the English (and Spanish) language.

23 November 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [5]

As we mentioned last Friday, we’re going to spend the next 21 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.

Up today: Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo, whose new short story “Stars and Stripes” is included in this issue.



Last year, in the run-up to announcing the longlist for the Best Translation Book Award for Fiction, there was a bit of chatter about Santiago Roncagliolo’s Red April. This “chilling political thriller set at the end of Peru’s grim war between Shining Path terrorists and a morally bankrupt government counterinsurgency,” which was translated by Edith Grossman, centers around Associate District Prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar and his investigation of a gruesome, bizarre murder. It’s a very intriguing novel, one that Michael Orthofer of Complete Review gave a solid B, having this to say:

Red April is an intriguing if somewhat messy thriller, with no easy answers and culpability (of different sorts) all around. Chacaltana is, for the most part, an appealingly clueless figure in this world gone bad, though his own transformation seems a bit much by the end; his relationship with Edith also strains some credulity. Nevertheless, it’s a solid portrait of a place steeped almost hopelessly in the completely corrupted, with little sense of hope for change or a better future.

A somewhat uneasy mix of political and crime thriller, Roncagliolo does paint some very vivid and powerful scenes—but it is of a dark and desolate world.

Fellow BTBA judge, Monica Carter, also reviewed Red April and had this to say:

There are many disturbing things about this novel—the violence, the corruption and the religious overtones—which can all easily be filed under ‘amoral’ in the literary tricks rolodex of the thriller genre. But what makes this novel a little messier, a little more uncertain, is the narrator. Chalcatana is not necessarily unreliable, but for a reader, it’s difficult to overlook his peculiarities. It’s difficult to believe him. Chalcatana moves back into this childhood home where he lives alone except for the overwhelming eerie presence of his deceased mother. He keeps her room exactly the same, lays her clothes out as if she were still alive, talks to her pictures and even goes as far as behaving as if she were still alive by keeping appointments with her. Strange, yes. Criminal, no. Disturbing? Slightly . . .

Roncagliolo’s other books seem to fit a similar interest in crime, violence, terrorism. According to the Granta bio, Roncagliolo’s non-fiction novel La curata espada “delves into the mind of the most dangerous terrorist in the history of the Americas, Abimael Guzman of Sendero Luminoso.” His book Memorias de una dama is about the origins of the Mafia in Cuba and “its publication is prohibited throughout the entire world.” (Again, Roncagliolo is only 35 and already has a book banned everywhere. I’ve been wasting my life . . .) Expanding on the Mafia & terrorism theme, his latest novel, Tan cerca de la vida, is about Tokyo’s sex market.

“Stars and Stripes,” also translated by the amazing Edie Grossman, contains a few connection to underworld dealings, but these moments are reflected through the more innocent character of Carlitos. This excerpt encapsulates the seediness underlying the story, along with the sweet sort of awkward and hints of nostalgia that color “Stars and Stripes”:

bq Though Carlitos wasn’t to blame for anything, I was furious with him. Simply put, his company reminded me of my failure with Mily. I stopped seeing him. I didn’t want him to interfere with my difficult progress towards a first kiss. Apparently this served only to make Carlitos want to see me more than ever. He rang my bell six days in a row. He asked my parents about me. He telephoned me at midnight. I never responded. It wouldn’t take me long to regret that. Mily’s kiss never came, but at the end of the summer, I learned from other neighbours about the tragedy that had struck Carlitos’s family while I was ignoring him.

That year his parents had sent his older brother to study in the United States. Manuel – that was his brother’s name – had begun to travel back and forth very frequently, too frequently, but no one thought it strange. After all, Carlitos’s father had been promoted to the rank of admiral. His house was filled with armed bodyguards, and in all probability he earned a great deal of money. Sending the boy back and forth wouldn’t represent a huge expenditure for him.

What did surprise everyone was that the police arrested Manuel at the airport, when he was about to leave on one of his trips. This time Manuel had spent barely forty-eight hours in Lima, going out to discotheques at night and sleeping during the day. His family hardly saw him, and even though they were beginning to suspect what was going on, nobody felt like asking questions. They were probably confident an admiral’s son would not be arrested.

At first, no one believed that Manuel’s detention would last too long. It had to be a mistake. Or the admiral would make certain it was a mistake. But it seems Manuel was carrying too much cocaine for the matter to be ignored, or even for him to be given a light sentence. And apparently his father didn’t tolerate that kind of behaviour in his family. He used all his connections to get him a decent cell in a maximum-security prison, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t do more.

Another boy in the neighbourhood told me all this, and when I heard about it, I felt guilty for having ignored Carlitos’s phone calls. I went to see him right away. His mother received me with a sombre expression that I didn’t want to interpret as a reproach for my absence. His father didn’t even know who I was.

I found Carlitos with his GI Joes, which were beginning to seem anachronistic in a boy his age, and his American footballs, which he never used because nobody knew how to play the game. I didn’t know what to say and sat down on his bed. He didn’t say anything either. His room smelled strange, but it always smelled strange.

After a time spent in silence, the clock struck five, the time when Mily walked her dog, and it occurred to me that I could do something to make up for my bad behaviour. I took him to the park and tried to organize some lively talk between the three of us. When I thought everything was off to a good start, I pretended I had to go to the dentist and left them alone. I never found out more, and Carlitos never talked about it.

Some six or seven years later, I ran into Mily at a discotheque. We danced, laughed and recalled the old days. In the end we spent the night together. It was fun, and a little nostalgic. Before I fell asleep, I remembered the episode in the park and asked: ‘Listen, do you remember the afternoon when I left you with Carlitos? Did you do anything? Even just a kiss?’

‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I tried, that afternoon and many other afternoons, but he only wanted to show me his baseball cards.’

Not nearly as gruesome and disturbed as Red April . . . Hopefully more of Roncagliolo will make its way into English. (Especially that banned book . . . What’s freedom of speech good for if we can’t read books whose publication is prohibited “throughout the entire world”? Just that line along would help sell ten thousand copies . . . And add in Cuba . . . This has the makings of a best-seller.)

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.

Tomorrow: An interview with Federico Falco.

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
....
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