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!
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .