Kids these days. They think they’ve invented everything. The McOndo writers and Crack Generation, who so proudly buck the Magic Realist tendencies of García Márquez, who seek to find a place within Latin American letters sans spirits . . . they’ve got their heads in the right place even if their books aren’t always the best. But, having read the stories of Manuel Abreu Adorno, I have to wonder if the Crack and McOndo groups know that their battle was won in 1978.
And the Hippies Came, the collected stories of Abreu Adorno (not to be confused with the other Adorno, who is far less fun to read), is, as the translator’s forward tell us, a neglected classic, a book that resonated with readers upon impact and caught the attention of Julio Cortázar. No wonder: the book is daring, fun, utterly readable, and—why not, let’s use the term—postmodern.
Abreu Adorno’s stories, most of them one part of a conversation, boast a striking immediacy, so much that the experimentation of tales such as “to please ourselves” effectively draws the reader along through a string of references, piled up without punctuation, to an inevitable conclusion. The pop culture mingled with literary playfulness is surely what captivated initial readers, fusing music with literature and echoing the tastes of readers who love Oulipo and the Beats as well as the Allman Brothers and Arsenio Rodríguez. Riffing off of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, Abreu Adorno presents us with “the truth about farrah fawcett majors,” a deconstruction and reconstruction of a sentence that reveals a number of ideas within one very famous source. “what they said to each other for twenty-five dollars” narrates a conversation between a Spanish-speaking prostitute and her john, a CIA agent, neither speaking in the other’s tongue, the Spanish here un-translated in order to effectively communicate the distance between these characters. But the jewel in the crown may be the title story, which celebrates the arrival of a rock festival on the beach of Vega Baja along the lines of Woodstock, an event that promises music, sex, and LSD—but also brings horror:
“I came and saw how some local boys beat up some blonde kids. I came and saw how some stole from the tents of others. I came and saw naked girls everywhere. I came and saw people were smoking and singing . . . . I came and saw colors multiply before my eyes. I came and saw a group of local boys masturbating behind some palm trees. I came and found out they had raped several girls. I came and I was told how some kid had been stabbed that afternoon.”
Perhaps it is a disservice to highlight the grim moments of the story, but I feel the tale best exemplifies the reality behind the hippie illusion, the manner in which American celebrity manifests when exported, and the clash of dominant and subjugated cultures. This was the late 70s, well after the idealism of the hippies was shown to be, at best, a mixed bag. And for the shores of Vega Baja in tiny Puerto Rico, such a grand spectacle of American joyful excess could only end with an equal dose of pain.
Now that I’ve spoken about the steak, let’s talk about the sizzle: kudos to 7Vientos, the small press that resurrected this book. Published as a flip edition with the stories in their native Spanish along with the English translation, packaged with beautiful art printed directly on the hardcover, and loaded with author photos, the book feels like rock and roll albums used to feel in the days before iTunes. Kudos as well to Rafael Franco-Steeves for translating the book, a labor of love that has brought English speakers a neglected literary voice and reintroduced Spanish readers to a lost classic.
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. . .