tanning doing journalism at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, I thought it would be interesting to totally overload everyone on Macedonio Fernandez. Museum of Eterna’s Novel ranks right up there as one of the books that I’m most proud to be associated with. It’s unique, strange, “difficult,” endlessly playful, important, influential, conceptual, frustrating, enjoyable, and one of the most devoted love stories ever written. To build up to the March 11th event for Macedonio (“The Greatest Event Since It and the World Began”), which will take place at the Americas Society and feature Edith Grossman, Margaret Schwartz, and Todd Garth, all this week we’re going to be serializing Margaret’s translator’s introduction. And on Monday we’ll run a special interview one of our interns did with her about the translation. Here’s a link to Part I of the intro. Enjoy!
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is written for what the author calls the “skip-around reader.” In an often hilarious but equally maddening series of between fifty-seven and sixty prologues—depending on whether you count the dedications, the post-prologue, and the blank page dedicated to the reader’s indecision—the novel postpones itself, thwarting both the reader who tries to skip ahead (where to?) and the dull “orderly” reader’s desire for linearity. There are prologues of salutation, prologues introducing the author and the characters, prologue-letters to the critics, prologues about characters who were rejected, a prologue of authorial despair and, of course, prologues about prologuing.
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is also dedicated to its main character, the lovely Eterna, who has the power to change the past. She is at once transparently allegorical, as the idea of eternal love against the threat of death, and wonderfully real. Museum enshrines her laugh, her changing expressions, black eyes and hair, her grace. She is also real biographically: in the manuscript dedication, the word “Consuelo” has been crossed out and replaced with “Eterna.” Consuelo Bosch was Macedonio’s longtime companion, patroness, and muse after the death of his wife; The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is in a real sense the most earnest, complex, and heartwrenching of love poems. “I write this unnecessary book,” he writes in “Introduction to Eterna,” “because she wants to smile at her lover from outside this love, from the space of Art.”
The novel takes place on an estancia, or country home, outside of Buenos Aires. The estancia is named “La Novela,” and in it the characters share a domestic intimacy reflected in its prose. Much time is devoted to the small comings and goings of life at “La Novela,” and the eventual abandonment of this placid domesticity in favor of the action of the novel—the conquest of Buenos Aires in the name of beauty. Thus The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is also an ardent structure, dedicated to the suspension of time, its enclosure both still and fluid. The eternity it captures is intimate, domestic: kitchen conversations and stovetop kettles, the sound of eucalyptus leaves blowing against the eaves on wet afternoons.
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel asks a simple question: how can we give ourselves fully to love in the face of the certainty of death? And it proposes itself as an answer, however awkwardly and provisionally, by creating a space where neither life nor death exist, only non-being and oblivion. Where there is love, there is no death, only forgetfulness.
As difficult and visionary and ambitious as the structure is, this concern is very simple, human, and understandable. Love opens all of us up to the possibility of loss. What makes Macedonio’s story remarkable is how earnestly he wrestles with tigers that we all face. It isn’t the felicity of his prose, or the prescience of his ideas—though his prose is often felicitous and his ideas often prescient. Rather, it’s the open heart with which he takes up his pen and seeks, through its wanderings, to find a way to love the sound of the kettle on the stove, the crumbled mate leaves on the tablecloth, the arrangement of the furniture in the room—all the dull, pedestrian details of everyday life that clearly offer more irritation than fascination. And somewhere in these details, the tiny tinkerings that he inexhaustibly and minutely calibrates in every corner of his life, is the beloved. And in the beloved, in the other, there is passion, and death, and art, and eternity.
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. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .