jueves, 31 de diciembre de 2009

The Buenos Aires Affair

The Buenos Aires Affair (Seix Barral, 1993)
por Manuel Puig
Argentina, 1973

No sé si voy a escribir un post estilo "fin del año" más tarde, pero les diré ahora que los tres mejores libros que he leído en este año (el mamotreto 2666 de Roberto Bolaño y las novelas Respiración artificial y Plata quemada de Ricardo Piglia) fueron escritos en castellano.  Podría decir lo mismo acerca del cuento ("El orden de las familias" de Jorge Edwards) y de la obra de no ficción (Operación Masacre de Rodofo Walsh) que más me gustaron.  Desgraciadamente, tengo que confesar que me cuesta leer en castellano a veces a causa de mi falta de dominio sobre el lenguaje.  Todo esto es preámbulo, por supuesto, a lo que me pasó durante la lectura de The Buenos Aires Affair de Manuel Puig.  La leí con una facilidad "normal" en cuanto a la prosa, pero sospecho que o perdí algo o no entendí todo en cuanto al argumento.  Sea lo que sea, me gustó la estructura compleja de la novela más que su contenido.  Escrita como una suerte de novela policial, la novela se desarrolla con escenas retrospectivas, narradores distintos, y varios tipos de "datos detectivescos":  transcripciones telefónicas, los acontecimientos principales de las vidas de las protagonistas, entrevistas imaginadas, etcétera.  Además de esto, cada capítulo comienza con un epígrafe cinematográfico que llama la atención a la "acción" que sigue.  Muy genial.  Por otra parte, la trama me decepcionó un poco.  El hilo narrativo tiene que ver con una pareja, la escultora Gladys Hebe D'Onofrio y el crítico de arte Leopoldo Druscovich, y su relación enfermiza.  También tiene que ver con un crimen en el pasado de Leo y la amenaza de otro crimen contra la vida de Gladys.  Aunque diría que los personajes de Gladys y Leo son creíbles dentro del marco novelístico de Puig, no me gustó el ambiente neurótico y claustrofóbico creado por el novelista (o sea, reconozco el talento artístico pero rechazo el efecto como un asunto de gustos).  Quizá debo leer la novela de nuevo.  Mientras tanto, lo siento, no sé cómo explicarlo con precisión, pero pienso que me gustó el estilo de narrar Pop Art de Puig más que la historia misma.  Qué raro.  (http://www.seix-barral.es/)

Manuel Puig

PD: Tengo entendido que The Buenos Aires Affair fue prohibido en Argentina después de su publicación y que Puig empezó a recibir repetidas amenazas telefónicas, provocando su exilio en el extranjero.  ¿Alguién sabe algo sobre todo esto?

miércoles, 30 de diciembre de 2009

The Decameron #2/10

"The Sultan of Babylon sends his daughter off to marry the King of Algarve.  Owing to a series of mishaps, she passes through the hands of nine men in various places within the space of four years.  Finally, having been restored to her father as a virgin, she sets off, as before, to become the King of Algarve's wife."  (Introduction to the Second Day, Seventh Story of The Decameron, p. 125)

Although I'd planned on posting something about Manuel Puig's lurid Pop Art detective story The Buenos Aires Affair (Argentina, 1973) today, I decided a few words on The Decameron might be more in order given my obvious need for a palate cleanser after three months spent with Sigrid Undset and her wooden, faux-medieval prose.  Man, was Boccaccio a nice change of pace!  After finishing up the last few stories at the end of the Second Day's set of tales, I went back and reread one of my favorites in The Decameron so far, the story about the Saracen princess Alatiel whose "ill-starred beauty" causes her "to be newly married on nine separate occasions" before she's eventually united with her betrothed (126).  Suffice it to say that Boccaccio's concerns with purity and sexuality are far different from Undset's, as is quickly apparent when Alatiel loses her virginity: "She had no conception of the kind of horn men do their butting with, and when she felt what was happening, it was almost as though she regretted having turned a deaf ear to Pericone's flattery, and could not see why she had waited for an invitation before spending her nights so agreeably" (130).  The story that follows is one of the funniest in the book thus far, with suitor after suitor either killing or disabling their romantic predecessor in order to enjoy Alatiel's favors.  With Undset's obsession with sexuality-as-sin so fresh in my mind, it's impossible to ignore the differences in Boccaccio's authentically medieval approach.  He's not above a bawdy phallic joke or two if that gives you any idea of where he's coming from (Saint Stiffen-in-the-Hand and Saint Stiffen-in-the-Hollows make their appearances on pages 131 and 145), and he even ends his riotous story about Alatiel with a priceless double entendre of a proverb that manages to sum up the character's romantic escapades without moralizing: "A kissed mouth doesn't lose its freshness: like the moon it comes up fresh again" (147-148).  I can't expect to top that ending, so I will exit with a question instead: why in the hell would you want to read any fake historical fiction set in medieval times when you could just read real medieval fiction instead?  It boggles the mind!

Previous posts on The Decameron

domingo, 27 de diciembre de 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross

"'Kristin, my dearest love,' begged Erlend in despair.  'Oh, Kristin, I know I've come to you much too late...'
Again a tremor passed over his wife's face.
'It's not too late,' she said, her voice low and harsh.  She stared down at her son, who lay in a swoon in her arms.  'Our last child is already in the ground, and now it's Lavrans's turn.  Gaute has been banished by the Church, and our other sons...  But the two of us still own much that can be ruined, Erlend!'"  (Kristin Lavransdatter, p. 973)

Kristin Lavransdatter (Penguin Classics, 2005)
by Sigrid Undset (translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally)
Norway, 1920-22

While I must have spent hundreds of Kristin Lavransdatter's 1124 pages trying to figure out whether inept storyteller Sigrid Undset was a bigger embarrassment to Scandinavian culture than lame-o pretentious pop star Bjork, I've decided to try to shy away from personal attacks now that Undset's historical fiction Beaches has finally reached its long drawn out tear-jerker of a conclusion.  Still, what exactly have I taken from this experience?  First, for all the people who seem to want to fawn over her for merely having created a birth-to-death portrait of a fictional woman with "realistic" flaws, Undset strikes me as an extraordinarily lazy writer.  Probably because she's so bad at dialogue, she spends endless amounts of time laboriously filling the reader in on what each character thinks and what each person looks like.  Very boring.  Second, Undset apparently never met a contrived situation she didn't like--in the key reunion between Kristin and Erlend in the passage above and in Kristin's final saintly acts when the Black Death comes to her convent, I was actually moved to laughter by Undset's cheap, Spielbergian theatrics.  No sense of subtlety whatsoever.  And even though The Cross was probably a slightly less annoying reading experience for me than either The Wreath or The Wife, I'm tempted to suggest that some of that sense of "improvement" was only noticeable due to the fact that the preceding books in the trilogy set the bar so low.  In short, a tedious and manipulative story unimaginatively told.  Refund! (http://www.penguinclassics.com/)

Sigrid "Woe is Me" Undset

Non-Satanic Devil's Advocates
I'll link other Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross readalong posts below as soon as I can get to them, but thanks to everybody who read along with Emily and me and/or visited the various readalong blogs to join in on the discussions.  It was a lot of fun despite the novel in question!  If you've read the trilogy, please let me what you think of it--and if you haven't, please be aware that a certain online bookseller giant's website (let's call it Big Mythological Warrior Gal.com for the moment since this isn't one of those whorish book blogs that tries to pimp books for money) is actually full of raves of KL along the likes of the following:  "The saga covers every human emotion and possibility that can occur to a human being."  OK, I stand corrected!  I wasn't bored to death by Undset after all!!  Psyche!!!

Emily (Evening All Afternoon)
Amy (New Century Reading)
Claire (kiss a cloud)
Gavin (Page247)
Jill (Rhapsody in Books)
Sarah (what we have here is a failure to communicate)
Softdrink (Fizzy Thoughts)
Valerie (Life Is a Patchwork Quilt)

sábado, 19 de diciembre de 2009

The Moro Affair

The Moro Affair [L'Affaire Moro] (NYRB Classics, 2004)
by Leonardo Sciascia (translated from the Italian by Sacha Rabinovitch)
Italy, 1978

On March 16, 1978, Aldo Moro, then president of the Christian Democratic Party and a former two-time Prime Minister of Italy, was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in an operation that left five of Moro's bodyguards dead.  From his place of detention, Moro was permitted to send several letters to his family, various politicians, and the Pope requesting that something be done to enable his release or he would soon die at the hands of his captors.  Since many of the letters were published in the press, Moro's fate quickly became a national spectacle. Within two months, the once powerful politician was assassinated after the Italian government made it abundantly clear to the Brigate Rosse that they weren't about to participate in a prisoner exchange with terrorists.  A matter of principle for the government or just a shameful waste of a life?  This is the key question for Sciascia at the heart of The Moro Affair.   While he doesn't spare the Red Brigades his wrath over the injustice they've committed, he's equally scornful about the state's intransigence in allowing this apparently preventable death to take place.  Taking both the killers and the politicians to task for their actions, he delivers a withering broadside aimed at Italian politics--and by extension, society--that's delivered with an almost Ciceronian insistence.  A penetrating look at a horrible chapter in recent Italian history, Sciascia's report is, somewhat surprisingly given the pessimistic context, also effectively informed by a range of literary references (Borges' "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote," Martín Luis Guzmán's The Eagle and the Serpent, Pasolini, Pirandello, Tolstoy, etc.) on life imitating art.  Brutal.  Depressing.  Recommended.  (NYRB Classics)
El caso Aldo Moro [L'Affaire Moro]
por Leonardo Sciascia
Italia, 1978

En el 16 de marzo de 1978, Aldo Moro, el presidente del partido Democracia Cristiana Italiana en aquel entonces e un ex-primer ministro de Italia, fue secuestrado por las Brigadas Rojas en una operación que dejó muertos los cinco escoltas  de Moro.  Desde su lugar de detención, Moro fue permitido mandar varias cartas a su familia, a otros políticos, y al Papa buscando ayuda--porque sin un acuerdo, él iba a morir a las manos de sus apresadores.  Porque muchas de las cartas fueron publicadas en los periódicos, el destino de Moro se convertió en un espectáculo nacional. Dentro de dos meses, el político antiguamente poderoso fue asesinado cuando el gobierno italiano decidió que no iban a negociar con los terroristas de las Brigate Rosse en cuanto a un canje de prisioneros.  ¿Un asunto entendible de principios nobles o un acto vergonzoso por parte del gobierno?  Ésta es la pregunta clave para Sciascia al centro de El caso Aldo Moro.  Mientras que él no exculpa a las Brigadas Rojas por su responsibilidad en cometer la injusticia, también desdeña la intransigencia del Estado por permitirla pasar una muerte aparentemente "evitable".  Criticando a los dos grupos de asesinos y de políticos por sus acciones, él pronuncia un andanada verbal contra el sistema político italiano--y por extensión, la sociedad italiana--que es casi Ciceroniano en su insistencia.  Una mirada aguda a un capítulo horrible de historia italiana reciente, el informe de Sciascia es, sorprendentemente dado el contexto pesimista de la obra, también efectivamente informado por un abanico de referencias literarias ("Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" de Borges, El Águila y el Serpiente de Martín Luis Guzmán, Pasolini, Pirandello, Tolstoy, etcétera) sobre el arte y la vida.  Brutal.  Deprimente.  Recomendado.  (N.B.  Para una edición de esta obra en castellano, veáse el libro publicado por Ediciones Destino.)

Leonardo Sciascia

The U.S. edition of Sciascia's The Moro Affair (L'Affaire Moro) actually contains two superb history pieces written by the Sicilian novelist: the 1978 title essay and a second work from 1975 translated here as The Mystery of Majorana (La Scomparsa di Majorana).  Somewhat more speculative in nature than The Moro Affair, The Mystery of Majorana concerns a famous physicist who disappeared during Mussolini's reign--perhaps, Sciascia suggests, because he saw the future of the atomic bomb and didn't want to be part of such a science anymore.  Intriguing.
La edición estadounidense de El caso Aldo Moro (The Moro Affair [L'Affaire Moro]) de Sciascia incluye dos ensayos históricos escritos por el novelista siciliana: lo del título y otro que se llama La desaparición de Majorana (The Mystery of Majorana [La Scomparsa di Majorana]).  Un poco más especulativo que El caso Aldo Moro, La desaparición de Majorana trata de un físico famoso que desapareció durante el regno de Mussolini--quizá, sugiere Sciascia, porque anticipara el futuro de la bomba atómica y no quiso ser parte de un tal ciencia.  Interesante.

viernes, 11 de diciembre de 2009

The Satyricon

The Satyricon (Oxford University Press, 2009)
by Petronius (translated from the Latin by P.G. Walsh)
Rome, c. 63-65

Whatever your take on the "1st century" culture wars that would eventually usher in a new holiday shopping season for much of mankind, you have to admit that the ancient Romans were at least a good twelve or thirteen hundred years ahead of the curve on the Christians in combining comedy with sleaze.  Petronius' raunchy The Satyricon (what P.G. Walsh translates as "a recital of lecherous happenings" on page xv of his very useful introduction) is of course one of the classic cases in point, a bisexual love triangle-cum-road movie hybrid (so to speak) sometimes hailed as the oldest extant novel. Does it live up to all the hype?  Yes and no but mostly yes.  While the missing portions of the text and some of the inside jokes make for a choppy reading experience at times, the author's comic sensibilities and the episodic nature of the plot--with events set in motion by the narrator Encolpius' unexplained offense committed against the revenge-minded god Priapus--are pretty much a perfect match in terms of the amusement opportunities they generate.  The chapter on the "Dinner at Trimalchio's," an extended send-up of a vulgar freedman-turned-nouveau riche who hosts a ridiculously extravagant banquet, is Hall of Fame material as satire, but Petronius is also quite the comedic stud lampooning intellectual posturers, mischievously questioning whether true love is really just lust most of the time, and mixing poetry with prose with freewheeling élan.  Although it's too bad that more literature from the Age of Nero hasn't survived, anybody who knows how and why Petronius died will understand at least one root cause of the problem.  A "naughty" classic.  (www.oup.com/worldsclassics)

Petronius Arbiter

"Petronius deserves a brief obituary.  He spent his days sleeping, his nights working and enjoying himself.  Others achieve fame by energy, Petronius by laziness.  Yet he was not, like others who waste their resources, regarded as dissipated or extravagant, but as a refined voluptuary.  People liked the apparent freshness of his unconventional and unselfconscious sayings and doings.  Nevertheless, as governor of Bithynia and later as consul, he had displayed a capacity for business.

Then, reverting to a vicious or ostensibly vicious way of life, he had been admitted into the small circle of Nero's intimates, as Arbiter of Taste: to the blasé emperor nothing was smart and elegant unless Petronius had given it his approval.  So Tigellinus, loathing him as a rival and a more expert hedonist, denounced him on the grounds of his friendship with Flavius Scaevinus.  This appealed to the emperor's outstanding passion--his cruelty.  A slave was bribed to incriminate Petronius.  No defence was heard.  Indeed, most of his household were under arrest..."  (Tacitus [translated by Michael Grant], The Annals of Imperial Rome, XVI [London: Penguin Classics, 1996, pp. 389-390])

viernes, 4 de diciembre de 2009

La Virgen de los Sicarios

La Virgen de los Sicarios (Punto de Lectura, 2006)
por Fernando Vallejo
México, 1994

Luego de leer la nefasta segunda parte de la telenovela en prosa que se llama Kristin Lavransdatter (Noruega, 1920-22), me era grato poder leer la sumamente atrevida La Virgen de los Sicarios de Fernando Vallejo.  Una especie de jeremiada contra la violencia colombiana ambientada en los '90, esta novela breve sigue en los pasos del narrador, otro Fernando, recién llegado a su ciudad natal de Medellín después de una ausencia de muchos años en el extranjero.  Enamorándose con un teenager de arrabal que trabaja como sicario, o asesino a sueldo, el cincuentón Fernando cuenta su historia de amor con Alexis mientras que lanza denuncia tras denuncia contra sus prójimos, el gobierno y Dios durante sus recorridos a lo largo de la ciudad.  Mientras tanto, el joven Alexis sigue asesinando a docenas de víctimas con toda la impunidad de un Ángel Éxterminador: casi si fuera cumpliendo las esperanzas de Fernando, que se limita a la violencia verbal como el buen gramático que lo es.  Aunque el punto de vista del narrador es nihilista en sumo grado, me gustaron su retrato del caos urbano (lo cual me pareció fidedigno) y el poder desenfrenado de su lenguaje (de hecho, la novela se lee como un Trópico de Cáncer dedicado a la rabia).  No sé si el autor sea tan misantrópico como su tocayo, pero el realismo y el pesimiso de este librazo probablemente se deben al hecho de que Vallejo mismo creció en Medellín antes de mudarse a México para siempre.  Un éxito vituperioso.  (http://www.puntodelectura.com/)
Our Lady of the Assassins [La Virgen de los Sicarios] (Serpent's Tail, 2001)
by Fernando Vallejo (translated from the Spanish by Paul Hammond)
Mexico, 1994

After suffering through the dreadful second part of that soap opera in prose known as Kristin Lavransdatter (Norway, 1920-22), it was completely gratifying for me to be able to read Fernando Vallejo's daring Our Lady of the Assassins next.  A sort of jeremiad against Colombian violence set in that country in the '90s, this novella follows in the footsteps of its narrator, another Fernando, who has recently returned to his hometown of Medellín after an absence of many years spent abroad.  Having fallen for a neighborhood teenager who works as a sicario, or an assassin for hire, the 50-something Fernando recounts his doomed love affair with Alexis while launching one diatribe after another against his fellow man, the government, and God during the lovers' walks throughout the city.  Meanwhile, the young Alexis continues killing dozens of victims with all the impunity of an exterminating angel--almost as if he were fulfilling the wishes of Fernando, who tends to limit himself to verbal violence like the good grammarian he is.  Although the narrator's point of view is nihilistic in the extreme, I enjoyed both his portrayal of the urban chaos (very credible, it would seem) and the unrestrained power of his language (imagine a Tropic of Cancer devoted to and consumed with its own wrath).  And while I don't know if the author's as misanthropic as his literary namesake, the heightened realism and the pessismism of this work probably owe a lot to the fact that Vallejo himself grew up in Medellín before moving to Mexico for good.  A vituperative knockout.   (www.serpentstail.com)

Fernando Vallejo

"Saliendo de conocer la iglesia de Robledo (un galponcito desangelado en donde a duras penas se para mi Dios), decidimos seguir pendiente arriba en busca de un mirador en la montaña para divisar a Medellín, para apreciarlo en su conjunto con la objetividad que da la distancia, sin predisposiciones ni amores.  A mano izquierda subiendo, en una finquita vieja, un rodadero con un platanar seco, abandonado, leíase el siguiente anuncio en mayúsculas torcidas y desflecadas, como para cartel de Drácula: SE PROHÍBE ARROJAR CADÁVERES.  ¿Se prohíbe?  ¿Y esos gallinazos qué?  ¿Qué era entonces ese ir y venir de aves negras, brincando, aleteando, picoteando, patrasiándose para sacarle mejor las tripas al muerto?  Como un niño travieso, haga de cuenta usted, jalándole la cuerda a un payasito de cuerda que ya no hará más payasadas en esta vida.  ¿El cadáver de quién?  ¡Y yo qué sé!  Nosotros no lo matamos.  De un hijo de su mamá.  Cuando pasábamos ya estaba ahí, y en plena fiesta los gallinazos e invitando más.  Lo tostaron y ahí lo tiraron violando el anuncio, de donde se deduce que: mientras más se prohibe menos se cumple.  Sería en vida una bellecita?  ¿O un 'man' malevolo?  'Man' aquí significa como en inglés, hombre.  Nuestros manes, pues, no son los espíritus protectores.  Por el contrario, son humanos e hideputas, como dijo Don Quijote".  (La Virgen de los Sicarios, p. 47)

"Coming out of the church in Robledo for the first time (a soulless little shed in which God prospers with great difficulty), we decided to continue up the slope in search of a vantage point on the mountain to see Medellín from, and to admire it as a single entity with the objectivity distance lends, with neither prejudice nor love.  On the left going up, on an old property, a steep bit of hillside with a withered, abandoned banana grove on it, you could read the following notice in crooked and half erased capital letters, like on a Dracula poster: THE DUMPING OF BODIES IS FORBIDDEN.  Forbidden?  What about those turkey buzzards over there?  What was all that toing and froing then of big black birds, hopping about, flapping their wings, pecking, bracing themselves in order to hoick out the dead man's guts more easily?  Like a naughty child, mark you, tugging the string of a little marionette who won't be doing any more clowning in this life.  Whose corpse was it?  How should I know!  We weren't the ones who killed him.  Some mother's son.  When we passed by he was already there, with the buzzards having a great time and inviting others to come join the party.  They did for him and they tossed him there in violation of the notice, from which one deduces that the more one forbids, the less one achieves.  Had he been a hunk in life?  Or a bad man?  Our manes, whether it means men or dead souls, are not protective spirits.  On the contrary, they're humans and whoresons, as Don Quixote said."  (Our Lady of the Assassins, pp. 46-47 [translated by Paul Hammond])

viernes, 27 de noviembre de 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife

Kristin Lavransdatter Readalong, Part Two

"Suddenly Kristin was overcome by violent sobs; she hardly knew what she was crying about."  (Kristin Lavransdatter, II: The Wife, p. 562)

While I'm mostly over feeling guilty about inviting so many trusting people to read the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy along with Emily and me (my bad), the shame and the embarrassment definitely linger on as this singularly uninvolving work continues to take shape as an 1,100 page Norwegian print version of a Lifetime channel drama or something. For whatever Undset's storytelling goals in The Wife, she's clearly her own worst enemy as a narrator--constantly undermining the flow of the narrative with the title character's endless crying jags, jealous whining about family members, and non-stop brooding.   To make matters worse, the flair for landscape scenes that I found at least partially appealing in The Wreath has now been replaced with completely superfluous descriptions about people's appearance at every turn.  Right after one of the occasions in which Erlend has struck Kristin, for example, we get the following odd insight into Erlend's state of mind: "Oh, his wife's quiet and dignified bearing was as lovely as the willowy grace of the young maiden had been; she was wider in the bosom and hips, but she was also taller.  She held herself erect, and her neck bore the small, round head as proudly and beautifully as ever.  Her pale, remote face with the dark-gray eyes stirred and excited him as much as her round, rosy child's face had stirred and excited his restless soul with its wondrous calm" (610).  While it would be nice to think that Undset's actually getting at something here--some truth about the husband and wife dynamic, some hint about gender relations in 14th-century Norway--I sincerely doubt there's any method to her madness: The Wife is filled with similarly empty, sometimes outright laughable descriptions about people from all walks of life, and no amount of "authentic medieval" references to the licking of festering eye wounds or of an adult giving hickeys to the twelve year old sister of an ex-fiancée of his can mask Undset's undeniably conformist tendencies as a narrator.  And with the novel's two most interesting characters, Lavrans and Ragnfrid, now dead, the only suspense left in part three for me will be seeing how schmaltzy things get as Undset prepares for the big sentimental finale with that lack of subtlety that she has so clearly established as her calling card.  To borrow a quip from an old punk rock fanzine friend of mine, "g-e-n-e-r-i-c gets easier and easier to spell every day"!  (http://www.penguinclassics.com/)

Sigrid Undset and her dog Erlend

Other readalong posts on The Wife:

martes, 24 de noviembre de 2009


Senselessness [Insensatez] (New Directions, 2008)
by Horacio Castellanos Moya (translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver)
Guatemala and Mexico, 2004

As I grudgingly make my way through the entertainment no man's land that is the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy (update post later in the week), I'm happy to report that a novel about fucking genocide of all things has provided quite the welcome distraction.  In this short but incendiary novel, an unnamed narrator from an unnamed Latin American country is hired to be the copy editor in yet another unnamed Lat Am country for the latter land's 1,100 page human rights report on military atrocities committed against its indigenous population (although the particular countries are never mentioned, internal clues tip us off to the fact that the narrator's a refugee from El Salvador working in Guatemala before Bishop Gerardi's assassination). While polishing the report, the horrors of the testimony ("I am not complete in the mind" admits one man who has watched his wife and four children be hacked to death by machetes [1-2]; "There in Izote the brains they were thrown about, smashed with logs they spilled them" says another survivor [51]) and the narrator's own personal demons (alcoholism, drug dependency, womanizing, unspecified "personal problems") combine to haunt the character to the point that he's gradually turned into a raving paranoiac wreck in fear for his own life.  Rightly or wrongly. What follows is both predictable and unpredictable in more or less equal measure, an outcome I attribute more to the challenge of confronting genocide through fiction than the novelist's own chops as a writer.  For if the trajectory of the novel was telegraphed a little too far in advance for my tastes and its first person tone was too over the top for its own good on occasion, Castellanos Moya's prose in general throughout and a brutally ironic ending still seemed worthy of his grim subject matter.  Put that in your historical fiction pipe and smoke it, ladies.  (http://www.ndpublishing.com/)

Horacio Castellanos Moya

Note: I read this book in translation because I couldn't find the original Spanish version of Insensatez at my university library or local foreign language bookstore.  For more on Castellanos Moya's own background and writing, check out this profile here and a piece he did on his friend Bolaño Inc. here.

martes, 17 de noviembre de 2009

Chess Story

Chess Story [Schachnovelle] (NYRB Classics, 2006)
by Stefan Zweig (translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg)
Brazil, 1942

Before any of you out there rush to commend me for my rare fiscal restraint in borrowing a book from the library rather than just buying it as usual, please be advised that the unrestrained ugliness of the cover above likely had a tremendous amount to do with the decision (note to the NYRB Classics design team: in a week in which Frances the Book Temptress just posted on an exquisite series of new Nabokov cover art that has everybody and his brother drooling, "thanks" for leaving me holding the bag here with that "trippy" 1980s science fiction fanzine level shite of yours that mars an otherwise fine publication).  All grumbling about design matters aside, the content in Zweig's 84-page novella provided for an altogether ace introduction to this previously unread by me Austrian writer.  While the plot sounds rather inauspicious in terms of the excitement level to be expected--the passengers on board an NYC to Buenos Aires ocean liner discover that the world champion chess master Mirko Centovic is on board and challenge him to a couple of pay-for-play matches pitting the group of seemingly outmatched amateurs against the arrogant champion--the story's told with such first-person verve that I can understand why it's hard to avoid Zweig review sightings when trolling through the blogosphere.  Whether you enjoy the nervewracking battle of wills that ensues as straight entertainment or prefer one of the more allegorical readings of the chess story that I've seen (the bumbling passengers ineptly facing up to the rude, Hitlerian Centovic as WWII rages on in the background), you'll prob. be impressed with Zweig's deceptively simple prose and ability to ratchet up the emotional tension without Sigrid Undset-like histrionics.  For those of you already familiar with this author's work, perhaps one of you would be so good as to tell me whether I should read Beware of Pity or The Post-Office Girl next.  They're both now on "the list."  (http://www.nyrb.com/)

Stefan Zweig

P.S. Although I intentionally left out "key information" about a major character in Chess Story above to try and preserve at least one element of surprise for new readers of the work, Zweig's own sad story deserves at least a footnote here: a refugee from the Nazi war machine, he fled Europe for South America before eventually killing himself in a suicide pact with his wife in Brazil in 1942.  The completed manuscript of Schachnovelle was found among his belongings at his death--apparently expressly intended for posthumous publication.

viernes, 13 de noviembre de 2009

Nocturno de Chile

Nocturno de Chile (Anagrama, 2009)
por Roberto Bolaño
España, 2000

"Ahora me muero, pero tengo muchas cosas que decir todavía" (11).  Así empieza la confesión de Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix, un sacerdote chileno con fiebre que va a pasar las próximas 140 páginas (y un sólo párrafo) "aclarando algunos puntos" sobre su vida.  Aunque Urrutia Lacroix dice que habla con la conciencia limpia, la trayectoria de su historia nos hace creer que no es exactamente así.  Durante su larga oración febril, el cura admite haber querido ser un poeta y un crítico literario.  Recuerda conocer a Pablo Neruda en el fundo de un tal Farewell, el crítico más conocido de la época.  Más tarde, habla de sus viajes en Europa como miembro del Opus Dei.  Dice que dictó conferencias sobre el marxismo para Pinochet y sus generales.  Cerca del final, intenta disculparse por haber asistido a las tertulias a la casa de una pareja, Jimmy Thompson y María Canales, cuyo sótano funcionaba como un centro de interrogatorios de la DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional).  A pesar de la estructura minimalista de la novela (es una obra donde los silencios frecuentemente hablan con más fuerza que lo dicho), Bolaño logra crear un ambiente verdaderamente escalofriante.  El fundo de Farewell, llamado Là-bas en homenaje a la novela de Huysmans, no es la única pista. Mandado a Europa para preparar un informe sobre la destrucción de las iglesias, Urrutia Lacroix revela que la amenaza principal viene del excremento de los pájaros.  La solución, brutal y eficaz a la vez, es la de emplear aves de rapiña para cazar a las palomas (con una muestra de humor negro, el halcón de la parroquia de Burgos se llama Rodrigo).  Si es difícil ignorar los paralelos históricos con la Operación Condor establecida por Pinochet y sus secuaces, las dimensiones políticas se magnifican cuando uno se da cuenta que Thompson y su esposa probablemente están modeladas sobre el norteamericano Michael Vernon Townley, un ex agente de la CIA vinculada con DINA, y la chilena Mariana Callejas*.  "Así se hace la literatura en Chile", dice el protagonista en un momento.  "Pero no sólo en Chile, también en Argentina y en México, en Guatemala y en Uruguay, y en España y en Francia y en Alemania, y en la verde Inglaterra y en la alegre Italia.  Así se hace la literatura" (147).  Si todavía prefiero Estrella distante entre todas las novelas cortas de Bolaño que he leído hasta ahora, ya les puedo recomendar este nocturno suyo sin vacilar un momento.  Es deprimente pero rebueno.  (http://www.anagrama-ed.es/*Gracias a Trevor, del blog The Mookse and the Gripes, por la información sobre Mariana Callejas.

"Yo voy a releer a los griegos.  Empecé con Homero, como manda la tradición, y seguí con Tales de Mileto y Jenófanes de Colofón y Alcmeón de Crotona y Zenón de Elea (qué bueno era), y luego mataron a un general del ejército favorable a Allende y Chile restableció relaciones diplomáticas con Cuba y el censo nacional registró un total de 8.8884.768 chilenos y por la televisión empezaron a transmitir la telenovela El derecho de nacer, y yo leí a Tirteo de Esparta y a Arquíloco de Paros y a Solón de Atenas y a Hiponacte de Éfeso y a Estesícoro de Himera y a Safo de Mitilene y a Teognis de Megara y a Anacreonte de Teos y a Píndaro de Tebas (uno de mis favoritos), y el gobierno nacionalizó el cobre y luego el salitre y el hierro y Pablo Neruda recibió el Premio Nobel y Díaz Casanueva el Premio Nacional de Literatura y Fidel Castro visitó el país y muchos creyeron que se iba a quedar a vivir acá para siempre y mataron al ex ministro de la Democracia Cristiana Pérez Zujovic y Lafourcade publicó Palomita blanca y yo le hice una buena crítica, casi una glosa triunfal, aunque en el fondo sabía que era una novelita que no valía nada, y se organizó la primera marcha de las cacerolas en contra de Allende y yo leí a Esquilo y a Sófocles y a Eurípides, todas las tragedias, y a Alceo de Mitilene y a Esopo y a Hesiodo y a Heródoto (que es un titán más que un hombre), y en Chile hubo escasez e inflación y mercado negro y largas colas para conseguir comida y la Reforma Agraria expropió el fundo de Farewell y muchos otros fundos y se creó la Secretaría Nacional de la Mujer y Allende visitó México y la Asamblea de las Naciones Unidas en Nueva York y hubo atentados y yo leí a Tucídides, las largas guerras de Tucídides, los ríos y las llanuras, los vientos y las mesetas que cruzan las páginas oscurecidas por el tiempo, y los hombres de Tucídides, los hombres armados de Tucídides y los hombres desarmados, los que recolectan la uva y los que miran desde una montaña el horizonte lejano, ese horizonte en donde estaba yo confundido con millones de seres, a la espera de nacer, esa horizonte que miró Tucídides y en donde yo temblaba, y también releí a Demóstenes y a Menandro y a Aristóteles y a Platón (que siempre es provechoso), y hubo huelgas y un coronel de un regimiento blindado intentó dar un golpe y un camarógrafo murió filmando su propia muerte y luego mataron al edecán naval de Allende y hubo disturbios, malas palabras, los chilenos blasfemaron, pintaron las paredes, y luego casi medio millón de personas desfiló en una gran marcha de apoyo a Allende, y después vino el golpe de Estado, el levantamiento, el pronunciamiento militar, y bombardearon La Moneda y cuando terminó el bombardeo el presidente se suicidó y acabó todo.  Entonces yo me quedé quieto, con un dedo en la página que estaba leyendo, y pensé: qué paz".  (Nocturno de Chile, 97-99)

*Trevor of The Mookse and the Gripes has kindly permitted me to link to his review of the English translation of Bolaño's novel.  Please click here for a great post on By Night in Chile.

martes, 10 de noviembre de 2009

The Decameron #1.5/10: Boccaccio for Dummies

Boccaccio (anticipating the 1970s roadie look, natch)

At the risk of offending more critically-attuned sensibilities (I feel I must apologize in advance to the likes of Amateur Reader and our good friend Emily but not to those hordes of silly bloggers who insist on calling "the classics" a "genre"), it seems to me that one's appreciation of a story really only boils down to two things: what does the writer have to say and how does he or she say it?  Everything else is fluff...or worse, "theory."  Although I've begun my own reading of The Decameron fully expecting to enjoy its stories on their own as entertainment, I'm such a dummy that I'm not sure yet what Boccaccio will have to say during the course of the work or how he will say it.  Will he be didactic, a total trickster, or a totally "didactic" trickster like his 14th-century contemporaries the Arcipreste de Hita and Chaucer?  Complicating matters, I have some basic questions going in (How important is the plague as a backdrop?  Why did Boccaccio break with poetry to set these stories down in prose?  How was a work of this size disseminated in a manuscript culture?) that even a freshman in a survey class could probably answer for me after a couple of sections.  Why share this with you here?  First, I hope to be able to answer these questions by the end of this project--thinking out loud now should help me remember better later. Second, it gives me an excuse to cite a wonderful sounding title (Guido Almansi's 1975 The Writer as Liar: Narrative Techniques in the Decameron) that has turned up as a result of my usual hastily-conducted researches.  Perhaps Almansi will be of assistance with some of these preliminary questions.  In the meantime, I'm now done reading 15 of the 100 stories in The Decameron, having just finished enjoying the infamous tale of Andreuccio da Perugia whose red light district-visiting/tomb-raiding exploits are much more "instructive" than anybody really has a right to expect.  Hey, have I told you lately what a riot this guy Boccaccio is?

sábado, 7 de noviembre de 2009

The Decameron #1/10

"No one will ever find out, and a sin that's hidden is half forgiven."  (The Decameron, 47)

I'd read the prologue and the "First Day"  from Boccaccio's Decameron (1353) before, but I read them again this week in preparation for this post.  A couple of things stood out.  First, like the unreliable narrator in Juan Ruiz' nearly contemporary Libro de Buen Amor (c. 1343), it's sometimes difficult to know when Boccaccio should be taken seriously and when he's just putting you on.  For all the talk about offering solace and instruction to his readers, for example, the Florentine lays his cad card on the table with nuggets like the following: "So in order that I may to some extent repair the omissions of Fortune, which (as we may see in the case of the more delicate sex) was always more sparing of support wherever natural strength was more deficient, I intend to provide succour and diversion for the ladies, but only for those who are in love, since the others can make do with their needles, their reels and their spindles" (3).  While this would appear to be the medieval equivalent of a frying pan joke, Boccaccio actually privileges women in terms of the composition of his cast.  "I shall narrate a hundred stories or fables or histories or whatever you choose to call them, recited in ten days by a worthy band of seven ladies and three young men, who assembled together during the plague which recently took such a heavy toll of life.  And I shall also include some songs, which these seven ladies sang for their mutual amusement" (3).  With zero background in the is he or isn't he a proto-feminist squabble, I look forward to evaluating Boccaccio's take on gender issues as I slowly make my way through The Decameron.  Secondly, whether Boccaccio's writing about the plague was based on his own eyewitness testimony or on the descriptions of others (translator G.H. McWilliam suggests it was the latter), it provides an extremely jarring backdrop for the storytelling sessions to come.  "It did not take the form it had assumed in the East," he writes on page 5, "where if anyone bled from the nose it was an obvious portent of certain death.  On the contrary, its earliest symptom, in men and women alike, was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin or the armpit, some of which were egg-shaped whilst others were roughly the size of the common apple."  Given this emphasis on the ravages of the Black Death in the "introduction" that precedes the storytelling marathon, the lighthearted nature of the first day's stories that follow provides quite the segueway.  A Jew who converts to Christianity despite the evil ways of the Pope and his clerics at Rome, a "money lender" who thinks his way out of a verbal trap laid for him by the sultan Saladin, and at least one abbot who likes the sexual position of woman on top star in the first series of ten stories about eloquence and ingenuity.  Will the horror of the plague and humor walk hand in hand throughout The Decameron or will the humor eventually win out?  I'm betting on the latter, but feel free to let me know what you think if you have a guess or an answer of your own.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying this mightily thus far!

Dante, Boccaccio...Burckhardt?

As anybody who has ever seen a Tuesday Teasers post can attest, there is indeed such a thing as too much information in the book blog world.  That being said, I guess this is still as good a place as any to state my intention to read all of Dante's Divine Comedy, Boccaccio's The Decameron, and even Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy in the three months ahead.  All of my other reading in English, with the exception of Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual, Petronius' Satyricon, and books two and three from Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, will have to take a back seat to this project until it's finished.  No more excuses!  A presto, amici!

viernes, 30 de octubre de 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath

Kristin Lavransdatter Readalong, Part One

"I have often prayed that you might have a yearning for the convent life," said Brother Edvin, "but not since you told me what you know.  I wish that you could have come to God with your wreath, Kristin."  (Kristin Lavransdatter, I: The Wreath, p. 251)

Although I wouldn't go so far as to call this medieval chick lit, the soap opera storyline at the heart of the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy didn't really speak to me at all.  In fact, I found it rather annoying at times.  While I trust that the other readalong participants enjoyed The Wreath much more than I did, I should note that I did appreciate some aspects of the writing unconnected with the title character's tumultuous love affair with the bad boy Erlend Nikulaussøn and subsequent headlong descent into fallen woman status.  I thought Undset was very credible from the outset, for example, at establishing the ambience for her 14th-century Norwegian setting in a land far distant from our own in time and space.  Danger in one form or another is always just around the corner in the Jørundgaard community, and this sense of an everpresent menace lurking nearby provided a nice grounding for some of the more lyrical landscape descriptions and such.  Despite my lack of interest in the love story, I also thought Undset was fairly convincing in terms of her characterizations.  Kristin's parents Lavrans and Ragnfrid, complete opposites in terms of their outward personalities, are particularly subtly drawn in terms of their interior worlds, and there are other characters--a wayward priest here, a suspected witch there--who caught my attention when my interest in the principals was flagging.  If it's always a little silly trying to come to grips with a work when you're only one-third of the way through it, the flipside of that is that I still have 800 pages left for Undset to convince me that Kristin Lavransdatter is something other than the literary equivalent of a very conventionally told costume drama.  In the meantime, man, do I miss Bolaño's 2666!  (http://www.penguinclassics.com/)

Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset on a 500 Kroner Bill

Have you read The Wreath?  What did you think about it?  Sign up here or at my co-host Emily's blog over here if you'd like to join the readalong that's in progress (it's not too late!).

jueves, 29 de octubre de 2009

The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s

Winifred Hughes

The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s (Princeton University Press, 1980)
by Winifred Hughes
USA, 1980

Whilst I probably won't be picking up another 600+ page Victorian novel anytime soon, some follow-up research on the sensation era was clearly in order after last week's The Woman in White post finally made me realize how many of my dear blog friends are absolutely enamored of literature from the land of football hooliganism! Winifred Hughes' The Maniac in the Cellar: Sensation Novels of the 1860s (sorry, no cover image to be found) turned out to be just the ticket for understanding you lot as it's a fine literary and social history of the era that reads well and gets its point across in a third of the usual triple-decker's time.  Although Hughes is probably at her best writing about the tensions between the sensation novelists and their critics and what that has to say about their assumptions about the role of literature itself (no mean feat), I also enjoyed her thumbnail sketches of the personalities behind the pens (the eccentric Charles Reade, the devil-may-care M.E. Braddon) and her eschewing of literary theory in favor of close readings.  If I may assume a Count Fosco tone for a moment, what a rare and utter pleasure it is to encounter what an academic has to share about what she thinks for a change rather than what she thinks Foucault or Lacan would think about the same material!  (Princeton University Press, out of print)

martes, 27 de octubre de 2009

Plata quemada

Plata quemada (Anagrama, 2000)
por Ricardo Piglia
Argentina, 1997

Ricardo Piglia es un crack.  Después de haber leído su Respiración artificial, un par de ensayos escrito por él, y ahora su Plata quemada (ganadora del Premio Planeta de 1997), no cabe duda de que vaya a leer todo lo que puedo encontrar del novelista argentino.  Escrito bajo la sombra de Roberto Arlt, Plata quemada es un libro que cuenta la historia real de un violentísimo asalto que occurrió en San Fernando, provincia de Buenos Aires, en 1965.  Escapando con toda la plata del robo, tres de los pistoleros se trasladaron a Montevideo donde se refugiaron en un depto al centro de la ciudad.  Tomaron drogas.  Pensaron en viajar a Nueva York para cometer nuevos crímenes en Estados Unidos.  Tomaron más drogas.  Eventualmente rodeados y cercados por la policía, los delincuentes decidieron luchar a la muerte contra los canas en vez de rendirse.  Aunque Piglia va a mil con la trama desde la primera página (es una novela que se lee como una especie de Reservoir Dogs rioplatense), su novelización de los hechos reales también juega con las expectativas del lector.  Un tal Emilio Renzi, el conocido protagonista de Respiración artificial y el famoso álter ego de Piglia mismo, aparece en la segunda mitad de la novela como un periodista de un diario que se llama El Mundo (otro guiño arltiano).  Renzi sospecha que los canas y los políticos bonaerenses están involucrados con la banda del asalto y que los criminales tendrán que morir para mantener el silencio.  Sus preguntas al Comisario Silva, hechas para poder escribir una "crónica veraz de lo que está pasando" (180), abre la puerta a aún más preguntas sobre la complicidad de "la verdad" en cuanto a la ficción.  ¿Donde se sitúa la línea entre la realidad y la ficción?  No sé con certeza, pero el tiroteo final está llena de tanta adrenalina que será difícil pensar en otro desenlace tan energético.  Cinco estrellitas, etcétera.  (http://www.anagrama-ed.es/)

Ricardo Emilio Piglia Renzi

"El auto aceleró y Dorda sacó el arma por la ventanilla y le tiró pero no logró matarlo.  Para Yamandú ésa fue una prueba de que los argentinos estaban perdidos porque había una ley implícita, un código entre la gente del ambiente que todos respetaban.  Nadie abandona a un compañero herido sin tratar de ayudarlo y nadie mata a un socio que ha actuado lealmente como si fuera un buchón.  Eran unos reventados, dijo Yamandú, eran tipos que vivían en una delirata total, querían llegar a Nueva York en auto por la Panamericana, asaltando bancos en el camino y robando farmacias para proveerse de droga.  Se daban manija con eso, estudiaban los mapas, los caminos secundarios, y calculaban cúanto tiempo iban a tardar en llegar a Norteamérica.  Estaban piantados, deliraban con trabajar para la mafia portorriqueña de Nueva York, meterse en el barrio, en el ghetto latino y empezar de nuevo ahí, donde nadie los conoce.  No pueden escapar del centro de Montevideo y quieren irse a Manhattan porque el Nene escuchó que el cantor de tangos que les entregó el robo dijo que conocía a un cubano que tiene un restorán en Nueva York y se quieren ir para asociarse con él, cualquier delirio.  Nunca, dijo Yamandú, vi tipos iguales a ésos.  Exageraba, Yamandú, seguramente, para lograr aflojar la presión que tenía encima y hacerse pasar por un simple perejil, un valerio de los argentinos, que lo obligaban a meterse en manos que él no quería usar" (115-116).

miércoles, 21 de octubre de 2009

The Woman In White

The Woman in White (Oxford World's Classics, 2008)
by Wilkie Collins
UK, 1859-60

Although British literature as a whole has to rank as one of the most overrated examples of a national literature anywhere (admit it, bloggers--how many tales about governesses and class bias do you really need?), I enjoyed The Woman in White enough that I could see adding it to old favorites like The Canterbury Tales and "Clash City Rockers" on a list of things from across the pond that don't suck. Whether or not that makes this a true classic or not is another story, but this goofball first "Sensation Novel" makes up for its lack of depth in terms of what it has to say by how it says what it does: unraveling the mystery behind "the woman in white," a story that touches on false imprisonments, poisonings, secret societies, and star-crossed lovers, via a series of courtroom-style witnesses to the prosecution.  Although Collins tries too hard to draw attention to the gender differences among his narrators (a typical howler from a female character: "I dare say it was very wrong and very discreditable to listen--but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honour, when those principles point one way, and when her affections, and the interests which grow out of them, point the other?" [228]), the novel's ensemble effect is marvelous at masking how increasingly uninteresting the main character, Walter Hartright, is in comparison to the mannish Marian Halcombe and the devilish Count Fosco--a fantastic villain whose evil ways reach a comic zenith when he feeds an organ-grinder's monkey some "lunch" but "contemptuously" fails to provide any sort of a handout at all for the organ-grinder himself!  Elsewhere, Collins also gets a thumbs-up for presenting a love affair between Hartright and Laura Fairlie that rings true emotionally.  Unfortunately, I had to dock him a couple of points for throwing his hero into jail temporarily for merely jostling another man--the novel's low point--and for making us wait so long before Count Fosco's bombastic turn in the spotlight ("Youths!  I invoke your sympathy.  Maidens!  I claim your tears." [628]).  Fortunately, Fosco's maniacally unhinged written declaration near the end redeems any creaky plot elements in the 600 pages that preceded it--and might just have opened up the door for me to a possible follow-up reading of Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, Dickens' Great Expectations, Wood's East Lynne, or some other guilty pleasure.  Any suggestions?  (www.oup.com/worldsclassics)

Wilkie Collins, the ladies' man

Thanks to Trish of Trish's Reading Nook, whose review of The Woman in White here made me want to read Wilkie Collins again after I'd forgotten about him for years and years somehow!

viernes, 16 de octubre de 2009

Augusto Roa Bastos

Augusto Roa Bastos (foto: El País, España)

Estoy resfriado hoy.  Aunque me gustaría escribir algo sobre Plata quemada de Ricardo Piglia, una novela que me encantó, voy a esperar hacerlo hasta que me siento mejor.  Mientras tanto, a continuación se puede encontrar un "bocadillo" sobre otro novelista sudamericana que me interesa gracias a Juan José Saer.

"Podría decirse que el rasgo principal de Yo el Supremo es la desmesura, atributo que solamente en apariencia y en nombre de esas reglas que pretenden identificarse con lo clásico, puede considerarse como negativo.  La desmesura temática y un poco folklórica del género dictador latinoamericano, aun en las que tratan de dictadores 'modernos', y que le da a veces un gusto desagradable a literatura de exportación, se transforma en la obra de Roa Bastos en desmesura formal, maquinaria inclusivista que, como la monstruosa Escila, devora todo lo que pasa a su alcance.  Ese inclusivismo le permite además incorporar muchas contradicciones consideradas por algunos como irreconciliables: es una novela a la vez trágica y cómica, realista pero también fantástica, y, como mezcla sin complejos el pasado histórico con el presente de la escritura haciendo del anacronismo un instrumento formal, podría decirse sin error posible que, como el sueño para Freud, tal como lo describe en la Gradiva de Jensen, la novela del Supremo se construye sosteniéndose con un pie en el pasado, y con el otro en el suelo igualmente fértil de la víspera" (179-180).

Este ensayo de Saer tiene una anécdota.  Después de terminar el librazo de Piglia, buscaba mi próxima lectura en español a la librería extranjera.  Pensando en las sugerencias de Ever, decidí comprar la novela Yo el Supremo de Roa Bastos para inciarme en las riquezas de la literatura paraguaya.  Llegado a mi casa, descubrí que el libro de Saer que se llama Trabajos incluye un ensayo, breve pero inspirador, sobre un tal Augusto Roa Bastos.  ¿Coincidencia o destino?  Sea lo que sea, tengo muchas ganas de leer a Roa Bastos empezando mañana.

Fuente: Juan José Saer, "Augusto Roa Bastos", en Trabajos, Buenos Aires: Seix Barral, 2005, págs. 177-181.

Más sobre Roa Bastos:
Tomás Eloy Martínez, El rey Lear en Asunción

Más sobre los libros y las coincidencias:
Leox de Devolución y Préstamo, Humillados y ofendidos made in England

martes, 13 de octubre de 2009

Le Deuxième Souffle

Le Deuxième Souffle (The Criterion Collection DVD, 2008)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
France, 1966
In French with English subtitles

Although I haven't posted about a movie here in months, I guess this is as good a place as any to announce that I'll be coming out of retirement for a half-dozen or so DVD reviews to fulfill my contractual obligations for this year's Orbis Terrarum Film Mini-Challenge.  First up is Jean-Pierre Melville's 1966 Le Deuxième Souffle (Second Wind), a bleak French gangster flick that follows aging fugitive Gu Minda (Lino Ventura) from Paris to Marseille as he tries to escape the arrogant Inspector Blot (Diabolique's Paul Meurisse) as the clock of his life winds down.  While all the usual Melville themes (destiny, friendship, honor, violence) and trademark flourishes (a highly-orchestrated robbery, existential gunplay) make their morally ambiguous appearances here, something about the film feels a little flat despite a standout cast and some edgy scenes involving abusive police interrogation techniques that were supposedly altered for being too similar to what the French army was doing in Algeria at the time.  Is it worth seeing?  Sure.  But if you're new to Melville, you have got to check out 1967's Le Samouraï, 1969's L'Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows) or 1970's Le Cercle rouge first to understand why this uncompromising cinéaste was once known as "the father of the New Wave" and "the poet of the underworld."  In the meantime, I'll now go back to enjoying that handsome Criterion cover art that has made this blog look positively Positif throughout the duration of this post!  (http://www.criterion.com/)

Jean-Pierre Melville

More on Melville:
Le Doulos (1962)