Like many American readers, I stumbled upon Rodrigo Rey Rosa thanks to Bolaño. How could you not be willing to check out a previously unheard-of Guatemalan author after encountering praise like this:
To say that Rodrigo Rey Rosa is the most rigorous writer of my generation and at the same time the most transparent, the one who better weaves his stories and the most luminous of them all, is saying nothing new.
The African Shore is the story of an unlikely encounter in the most international of cities, Tangier. Its first part follows the kif-smoking Hamsa, a Moroccan shepherd boy who has recently become involved in the drug trade in an attempt to ameliorate his socio-economic condition. The second part follows a Colombian tourist who has lost his passport after a crazy night of alcohol and whores. Stranded in a strange land, he gradually becomes more enmeshed in complex relationships of vague desire and mutual incomprehension. All the while, the life that he left behind slowly fades into remote irrelevance. In Tangier, the focal point of his relationships with others—and ultimately of the novel itself—is an owl. The Colombian buys it from a ragged boy on the street for a few dirhams, and it quickly becomes an object of adoration and a site of contention, propelling the narrative forward.
In that narration, what impresses me most is the ambiguous specificity of the writing. Rey Rosa demonstrates a profound mastery of negative capability, all the more impressive given the diversity of his subject matter. He manages to evoke a world of complexity—Latino tourists and unquestioning locals, economic migrants and drug peddlers, and even French residents not all too far removed from their colonialist fore-bearers—with the sparsest of prose. His depiction of post-colonial Tangier, significantly evolved from the Tangier of his mentor Paul Bowles, is pitch perfect and rings true to my years in Morocco. For an author relating a story about the mutual incomprehension of cross-cultural encounters, Rey Rosa shows just how much he really gets people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. Occasionally, a quarter page exchange will distill the essence of hour-long conversations I’ve had with French people or Hispanics, or Moroccans.
Rey Rosa’s novel is a delicately constructed miniature model. Its brevity and ease of reading are deceptive. The chapters rattle by; most are not much more than a page or two. When I finished, I had to ask myself if there shouldn’t have been something more. After setting it down and going about my day, though, it returned to me, its elaborate intricacy growing on me all the while. Rey Rosa’s masterful narrative has been remarkably conveyed into English by Jeffrey Gray. He could easily have upset this striking balance at so many points, and yet he didn’t. The rigor and transparency come through. For that accomplishment, it deserves very serious consideration for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award.
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .