As we mentioned a few Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 4 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.
Today we’re featuring Colombian author Andres Felipe Solano. An excerpt from his new novel—“The Cuervo Brothers”—was translated by Nick Caistor for this issue.
In the end, I wonder if the Shavelzon Agency will be the big winner of all this Granta publicity. They represent a few of the featured authors, including Andres Neuman, Pola Oloixarac, and Andres Felipe Solano. (They also represent both Manuel Puig and Juan Jose Saer, which are two reasons why I love them. That and their brochures and catalogs are as slick as sin.)
Solano has an interesting backstory (don’t all these authors?): Back in 2007 he lived in one of the diciest neighborhoods in Medellin and worked in a factory for six months. (Which reminds me of the book Mark Binelli is writing about Detroit, except for the whole “working in a factory” bit. I think the image of Mark working in a factory will keep me in giggles all day . . .) He converted this experience into an essay entitled “Seis meses con el salario minimo” (which can be translated either as “Six Months at Minimum Salary” or “FML: Minimum Wage Is a Racket!”) that was a finalist for the prize awarded by the Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano, chaired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (If you’re interested, you can read the entire essay here.) Solano also had a six-month literary residence in Seoul, where he met his wife. Which is sweet.
The excerpt from his novel in progress is pretty intriguing and exemplifies a lot of ways to pull a reader in—bit of a mystery, unfounded rumors, unfounded mysterious sex rumors.
The Cuervo brothers claimed to have been transferred from a school whose name we had never heard of. The older one started in the second year, a class below me. The younger one joined in the last year of primary school. From the very first week there were all kinds of stories about them. As the months went by, these grew like the number of bullfrogs in the rainy season. During these holidays, I’ve classified them all in a notebook. Going over them carefully, I’ve established four categories:
As was to be expected, the first rumour spread about them was that they were queer. Gay as butterflies, but not very brightly coloured. Brown or perhaps black, those with just a flash of yellow or aquamarine blue. When we started having girlfriends, my best friend Diego told me that one night, after seeing Alien 3 with María Adelaida in the Embajador, he caught sight of the older brother selling himself on the corner of the Terraza Pasteur shopping mall. He got into a green jeep in a parking lot and began sucking off an old guy who looked like a military man. While he was face down, the guy was playing with his false teeth, or so Diego said, without the trace of a smile. The wildest story in this category was about their bodies. According to the person telling it (I can’t remember now who that was), the brothers were born hermaphrodites, and someone saw them binding up their breasts in a toilet before a PE class. After that we got on to their families. As soon as we learned they lived on their own with their grandmother, crime was added to the sex stories we swapped during break time. The worst of these concerned the double life their mother had lived. She had been a high-class whore, but their father found out when they were only little and slit her throat. He was in Gorgona prison, and had five years left to serve of his sentence. When he got out, he was going to reclaim them, and would kill everyone who had made fun of them. I remembered, though, that in a history class once, we had been told the island prison of Gorgona had been closed in 1977, when the only inmates left were poisonous snakes.
The sinister stories all started with a melodramatic incident. At first there was a rumour they had escaped from an orphanage south of the city. The wealthy spinster they were now living with helped them run away one night through a drainage pipe, and took them to live in one of the 1940s mansions that still survived in the neighbourhood around the school. Most of them had been pulled down or converted into car workshops, but the house where the Cuervos lived was just as it had always been, with its lofty English appearance. Others said they were her legitimate grandsons, flesh of her flesh, but that every weekend she chained their hands and feet, locked them in the basement, and only gave them wheat broth and stale bread to eat. That’s why they smelled so badly when they came to school on Mondays, it was said. The most dreadful aspect of the whole thing was imagining them having to eat that thick soup, that slimy gruel we all hated when it was served up in the school canteen. Some boys even said the dungeon they were kept in communicated directly with the basements in Avenida Jiménez, the ones near the spot where Gaitán was killed, and that his real killer had escaped through them. I myself invented the rumour that the younger one suffered from a strange illness which meant he could only see in black and white, and that was why his eyes were wrinkled like prunes. Nobody liked that one. So I invented a syndrome which gave him convulsions and made him clasp his balls if he spent too long in the open air. That explains why he never plays football, I said, to clinch the argument.
[. . .]
One of the more sinister rumours had it that when the drug traffickers began exploding car bombs, the brothers used to go to the scene of the explosion and take photos of the burned-out wrecks, the buildings with shattered windows, the mutilated, wounded, and even of the dead bodies. Although no one at school ever saw these photos, I discovered them one evening when they left me alone in their second-floor library. They had classified them in different folders. There were some of the bomb at the El Espectador newspaper office, and the DAS security headquarters, others of the one in the Quirigua neighbourhood, or at the Carulla supermarket on 127th Street in 1990, close to my auntie’s house. I remember that last one very well. It was a Sunday, Mother’s Day. The bomb went off an hour after we bought a cake with confectionery roses on it in the shopping mall where the bombed supermarket was. They also had photos of the bomb at the 93 Centre. It was dreadful to imagine them catching a bus to the scene of the explosion, then standing there in the midst of the tragedy, calmly taking photos. I calculate that when the DAS bomb went off they must have been thirteen and fifteen, if that. And now I come to think of it, when the school put into practice an evacuation plan in case of an attack – the son of an army officer who was at loggerheads with a drug baron was studying with us – the Cuervo brothers started carrying gas masks in their satchels. Diego and I saw them and asked where they had got them. They said their grandmother had bought the masks in the flea market. As extravagant as ever, Zorrilla assured everyone they must have belonged to their grandfather.
The first time I went to their house, the grandmother received me in a small reception room that was obviously for brief, informal visits.
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