Based on the two-volume Cuentos completos published by Emecé in 2000, Balderston’s NYRB Classics edition, Thus Were Their Faces, selects from each of the seven volumes of stories that Ocampo published in her lifetime. Two-thirds of the stories—twenty-eight out of forty-two—are drawn from two collections published in 1959 and 1961 respectively. The early fiction is somewhat under-represented. Ocampo’s first collection, Viaje olvidado (1937; “Forgotten Journey”), the only book of stories she published prior to marrying Bioy (though she was probably already living with him when she wrote many of the stories), is both more female and more feminist than the work she produced after she had co-edited the anthology of fantastic literature.
Sphinx is a typical love story only in the way that it’s the tale of two people who have fallen in love, and things don’t go smoothly. Beyond that, there is something drastically different going on here. I’m afraid I’ll have to let the cat out of the bag: as reader, you have no idea of the gender of either half of this romantic equation. This information is artfully withheld by the author (and again in English by the translator, Emma Ramadan). While explaining the constraint at play is necessary to us for the purposes of this review, I’ll refrain from a full-out spoiler by not unveiling the final solution to the enigma. In Sphinx, which is told in the first-person, there are two principal characters. I, the genderless “me” of the narrator, and the object of this person’s desire, A***.
“I’ve been there,” says a crooked, camphor-scented woman seated next to me on the bus from Manhattan to Philadelphia (“The bus negotiates the winter night”†); her voice has an odd pitch to it, part Cockney, part eastern seaboard. She nods her head toward the cover of the book I’m holding. “I see it sometimes in dreams,” she goes on, “but I would never, ever return to it willingly.” It was Tomas Tranströmer’s The Deleted World. The Nobel laureate has said that his poems are “meeting places”: I meet Alice, then, on a two-hour bus journey, during which she recounts her own deleted world.
The final reckoning we make is with our memories. One we have navigated every test life has given us, and all that lies on our horizon is eternity, at this point we must square with what we have wrought in our years. This is the scythe that comes to cut us down when all else in life is done. The tale of that judgment is what Ishiguro gives us. It is the story of that scythe, a lifetime in the making, arcing through those deeds long past to see if it can strike us down.
Alicia didn’t go in for moderation, and was even excessive in many ways, but she was just what I needed at that time, the only relationship that could give me back some form of enthusiasm for Madrid and so postpone my return to Mexico, which I’d been announcing to family and friends during the last months, fed up as I was with my solitude and, more specifically, my single state.
Published in Issue 40 Life Embitters by Josep Pla (trans. Peter Bush). $20.00, 600 pp. Archipelago Books. Life Embitters by Josep Pla (1897-1981) is a collection of stories containing landscape descriptions, sociological judgments of the behavior of his fellow Catalans, and ventures into the mores of England, France, and Germany. Aside from Pla’s Preface, there [...]
The art movement was one of the early twentieth century’s great revelations. In conditions of war and economic collapse, of revolution and social engineering, artists and writers increasingly banded together under common manifestos to promote an aesthetic agenda. The romantic image of the lone creator, progressing an artistic craft out of a singular style, gave way to the collective. Of course, more personalities also meant more confusion, especially where Tristan Tzara’s and Breton’s camps were concerned. As –ism piled upon –ism, it became increasingly difficult to keep everything straight: What are the rules? Is anyone in charge? Who’s a member? And are they sexually available? Indeed, there’s an aspect of the Rabelaisian carnival at the center of the early manifesto era; the exchange of ideas, urges, and bodies unifies the collective, making it whole and self-aware through pleasure, pain, and laughter. For Enrique Vila-Matas, somewhere in the tangled network of Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, and their attendant bodies is A Brief History of Portable Literature.
If it can accurately be said that Robert Walser is a writer enamored of restriction, one would do well to remember that in his works distillation becomes a form of literary grace. That irreducibility is part and parcel of Fairy Tales, a collection of dramolettes in which Walser’s trademark irony and delightfully playful language belie a pointed deconstruction of traditional dramatic and mythic forms.
In 2008, the celebrated Mozambican writer Mia Couto received the kind of gift that writers pray for: a real-life experience full of danger, drama, and supernatural overtones, seemingly custom-made for a book. A biologist by profession, Couto was responsible for fifteen young environmental field officers who were sent to Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado as part of an oil company’s seismic exploration. Around that time, a series of fatal lion attacks broke out in the same area. Hunters were sent from the capital to protect the field officers, who were traveling on foot and sleeping in tents. Local people suggested there was something uncanny about the killer lions, and the hunters deduced that these dark suspicions grew from buried social conflicts.
The unnamed narrator of Bae Suah’s Nowhere to Be Found drifts through her days and the lives of people around her as if they are an out of focus background. The narrator observes her own actions, uncertain of her motivations, while she works as a temp at a university, “the kind of clerical work that anyone could have done without any special qualifications or expertise.” Her job is dreary, her education useless, her mother an alcoholic, her father absent, her older brother leaving for janitorial work in Japan; her little sister is the only hopeful member of her family. She resents all of this, dryly, wearily.
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