lunes, 9 de octubre de 2017


Chourmo (Folio Policier, 2014)
by Jean-Claude Izzo
France, 1996

Two books into Izzo's brooding Marseille Trilogy, I'm increasingly bummed that I only have one more title in the series to look forward to.  Rad "mayhem yarn," somewhere between Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels and Yasmina Khadra's Commissaire Llob quartet both in temperament and on the crime-and-disillusionment scale, spun with pace and soul not to mention an unusually distinctive sense of place.  A Marseille where corrupt cops, the white collar wing of the international mafia, and local Islamist extremists from the Bronx-like northern banlieues of the city all vie to suck the life blood out of their teeming prey in the so-called "première ville du tiers-monde" ["first city of the Third World"] (423).  And a Marseille in which even the most world-weary among its inhabitants can find some much needed solace in revisiting old folk songs imported from Algiers and Naples, savoring the perfect bouillabaisse or partaking in some other aspect of the immigrant-rich patrimony of "l'art de vivre marseillais" ["the Marseille-style art of living"] (389).  "La vie est un mauvais film, oú le Technicolor ne change rien au fond de l'histoire" ["Life is a bad movie where Technicolor doesn't change anything at the heart of the story"] (385), laments ex-cop Fabio Montale in a line that could have been lifted straight out of a Jean-Pierre Melville French gangster film, reflecting on friends and family now gone--a lament rife with irony given the vitality of the life-force coursing through Izzo's sour mash note to his native city. A treat.

Jean-Claude Izzo (1945-2000)

Chourmo appears on pp. 305-579 of Izzo's La trilogie Fabio Montale (Paris: Folio Policier, 2014).  For more on the preceding volume in the trilogy, please see the post about Total Khéops written in an almost unintelligible French here.

domingo, 1 de octubre de 2017

"Entre Andreiev y Arlt": The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom: September Links

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Juan Moreira by Eduardo Gutiérrez

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
(on The Lover by Marguerite Duras)

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
For anybody interested in more Zola (and who isn't?), just want to put in a belated plug for the five bitchin' posts Tom of Wuthering Expectations ran as part of Thérèse Raquin Week all the way back in 2010.  Great stuff!

Doom, with a new table of discontents, will continue in October.  It's never too late to join in on the "fun."

sábado, 30 de septiembre de 2017

Crossing the River Zbrucz

"Crossing the River Zbrucz"
by Isaac Babel [translated from the Russian by Peter Constantine]
USSR, 1926

Rereading Isaac Babel's two-page short story "Crossing the River Zbrucz"--like Zola's "noir" Thérèse Raquin, yet another Doom classic with a totally different vibe but a similarly vivid palette--was a great way to close out my reading month.  In between terse, war reporting-like writing about "the stench of yesterday's blood and slaughtered horses" and of innocents caught in the crossfire of the Polish-Soviet War, Babel's narrator seamlessly slips in lyrical appeals to the senses.  Item: "Fields of purple poppies are blossoming around us, a noon breeze is frolicking in the yellowing rye, virginal buckwheat is standing on the horizon like the wall of a faraway monastery."  Item: "The orange sun is rolling across the sky like a severed head, gentle light glimmers in the ravines among the clouds, the banners of the sunset are fluttering above our heads."  Item: "Only the moon, clasping its round, shining, carefree head in its blue hands, loiters beneath my window."  Then, before you can appreciate an abrupt transition is at hand, you're in a commandeered room with the narrator as he tells how "I find ransacked closets, torn pieces of women's fur coats on the floor, human excrement, and fragments of the holy Seder plate that the Jews use once a year for Passover."  Would that shit were the only thing to be found in that room visited by the dogs of war!

"Crossing the River Zbrucz," the attention-grabbing leadoff tale in Babel's Red Cavalry collection, appears on pp. 203-204 of the Nathalie Babel-edited The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001).  1,000+ more pages of Babel to look forward to, comrades!

miércoles, 27 de septiembre de 2017

Mientras la ciudad duerme. Pistoleros, policías y periodistas en Buenos Aires, 1920-1945

Mientras la ciudad duerme.  Pistoleros, policías y periodistas en Buenos Aires, 1920-1945 (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2012)
por Lila Caimari
Argentina, 2012

Un ensayo perspicaz y bastante jugoso sobre la Buenos Aires de los años veinte y treinta desde la perspectiva del "gremio ladronesco" del crimen (40).  Caimari, investigadora del CONICET y historiadora y docente de la Universidad de San Andrés de Bs. As., mantiene que el aumento de los delitos violentos en la capital, frente a "la comparativa moderación estadí delitos tradicionales" y/o no violentos en ese período de tiempo, servió para confirmar la certeza pública "de una calle cada vez más insegura" a través de unos "golpes de potencia estimulante y evocativa absolutamente novedosa" llevados por la difusión del automóvil, del revólver y otras herramientas modernas (31).  La proliferación de la pistola automática y, más tarde, la ametralladora entre criminales criollos como el Pibe Cabeza, Chicho Grande o --mi apodo favorito-- un tal Mate Cocido, por ejemplo, fue vista por porteños obedientes a las leyes como algo relacionado con la importación de bienes y valores extranjeros como se puede ver en esta editorial extraña publicada en La Nación: "Las leyendas de la edad primitiva hacían intervenir a los dioses para crear la espada, la creación del revólver parece obra de un norteamericano que tiene prisa" (53).  En otra parte, Caimari señala un cambio en el estilo de reportaje sobre el crimen, notando que "en la medida en que se interesa más en el espectáculo del delito que en su verdad"  --o en la presentación de "sucesos de cinematográficos aspectos"-- "la narración fotográfica de la prensa" se convirtió en "una suerte de 'alcaponización'...del transgresor local" en el que "este transgresor preocupa menos que su performance" en cuanto a "la nueva fabricación de celebridad" del "pistolero-estrella" (63-64 & 74-75).  Un libro interesante, lleno de citas de Arlt y Borges, que incluye algunas reflexiones sumamente irónicas sobre la nostalgia de un bajo fondo antiguo en Buenos Aires y en otros lugares de hoy: "Cuenta el bandoneonista José Libertella", escribe Caimari, "que para publicitar su espectáculo en París, en 1981, Le Monde lo describía como un espectáculo de 'treinta y tres artistas del bajo fondo de Buenos Aires'" (157).  Pues, ¡que viva el bajo fondo!

Lila Caimari

domingo, 17 de septiembre de 2017

Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin (Gallimard, 2011)
by Émile Zola
France, 1867

Its über well known adultery-and-murder plotline notwithstanding, I naively read Thérèse Raquin expecting some sort of a pro forma workout on the nature of female desire but never expecting to thumb through the insalubrious pages of one of the doomiest of 19th century doom novels.  Silly me! Way weirder than expected roman classique, ze weirdness coming fast and furious once Laurent, who has just drowned his friend Camille in the Seine in order to make it easier for the murderer to bed down the fetching desperate housewife/willing accomplice to murder/brand new widow Thérèse, begins frequenting the Paris morgue to see if the dead man's body has finally been fished out of the drink.  Much page-turning luridness ensues.  Much, much page-turning luridness ensues.  Within the gruesome morgue chapter alone, for example, Zola treats us to the startling spectacle of decomposing bodies rotting before the reader's eyes and to the maybe even more sensational depiction of roving bands of twelve to fifteen year old boys who, stopping only in front of the female cadavers, make all sorts of crude remarks about the sex appeal of the dead women behind the display windows.  Having "learned vice at the school of death" ["ils apprenaient le vice à l'école de la mort"], it turns out, "c'est à la Morgue que les jeunes voyous ont leur première maîtresse" ["it's at the morgue where the young thugs have their first mistress"] (128).  Elsewhere, Zola is equally as in your face a purveyor of the prose poetry of revolt when describing how the aftereffects of their crime torment the murderous newlyweds on their eventual wedding night ("Thérèse et Lauren retrouvaient la senteur froide et humide du noyé dans l'air chaud qu'ils respiraient; ils se se disaient qu'un cadavre était là, près d'eux" ["Thérèse and Laurent recognized the cold and damp odor of the drowned man in the warm air that they were breathing; they told each other that a corpse was there in their midst"]) (189) and beyond ("Lorsque les deux meurtriers étaient allongés sous le même drap, et qu'ils fermaient les yeux, ils croyaient sentir le corps humide de leur victime, couché au milieu du lit, qui leur glaçait la chair" ["When the two murderers were stretched out under the same sheet with their eyes shut, they believed they could feel the damp body of their victim, prone in the middle of the bed, making their skin crawl"]) (205).  All this, a copious amount of hallucinatory overkill + a certain scratch and sniff dimension to the prose (cf. human remains likened to "greenish, eel-like" flesh ["pareil à un lambeau verdâtre"] or a room described as sporting "une fade senteur de cimetière" ["a faint whiff of cemetery"]) (205 & 218) leave me no choice but to marvel--Zola, what a sick puppy!

Émile Zola (1840-1902)

lunes, 11 de septiembre de 2017

Juan Moreira

Juan Moreira (Perfil Libros, 1999)
por Eduardo Gutiérrez
Argentina, 1879-1880

El gaucho Juan Moreira, un paisano de carne y hueso (?-1874) convertido en un héroe de la cultura popular argentina decimonónica, será la primera estrella del reparto de "Entre Andreiev y Arlt": la literatura argentina (y francesa y rusa) de la pesada ser el centro de atención en el evento de este año.  Aunque el libro de Gutiérrez --originalmente difundido por folletines-- es básicamente bastante bueno a pesar de algunos defectos importantes, es super interesante en ciertos sentidos.  Me encantó, por ejemplo, el lenguaje de la obra.  Gutiérrez hace un dibujo de un mundo violentísimo en el que una daga brilla "como un relámpago de muerte" (95) y el cabello negro del protagonista ondula de tal manera que "parecía el estandarte de la muerte" (169), pero a la vez el sol se describe como "el poncho de los pobres" (38, 44 & 209) y el lector se topa con un pulpero que es "más amable que un peluquero francés" (118).  ¡Genial!  También me gustó la atención de Gutiérrez, un periodista en aquel entonces, a los problemas de género porque aunque su "crónica" sobre la vida y muerte de Moreira sea demasiado hagiográfica, ya se pueden encontrar guiños "modernos" como la página donde el narrador declara que "no hacemos novelas" un párrafo antes de decir que "Moreira fue un tipo tan novelesco" (99).  En cuanto a los temas de la obra y específicamente en cuanto a la dicotomía "civilización o barbarie" como debatida por Facundo y Martín Fierro, Juan Moreira también se destaca.  Más que sólo una serie de peleas con cuchillo contra varios maulas, el libro de Gutiérrez se trata de y apasionadamente defiende el gaucho contra la injusticia del estado.  "La gran causa de la inmensa criminalidad en la campaña", escribe el autor al principio, "está en nuestras autoridades excepcionales".  Añade que "el gaucho habitante de nuestra pampa tiene dos caminos forzosos para eligir: uno es el camino del crimen, por las razones que expondremos; otro es el camino de los cuerpos de línea, que le ofrece su puesto de carne de cañon" (11).  En su introducción a la obra, la crítica Josefina Ludmer señala que "el pasaje de la legalidad a la ilegalidad por una injusticia" sufrido por el protagonista llama la atención a un paralelo contemporaneo: "Juan Moreira no sólo encarna la violencia de la justicia popular, sino también la violencia del estado contra ella.  La muerte violenta de Moreira marca, cada vez que se la representa, el triunfo final e inexorable de la violencia estatal, y no de la violencia de la justicia popular" (xi & xiv).  En resumen, un libro de carácter escurridizo.  No está mal.

Eduardo Gutiérrez (1851-1889)

viernes, 1 de septiembre de 2017

"Entre Andreiev y Arlt": The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom

Since there was no Argentinean Literature of Doom event to depress people with last year for the first time since 2012, I've decided--in my infinite wisdom--to wage a four-month version of the literary terror campaign this year to make up for lost time.  Hence, "Entre Andreiev y Arlt" ["From Andreyev to Arlt"]: The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom now running through the end of December.  As past readers of the official Doom indoctrination communiqué may recall, "the ALoD was originally inspired by two great posts by Tom of Wuthering Expectations that you can read about here and here and was at least partly dedicated to testing Roberto Bolaño's thesis that a 'strain of doom' evident in post-Borges Argentinean belles-lettres was due to the noxious influence of one Osvaldo Lamborghini and his art terrorist pals and successors (César Aira, take a bow)."  While that original idea still intrigues me, I thought it might be kind of amusing to set up a circular firing squad this year and allow Frenchmen like Marcel Schwob and Russians like Leonid Andreyev to run amok alongside Argentinean doomsters like Roberto Arlt.  You're more than welcome to join me if you like--all you have to do to participate is to read and review at least one piece of fiction written by an Argentinean, a French or a Russian writer, read and review at least one nonfiction work on Argentina, France or Russia, or watch and review one film that falls under the same general criteria.  I'll post links to your reviews at the end of each month.  Note: I borrowed the "Entre Andreiev y Arlt" thing from critic Jorge Fornet, who uses it as the title of a heading in the first chapter of his book El escritor y la tradición.  Ricardo Piglia y la literatura argentina (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007).  The photo at the top of the post is of Italian anarchist turned much feared Argentinean public enemy Giovanni Di Severino, the subject of a newspaper piece by Roberto Arlt and a biography by Osvaldo Bayer that may both make it onto the Doom syllabus alongside Fornet's book if I don't lose focus.  Out.

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
Frances, Nonsuch Book 
JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
Rise, in lieu of a field guide

jueves, 31 de agosto de 2017

Cousin Bazilio

Cousin Bazilio [O Primo Basílio] (Dedalus, 2003)
by Eça de Queiroz [translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa]
Portugal, 1878

Our old friend Eça de Queiroz, last heard from on this blog way back in 2011 when the then nearly 166-year old novelist was fêted with a readalong of his great The Crime of Father Amaro, was recently dragged out of retirement and commissioned to whip up one of his celebrated tragedy-dusted confections as the dessert offering for this year's Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month.  I hope you'll agree that the luscious calorie-rich goods were delivered and then some.  Cousin Bazilio, for those of you too lazy to consult the description on the back of the book, is "a tale of sexual folly and hypocrisy and vividly depicts bourgeois life in nineteenth-century Lisbon."  In other words, a wonderfully springy springboard for the author to commit all sorts of verbal acrobatics & etc. in the name of satire and social commentary.  Somewhat predictable narrative arc aside (let's just say that Eça continues to have a penchant for killing off his most fully fleshed out characters whether their moral comeuppance is truly "deserved" or not), Cousin Bazilio is a delectable morsel less for its adultery + blackmail plot and more on account of its oddball descriptions of both humans ("She was an orphan, and there was always a faint whiff of fever about her small, skinny body" [7]) and human behavior ("'I'll lay siege to her!' he exclaimed gleefully.  'The way Santiago laid siege to the Moors!'" [62]), its earthy sense of humor ("All these agitations were playing havoc with Dona Felicidade's constrained digestion; luckily, as she herself said, she was at least able to bring up some wind.  Yes, blessings upon God and the Virgin Mary, she was at least able to bring up a little wind!") (370-371), hell, even its gleefully malicious dialogue ("Sing, little dumpling, little whore, little slut!" [183]).  "Slander aria"-like singing venom aside, mostly I reveled in the sensory overload of Eça's descriptive excesses.  A suitably decadent example of this attention to detail, tailor-made for Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month dessert debauchees as it happens, can be found underneath the author portrait below.

Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900)

They were standing outside a cakeshop.  On the shelves in the window behind them stood bottles of malmsey wine with brightly coloured labels, transparent red jellies, the sickly egg yolk yellow of doces de ovos, and dark brown fruit cake stuck with pathetic pink and white paper carnations.  Stale, lurid custard tarts grew soft in their puff pastry cases; thick slabs of quince jelly sat melting in the heat; and the dried-up shells of seafood pasties were slowly melding into one.  In the centre, prominently displayed, was a hideous, plump lampreia de ovos, a cake shaped like an eel, with a gaping mouth, a disgustingly yellow belly and a back blotched with arabesques of sugar; in its great head bulged two horrible chocolate eyes, and its almond teeth were sunk into a tangerine; and all around this rearing monster flies flitted.
'Let's go into the café,' said Julião.  'It's too hot to stand around in the street!'

sábado, 26 de agosto de 2017

La muerte baja en el ascensor

La muerte baja en el ascensor (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2013)
por María Angélica Bosco
Argentina, 1955

Cuando uno y al final dos más asesinatos siguen el descubrimiento de la muerte de una hermosa joven rubia en el ascensor de una casa de departamentos en la calle Santa Fe cerca de la plaza de San Martín, todo el infierno se desata en esta novela policial jugosa y entretenida de María Angélica Bosco.  Bosco, una desconocida para mí escritora, proporciona una trama emocionante al mismo tiempo que nos da una galería de sospechosos poblada por varias personas con algo que esconder: entre otros, porteños ricos, chantajistas e inmigrantes sigilosos de la recién vencida Alemania.  ¿Son estos últimos refugiados o ex-nazis, víctimas o verdugos?  Esa es la pregunta del millón dentro de esta whodunit a lo argentino, pero tal vez lo más parecido a una respuesta es el comentario ambiguo del policía Blasi que observa, no sin razón, que "esta gente padece la psicosis del pasado.  Uno lo huele aquí" (128).  En todo caso, una lectura agradable.

María Angélica Bosco (1909-2006)

domingo, 20 de agosto de 2017

Un barrage contre le Pacifique

Un barrage contre le Pacifique (Folio, 2014)
by Marguerite Duras
France, 1950

In a vaguely Faulknerian backwater in French Indochina roiled by oppressive heat, oppressive poverty and just the faintest glimmer of incest as a possible avenue of escape for at least one of the three main characters, the unnamed la mère, her 20-year old son Joseph and her 16-year old daughter Suzanne are all desperately looking for a way out after the mother has lost her life savings on a plot of worthless floodland as the price to pay for her chance to settle in the colony...surely a high water mark of sorts both within Duras' own impressive body of work and within the annals of the postcolonial novel as a whole, the aesthetic brutality of the prose in Un barrage contre le Pacifique [The Sea Wall] is both less elliptical and maybe more punishing than usual with Duras--style taking a backseat to theme if you will...lest the lack of experimentation scare off fans accustomed to later Duras, suffice it to say that in a novel whose narrative tension derives in large part from the train wreck-like spectacle of waiting to see whether the mother or the brother will essentially auction off Suzanne's virginity to the highest bidder, the author doesn't avert her own gaze when it matters--cf. the commodification of the flesh juxtaposition between the native woman who prostitutes herself to put some dried fish on the table for her family and the exploitative tendencies of the French colony characterized as "ce bordel colossal" ["this colossal brothel"] (198) where "Le latex coulait.  Le sang aussi" ["The latex flowed.  The blood did, too"] (169).  Riveting.

Marguerite Duras (1914-1996)

Guy of His Futile Preoccupations recommended The Sea Wall to me a couple of years ago.  His review can be found here.

lunes, 14 de agosto de 2017

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month 2017: 7/30-8/12 Links

Sorry I didn't get around to posting a link round-up last week.  Here's a bonus week's worth of links for you, now including both Spanish- and Portuguese-language literature for the rest of the month.  Cheers!

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Emma, Book Around the Corner
No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza
One-Way Journey by Carlos Salem
The Sadness of the Samurai by Víctor del Árbol

Grant, 1streading's Blog
A Broken Mirror by Mercè Rodoreda
The Miracle-Worker by Carmen Boullosa

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
The loose ends of memories - Before by Carmen Boullosa

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
I'm Heroically Free: Água Viva by Clarice Lispector
Being Happy Is for What?: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila
Winter Quarters by Osvaldo Soriano 
Inventing Love by José Ovejero
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Tony, Tony's Reading List
The Children by Carolina Sanín
The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade

sábado, 12 de agosto de 2017

Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Perú

Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Perú (Planeta, 2008)
by Gustavo Gorriti
Peru, 1990 & 2008

A probing, meticulously documented but inordinately typo-ridden account of the decade-plus of violence unleashed by the Maoist Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] insurgent group during "los años de sangre" ["the years of blood"] (146) in '80s and '90s Peru.  While it's perhaps to be regretted that investigative journalist Gorriti never got around to finishing the planned first and third volumes of his history that were meant to bookend this one--his work, available in English as The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru, was interrupted by a coup and his subsequent arrest by the intelligence forces of new president Alberto Fujimori before Gorriti eventually found a safe haven abroad--Sendero's unflinching close-up on the first few years of the rebellion is probably more than enough analysis & horror for a standalone volume dedicated to explaining why some 70,000 Peruvians would wind up dead in the crossfire.  Worth reading for anyone trying to understand how bourgeois classics like Julius Caesar and Macbeth could be used as part of far left terrorist indoctrination, well worth reading for anyone trying to make some sense out of half-remembered reports of Sendero atrocities such as the one involving the dozens of dead dogs that were left hanging from lampposts in downtown Lima and maybe not worth reading at all for anybody wanting to feel better about his/her fellow man.

Gustavo Gorriti

martes, 1 de agosto de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/23-7/29 Links

Carlos Velázquez

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi
No-one Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi

Grant, 1streading's Blog
The Cowboy Bible and Other Stories by Carlos Velázquez

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
Into the Redheaded Night: From the Observatory by Julio Cortázar

Tony, Tony's Reading List
The Man of Feeling by Javier Marías

lunes, 24 de julio de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/16-7/22 Links

Thanks to all of you who read something for or in conjunction with Spanish Lit Month 2017 last week.  For those of you still looking to join in on the fun, please note that not only will SLM carry on into August but that Stu has proposed that next month will seamlessly morph into Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month for anyone wanting to add a Brazilian or Portuguese author to the mix.  Until then, here's the latest batch of links for your reading and blogging pleasure.

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Nevada Days by Bernardo Atxaga

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Glaxo by Hernán Ronsino
Lost Books - Farewells & A Grave with No Name by Juan Carlos Onetti

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
"It has been wonderful to know you": My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
Kissing Circe and Living to Tell It: Essays by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Obooki, Obooki's Obloquy
Solitude by Caterina Albert i Paradís

Pat, South of Paris Books
Outlaws by Javier Cercas

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Wolf Moon by Julio Llamazares
The Secret of Evil by Roberto Bolaño
Ash Wednesday by Miguel-Anxo Murado
Before by Carmen Boullosa

sábado, 22 de julio de 2017

Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo

Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo (Debolsillo, 2012)
by Mario Levrero
Uruguay, 1975

In foodie terms, the extravagantly titled Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo [Nick Carter Has a Good Time While the Reader Is Murdered and I Lie Dying] might best be thought of as a sort of Aira-esque--strike that, pre-Aira-esque--meringue in which the acidic quality of a couple of in poor taste abortion and incest jokes occasionally overwhelms the delicate  sugar and egg white flavor of its goofball detective and dime novel parodies.  Whatever, kind of a fucked-up meringue!  For readers of a non-Saveur persuasion, though, Levrero's 60-something page novella should offer plenty to savor: ongoing random jumps between first-, second- and third-person narration for you arty experimental types, lots of nods to Borges and Kafka and the feuilleton tradition for you highbrow and lowbrow types, and even a strong nymphomaniac secretary character for you strong nymphomaniac secretary character types.  In other words, something for almost  everyone as clearly demonstrated above without me even having to waste a single precious word on plot!

Mario Levrero (1940-2004)

lunes, 17 de julio de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/9-7/15 Links

Pedro Lemebel

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Nona's Room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

Pat, South of Paris Books
Zigzag by José Carlos Somoza
Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
 "Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)" by Pedro Lemebel

Simon Lavery, Tredynas Days
Written Lives by Javier Marías

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Hive by Camilo José Cela
The Irish Sea by Carlos Maleno
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

domingo, 9 de julio de 2017

Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)

"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)"
by Pedro Lemebel
Chile, 1994

If this nightmarish two-page chronicle sounds like something straight out of a Roberto Bolaño novel, maybe that's because it helped inspire one.  At the height of the Pinochet dictatorship in the mid-1970s, a black-clad diva named Mariana Callejas presided over a swanky literary salon at her home in Santiago de Chile's exclusive Lo Curro neighborhood.  Callejas, well-known for her anti-Marxist views and apparently no stranger to the "aleteo buitre" ["vulturous flapping of wings"] of the secret police's unmarked cars in their comings and goings through this quiet, residential part of the capital, still managed to draw a crowd composed of the country's "jet set artístico" ["artistic jet set"]--an artistic elite that Lemebel (1952-2015, above) icily describes as "la desinvuelta clase cultural de esos años que no creía en historias de cadáveres y desaparecidos" ["the self-assured cultural class of those years which didn't believe in stories of cadavers and the disappeared"].  As time went on, though, this head in the sand posture became more difficult to maintain even for those most enamored of the free alcohol and the avant-garde aesthetic debates that flowed in abundance at Callejas' soirées.  Lemebel, who says he learned of the story as a 20-something and discussed his 1994 newspaper account of it with Bolaño shortly before the latter penned Nocturno de Chile [Chile by Night], explains that "todo el mundo veía y prefería no mirar, no saber, no escuchar" ["everybody saw and preferred not to look at, not to know anything about, not to hear"] any of the horrors beginning to be revealed by the international press even as Callejas' explanation of the accounts as "pura literatura tremendista" ["pure sensationalist literature"] meant to discredit the government rang hollow amid the telltale signs of something seriously wrong at her own house; it would later be revealed that the dying roses in the garden--supposedly caused by Callejas' husband's experiments with a gas to exterminate rats--and the intermittent surges in power at her parties that would make lights flicker and music be interrupted were due to state-sponsored torture sessions down in the basement where stray screams would occasionally punctuate the literary criticism and the "silencio necrófilo" ["necrophiliac silence"] that otherwise reigned supreme up above.

"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)" ["Mariana Callejas' Black Orchids (or the DINA's Cultural Center)"] first appeared in the Chilean newspaper La Nación in 1994.  It also appears as part of a book full of other Lemebel writings on pp. 112-114 of the collection Poco hombre.  Crónicas escogidas (Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2013).

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/1-7/8 Links

It was both a pleasure and a relief to see so many people join us for the first week of Spanish Lit Month 2017 despite our late announcement of this year's event.  And with the arrival of internet service at the new Caravana de recuerdos manor, it should be even easier to keep up with your output in future weeks.  In any event, here's a list of last week's SLM links--feel free to let me know if I've missed any posts either here or by e-mail or on Twitter (Richard@caravanablog) if you prefer to avoid Blogger's comments-squashing security apparatus.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
for my joy in the tooth of the wheel - a glance at Lorca's poems

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Field of Honour by Max Aub
The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto
The Children by Carolina Sanín

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
Colonel Lágrimas by Carlos Fonseca

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
In the Land of Giants: Hunting Monsters in the Hindu Kush by Gabi Martínez

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
The Proof by César Aira

Pat, South of Paris Books
The Woman of Your Dreams by Antonio Sarabia
The Murky Waters of the Tigre by Alicia Plante
The Shadow of What We Were by Luis Sepúlveda
The Heart of the Tartar by Rosa Montero

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Dietario voluble by Enrique Vila-Matas

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Spanish Lit Month 2017
Nona's Room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

miércoles, 5 de julio de 2017

Dietario voluble

Dietario voluble (Anagrama, 2010)
by Enrique Vila-Matas
Spain, 2008  

As its very title suggests, it's not entirely clear whether Vila-Matas' nonfiction-like Dietario voluble [Unhinged Diary] is really a diary at all or rather a novel only disguised as a diary--a matter the mischievous Spaniard doesn't help with when he confesses that the overarching theme of his work is "tal vez mi incapacidad de decir la verdad" ["perhaps my inability to tell the truth"] (183).  "Perhaps"!  Whatever the case may be, this book fiend's equivalent of a compilation album featuring one of your favorite artists' odds and sods finds Vila-Matas getting his anecdotal and aphoristic groove on with a series of soundbites dedicated to the reading and writing life.  In one 15-page span alone, for example, there are shout outs to the likes of Flaubert's pronouncements on the primacy of style ("La estética es una justicia superior" ["Aesthetics is a superior form of justice"]) (242); a tip of the hat to previously unknown to me author Ricardo Menéndez Salmón's fed up attack on "falsos escritores" ["false writers"]: "La literatura no es un oficio, es una enfermedad; uno no escribe para ganar dinero o caer bien a la gente, sino porque intenta curarse, porque está infectado, porque lo ha ganado la tristeza" ["Literature isn't a trade, it's a disease.  One doesn't write to make money or to sit well with people but to try to heal oneself, because one's infected, because sadness has gotten the upper hand"] (230); and a memorable inside baseball tidbit about a pair of Vila-Matas visits with Pierre Michon highlighted by Michon's definition of the three types of non-false writers that exist in the world: 1) "el bárbaro" ["the barbarian"], as exemplified by Céline; 2) the intellectual in the style of Beckett; 3) a third type that combines the best of both worlds.  In other words, "Faulkner or Bolaño" as Michon specified on both occasions  (228-229).  Mad, geeky fun not least for the sweet account of a pilgrimage to New Directions HQ in which Bolaño and Borges books are seen lined up like "vecinos neoyorquinos en la red del tiempo" ["New York neighbors in the net of time"] (141) and the entirely unexpected and non-bookish moment a page later when Vila-Matas waxes on about "la música hipnótica" ["the hypnotic music"] of CocoRosie and riffs on "el llamado espíritu lo-fi" ["the so-called lo-fi spirit"] of the Casady sisters (142).  Rockin'!

Vila-Matas & Bolaño in Blanes, 1998

domingo, 2 de julio de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017

Due to popular demand (i.e. one measly inquiry late last month from the seemingly genuinely enthusiastic Grant of 1streading's Blog), Spanish Lit Month will return in July and the overtime month of August this year for anybody interested in reading Spanish-language literature in the summer company of some like-minded fiends (as usual, works first published in Catalan and Galician will count as well).  To participate, all you have to do is to read one or more works in one of the original languages or in translation and then notify co-host Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog or me for us to share your reviews with fellow SLM 2017 readers across the globe.  In the hope that some of you will choose to join us despite the short notice, I'll say goodbye for now and try to return later in the week for some sort of an update once I dig some of my Spanish-language reading choices out of their storage containers necessitated by a recent move.  Any help with the unpacking appreciated.  Cheers!

Spanish Lit Month 2017 Readers
Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Dorian Stuber, Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau
Emma, Book Around the Corner
Frances, Nonsuch Book 

jueves, 2 de febrero de 2017

La Chanson de Roland

La Chanson de Roland (GF Flammarion, 2004)
Anonymous [bilingual edition translated into modern French from the old French by Jean Dufournet]
France, ca. 1100

Since I think I'm finally up to the challenge of waging some sort of a longue durée survey of French and Francophone literature over the course of the year, I decided a reread of La Chanson de Roland [The Song of Roland] was really the only way to kick things off reading project-wise w/anything like the requisite amount of style demanded by our programming.  My geekly instincts, as it turns out, aren't always bad.  A few quick hits on matters of language, content and style.  1) Given the # of times I've suffered through various stilted English translations of the poem in the past, it was a real rush to read Jean Dufournet's modern French translation w/the original old French on the facing text.  Perhaps vivid battle poetry having to do with combatants' vows to render their swords "bright red with hot blood" [Dufournet: "nous les rendrons vermeilles de sang chaud"; original text: "Nus les feruns vermeilles de chald sanc"] (laisse 76) and descriptions of meadows full of flowers turned "bright red with the blood of our barons!" [Dufournet: "les fleurs/sont vermeilles du sang de nos barons !"; original: "les flors,/Ki sunt vermeilz del sanc de noz baronz !"] (laisse 205) to cite just two variations on a vermilion theme would convey a sense of urgency in any language even sans that exclamation point at the end of the latter verse; however, I'd maintain that Dufournet's rousing Roland has an unmistakable energy and flow to it even in its less blood-spattered moments.  2) As many of you no doubt know, La Chanson de Roland was at least partly inspired by a real life battle in the year 778 in which the rearguard of Charlemagne's army was ambushed by Basques at Ronceveaux Pass in the Pyrenees.  However, somewhere along the line Muslims from Spain replaced the Basques as the villains of the pro-French pseudo-historical epic that has come down to us.  In his introduction to the work, Dufournet speculates that the Roland poet was a learned cleric "tout imprégné de l'atmosphère de la croisade" ["imbued with the crusading spirit"] (19) whose authorship of the poem likely consisted in reshaping extant traditional material associated with Roland and converting it into something artistically unique and of its time--what the medievalist elsewhere hails as "le texte fondateur de notre histoire et de notre culture, en même temps que la première manifestation créatrice de notre langue" ["the foundational text of our history and culture and, at the same time, the first creative manifestation of our language"] (10).  Without getting into the nitty gritty of Dufournet's case for this, which would deserve a post or twelve of its own given the thorny literary and historical contexts under consideration, suffice it to say that one of the most convincing manifestations of a crusading ideology in the poem is its retrospective equation of the enemies of Charlemagne with the enemies of Christendom.  The Saracens, for example, are commonly referred to as félons ["traitors" or, in feudal terminology, "vassals disloyal to one's lord"], pagans, and as members of a "criminal race" [Dufournet: "la race criminelle"; original: "la gent criminel"] (laisse 179).  Beyond this, the figure of the Archbishop Turpin sends the Franks out to battle under the Urban II-like promise that "Si vous mourez, vous serez de saints martyrs" [original: "Se vos murez, esterez seinz martirs"; "If you die, you will become holy martyrs"] (laisse 89) and in a later scene on the sacking of Zaragoza we learn that both synagogues and mosques are destroyed at the hands of the revenge-minded Christians.  In fact, lest there be any doubt about whose side God is on in the holy war portrayed in the poem, the poet sings of miracles like the day God stopped the sun in the sky so that Charlemagne could pursue the vanquished pagans who had left the battlefield in flight and of one disgraced Muslim leader who literally surrenders his soul to demons at the moment of his death [Dufournet: "il rend son âme aux diables en personne"; original: "L'anme de lui as vifs diables dunet"] (laisse 264)--a colorful moment that!  Poetic matters aside, this demonization of the enemy and the exaltation of the Christian hordes from douce France will no doubt sound very familiar to anybody who's ever chanced to dip into the contemporary crusade chronicles.  3) On that note, one of the most interesting things about La Chanson de Roland to me from a style standpoint this time around and one in which I had either totally forgotten about or somehow not really noticed before was the evident tension between the Chanson as a consciously poetic product and the written documents that had supposedly preceded its gestation.  That is, La Chanson de Roland deliberately positions itself both as a type of metafictional song--the "mauvaise chanson" [bad song] that Roland tells Olivier won't be sung about their trusty swords so long as Durendal and Hauteclaire are allowed to perform their usual handiwork [Dufournet: "L'on ne doit pas sur elles chanter de mauvaise chanson"; original: "Male chançune n'en deit estre cantee"] (laisse 112)--and as an assonant chanson informed by prose precedents in lines like "Il est écrit dans l'ancienne chronique/que Charles convoqua des vassaux de nombreuses terres" [original: "Il est escrit en l'anciene geste/Que Carles mandet humes de plusurs teres"; "It is written in the old chronicle/that Charles summoned vassals from numerous lands"] (laisse 271).  Whether this appeal to written authority is real--i.e. if the poem is occasionally premised on historical sources that are now mostly lost to us--or just imagined for literary sakes hardly matters in the end; for when Roland encourages Olivier to strike their adversaries dead with great blows "pour qu'on ne chante pas sur nous de funeste chanson !" [original: "Que malvaise cançun de nus chantet ne seit !"; "so that a distressing song not be sung about us!"] (laisse 79), the impact is such that it's an impressive feat even to those who already know the heroes are doomed.  AOI.

First page of the Oxford manuscript of La Chanson de Roland

viernes, 20 de enero de 2017

El entenado

El entenado (Seix Barral, 2004)
por Juan José Saer
Francia, 1983

El entenado = una "novela histórica" falsa que en realidad es una fábula filosófica sobre la escritura y la memoria y una especie de mito de origen sobre la conquista española y el cosmos saeriano a la vez.  Amateur Reader (Tom) lo describe más sucintamente como "una novela de ideas hecho y derecho, subcategoría: lingüística y antropológica", lo que sin duda es mucho más útil.  En todo caso, se trata de las memorias, narradas 60 años después de los sucesos contados, de un grumete español que llega a las orillas del río Paraná como parte de una expedición del siglo XVI.  El único superviviente de un ataque por los indios, el muchacho pasa diez años entre la tribu colastiné donde presencia el comer de sus camaradas de a bordo durante una orgía antropófoga y más tarde funciona como un testigo al estilo de vida y a las preocupaciones metafísicas de los indios.  Aunque sería comprensible si los temas del choque de culturas y en particular el canibalismo tomarían el centro del escenario en los recuerdos del narrador, después de su regreso a España y unas peripecias más bien pícarescas lo que se preocupa a él en su vejez es algo enteramente distinto.  En breve, quiere entender los indios como hombres en vez de salvajes y quiere saber el propósito de su vida.  Él explica, por ejemplo, que "yo crecí con ellos, y puedo decir que, con los años, al horror y a la repugnancia que me inspiraron al principio los fue reemplazando la compasión.  Esa intemperie que los maltrataba, hecha de hambre, lluvias, frío, sequía, inundaciones, enfermadades y muerte, estaba adentro de una más grande, que los gobernaba con un rigor propio y sin medida, contra el que no tenían defensa, ya que por estar oculta no podían construir, como con la otra, armas o abrigos que la atenuaran" (101).  Más tarde, acordándose de las palabras no entendidas Def-ghi, def-ghi usadas reiteradamente por los indios. él añade que, "después de largas reflexiones, deduje que si me habían dado ese nombre, era porque me hacían compartir, con todo lo otro que llamaban de la misma manera, alguna esencia solidaria.  De mí esperaban que duplicara, como el agua, la imagen que daban de sí mismos, que repitiera sus gestos y palabras, que los representara en su ausencia y que fuese capaz, cuando me devolvieran a mis semejantes, de hacer como el espía o el adelantado que, por haber sido testigo de algo que el resto de la tribu todavía no había visto, pudiese volver sobre sus pasos para contárselo en detalle a todos.  Amenazados por todo eso que nos rige desde lo oscuro, manteniéndonos en el aire abierto hasta que un buen día, con un gesto súbito y caprichoso, nos devuelve a lo indistinto, querían que de su pasaje por ese espejismo material quedase un testigo y un sobreviviente que fuese, ante el mundo, su narrador" (162-163).  Dentro de un libro en cual el narrador ya había dicho que aprendiendo a leer y escribir constituyó "el único acto que podía justificar mi vida" (120), hay algo agridulce en esta meditación sobre el impulso de narrar y de rememorar.

Juan José Saer (1937-2005)

jueves, 12 de enero de 2017

Los mares del Sur

Los mares del Sur (Booket, 2016)
by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Spain, 1979

My favorite detective can beat up your favorite detective, got it?  Ace crime caper, situated in late 1970s Barcelona around the dawn of the democratic transition and hence long before the then gritty city was gussied up for the 1992 Summer Olympics, in which the mysterious disappearance--subsequently discovered to be a gruesome murder--of a rich Catalan industrialist and real estate developer leads private detective Pepe Carvalho down a Chandleresque rabbit warren filled with knife-wielding proles and equally cutthroat white collar criminals.  Really enjoyed this punchy, page-turning introduction to the world of Vázquez Montalbán.  Pepe Carvalho, a 40-something foodie, ex-con and former bibliophile who feeds his fireplace with texts from his 2,000 volume personal library since all books are "una chorrada" ["useless clutter"] (27), is an amusing enough center of attention throughout, and Vázquez Montalbán generously seasons the whodunit aspects of his smart and witty story with humor bookish (a send-up of a debate about the origins of the hardboiled novel! in-jokes about Juan Marsé!!) and earthy (a reflection on the advances in "márketing puteril," or streetwalkers' hustling, occasioned by a non-touristy walk down las Ramblas) (90) before the ending shows he's not just fucking around for laughs.  In its world-weary evocation of a troubled time and place, a not unworthy kindred spirit to the likes of Cela's La colmena and Polanski's Chinatown.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) y amigos

Muchísimas gracias to Paul of By the Firelight for his juicy review of Los mares del Sur [Southern Seas*] here.

*A Gauguin allusion embedded in the title begs the question why the English translation isn't The South Seas rather than the meaningless and nondescript Southern Seas, but go figure.

miércoles, 4 de enero de 2017

2016 Top 12

Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Belarus, 1997)
 Charles Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil (France, 1857 & 1861)

Albert Camus' La peste (French Algeria, 1947)
Antonio Di Benedetto's Zama (Argentina, 1956)

William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (USA, 1929)

Mouloud Feraoun's Journal.  1955-1962 (Algeria/French Algeria, 1962)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust.  A Tragedy (Germany, 1808 & 1832)
Ryszard Kapuściński's Un día más con vida (Poland, 1976 & 2000)
John le Carré's The Honourable Schoolboy (England, 1977)

J.M.G. Le Clézio's Le chercheur d'or (France, 1985)

Juan Carlos Onetti's Dejemos hablar al viento (Uruguay, 1979)

Richard Overy's Russia's War (England, 1997)
Honorable Mention
Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water (England, 1986); Yuri Herrera's Señales que precederán al fin del mundo (Mexico, 2009); Sergio Pitol's El mago de Viena (Mexico, 2005); Juan Villoro's Dios es redondo (Mexico, 2006).

*in alphabetical order by author [en orden alfabético por autor]*