Not to read by Alejandro Zambra

Not to read by Alejandro Zambra

Chilean essays

Original title  – No Leer

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source – personal copy

I was talking last week on twitter on #Translationthurs about what books people are reading. Jeff a fellow translation fan said he was in the middle of this book the latest by Zambra to be translated into English and also the first non-fiction to be translated into English.I have reviewed his novel ways of going home and his short story collection My documents. Which like this collection came out on Fitzcarraldo editions. I loved his short story collection so was looking forward to this as it was a collection of short essays.

The Mexican Josefina Vicens preferred the slippery simplicity of natrual phrases, even if she had to spend years searching for them. In one of the few interviews she granted. She tells of that time Julio Rulfo asked her why she was taking so long to publish another novel. The joke made sense, since in the end of Vicen’s oeuvre turned out to be even smaller than Rulfo’s: her two novels were recently published together in a volume that could fit in a shirt pocket.

Her most well known work El libro Vacio (the empty book), from 1958 which took eight years to write and which depicts the process of a man fighting against a blank page

A novel about writers block , I hope this books gets reissued at some point.

This is a collection of short piece where we discover what drives Zambra as a reader. From the first piece Obligatory reading about those books that we tackle in school. He talks about what he feels of the choice of Madame Bovary, where he learns for the first time movie adaptions can be a little liberal with the story. Then we have a piece about the great Argentina writer Julio Cortazar. He talks about how good the writer is and how he is a fond memory from school. The essays are like discovering little gems,  as the essays go on we see times he read photocopies of great books passed around when he was studying. He  mentions writer after writer, people like Josefina Vicens  and Nicanor Parra the first a great Mexican writer, I looked up but only one book translated and it wasn’t available at a sensible price then we have the great Chilean poet Parra who passed earlier this year, a number of his poems can be found online he is was called the alpha male of Chilean letters. Later he visits the hometown of Cesare Pavese, now one of his books is due out this summer from Penguin and Peter Owen have also published a number. Zambra talks about how he was searching for the settings of the books as he wandered around where he lived.

Only now do I fully take in the landscape. A tranquil green lingers in the eyes and it seems I can take everything in with just one long look: te valley , the hill. the church, the ruins of a medieval tower. I search for the setting of the moon and the bonfire . I adjust the image to position the Belbo river and the road to Caneli, which is the novels vanishing point, the corner where the worlds begin.

Zambra visiting the home town of Pavase and trying to find the setting for one of his great novels.

This is just a small glimpse at the writers mentioned in the book. As with his novels and short stories, Zambra is the master of the small. He is almost like a Bonsai master his piece are so neatly trimmed that they are almost like a gallery of his trees the root of his writing is that of him as a reader for to be a great writer one must also be a great reader. Here we see those roots of him as a reader but also why he reads this book over another book a sort of system of choice he makes. Also what he finds in writers from the Julio Riberyio a fellow Chilean, who is very shy or as he say when Mario Vargas Llosa called him “the shyest man he has ever met ” and that from the least shy writer from Peru as Zambra puts it. A great collection and a wonderful journey with a reader around the world lit and in particular Latin American fiction, I have added a few writers to my list of writers to read

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: That was the month that was April 2018 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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