The islands by Carlos Gamerro

The Islands by Carlos Gamerro

Argentinian fiction

Translated by Ian Barnett with Carlos Gamerro

source review copy

Carlos Gamerro  born in 1962 ,studied literature  in Buenos Aires .He then became a visiting fellow in Cambridge .He is also a translator of English into Spanish he has translated Auden and Harold Blooms works into Spanish,He has also lived in Gibraltar for a time so has a small insight into the british side of the story   .Although this is his  second book published in English ,this was actually  his début novel he has so far written five novel .This book is also now a play as well .

Now this is the second book by Carlos Gamerro I’ve read in the last twelve months the first was open secret a story about the dirty war and the aftermath on one village in Argentina .Now in this book ” The islands” (Las Isla )is another story set in Argentina recent past .This time it is set in 1992 but looking back at the Falklands war .For those of you outside the UK I explain The Fakland islands are archipelago  of  2 large islands and 700 small islands that over its history had swapped through many hands til in 1833 it came under British rule ,but it has been disputed with its nearest neighbour Argentina that state a claim on the islands or as the call them Las Malvinas .This book is timely with the 30th anniversary of the war and also a recent heightening of the tension between the UK government and Argentina government over the sovereignty  of the islandsthis year   .So this dispute reach a new height in 1982 when Argentina invade the islands .This is where The Islands starts in 1992 a Computer Hacker Felipe Felix  is summoned to the Headquarters of a large company and the boss Fausto Tamerlan .Fausto wants Felipe to find out who witness a crime committed by his son  .Another son was in the Falklands .Then add in a armadillo shell stuffed with treasure and we have the start of a novel of multiple strands and some dead ends .

He opened them to look at me .

” My son killed someone ” ; he said .” in this very room .Threw him out of that window “.He pointed to the one immediately behind me .”Five nights ago .To explain what your job will be .You’ve been allowed a privilege reserved for a happy few ;to penetrate to the heart of the diamond .

Sr Tamerlan tells Felipe why he summoned him to the office .


Now Felipe is a man scared by the war himself his is a sort hacker come private investigator ,he spent the last ten years since the war in drugs and the virtual on-line world trying to escape the horrors he saw and the time he spent in a freezing trench on the islands .Now Felipe still knows all the right people knowing some veterans from the conflict ,via this he knows some one in SIDE the Argentina’s secret services .He finds out via hacking the computer files at SIDE that a certain major may have been involved in the son’s crime via the majors wife .But this major was also a dark figure from dirty war that wrote his diary about his time on the island .we view his world via his diary

25TH May 1982 – A glorious national holiday .We celebrated with a barbecue ,which improved the morale of the rank and file ,in spite of the two sheep that we sacrifice barely satisfying our hunger . The scarcity of provisions is alarming .Later ,after handing round some steaming mugs of mate ,which the Kelpers eagerly drank .I made a sort speech declaring them full Argentinian citizens .

from the diary of Major x ,Kelpers is the nickname for the Faklander islanders .

Oh rather like open secret was The island is a complex piece of writing crossing genres part war novel,part crime story ,part spy novel ,part road trip ,part confessional ,part cyber thriller .The  list is endless .a stream of different styles that take you into a mad world of broken men ,dead men ,dreams of grandeur and nightmares of defeat all play a part .We see the reasons for the war and the outfall from the Argentinian  point of view .Now I was only ten when the war happened and my memories are of the British side of the war .But I found this interview with Carlos on line quite enlightening .The war was quite horrific for both sides and as much as my memories before reading this novel are of the union jack flying and some of our troops that suffered horrific injuries ,this book opened my eyes to the suffering and the broken dreams of the men that went to chase a dream of capturing what to them was a dream of a better future and Felipe is one of those men . And in that future men of power still try to cover the crimes that are going on in the present as well as the past.He said Burroughs and Pynchon were influences whilst writing this book and I can see it has a twisted style like Burroughs and the scope of Pynchon works .This another read for spanish lit month

Have you read Carlos Gamerro ?


The she devil in the mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya

The she devil in the mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya

Salvadorian fiction

Translator Katherine Silver

Source – personnel copy

I read a couple of years ago Senselessness by Moya .He is one of the hidden gems of south american writing able to open the lid on all that is brutal in latin america .I feel he is best summed up by his friend Roberto Bolano in this quote from the cover .

The only writer of my generation who knows how to narrate the horror ,the secret Vietnam that Latin America was for a long time .

He has spent a long time away from Salvador ,first he went Mexico where he was a newspaper editor ,then Spain and germany he did briefly return to Salvador in the early nineties but currently lives in Mexico .

Weill the she devil in the mirror ,could be called a detective novel ,but it is a detective novel in the latin american vein IE not really a straight forward detective novel , a crime as happened we see it solved through some one but not the detective .The crime a woman has been killed her name is Olga Maria ,she owns a boutiquein the posh part of town and is in her late twenties .The person telling the story is her best friend Laura Rivera .We get the story told in one long monologue .This is a different vision to most Latin american novels as these are the upper class. We also meet the detective Deputy chief Handal .We follow Laura as she sees her friend’s life taken apart to find out what happened .

They let me know right away :Sergio ,Olga Maria’s brother called my house and said something terrible had happened ,Olga Maria had been “mortally wounded “during an attempt robbery .That’s what he said “mortally wounded” .I couldn’t believe it – I’d been with her just half hour earlier .

Laura learns her friend is dead .

The main thing we see through Laura’s monologue is what secrets do ,the is a feeling that the husband was wrapped up in something very suspect to do with money .As we she her try to find out among the people they knew in the upper reaches of Salvadoran society .Which may to be blame for the death of Olga Maria .Also what her husband was up to as the past starts to unfold his part in this maybe more .

This cappuccino is delicious ,Isn’t it ? you can tell it’s a real cappuccino ;in most places they just whip up the milk a little and pour it into any old coffee and call it a cappuccino ;what a fiasco .

Laura is a very lady like lady .

That quote shows how the monologue does sometimes get sidetracked by Laura as she tells us about the world around her and like in this example where to get the perfect coffee .We also maybe wonder at times how close Laura was to Olga and how reliable is what we seeing through her eyes is .So the journey isn’t straight forward to who killed Olga Maria but it is an interesting and eye-opening one .Also with a twist in a tail as Laura and Handal find out the truth .

Moyahas pulled a gem here ,Monologues are hard to write ,with seeming stayed or contrived .I read Trevor’s review last year he compared it with Hamid’s reluctant fundamentalist ,I agree with his view that this works better than the Hamid did ,Moya tends to turn the screw of the case being solved a little smoother than Hamid did .But I also think he may have used Camus.He also used monologue in his last novel” the fall “I do wonder if that book is maybe nearer Moya’s vision in this book as like Camus this book sometimes drifts into the dark places humans can make for them selves .

Have you read Moya ?

Nada by Carmen Laforet

Nada by Carmen Laforet

Spanish fiction

Translator Edith Grossman

Carmen Laforet is one of the great writers of modern Spanish fiction this was her début novel .Born in Barcelona in her early days she moved to Canary islands ,returning to Barcelona at 18 to study and she stayed with family .In 1944 penned this novel aged just 23 .She went on to writer a number of other novels but this her début is probably the best known and loved .she died in 2004 aged 83 .In spain the phrase Después de Nada is used a lot and came from her book .

So Nada (meaning nothing in spanish ) ,Follows Andrea a poor  orphan 18-year-old as she travel from the countryside to spend time with her family in the Catalan capital Barcelona ,she hasn’t seen them for years but knows they used to be well to do when she was young .Her  hope  is to study literature .So we see her arrive in the dead of night and enter the household of her Grandmother .This household with her aunties and uncles living there as well ,is a strange one to say the least .We see how she changes from a shy country girl into a modern woman .The family she expected  them to be well off but because the civil war they are broke .Reduced to living in a small room in the Calle de Airbau .They are all in there with the piano and  the uncle loves to play it .Andrea is shocked by how her family are living post civil war  .Another aunt runs away to join a cult ,her uncle Roman commits suicide .Andrea makes friends at university .We also glimpse the broken city of Barcelona that is trying to pick itself up off the floor after the civil war with the heart of the city a war-torn place .Jo Labanyi in her very short intro to Spanish fiction says she was shocked that due to the uncle Roman suicide as in 1945 when the book came out it was still illegal in Spain .Plus it isn’t very Franco friendly

In front of me was a foyer illuminated by a single weak light bulb in one of the arms of the magnificent lamp,dirty with cobwebs ,that hung from the ceiling .a dark background of articles of furniture piled one on top of the other as if the household were in the middle of moving .And in the foreground the black -white blotch of a decrepit little old woman in a nightgown ,a shawl thrown around her shoulder ,I wanted to believe I’d come to the wrong flat ,but good-natured old woman wore a smile of such sweet kindness that I was certain she was my grandmother .

Andrea entering her families home in Barcelona .

Now the book is told completely in first person narrative we see Andrea life through her eyes ,we see her life change was she interacts family ,they all have their problems and in a way this gives Andrea the strength to become a strong women over the year she spent in the house .It’s hard to pull of first person narrative with out it feel self-indulgent which this never does .I feel the strength of this book is that it is probably quite near to the writers own life she went to Barcelona spend time with her family .She was a very young woman at the time she wrote this and that is the made a lot of in reviews I read after I read the book .I did worry some times the feeling of a writer being a L’Enfant Terrible l,this is the feeling about Carmen Laforet can be of putting but this is a neatly written book of a young girls journey into womanhood and naturally this translation which is the third time into English works ,it should it is from Edith Grossman regarded by many as the finest translator from Spanish in the late 20th century .Andrea is a wonderful creation her life was a delight to read I thoroughly enjoyed the book .The book seems to be maybe an early example of the tremedismo style of Spanish literature that dealt with the civil and post civil war period championed by writers such as Cela

Have you read this book ?

Booker guessing 2012

Booker longlist 2012 guesses

Well I was in two minds about doing this two reasons I failed miserable last year and also I am much further away from the ebb and flow of what are the mover and shakers that are happening in English literary at this moment ,but I find twitter helps me keep up with what may be hot .I have had a love of the booker in my twenties when I read a lot of books from the lists ,so will use this years list as a guide to what I ll be buying in the next few months to read .I feel with Peter Stothard at the helm this year the list will be more to my taste than last years list .so I ll get my crystal ball out and give you my feeling for the longlist bakers dozen due out next week .

  1. Umbrella by Will Self – a change of direction for will in a way stream of consciousness writing this time but with a few familiar faces .I loved will’s early books and he should have been on a shortlist before now .
  2. Zoo time by Howard Jacobson his new one he won with his last and was writing this at the time an insight into publishing world through the novelist Guy Ableman .
  3. Capital by John Lancaster  the story of Pepys road a normal London street and via that street we see a cross-section of modern britain .as the street has all from the up and coming to the down and out 
  4. Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel The second part of the trilogy that started with the booker winner Wolf hall more of the life of Thomas Cromwell 
  5. Ancient light by John Banville an actor looks back at his teen years  in 50’s Ireland an illicit love affair in the fields and in the back of cars 
  6. Hawthorn and child by Keith Ridgway a couple of blogger been singing this ones praises .A middle-aged detective sorts through scatter clues an adventurous text they say ,Try Bolano I say 
  7. The casual vacancy by J K Rowling I know I may be off my head but it is her first adult book and set in an english village .I love book set in villages and would get people talking if it was there 
  8. Merivel A man of his time  by Rose Tremain ,she been on shortlists and maybe give Mantel a run for her money . Set in court of Charles II about the restoration man Robert Merivel a courtier and physician. 
  9. Pure Timothy Mo its been a long time since he had a book out over ten years I read one that made shortlist years ago be nice to see this book set in Thailand and dealing with Islam make the list 
  10. Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka a dying sportswriter tries to track the greatest cricketer in the world a spin bowler that disappeared .Mark of Eleutheropbia loved this one .
  11.  The Street sweeper by Eliot Perlman another that I know some blogs love ,Lisa from ANZ litlovers first drew my attention to it .an interwoven bunch of stories set in New York .
  12. All that I am by Anna Funder her first book stasiland was a prize winner and this is her first work of fiction set in 1933 follows a group of friends that have become outlaws due to hitler .
  13. well I going leave this blank can’t make mind up between Carey ,McEwan and strangely Amis (as TLS still seem to like him )

So what you think ?

Wonder how I will do this time ?

Traveller of the century by Andres Neuman

Traveller of the century by Andres Neuman

Argentina fiction

Translators Nick Casitor and Lorenza Garcia

Now when you read on the front cover this quote from Roberto Bolano ,which came from a piece called Neuman ,touched by grace (available in Bolano’s between parentheses)

The literature of the twenty first century will belong to Neumann and a few other blodd brothers of his

So when your faced with that you know you arte in for something special .Andres Neuman is Argentina born in 1977 ,he grew up in Buenos Aires and now like many of his fellow Argentinian writers lives in Spain ,he has a degree in Spanish Philology and has taught spanish american literature .He published his first novel age 22 .He has won a number of big Spanish lit prize with this and his earlier books .,this one the prestigious national critic awards .It is his fourth novel and the first to be translated to English .

Traveller of century is one of those hefty book that you know is going to be deep and meaningful before you open the cover and like a lot of very long books is hard to describe without writing a super long post and giving away too much . So I ll just be giving a flavour of the book .We meet the traveller of the title in a mystical nineteenth century Europe ,well what is modern Germany now , the strange city of Dessau .So Hans the traveller arrives he is on a long journey and this is a stop for him so armed with a huge case of books as he is a reader and translator himself , he enters the city.But this city is all that it seems ?So he goes to stay in the Inn in the town and over the next few day we see this strange town open up through the eyes of Hans .I decide to do some research on the town mention in the book I came to a work by the Asturian composer called Winterreise (winter journey) which sees a man on a journey stop at the town of Dessau songs include one about a Inn and one about a hurdy gurdy man who also appears in the book by Neuman .So it seems in part that is one influence for the book .Back to the story Hans falls for a pretty young girl in the village Sophie Gottlieb but she is with another man .We see Hans slowly woo Sophie and interact with the towns folk innkeeper Herr Zeit (zeit german for time ) .Hans is a translator and a philosophical type guy so there is much discussion of the philosophical movements of the time and writers like Goethe are mention .

This is the heterogenous basis of our thoughts,feelings and writings .In order to avoid getting lost in metaphor and upsetting you ,I shall try to give you a concrete example professor ,Does Goethe feel German on the one hand and the other speak in six languages ? or rather ,as an individual who speaks and reads several different languages,does Goethe feel in a specific way that is peculiar to him and which is this case expressed itself in the german language ?

So as you see deep stuff at times .

Well if you want to know Hans gets on does he get the women ,does he ever leave Dessau ? this and many other answers you will find out by reading the book .So how to place the book it is hard as it is epic in scale and due to that I ve struggled to cover it and feel I ll need to reread it at some point .But it has flavours of all those epic European writers Thomas Mann is the one that cropped up in the reviews and his Magic mountain a classic in the bildungsroman style (this will be another one day I feel) and is mention in a quote from a review in the back cover ,but I also felt bits of Calvino something of “if on a winter’s night ..2 expanded out to wide-screen ,also the early books of Orhan Pamuk sprung to my mind the books where things like thought ,philosophy and being are all brought together in a wonderful stew .I like Neuman’s little touches like the clever surnames zeit – time ,Gottlieb – god’s love and others just seems a clever wordplay .The way the city of Dessau seems to drift ,this in particular remind me of Calvino’s invisible cities a city that every time we see Hans in it seems to be different yet the same ,like Calvino managed in Invisible cities .SO what we get is book that on the surface seems like a European book but I feel at the heart of it is something very Argentina and that maybe is the struggle for identity the way writers like Neumann span continents and in a way manage to bring the best of europe and Latin american writing together ,so yes I agree with Bolano the twenty-first century does belong to Neuman and his blood brothers .This is another book for Spanish language lit month .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite Argentinian writer ?

A journey to nowhere by Jean-Paul Kauffmann

A journey to nowhere (detours and riddles in the lands and history of Courland) by Jean-Paul Kuaffmann

French non fiction

Translator Euan Cameron

Jean-Paul Kaufmann is a french Journalist ,he was born in Mayenne france .He became a Journalist and started working for the french press agency in Beirut in Lebanon in the 80’s in 1985 he was kidnapped and held for three years ,after the intervention of the French government was freed .He returned to France and started a magazine ,and at this time he started writing travel books and then in 2007 wrote about his captivity in Lebanon .He also wrote a book about Napoleon and St Helena ,this won a number of prizes  This book was published in 2009 in french and this year by Machlehose press in English .

Well a journey to nowhere ,is a real journey to nowhere .We follow Jean-paul who via a french Canadian called Mara  when he is national service ,discovered this place called Courland in the book on the french king louis XVII he sees the mention of a prince from this place he ask Mara she says find out about it that is what Jean-paul does that on his return from national service .Now I didn’t know about Courland til I opened this book ,it turns out in the opening pages the french writer Marguerite Yourcenar called Coup de grace was set the it is in the Baltic region  and makes up what is now called Latvia but it’s  Northern half  the costal part of latvia .So when the chance arrives to goand find out more he goes  to Riga and then on it what was Courland. Jean-Paul takes the chance to see what happened and what remains of this once special little nation .So we arrive and he is using a red Skoda to get round this country .We see how the duchy of Courland was quite a enlighten place with even its own two small overseas post one in Gambia the over in Tobago became a part of first russia and the germany and finally  part of Latvia till now their are few that even remember it all even call themselves Courlanders .We discover the little country the knights of the Livonia til 1500 then the duchy .We meet present day people who live there how varied there reactions are ,figures from the past like Eduard Von keyserling a writer that was maybe a link between Turgenev’s writing and the likes of Franz Kafka .We see Jean-Paul like a Holmes of the Baltic piece together the bits of this land then and now .

“we haven’t come to Courland for its gastronomy “, says Joelle

She could not have put it better .People’s relationship with food seems purely functional here,but that may only be an impression .We are what we eat ,popular wisdom decrees .Jean-Jacques Rousseau maintained that the English ,with their love of very rare roast beef ,could not be a perverted and violent people .What are the Courlanders ,then ? To judge by the restaurants we’re visited ,the cuisine is peasant based .Pork and potatoes reign supreme

the cuisine of Courland discussed .

Well this book is one of those books that could sit on the shelf next to my  Bruce Chatwin’s ,W g Sebald’s or last years favourite Edmund de Waal .It is one of those books where the narrative digresses here and there , in fact in this book they drift from the grand past of Courland to the grey post communist Latvia as we see Jean-Paul ,piece it all together in  piffy chapters .I found he had a dry humour and a very keen eye on the world around him picking small details up and expanding them out . Almost like a clever tie together of great blog post  written about this place but these are all written by Jean-Paul but each chapter seems like another piece of a huge jigsaw .So if you want to see what happens to the little country of europe maybe read this ,I was reminded of the film the Mouse that roared this little place had manage to go out to Africa and the Caribbean and set up shop .one for all lover of travel with history books I think any way ..

Have you read this book ?

Have you read the Yourcenar book ?



Antwerp by Roberto Bolano

Antwerp by Roberto Bolano

Chilean fiction

Translated by Natasha Wimmer

Well I wasn’t going to cover Bolano over Spanish lit month .But then I was in library and saw they had this one ,which had been one I wanted to try of the seemingly endless number of books after the Late Roberto’s death as it was his first try at Novel writing having started as a poet .So this book written when Bolano was 27 and was living in Barcelona ,this is around the time he meet his future wife Carolina Lopez .This book is set in the area round Barcelona called the Costa Brava .

The only novel that doesn’t embarrass me is Antwerp

A quote on the front cover from Bolano .

When I first saw this book which is a loose crime novel ,that is made up of 56 connect /unconnected narratives .My first thoughts was Borges I don’t know why I ve read many interviews where Bolano mention the Argentina master .But then my mind drifted to the experiential nature of the book and books like if on a winter’s night as Bolano appears to be one of the mostly unnamed narrators of this book .Like Italo Calvino’ the book seems to want you to be drawn in and maybe connect the snippets that we are given to make a whole picture ,thus making the reader work as they read which is a wonderful tool  .I also thought of  the book by B.S Johnson The unfortunates which like Antwerp is a collection of vignettes mostly from unnamed narrators  around a football match  and some one suffering cancer .But it  can be mixed up apart from the last and first chapter  I felt this book could be just the same and would maybe felt  different every time you read  as you remember different bits and piece them in a different way .So what is the book is a patchwork of incidents ,policemen having sex with a girl in a seedy hotel room ,a red-headed girl who is camping ,A hunchback  and of course Roberto himself .Small piece non more than three pages . Each piece is like a memory or dream you’re not sure which adding to the mystery of the book .

19 romantic novel

I was silent for a moment and then I asked whether he really thought Roberto Bolano had helped the hunchback just because years ago he was in love with a mexican girl and the hunchback was mexican too ,Yes said the guitarist ,it sounds like a cheap romance novel ,but I don’t know how else to explain it mean in those days Bolano wasn’t overflowing with solidarity or desperation ,two good reasons to help the Mexican but nostalgia ,on the other hand .

One vignette but also a classic Bolano I felt .



I was astound he didn’t decide to publish it till twenty years after he wrote .I personally feel  that it was maybe the second favourite book of his I ve read. But also was maybe a signpost to all that followed in  Bolanos writing life . The crime element and a murder you can see in the skating rink which is set in the same area of Spain .The vignette style is maybe expanded in nazi literature of america another book with a non linear narrative  but where the idea surround the book is the main drive .The main drive in this book is tackling the crime novel ,but also maybe a way to bring poetic values to a fiction novel .I felt he tackled a way to bring a more poetic form to narrative fiction .Maybe the chaos of the book and how it can be read in different ways is like his two epics 2666 and savage detectives where you can feel lost at times but also draw your own views as your lost in his proses .Also Mexico creeps in the book via Mexican Hunchback .So If David lynch moved to spain and had written novels this would be by him .In fact I expand on that David Lynch could work this into a wonderful series there is so much in this for so little I feel this is a book I ll buy and re read time and time again .Another Spanish lit month read .

Have you read this book ?

Potiki by Patricia Grace

Potiki By Patricia Grace

New Zealand fiction

I had hope to get to this over weekend but I m a day late for the lovely Lisa of Anzlitloves Indigenous week .I choose a book from the Well known New Zealand writer Patricia Grace .She is probably the best known Maori writer ,she has written novels ,short stories and children’s books .She has published seven novels ,this Potiki is the best known and won the New Zealand fiction prize .

Well Potiki what is it about .Well in some ways it may be called a classic indigenous novel as it talks the clash of indigenous Maori’s in a small coastal community as the face the fact they might have to move from the tribal home to a new settlement .So we enter the village and I love the way Patricia took use through the villagers as  the families as they wrestle with the idea of moving .The Tamihanas have lived there for years and are tied to the land The parents children a disable relative and the kids all tell the story ,as each chapter is a different point of view as the story of the family struggles to keep the place they call home from the hands of the developer .The are talked to by a man the call dollarman a mr Dolman who struggles to grasp why they want to stay .He wants to turn this place into a soulless place for fun ,where as the Tamihana’s want to keep it alive with the souls from the past years .

There is something else to do with my five-year old story and the story of my big fish .It is to do with passionfruit vine  .”vine ” and “brine ” were both new words to me then .and these words quickly recall that for me whenever I hear them .

My mother Roimata had taken a passion fruit cutting from Granny Tamihana’s vine .At the time when I caught my first big fish the cutting was dry and without life ,that’s what I’ve been told .

Toko talks about his family and you see the traditions .

This book is the classic in the “past versus the future” argument  modern society against ancient traditions .The book does descend into fighting at the end .As the two sides dig their trenches .I’d had this book on my shelves for a few years after buying it to be a book from New Zealand for the challenge that first started  Winston dads journey it then sat on my shelves. So many thanks Lisa for making me read it. The book has a clever structure to it , like the traditional feel of  story telling with each of the chapters in a way is  like being round a fire and each member of this Maori community adding their bit to the story . I did struggle with the frequent use of Maori words but check them on-line when I felt I need to but ,this also added to the book it is a Maori story at the end of the day and there words add to the prose .It’s nice to see a writer keeping he traditional language alive in such a way .

They do not clearly hear the footfalls ,some of them their own .They cannot see the shadowless forms ,forms of which they themselves may be shadows ,taking up and shouldering the sun-bleached wood

From the last page

So if you want a book that gives you a small insight into the Maori world I think this may be a good start .I seen films like when we were warriors and whale rider and this book has given me a wish to seek so more out .I can finally cross New Zealand of the list .

Have you read this book ?

The shadow of what we were by Luis Sepulveda

The shadow of what we were by Luis Sepulveda

Chilean Fiction

Translated by Howard Curtis

Luis Sepulveda is a real character of chilean fiction and politics ,his bio reads like a huge novel.A student activist then a member of the Allende regime in the late sixties ,where he was involved in the culture department one thing he did was make cheap copies of classic books available to all in Chile .When Pinochet came to power ,he flew the coup set up a drama group protesting at the Pinochet regime He was caught and tried ,then sentenced to life in prison then reduced to 28 years and then finally  8 years   in exile after he had spent two years in prison .He then spent time in Germany as he had loved reading German literature in prison, Argentina and Uruguay he is involved in teaching indians to read to help them selves .He is involved with Greenpeace and goes on their ships round the world  .All that he has written over 15 novels and made four films as a director .Quite a life .

To my comrades ,male and female

who fell ,and picked themselves up ,

Licked their wounds .cultivated their laughter ,

Preserved their Gaiety ,and carried on regardless .

A preface from Luis I felt caught the spirit of this book well .

So the shadow of what we were ,what is it about well it is a story of old rebels meeting .These three friends who all fought in the socialist liberation army as supporters for the Allende regime after the coup by Augusto Pinochet .They meet after a request from an old comrade an anarchist known “the shadow ”  .But he has been held up and they ve  got to sort it for him themselves and these three aren’t the best at planning lets say .They on a hunt for some money that was from a bank robbery that the Shadows grandfather had carried out in 1925 ,he was a sort of Chilean Robin Hood of his day .So they ve been asked to rescue it and are in a whare house   .But this is thirty years on from their days as freedom fighters and they have maybe settled and have other lives in exile .So  they drift into conversations on the trivial in their own lives  Chilean wine ,coffee why they are so good and such .So a plan is hatched and the man chosen to do the Job is Coco Avarena ,he is the butt of the jokes in the past from his fellow comrades  ,a bit of a disaster area I picture a frank spencer type guy a nice chap but one hell of whirlwind of things going wrong . So I let you find out if they find the money or not .

They ate,drank ,and talked of their lives ,while the rain ,which showed no sign of stopping clattered on the roof .They didn’t say so ,but the three of them felt good here ,by the fire they talked ,reviving the lost custom of a good chat over wine .

They meet and chat away .

Well Luis Sepulveda is a new writer to me ,this is the first book I’ve read by him and I now ask myself why I d not tried him before but that said it looks like he has only had a couple of books translated .The book is filled with a wry dry humour of people looking back after time with lighter eyes on their past .But also a large chunk of sadness at fallen comrades things that were lost when Pinochet took over .This is one of those books you love from Europa editions  maybe not  a straight forward choice for translation as it is a little left field . But I learnt a lot about how it felt to be involved in Chile at the time  the way people just disappeared ,went in exile and were just killed by the Pinochet regime .We also  see how time affects people who were fierce in there youth and maybe have mellowed over time  .Sepulveda is maybe best placed having lived in  the times of the characters  and also been involved in the resistance to Pinochet .I really hope some of his other books make it to English I was moved by this book from laughter to tears .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite Chilean writer ?

The Blue hour by Alonso Cueto

The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto

Peruvian fiction

Translated by Frank Wynne

Alonso Cueto like his fellow Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo is another rising star of spanish language fiction from Peru .Although older than Santiago he went to university in the Us .He complete his first novel in 1983 ,he is editor of the debate a peruvian magazine  and section in the newspaper El comercio and teaches at two universities .The blue hour is his first book to be translated to English .It won the Prestigious Premio Herralde de novela previous winners include Bolano ,Vila-Matas and Tsyzka .

They’ll recognise me or my wife Claudia .My wife Claudia .It feels strange calling her that as thou she was a stranger .The arc of her name reminds me of a rainbow – at least that’s what I told her last night .

Adrian on his wife .

The book is about the civil war in Peru the battle with the Shining path that last Ten year .Told through the story of Adrian Ormache ,a succesful lawyer from lima a man on the up a well-known man the son of the famous Colonel Ormache who had led many successful operations during the war against the Shining path .But all that is about to change as his mother dies and the is a dark secret in his fathers past .His view of his father is changed beyond belief the shining Naval officer he saw as his father turn out to be a torturer and rapist ,the solders he left to killed at will .Then there is a women his father had an affair with Miriam a prisoner  who he may have let escape ,what has she to tell Adrian .He starts to trouble who he is ,after he is so wrong about who is father was and then wondered why his mother did nothing .We see a patchwork of lies,brutality ,misery and violence face Adrian in his search for the truth .Will him and Claudia and his two lovely daughters ever be the same .

Suddenly in a rush that surprised  even me ,I remembered something else .I wasn’t sure whether it was something I had actually heard or something I  simply imagined.I dimly remembered that just before his fight with Guayo ,Chacho had told me that when she ran away ,Miriam wa pregnant

I jotted down

7 possibly …..

Adrian making a list of what he needs to find out .after his mothers death .

Well its easy to compare this to Red April Santiago’s book I mean they are both about the shining path ,both writers from Lima ,both are very realist writers yes it be easy but they are different in so many ways .  this is a book about families as much as it is about  Peru ‘s recent past ,the relationships we find  in families Father  to son ,mother to son ,parents to children  and husband and wife and what happens when war ,lies and sex get in the way of this oh and throw in a pretty young women from the other side .You may be feeling sorry for Adrian after reading what I put in the second paragraph , but don’t he isn’t going through this pain to cleanse himself .No he is shallow lawyer wanting to climb greasy pole  and is worried how these revelations will affect him in the eyes of his peers a .He is the classic guy that want to find something out but only to hide it away at a later date a classic anti-hero and a bit of a bastard rather like his father and maybe as the books goes on you see more of the father in the son ,We also learn that in a big city like Lima where the book is set ,there are many different people all within a small area and you may even be connect with the ones on the bottom if your near the top  .If  I want to compare him to a latin american writer .I think Cueto is closer to Juan Carlos Onetti in style Onetti a writer of existentialists movement a pessimist in what he  wrote of life in all its myriads and the man Cueto wrote his dissertation  on  is maybe the writer I most see in his work that and some of LLosa how of course being the most successful Peruvian writer must be an inspiration to all current writers .

What Peruvian fiction you read ?

Do you like books with a narrator you may not like ?#

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July 2012


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