Although Yuri Rytkheu (1930–2008) wrote in Russian, he preserved through his fiction the history of the Chukchi people—the native Siberian tribe of Chukotka, the region lying just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. There are maybe 12,000 Chukotka inhabitants today, but in spite of revival efforts in the post-Soviet years, few are able to read in their native Chukchi language. Indeed, under Communism, Rytkheu’s efforts to depict the customs and values of his ancient people faced crippling censorship from the state or were marred by painful self-censorship. Only with the emergence of glasnost and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union was the author able to liberate himself fully and publish more freely abroad. In the last decade much of his work has enjoyed repatriation. This story is taken from Rythkeu’s remarkable collection The Chukchi Bible (forthcoming in English translation by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse and Archipelago Books).
On the day of Bachmaier’s funeral there were two messages from my mother waiting for me on the answering machine. In the first one she asked me to call her back, in the second she said that the village was in an uproar: I was to come at once. Calls from my mother were rare.
In Tropical Bestiary: Dictator Chronicles, Colombian author Alfredo Iriarte wrote hilarious, grotesque biographies of nine Latin American dictators. The following chapter narrates the heartwarming tale of Bolivian dictator Mariano Melgarejo and his equine sidekick Holofernes. A profile of Alfredo Iriarte can be found here in the current issue of The Quarterly Conversation.
Providence (2009) is Juan Francisco Ferré’s most ambitious novel, his longest and more complex fictional work to date. Written during one of his stays at Brown University, Providence, as much as Ferré’s previous books, is a deeply erotic, abrasively satirical, gargantuan fiction dealing with both contemporary American culture and Spanish literary tradition. But rather than focusing on cultural differences, Ferré investigates the common literary roots of the new global culture, producing a true “transatlantic” fiction—in some sense. Providence could be considered as much a Spanish novel about America as an American novel written in Spanish.
I thought it strange the baby not crying. I wanted to get up and check that it was all right, but I was worried I’d hurt myself, plus I was in a bit of a daze—it was as though my eyelids weighed more than usual. I asked myself: what dreams would I have had while I was under? I couldn’t remember a thing. Strange, because I always dream, and I always remember my dreams. I’d had a recurring nightmare over the previous nine months, over and over: in agony, I’d be giving birth to a baby that made a sound like a cat.
Auster has always just been my kind of writer. Whatever anyone else says, I’ve always found him simply charming. And just as I can allow him his minor faults, I’m also glad when he does well. There’s something graceful about his writing that places him, along with the likes of Stevenson, in Fernando Savater’s category of enchanters. “It’s hardly scientific as a literary critical category, I know”, says Savater, “but I’m only writing for proper readers, and I know they’ll know what I mean.” This charm, for Savater,is easier to distinguish by what it isn’t: it isn’t genius, profundity, brio, or formal perfection, and neither could it be called an innovative or a classical bent; a minor author might have the touch and still never break into the highest ranks of world literature. But when combined with other qualities, it can make addicts of us.
One thing led to another, and that was just the beginning. I’m talking about the head resting in the plate of cannelloni. Heavy, still, and deaf, and attached to Pedro Akira’s compact body by a strong and manly neck. Oblivious to all the consequences this stillness began to unleash outside the Italian restaurant, in other heads and along other streets, more primary than secondary. Consequences transformed into actions that now, seen from here, from this requisite distance, seem like terrified ants running away from each other, ants fleeing from their own shadows. But that came later, five hours after the first memorable event of the day already briefly described—the breaking of the string on my double bass—which doesn’t seem worth mentioning but really is, and the reason shall soon be seen by those who are listening to this.
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.
The new, much-discussed attraction at Disneyland, begun three months ago, has become now the highlight, the main fascination of daily, unending crowds. The attraction in question is a gargantuan maze, which claims to lose all who dare enter its meter-wide lanes, its gray three-meter-high walls, offering mirror after mirror of varying size, depth, deceptive illusion. There is no short supply of the brave: on the average there are eleven-hundred-twenty three entrants per day.
No one had seen the first accident coming. True, it might still seem fairly mild: a brief tremor brought the beginnings of panic to the countryside around Mouscron, doing damage to a few farms, uprooting fences and signs. Streets and people were, for the most part, spared. The authorities had quickly taken control of the situation and proved reassuring. The accidents that followed were more significant in other ways.
El dorado (2008), Juan-Cantavella’s breakthrough novel, turns its attention to the conflicts and issues of Spain today. Juan-Cantavella begins in Marina D’Or, one of the huge, bunker-like mass tourist traps built on the Spanish coast over the last decades. Halfway between A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (things are not helped by the protagonist’s deviant ways . . .), the book’s blistering opening sets the tone for what follows. Fearing for his life, our hero flees to Valencia, where the Pope is about to celebrate the World Families Meeting. There, with the help of Brona, his faithful sidekick, he intends to find the mythical Eldorado. Obviously, things are about to go awry . . .
The Girl with the Golden Parasol follows Rahul, a non-Brahmin, who finagles his way as a student into the department of Hindi: one of the most corrupt in the university, and a “den of Brahminism.” He does so after falling utterly for Anjali, a Brahmin girl, who, through simple bad luck, could find a home in no other department. The narrative chronicles exactly how the powers-that-still-be in India have harnessed globalization to further consolidate power over language and culture at the most local of levels. It’s also a love story, and a tale of students protesting the corruption of the Indian university system.
My name is Domingo. Actually, Domingo is my password here in the laboratory. Just by uttering this name—which I chose—I can enter bedrooms and bathrooms, I can make phone calls, obtain food and drink, access the temperature, hygiene, and communication systems, send and receive email, carry out Internet transactions to purchase any supplies we need. Without it, I’d be trapped in my room. If I were to suffer a psycholinguistic disruption, or if the effect of some microorganism rendered me voiceless, I’d just die of starvation.
“Lizard à la Heart” is the opening story in Roberto Ransom’s short story collection Desaparecidos, animales y artistas (Conaculta, 1999), which I’ve translated as “Missing Persons, Animals and Artists.” Ransom is an award-winning Mexican writer whose published work includes novels, short-story collections, poetry, essays as well as children’s literature. The stories in “Missing Persons, Animals and Artists” possess great humanity—in their exploration of character, emotional depth, and universal themes—and deliver an impact akin to Cortázar and Poe. Told in a clean, elegant prose style, they make use of irony and premises that are whimsical, and at times fantastical; their protagonists are elusive animals and artists or other individuals. In the story that follows, for example, the narrator speaks to her pet, a lonely crocodile she keeps locked in her bathroom, imagining it swimming in the tub. Thus begins Ransom’s mysterious and existential tale.
Los Muertos is what one might call post-Sebaldian catastrophe literature: how can we talk about horror, war, violence, camps today? If one thing is clear, it’s that Carrión doesn’t want to do it à la 19th-century realism, which sets him apart from many Spanish writers (Antonio Muñoz Molina comes to mind) and makes him close, in spirit at least, to Juan Goytisolo, W.G. Sebald, and Ricardo Piglia, authors to which he dedicated lengthy critical studies. That Los Muertos talks about such loaded themes in what seems to be an entirely fictitious framework is probably its strongest achievement. This debut novel is the first volume of a trilogy that might very well become one of the high points of Spanish fiction thus far this century.
The chronicles of Itaguaí tell that long ago there lived in town a certain Doctor Simeon Blunderbuss, a man of noble birth and the greatest doctor in Brazil, Portugal, and both Old and New Spains. He had studied at Coimbra and at Padua before returning to Brazil at the age of thirty-four. The King could not manage to convince him to stay on in Coimbra as regent of the university, nor in Lisbon directing royal affairs.
“You’re not taking my leg.”
“Mother . . . “
“Out of the question. I’m sixty-three years old and I’ve had this leg all my life. Nothing changes that.”
“This is a matter of life and death.”
“Well, then I’ll just die!”
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