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!
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .