jueves, 30 de abril de 2009


Amuleto (Anagrama, 2007)
por Roberto Bolaño
España, 1999

"Yo soy la amiga de todos los mexicanos. Podría decir: soy la madre de la poesía mexicana, pero mejor no lo digo. Yo conozco a todos los poetas y todos los poetas me conocen a mí. Así que podría decirlo. Podría decir: soy la madre y corre un céfiro de la chingada desde hace siglos, pero mejor no lo digo. Podría decir, por ejemplo: yo conocí a Arturito Belano cuando él tenía diecesiete años y era un niño tímido que escribía obras de teatro y poesía y no sabía beber, pero sería de algún modo una redundancia y a mí me enseñaron (con un látigo me enseñaron, con una vara de fierro) que las redundancias sobran y que sólo debe bastar con el argumento.

Lo que sí puedo decir es mi nombre". --Amuleto, p. 11

No sé donde empezar con esta novelita corta, pero supongo que debo notar que el personaje que habla arriba se llama Auxilio Lacouture y es uruguaya de nacimiento. Al mencionar el hecho de que Auxilio es la narradora uruguaya de una obra ambientada en México y escrita por un chileno que vivía en España, sólo quiero subrayar la idea de que Amuleto tiene que ver con asuntos latinoamericanos tanto con asuntos mexicanos. O sea, que el agujero negro de su desesperación es de alcance internacional. Construida como una obra testimonial en primera persona, la narración ofrece una visión traumatizada de los trece días que Auxilio pasó "encerrada en el lavabo de mujeres de la cuarta planta de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras en septiembre de 1968" (51): en otras palabras, los recuerdos de una testiga a los días sangrientos de '68 cuando centenares de personas perdieron las vidas a las manos de los granaderos y tanques del gobierno de México. Aunque no voy a decirles lo que la pobrecita vi durante ese período, Bolaño lo logra con su don de diálogo (Auxilio sobre un joven escritor: "la novela era mala, pero él era bueno" [39]), sus sorpresitas cuentísticas (el capítulo donde la narradora, sufriendo de escalofríos, hace pronósticos raros sobre el futuro de varios autores es divertidísimo), y una protagonista tan "fidedigna" en cuanto a sus fragilidades humanas que casi salta de las páginas del libro. Aunque uno nunca está seguro si Auxilio es un poco loquita o borracha además de ser aterrorizada por sus experiencias a UNAM, esta incertidumbre no disminuye el horror de una historia en la cual México, DF parece convertirse en la boca del infierno de una generación entera. En resumen, otra obra maestra total por parte de Bolaño. (http://www.anagrama-ed.es/)
Amulet (New Directions hardcover, 2006)
by Roberto Bolaño (translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews)
Spain, 1999

"I am a friend to all Mexicans. I could say I am the mother of Mexican poetry, but I better not. I know all the poets and all the poets know me. So I could say it. I could say one mother of a zephyr is blowing down the centuries, but I better not. For example, I could say I knew Arturito Belano when he was a shy seventeen-year-old who wrote plays and poems and couldn't hold his liquor, but in a sense it would be superfluous and I was taught (they taught me with a lash and with a rod of iron) to spurn all superfluities and tell a straightforward story.

What I can say is my name." Amulet, pp. 1-2

I'm not sure where to begin with this short little novel, but I guess I should note that the name of the character speaking above is Auxilio Lacouture and that she's an Uruguayan by birth. On mentioning the fact that Auxilio is the Uruguayan narrator of a work set in Mexico that was written by a Chilean who was then living in Spain, I only wish to draw your attention to the idea that Amulet has to do with Latin American matters as much as Mexican ones. Or rather, that the black hole of its despair is international in scope. Constructed as a work of first-person testimonial literature, the narrative offers up a traumatized vision of the thirteen days that Auxilio spent "shut up in the women's bathroom on the fourth floor of the faculty of Philosophy and Literature in September 1968" (54)--in other words, the memories of a witness to those bloody days in '68 when hundreds of people lost their lives at the hands of the Mexican government's tanks and riot police. Although I'm not going to spell out just what the poor creature saw during that time period, Bolaño pulls it off with his gift for dialogue (Auxilio on a young writer: "The novel was bad, but he was good" [38]), his little storytelling surprises (the chapter where the narrator, suffering from feverish chills, makes weird predictions about the future of various authors is totally entertaining), and a protagonist so "lifelike" in regards to her human frailties that she almost leaps out of the pages of the book. Although one's never sure if Auxilio's character is a little crazy or drunk in addition to just being terrorized from her experiences at UNAM, this uncertainty doesn't lessen the horror of a story in which Mexico City seems to transform itself into the mouth of hell for an entire generation. In short, another complete masterpiece from Bolaño. (http://www.ndpublishing.com/)


Note: This review is based on the original Spanish version of the novel. Although I've only read selected chapters from Chris Andrews' New Directions translation, I've borrowed his translations here to give non-Spanish speakers a taste of Bolaño in English.

sábado, 25 de abril de 2009

The Taking of Power by Louis XIV

La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV (Criterion DVD, 2008)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
France, 1966
In French with English subtitles

For an altogether different take on the accumulation of power and wealth from an Italian filmmaker, you could do a whole lot worse than to sit down with this Roberto Rossellini-directed period piece originally produced for French TV in 1966. While Louis XIV has all the bad hair and gaudy finery of a generic costume drama, Rossellini's approach is anything but pedestrian. Drawing a Machiavelli-like bead on the 17th-century king's gradual transformation from a fun-loving mama's boy into the monarch who really stuck it to the French aristocracy, the director craftily constructs a meditation on both the nature and the trappings of power that's way more interesting than the silly looking photo below might lead you to believe. Since pudgy, non-professional actor Jean-Marie Patte is something of a revelation as the Sun King, an unexpected bonus from the extra features on this disc is learning how Rossellini channeled Patte's on-camera jitters and inability to remember his lines into a performance that's something special--how funny to think that what looks like supremely regal indifference on Louis XIV's part might be largely due to stage fright from the actor playing him! A minor gem. (http://www.criterion.com/)

Clothes make the man: Louis XIV at Versailles


Directed by Matteo Garrone
Italy, 2008
In Italian with English subtitles

After just missing a chance to see this Cannes Palme d'Or winner in Buenos Aires last month, I finally got to see the big screen version of Roberto Saviano's mob masterpiece last Friday. Although the film adaptation isn't quite as mindblowing as Saviano's book, it still delivers the moviegoing goods with five gritty and uniformly well-acted stories having to do with a few of the lesser-known organized crime activities--the manufacturing of bootleg haute couture, the prominent use of children as soldiers in the local gang wars, toxic waste dumping in Italy and abroad--said to be emanating out of Naples' real life slums. While all of these storylines will be familiar to readers of Saviano's riveting chronicle, Garrone keeps things interesting here by drifting in and out of the various narrative threads with few of the normal cinematic cues. Even more intriguingly, he boldly tells his story without any apparent unifying point of view--leaving it up to the spectator to determine the film's moral compass. Although those who like getting hammered over the head by American directors may miss the point, the result is a strong, unsettling work that would make a fine double bill with Francesco Rosi's classic Salvatore Giuliano. I look forward to adding the DVD to my small but growing collection of cinema italiano sometime soon.

For more on the book and film, see Barbie Nadeau's "Streets of 'Gomorrah'" in Newsweek here.

lunes, 20 de abril de 2009

The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women

The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women (Beacon Press hardcover, 2007)
by Nicola Denzey
USA, 2007

Less a work of history in the traditional textual sense than an exercise in "reading" visual evidence from funerary art and epigraphic sources, Nicola Denzey's The Bone Gatherers offers up some fresh, interdisciplinary perspectives on the role(s) of Christian women in 4th-century Rome. Through the course of a series of case studies centered on various Roman catacombs and crypts, Denzey argues that "the images of women that speak to us in the material and visual evidence from the catacombs tell a radically different story" about the status of these women than the "official" one manufactured at the very time when church fathers were just ramping up their efforts to condemn females for being the descendents of Eve (pp. 80-81). While I don't claim to be any sort of an expert on all this, it seems clear to this uber-geek reader at least that Denzey, a Lecturer on the Study of Religion at Harvard, makes a very convincing case that's what's left of the world of the bone gatherers points to a different and more privileged position for women--as matrons of the arts, as martyrs, as sacred caregivers--than the "historic record" might lead one to believe after centuries of neglect and/or obfuscation by predominantly male church authorities. Whether this type of academic work is up your own uber-geek alley is another question, of course, but I found it interesting enough to recommend to those archeologically-inclined in general and to those pagans and Christians following along at the Art History and Support Your Local Library reading challenges in particular. A solid study. (http://www.beacon.org/)

Prof. Nicola Denzey

sábado, 18 de abril de 2009


Vampyr (Criterion DVD, 2008)
Directed by Carl Th. Dreyer
Denmark, 1932
In German with English subtitles

Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1932 Vampyr, his first sound film, is as much an art statement as it is a vampire movie. Loosely based on a pair of 19th-century short stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, this recently restored print pairs a surrealistic narrative structure with Dreyer's usual compositional brilliance to create a true shadow world in tune with its subject. While the odd, intentionally disjointed plot has to do with the fate of a character named Allan Gray, an occult student/enthusiast who wanders into a strange inn on the outskirts of Paris late one night and immediately begins to suffer the effects of a series of supernatural encounters, one of the ways in which it breaks new ground is that the audience is never sure whether Gray is delusional, dreaming, or perhaps already dead (shots like the one below, where the character appears to see himself in a coffin, are of little help). Real life aristocrat Nicolas de Gunzburg gives a woozy, somnambulistic performance as Gray that's just perfect for the part, and Dreyer and his crew accentuate the oneiric elements in the script with a succession of images--ghost couples dancing to a band of ghost musicians, a gravedigger "undigging" a grave, a female vampire victim's carnivorous smile--noteworthy for their austere beauty. Maybe not the fastest-paced film ever--but the Man Ray-like visuals more than make up for it, trust me. (http://www.criterion.com/)

Note: I haven't seen all the extras on this two-disc set yet, but what I have seen has been impressive. Highlights so far include Jorgen Roos' Carl Th. Dreyer, a 1966 documentary on the director, and Casper Tybjerg's "visual essay" on the artists and artwork that influenced Dreyer's style on this film.

viernes, 17 de abril de 2009

Booked to Die: A Mystery Introducing Cliff Janeway

Booked to Die: A Mystery Introducing Cliff Janeway (Charles Scribner's Sons hardcover, 1992)
by John Dunning
USA, 1992

For all this book's rather serious shortcomings (faux tough guy patter that almost always rings false, an uninteresting protagonist, side stories involving a thug and a love interest that lack all credibility whatsoever), I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I actually enjoyed much of this thriller's plot. While some of that likely only had to do with the particular subculture explored in the novel, the world of book dealers and book scouts in Denver's used/rare book trade, I feel I must grudgingly give Mr. Dunning some pre-Da Vinci Code-style credit for pumping out a mystery that was almost as entertaining as it was preposterous! Rating: Eat a big bag of these and then tell me how you feel! (http://www.simonandschuster.net/)

John Dunning and his poseur hat

sábado, 11 de abril de 2009

Sin Nombre

Sin Nombre
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
USA and Mexico, 2009
In Spanish with English subtitles

I saw the U.S./Mexico coproduction Sin Nombre yesterday and thought it was a decent movie despite a couple of major flaws that continue to grate on me today. I should start by noting that first-time feature film director Fukunaga is to be commended for taking on the themes of Central American immigration to the United States and gang violence of the Mara Salvatrucha variety, two sometimes interrelated topics that have yet to receive much play from other U.S. filmmakers. In traveling scenes like the one pictured below, the director and his team even manage to highlight the desperation along the route to the so-called promised land in a manner reminiscent of both The Grapes of Wrath and Heart of Darkness. Unfortunately, other aspects of the film--like the way it turns into a typical thriller more and more as the main characters head north--are way less impressive on the storytelling end of things. While photogenic leads Paulina Gaitan (Sayra) and Edgar Flores (Willy/El Casper) do nice jobs as a Honduran teenager trying to make her way to family in New Jersey and a Mexican ex-gang member trying to flee from his old way of life, the way the sheltered teenager and the killer with a heart of gold so quickly develop a bond is unconvincing in the extreme: Hollywood, baby, Hollywood. Rating: 3/5 stars.

Three of the "nameless"

See "official" trailer w/cheesy voiceover here.

miércoles, 8 de abril de 2009

The Land of Little Rain

The Land of Little Rain (The Modern Library Classics paperback, 2003)
by Mary Austin
USA, 1903

"For all the toll the desert takes of a man it gives compensations, deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars. It comes upon one with new force in the pauses of the night that the Chaldeans were a desert-bred people. It is hard to escape the sense of mastery as the stars move in the wide clear heavens to risings and settings unobscured. They look large and near and palpitant; as if they moved on some stately service not needful to declare. Wheeling to their stations in the sky, they make the poor world-fret of no account. Of no account you who lie out there watching, nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and howls and howls." --The Land of Little Rain, p. 10

Although The Land of Little Rain is very slow moving in parts, I liked this slender 109-page nature-writing classic quite a bit more than I would've expected from just a quick glance at that horrid New Age cover on my library copy above. Austin's prose is suitably spare and unadorned throughout this series of 14 non-fiction vignettes on life in the harsh southern California desert, but she has a great eye for detail and an unconventional point of view that provide for constant surprises when leafing through her work (to provide just one example, Austin is as likely to decry an act of violence with an unexpectedly secular aside--"Since it appears that we make our own heaven here, no doubt we shall have a hand in the heaven of hereafter" [40]--as she is to attribute John Muir's profound love of the natural world to his status as "a devout man" in another passage [95]). Geographically focused on the areas near the Mojave Desert and the Owens Valley in California where the author lived at the dawn of the 20th century, the Land of Little Rain's thematic concerns embrace the flora and fauna of the region, the itinerant gold prospectors still looking for their lucky strike, and--perhaps most interesting of all over a century later--Austin's interactions with the Paiute and Shoshone Indians and the Mexican settlers of her adopted home. Discovering that the midwest transplant and single mom Austin was so appreciative of these different cultures in an age notorious for intolerance of all kinds makes me want to learn more about this gifted writer sooner rather than later. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. (http://www.modernlibrary.com/)

Mary Austin

The Modern Library edition of The Land of Little Rain includes a fine biographical sketch by Robert Hass, but other versions of the text are available online for free due to its status as a public domain work. For a good recent blog entry about Austin and her life, check out Prof. Peter Richardson's self-titled blog on Californian culture here.

sábado, 4 de abril de 2009

Buenos Aires Trip Report #2

Palermo, Buenos Aires
(Click here for the earlier part of this trip report)

Tu, March 17: My wife and in-laws had some shopping to do in the barrio Once section of Buenos Aires, but they kindly dropped me off at Plaza Serrano in Palermo so I could do some wandering around on my own in one of my favorite parts of the city (I was sad to miss Once since I only know it from Daniel Burman's 2004 film El abrazo partido [Lost Embrace], which takes place there, but these are the kind of decisions one must make on a short trip). Although Palermo's one of the bigger neighborhoods in town, the area I was strolling in is usually referred to as Palermo Soho or Palermo Viejo. I'm not sure where the exact boundaries are, but this part of the neighborhood reminds me a little of Greenwich Village in New York with fewer in-your-face hipsters and a more musical accent. The tree-lined streets above are typical of the barrio's tranquility during the day, but at night the place becomes a madhouse with pub crawlers, tourists, and some of the most photogenic people in town taking in the bar and café culture. A couple of years ago, the big joke was that some of Palermo was being even further subdivided into yet another new district, Palermo Iraq, on account of all the American tourists who had invaded it! I enjoyed walking down the fiction-friendly J.L. Borges street toward leafy Plaza Italia, getting lost on some other street on my way back (without a map of any sort, I didn't realize that Plaza Serrano's official name is Plazoleta Julio Cortázar), and having a beer and a coffee outdoors at Malasartes near the appointed rendezvous time with the rest of my family: a wonderful corner to people-watch from as this particular stretch of real estate has more beautiful women passing by per square foot than anywhere I've been outside of Barcelona and Paris. Not that I noticed, being married and all! I'd dipped into a couple of bookstores and record stores before that without buying anything--the calm before the storm--and somewhere along the way I stopped at an ice cream shop because I just had to have a cono at this one particular place because of its advertising: they had a cardboard cutout of Gardel wrapped around a street sign with a doctored image of the tango titan holding an helado in his hand. How cool is that? Back at home in Burzaco later that evening, A cooked up a delicious dinner of rabas (calamare) and breaded filets of merluza and pejerrey (two types of fish) that we'd bought from the pescador (fisherman, or in this case, the traveling fishmonger) when he was making his morning rounds in the neighborhood with his carrito full of fish on ice. My in-laws also receive frequent visits from the sifonero (a guy who delivers carbonated water bottles that come with their own siphon--the water amazingly never goes flat) and a biweekly visit from la pollera (a woman who delivers free-range chickens door to door). Is it just me or doesn't this seem like a way more "civilized" form of life than having to shop at Whole Foods or your local chain supermarket of choice?

The Holy Grail of Recent Argentinean Fiction

Wed, March 18: My wife hates the hustle and bustle of big cities everywhere--too much sensory overload--so we agreed that I'd go into Buenos Aires on my own today because I love sensory overload! Adroguébus operates a combi (shuttle van) that leaves from the train station in Adrogué and drops you off in the middle of downtown Buenos Aires near the Obelisco on 9 de Julio for a mere 7 pesos ($2 U.S.), so I hopped on and headed off for another day of exploring. "Exploring" in this case meant walking up and down the microcentro looking for books and absorbing life away from home, so I started off on calle Corrientes and started walking away from 9 de Julio to the west. What a day! Something like 13 million people, about a third of Argentina's population, live in its capital city, so walking down these main downtown arteries gives you a real feel for the more monumental side of things here. While Corrientes is far from my favorite street, there are masses of people everywhere and a librería (bookstore) seemingly every two or three stores. Sort of like a Times Square with books! I walked down Corrientes and some of the surrounding streets most of the day, stopping at calle Callao on my first run and ending up near Plaza San Martín in the Retiro district on the other side of 9 de Julio on my way back. Crazy walking which led me to a totally accidental discovery of one of Borges' houses! The part of Corrientes near where I started includes some of the theater district, but my happiest moment in the day was finding Distal Libros (http://www.distalnet.com/) at Florida 528: a decent but fairly nondescript smaller bookstore that had a copy of Rodrigo Fresán's Mantra for sale. I had this book checked out of my local university library for months without being able to find another copy for sale, and my attempts to order it online led me to discover that it's selling for upwards of $50 in the U.S. because it's out of print or just impossible to find here for some reason. I only paid 36 pesos (about $10 U.S.) for Mantra at Distal, and I was so excited to find a copy of this paperback grail at last that I briefly debated buying a second one to give away as a gift. I eventually decided against this, leaving the remaining copy at Distal for the next tourist from a faraway land to fortuitously encounter some day, and bought a copy of Ezequiel Martínez Estrada's 1942 Radiografía de la pampa (oft cited as one of the defining works in 20th century Argentinean letters) for 49 pesos instead. A bookstore or two later, and I had a copy of Juan José Saer's La pesquisa under my arm from the Ateneo bookstore (think of a good version of a B&N or Border's in the U.S. stocked with all those Spanish titles you could only dream about) at Florida 627. I could have gotten this book from the library, but the 37 peso price was just too good to pass up for this literary souvenir (Saer was one of my favorite fiction discoveries last year thanks to a marvelous professor I know, so here's a review of another work of his I read for the 2008 Orbis Terrarum Challenge). On my way back to Adrogué on the combi, I basked in the glow of my incredible book-buying good fortune and then laughed when I saw a parrilla called "ESTOY LOCO" along the route. Hey, I'm crazy, too! Anyway, here's a short article on Fresán, an argentino now living in Spain, and his Mantra, a kaleidoscopic feat of writing set in and inspired by Mexico City, that may help you understand why finding this one title in itself would have made for a totally satisfying book-buying trip for me. Which means that the other dozen or so to come were just icing on the Mantra cake!

A remera (t-shirt) touting Argentina's favorite sandwich: chorizo + pan

Th, March 19: I don't remember what C and my in-laws had going on during the day, but I took advantage of some free time to head into the city solo again. Today's destination: San Telmo, one of the oldest neighborhoods in town and one often hailed as the most "authentic" by people wowed by its history and beautiful, rapidly deteriorating architecture. I hadn't bought a map for this trip yet, so I wandered around Av. Carlos Calvo dodging loose tiles and trying to remember where Plaza Dorrego was located. I gave up temporarily a little more than a block away, dipping into the pastelería (pastry shop) Il Forno on Bolívar 933 to sample a couple of empanadas de carne and pour down an agua con gas: my typical traveling food in Bs.As. whenever I'm hungry or just need to regroup. The empanadas were OK but nothing special, but I ended up hitting the jackpot when I ordered an individual torta de ricotta (ricotta pie) and a café con leche from the spectacular looking pastry counter. I guess now's as good a time as any to mention that Paris is the only other city I've visited yet that can rival Buenos Aires for the quantity and quality of its breads and sweets. After leaving Il Forno, I wandered around the rest of San Telmo for a while enjoying its ramshackle ambience and paying a token visit to Plaza Dorrego--the lovely little plaza whose fame has only increased since one of the Bush daughters had her purse stolen here under the watchful eyes of various Secret Service agents a couple of years back! While heading down calle Defensa in the general direction of the microcentro, I stumbled upon the famous parilla Desnivel at Defensa 855 and decided to sit down for a "snack" in the interests of "research" for this informe. Although I wasn't all that hungry so soon after my last meal, I decided to order a serving of mollejas (sweetbreads) a la carte anyway since they're relatively hard to find in the states--probably because they gross almost everybody else out! I also asked for a glass of the house vino tinto with my appetizer, and the combination of masterfully-grilled mollejas, jarrito (little jar) of wine, and non-U.S. bread was so entirely satisfying that I decided to do some more research. I ordered a serving of chorizo next, which was also insanely good and a steal at a mere 5 pesos (~$1.50 U.S.). Feeling more than a little gluttonous but incredibly satisfied that Desnivel had lived up to the hype, I stopped at a locutorio to check my e-mail and waste precious time on a blog post ("Now Blogging From Buenos Aires") that I later deleted. Before the ride home on the combi, I made a quick detour to Corrientes again to pick up a couple of books at Librería Hernandez (Av. Corrientes 1311). For those keeping score, one book was for a friend and the other one was for me: Santiago Rosa's Abril rojo, a Peruvian thriller that won the Premio Alfaguera de Novela for 2006. I didn't eat again until way later that night, but my mother-in-law prepared two different kinds of milanesa for us, one meatless (eggplant) and one not (the "usual"). An excellent day for parilla and comida casera (home cooking) fare--if you ever get to eat in Buenos Aires, you'll soon understand why those I Love Choripan t-shirts are so popular! Coming soon: Mar del Plata and more.

viernes, 3 de abril de 2009

Las batallas en el desierto

Las batallas en el desierto (Era libro de bolsillo, 2007)
por José Emilio Pacheco
México, 1981

"Miré la avenida Álvaro Obregón y me dije: Voy a guardar intacto el recuerdo de este instante porque todo lo que existe ahora mismo nunca volverá a ser igual. Un día lo veré como la más remota prehistoria. Voy a conservarlo entero porque hoy me enamoré de Mariana. ¿Qué va a pasar? No pasará nada. Es imposible que algo suceda. ¿Qué haré? ¿Cambiarme de escuela para no ver a Jim y por tanto no ver a Mariana? ¿Buscar a una niña de mi edad? Pero a mi edad nadie puede buscar a ninguna niña. Lo único que puede es enamorarse en secreto, en silencio, como yo de Mariana. Enamorarse sabiendo que todo está perdido y no hay ninguna esperanza". --Las batallas en el desierto, p. 31

Hermosísima novela corta sobre el primer enamoramiento del narrador, Carlitos, y la fragilidad de la memoria. Relacionando los recuerdos de su juventud como un "niño de la colonia Roma" en México, D.F. (14) con todas las transformaciones del país en aquel entonces en los años 40 y 50, el adulto Carlos regresa al "paraíso perdido" del pasado en la época cuando México ya era en la antesala de modernización. La prosa de Pacheco es engañosamente sencilla, pero él tiene un estilo impecable y la conciencia de un poeta en cuanto a lo que significa estar enfermo de amor. El resultado es una especie de bildungsroman a la mexicana que critica varios aspectos de la sociedad mexicana con un tono agridulce y elegíaco. Una obra sumamente conmovedora.
Battles in the Desert (Era paperback, 2007)
by José Emilio Pacheco
Mexico, 1981

"I looked at the avenida Álvaro Obregón and told myself: I'm going to maintain the memory of this moment intact because everything that's existed until now will never be the same. One day I'll see it as the most remote prehistory. I'm going to preserve the instant in its entirety because I fell in love with Mariana today. What's going to happen? Nothing will happen. It's impossible that anything will come of this. What will I do? Change schools so I don't see Jim and therefore don't see Mariana? Look for a girl my own age? But at my age, nobody can look for any girl. The only thing that you can do is to fall in love in secret, in silence, as I have with Mariana. To fall in love knowing that everything's lost and that there's no hope whatsoever." --Battles in the Desert, p. 31

Beautiful, beautiful novella about narrator Carlitos' first time falling in love and the fragility of memory. Relating his childhood memories as "a kid in the barrio Roma section of Mexico City" (14) to all the transformations that were going on in the country at that time in the 1940s and '50s, the adult Carlos returns to the "paradise lost" of the past when Mexico was still on the brink of modernization. Pacheco's prose is deceptively simple, but he has an impeccable style and a poet's feel for what it means to be lovesick. The result is a kind of bittersweet Mexican bildungsroman that criticizes various aspects of Mexican society with an elegiac tone. A very moving work.

José Emilio Pacheco

Próxima parada en el subte de Orbis Terrarum:
Gran Bretaña (Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon), Líbano (Hanan Al-Shaykh, The Story of Zahra), o ??? (???).

Note: I chose this 68-page novella to represent Mexican literature for both the Exploration: Latin American Reading Challenge and the Orbis Terrarum 2009 bilingual mini-challenge. New Directions put out an English translation of the work in 1987, but I'm not sure whether it's still in print or not. The rough translations above are mine--sorry for any harm done to the original text's meaning or phrasing.

miércoles, 1 de abril de 2009

Julio Sosa vs. Sandro

Julio Sosa and Sandro will have cameos in my Buenos Aires trip report when I get back to writing up the rest of it, but I thought I'd share two YouTube video clips of them with you in the meantime. The Uruguayan Sosa is a tango legend whom I like quite a bit (his nickname, "el Varón del Tango" ["the Great Man of Tango"], pretty much says it all), and his version of Enrique Santos Discépolo's classic "Cambalache" is a good example of his hard-nosed, almost pugilistic style. I had never even heard of Sandro until late last week, but the so-called "Elvis Presley of Argentina" was apparently a huge hit with the ladies for years and years. The "Tom Jones of Argentina" may be more like it--not exactly my cup of tea, but the first 30 seconds of "Rosa Rosa" had me rolling on the floor with laughter after checking out those Austin Powers-esque dance moves of his. Outstanding! Which of the two singers do you prefer?

Julio Sosa, "Cambalache"

Sandro, "Rosa Rosa"