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 ?

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