It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I’m not a fan of Jonathan Franzen (a.k.a. America’s Next Top Writer). Not that into his books or his public persona. So, when the galley for the new Juan Gabriel Vásquez book—The Sound of Things Falling—arrived complete with an interview between Vásquez and Franzen, I was a bit disappointed. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a while now—and obviously still will—but having J-Franz’s mark on it sort of knocks it to the bottom of the pile for me. (As I’ve been told by my ex-wife and others, I’m an “angry little man,” and also someone who holds grudges, especially against overrated novelists who insulted me in a public setting eight years ago. ANYWAY.)
But how bad could an interview be, really? It’s just an interview. It provides a context. Information about JGV’s work. Right?
Jonathan Franzen: I’m struck by how different in feel The Informers and The Sound of Things Falling are from the Latin American “boom” novels of a generation ago. I’m thinking of both their cosmopolitanism (European story elements in the first book, an American main character in the new one) and their situation in a modern urban Bogotá. To me it feels as if there’s been a kind of awakening in Latin American fiction, a clearing of the magical mists, and I’m wondering to what extent you see your work as a reaction to that of Márquez and his peers. Did you come to fiction writing with a conscious program?
To be honest, this is all I’ve read of this interview, because it’s just so stupid that I can’t go on. I may well burn this promo material as soon as I finish writing this post.
First off, where the hell has Franzen been? Not only were there a lot of Latin American writers working in non-“boom” type aesthetics at the same time that Márquez was writing, but there have been hundreds of interesting authors since that time who ripped open the “magical mists” of Latin American fiction. And seriously, “magical mists”? That is some shit.
This is the kind of bullshit question that no one would ever ask an American author. Just imagine:
I’m struck by how different in feel The Corrections and Freedom are from the American “modernist” novels of a generation ago. I’m thinking of both their disinterest in language and representations of the inner workings of the human experience (the straightforward neo-realistic prose that dominates both of them) and the obsession with the suburbs. To me it feels as if there’s been a kind of awakening in American fiction, a clearing of the obfuscating mists, and I’m working to what extent you see your work as a reaction to that of Faulkner and his peers. Did you come to fiction writing with a conscious program?
Sorry. I’m just sick of this sort of approach to reading international literature—especially Latin American literature. Implicit in Franzen’s question is the idea that there was—or is—a certain “type” of Latin American writing and that anything different than that is some sort of political statement or bold move, as if Latin American writers can’t write about Europe or America or anything modern and universal. Get back to the banana plantations and bring us some talking butterflies! Beyond being insulting to Latin American writers, it really makes the person asking the question—Franzen in this case—seem like an ignoramus. So all y’all Mexicans actually know about Europe? Holeey shit!
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
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. . .