This collection of poems spanning Paz’s writerly life also spans the historical events of the twentieth century and a significant arc of modernism. The book presents the original Spanish on the left, with the English translation on the opposing page. Translations are principally by Eliot Weinberger, but include other poets’ translations, including Rukeyser, Levertov and Bishop.
One critical “orthodoxy” insists that the works solely themselves should be considered in critical reflection; this approach can provide some real satisfactions in reading Paz’s poetry. The reader’s knowledge about the artist’s public life deepens the engagement, especially given the scope of this volume’s collection.
Paz was born in Mexico City at the start of WWI to a Spanish mother and Mexican father. His very heritage, of new and old worlds, seems to set the pattern for his life, of bridging, incorporating. He embraced. . .
Around the midpoint of Down the Rabbit Hole, the debut novel by Juan Pablo Villalobos (translated by Rosalind Harvey, recently published by FSG, and not to be confused with the mystery novel by Peter Abrahams), the narrator, Tochtli, the young son of a Mexican drug tsar, states:
Books don’t have anything in them about the present, only the past and the future. This is one of the biggest defects of books. Someone should invent a book that tells you what’s happening at this moment, as you read. It must be harder to write that sort of book than the futuristic ones that predict the future. That’s why they don’t exist.
In a sense, Villalobos is trying to write that very book. All media coverage of Mexico is mired in reports of drug war violence, a subject that permeates Down. . .
At its inauguration in 1960, Brasília was baptized “The Capital of Hope.” It is a city that was carved out from scratch in the cerrado, a woodland savannah in the middle of Brazil, in just 41 months of construction. It is also a city completely planned out, a city born without any residents.
When Clarice Lispector, one of Brazil’s most famous writers, visited the new capital in the early seventies, she was struck by how large Brasília loomed over its residents, how its infinite spaces could conjure such unbearable loneliness, how everyone who lived there was from somewhere else. “Brasília,” she wrote “has no inhabitants as of yet who are typical of Brasília.” The oldest citizens born in Brasília are only fifty-two years old today.
João Almino, the novelist and diplomat, is—like the narrator of The Book of Emotions—a photographer and an. . .
On an early morning in Oslo in 1970, Arvid Jansen shimmies up his high school flagpole and replaces his nation’s flag with that of the Viet Cong. Confronted by the headmaster in front of his classmates, Arvid takes the opportunity to expound on the evils of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam and Norway’s complicit foreign policy, all the time being observed from a far corner by his good friend Audun Sletten. “I guess it’s all very important,” Audun shrugs, “but I am up to my neck in my own troubles, and it almost makes me want to throw up.”
Frequent readers of Per Petterson have by now come to know Arvid Jansen rather well. In typical Petterson fashion, Arvid’s life has been examined in alternating atemporal versions set forth in In the Wake and, most recently, in the masterful I Curse. . .
I want to do a podcast sometime about the difficulties of reading. Everything from the amount of time it takes to read a book (and where that time comes from) to what makes a particular book (Finnegans Wake for example) tricky to get into, to books that one avoids because they “seem” like they’d be a bit of a grind. There’s a lot about this topic that I find fascinating, and a huge part of it revolves around the distance between what is expected of a book—”Gravity’s Rainbow is just so nonlinear!”—and the actual process of processing the words on the page.
One of the reasons that a lot of people give for why they do (or why they should) read international fiction is to “get a sense of what life is like in other cultures.” Which is sweet. . .
In his new collection We’re Flying, Swiss author Peter Stamm weaves together a multitude of perspectives with the ghostly fiber of loss. This fascinating set of short stories centers around the general theme of the “human condition”—joy and sadness, birth and death, couples and families, work and school. However, a generous majority of these tales unfold against a subconscious background of grief, whether real or imagined: the widow that learns posthumously of her husband’s affair; the toddler abandoned by his parents at preschool; the frustrated artist. Yet the book isn’t a blurred mess of sympathy; rather, it’s a sharp analysis of life’s chronic pain and beauty. Precise, disquieting, and high-impact, Stamm’s new collection slices away surface tissue to reveal the downright messiness of human life
Stamm’s stories are surprisingly fleshed-out with minimum verbage. Like the artist in one of his stories,. . .
Fuminori Nakamura is no stranger to the world of literature; his works have received much critical praise throughout Japan and have been honored by various literary awards. Nakamura’s The Thief, however, is the first of his novels to be published in English. Winner of the prestigious Oe Prize, The Thief follows a nameless pickpocket through Tokyo. While the reader witnesses events ranging from petty shoplifting to cold-blooded murder, this is by no means a typical crime thriller. Instead of focusing on the scenes of action, Nakamura explores the convoluted psychological and physical sensations of a pickpocket’s world.
The thief is a very solitary character. He occasionally remembers a past lover named Saeko and a fellow pickpocket named Ishikawa; beyond them, however, it seems as if the thief has rarely interacted with others. . . .
It is a well-known phenomenon that widespread condemnation of a book will only serve to increase its allure. It then follows that when Ibn Khaldun (a Fourteenth Century historian) attempted to ban Escape of the Gnostic, he may have been doing the text a favor. In a legal opinion, Ibn Khaldun wrote, “the decision regarding such works and their ilk should involve taking all copies and putting them in the fire, then washing one’s hands so that all traces of their contents are erased.” The author of the clearly controversial Escape of the Gnostic, Ibn Sab‘in, is the narrator and focus of Bensalem Himmich’s novel, A Muslim Suicide (translated from the Arabic by Roger Allen). Born in Andalusia during the Reconquista, Ibn Sab‘in practiced Sufism, a mystic dimension of Islam that encouraged self-examination as a means to spiritual enlightenment. A. . .
Any author who has been both nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature and exiled from his country because of the strength of his criticisms against the nation’s longstanding dictatorship deserves to be taken note of. Rómulo Gallegos in his acclaimed novel, Doña Barbara, hailed as a classic of Latin American literature, is one such author, almost forgotten by English speaking readers since his initial popularity in the 1930’s. In the University of Chicago’s recent reprint, Gallegos receives the credit due to him as a Nobel Prize nominee, the first democratically elected President of Venezuela, and forerunner of magical realism, with Larry McMurty writing in his foreword to the novel, “There are echoes of Gallegos in García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Fuentes.” In Doña Barbara, Gallegos weaves together the story of the Venezuelan llano, or prairie, and the lives of. . .
The endearingly (and intentionally) peculiar tone of Patrick Lapeyre’s Life is Short and Desire Endless complements the subject matter of the novel very well. Nora Neville, a flighty and immature young woman, flits manically between two men (Murphy Blomdale, a successful American businessman in London and a married French translator in Paris, Louis Bleriot, who barely scrapes by off the charity of his prominent wife and his friends), and potentially countless unnamed others. The story of their intertwined affairs is the classic love triangle, yet Lapeyre manages to make it more confusing, more twisted, and somehow even more alluring, with the strange childish tone that has a slight biting edge, much like the character of Nora herself.
The strength of this novel does not come from its action. In fact, very little happens within the narrative. The story unfolds through. . .