The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Argentinean  fiction

Original title – Las Aventuras de la China Iron

Translators – Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre

Source – personal copy

I had chosen on my own list of the books I wanted to see on the Booker longlist the book Loop was one from Charco I had already read, I have so far reviewed a number of books from Charo press over the last few years. including Die my love which made the longlist two years ago and I had reviewed the other book from Gabriela Slum Virgin. So when this made the list I got it straight away. This is her last novel to be published in Spanish and the second to be translated into English. This is a historic reframing of the Classic poem Martin Fierro which is considered an important work of historic Argentinean literature.

It’s difficult to know what you remeber, is it what actually happened? Or is it the story that you’ve told and re-told and polished like a gemstone over the course of years, like something that has lustre but lifeless as a stone? If it weren’t for my dreams, for the recurring nightmare I have where I’m a gruby barefoot girl again, with nothing to my name but a sweet little puppy and a few ragged clothes; if it weren’t for the thump I feel here in my chest, the tightness in my throat on the rare occasions that I go the city and see a skinny , bedraggled little creature hardly there at all; basicaly, if it weren’t for my dreams and the trembling of my body, I wouldn’t know what I’m tell you is true

The opening of the chapter wagon from China black about her journey!

The book takes a woman that could be Martin Fierro’s wife she has a husband that has left her behind like in the epic poem. Her name is China Iron(Fierro is Spanish for Iron). She has been left in a remote encampment so when she sees the chance to leave with an English woman who is heading off in a wagon the Woman Liz is a Scottish woman fierce in spirit. The two women and another rancher Rosario looking for fertile land for his cattle. The trio well the story soon ends up as the two women as we pass through the hinterlands of Argentina. We see the wonderful countryside which is wonderfully described. As the two women draw closer Liz teaches China about the Brtish empire as the head through the pampas and fort. Then they hit Indian territory as the women grow closer the is an awakening of other feelings in them both. Later on in the book to add a twist Martin Henradez the writer of Martin Fierro is added as a character. A book that adds a feminist angle to the Argentinean classic.  It also gives a voice to the LGBT characters at a time when they would haven’t been able to have a voice.

While the land grew into a whole globe in front of me, another world took shape on the wagon. Me, Liz and Estreya were a trinty, within a rectangle strating from the oxen,, one line along the roof, another at the trunk to the rear of the wagon and one running along the ground

“Only here in the pampa could a wagon create a birs eye view, observed Liz and so I found out what prespective was and noted that indedd, the few animal thst stand out on

Later on when the wagon is in the Pampas

I really liked Slum virgin and in parts, I loved this book we have in the shadow panel talked about it and I think a deeper knowledge of Martin Fierro is maybe needed especially later in the book which with its poetic [assages and the introduction of Hermandez mirrors the poem even more. Bolano also mentioned Fierro in his book the secret of evil that had a piece about it and Pynchon also referred to it in Gravity’s rainbow this work is the Argentinean Don Quixote it is at the heart of what makes the males in argentian what they are in a way so when Gabriela takes a side shoot at this work and reframes it around the woman left behind doing something similar to what Geraldine brooks did with her work March which swaps the classic Little women from the female narrative to the male narrative of Mr. March heading homing here Gabriela has done the opposite and taken a female narrative to a great male narrative and also add a twist of a love affair and set all this against the unspoiled background of 1872 Argentina and the wanting of British to come there add many threads to this work but I still felt Had I a deeper reading of the poem I had read the first couple of pages to get a feel of it but felt a closer reading would be required. Have you read this book?

A general theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

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A general theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Angolan fiction

Original title – Teoria Geral do Esquecimento

Translator – Daniel Hahn

Source – copy from translator

I was lucky that Daniel saw I was after this when it was mentioned on the longlist for the Man booker international prize. He said he had a spare copy of the us edition (extra bonus as it is an archipelago books copy so very pretty as well ) . I had looked for this on ,my library system just before the man booker but they hadn’t a copy as the book of chameleon by Jose Eduardo Agualusa an earlier book by him had won the prize and also been one I had really enjoyed. Jose Eduardo Agualusa  is not just a writer,  he has a radio show dedicate to African song and poetry and also publish books from around the Portuguese speaking world .

Ludo opened the box. Inside, looking fearfully at her, she found a little white newborn puppy.

“He’s a male. A German shepherd ” Orlando explained. “They grow quickly. This one’s an albino, rather unusual. He shouldn’t get too much sun. What are you going to call him ?”

Ludo didn’t hesitate

“Phantom!”

“Phantom?”

Orlando shrugged his bony shoulders

“Very well. Then Phantom he shall be ”

Ludo gets her dog. Now the strange thing is my Mum has a dog his name is also Phantom he is a greyhound thou I love the way books and real life cross sometimes.

A general theory of Oblivion follows one woman story but not just that the story of her home and homeland post freedom Ludo a woman decides on the eve of Angola becoming a free country to brick herself away from the outside world into her apartment. What follows is a collection of her life and what she glimpses from behind the walls . As she faces life through her collection of books her albino German shepherd dog, also her memories of a man who might have been the one Orlando and the radio the only link to the world apart from the glimpse and chance encounter she has over a number of year like a burglar that she encounters. The book is a wonderful mix of life and dramas real and imagine worlds and how someone avoids madness just in more than thirty years apart from the real world.

The days slide by as if they were liquid. I have no more notebooks to write in. I have no more pens either. I write on the walls, with pieces of charcoal, brief lines.

I save on food, on water, and on adjectives.

I think about Orlando. I hated him, at first. Then I began to see his appeal. He could be very seductive. One man and two women under the same roof- a dangerous combination.

A  short piece this captures almost her being on the edge of madness in her words as she remembers the past and Orlando .

From what I have read I think this novel is actually based on the real life person . Her notebooks Diaries and poems that where all collected after she died after spending 28 years cut off from the world. It seems Jose was given access to this body of work initially to write a radio play. That is odd as I felt when I finished this book  the small pieces that make this book up are almost like turning a radio dial through the years that Ludo had spent apart but also like gems in the dirt of african history waiting to be unearthed. I can see the mix of styles in this book can put the reader off but to me they drew me in as we see Ludo and her world and how her world starts to slowly fall apart from the lose of her dog, to having to burn her books and then the end. But what we also see through these piece is a glimpse of the past and present in Angola using both the real world and a mythical world.  This book shows why we maybe should be trying to get more books out of the Lusophone world!

Have you read any of the other books By Jose ?

Our Musseque by Jose Luandino Viera

Our Musseque by Jose Luandino

Angolan fiction

original title – Nosso musseque

Translator – Robin Patterson

It’s in a person, it’s in a person
I’m warning you, I’m warning you
It’s the truth

Africa land for preachers gold
Land for everybody young and old
The place that holds for some bright future,
But for others the future tend to torture
Ma’ Africa.

What went wrong with your brains?
You kill each other you destroy human dignity
People of Africa lets stand together
And make it the land of hope!

I want to tell everybody about myself.

Todays lyric is Ma africa from the one giant leap album ( a collection of singers and songs from around the world )

I often think there isn’t enough fiction of Lusophile origin from Africa , so every time one cross my path it is a welcomed with open arms by me . Jose Luandino Viera is a writer who grew up in Luanda in Angola , the setting of the book in the 1940’s .He grew to be a political activist who had a trail in 1959 that start the uprising in his country .He spent a lot of time after that in prison until the collapse of the Salazar regime .He wrote this book in the 60’s whilst in prison although it didn’t see the light of day until 2003 .

And so the nickname was born . When people who lived further away from the Musseque heard the story , they chuckled to themselves , made fun of it and said our group of boys had even stooped to messing around with goats ,From then on they started referring to our dead companion as Xoxombo the goat shagger .

The book opens with talking of getting a nickname and how everyone had a nickname in the Musseque .

This is the story of a Musseque , a township , a shanty town .This is a portrait of te shanty town of Luanda told through the eyes of our child narrator .A world of people with nicknames , a close-knit but rough community of prostitutes labourers and those that provide for them .A tough life for Zeca , Buenu and Xoxombo are a group of boys growing on these streets , watching life on the tough side of the streets as they find girls and fighting .But at the same time there is rumblings in the background of their world that are pieced in glimpses .The book is a collection of glimpses into this world and the lives around it vibrant , colourful but most of all a world on the cusp of something that in the end took more than forty years to get there .

As evening slowly fell , children made their way back home , some of them heading up to Ingombota , others going down towards Mutamaba .They were laughing and teasing ,showing off their toys .ZEca and Xoxombo walked with their arms around each other , not speaking to anyone .They walked very slowly through the alleyways and up the sandy tracks , Xoxombo crying sometimes and Zeca heaping insults on the man in the white suit , the teachers ,the school kids , everyone , nobody escaped his fury

The boys heading through the night one the way home angry at the world but friends together .

I read this book last december then as is the case with me I put it to one side so sad ,I am at times a bad reviewer as this is one that had stuck with me .Not so much for the characters in the book The narrator and his friends are well drawn child characters . For me what last is the sense of place the vibrant shanty town the place that was their home but also a place that at the time was dangerous for them , but they didn’t see that we do as the reader to them this is their everyday life .I feel Viera who wrote this whilst in prison is looking back with fond memories of his youth seeing the tough side of his life but also the comrades friends and characters he grew up with .this book is considered an important book in the cannon of fiction from Angola as Viera is one of the most decorated writers and acknowledge .I’m so pleased Dedalus took a chance and published this book as it is a gem .

Have you read any Lusophile fiction from Africa  ?

The book of chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agulusa

This was a reread for me I read this just after it came out in 2007 and wondered if on second reading would be as good as the first and I m pleased to say yes this book is firmly in my favourite african books of all time .Jose Eduardo Agualusa is a Angolan  writer he lived in Brazil briefly but now divides his time between Lisbon and  Luanda he has written 7 novels so far this was the 2007 Independent foreign fiction winner .

The book is a series of interlocking stories  or vignettes that are set in modern-day Angola and involve Felix Ventura an albino weaver of new histories for people ,these stories are narrated by a gecko that is a reincarnation of a dead man ,Well as you see this is firmly in magic realism or african mysticism ,Felix is a type fixer helps people rewrite their lives change there histories ,he is also albino which from what little I know in some parts of africa is a bad omen or a good omen but in felix’s case it seems to give him an air of detachment from the people he deals with .The strength of the book lies in the way it deals with Angola’s  past at times violent and how these people look to the future .Felix is so good that one person decides to search into his new past with shocking results .

Once ,when I was in my old human form ,I decided to kill myself .I wanted to die ,completely .I hoped for eternal life ,heaven and hell ,god ,the devil .reincarnation ,all that stuff ,was no more than slowly woven superstition ,devolped over centuries and centuries ont mans greatest terror .There was a gun shop right by my house .

The gecko remember his past life .

Dreams also interweave the books ,Like dreams the new histories rewrites people are never the same and always different .This book is funny in parts and very poignant in others ,such a bright book from such a dark stories and the sadness of Angola’s  past is a real work of art .Like my fellow blogger Kinna rereading this is a timely reminder of the need to read more Lusophilla literature .The book was translated by Daniel Hahn who shared the Independent prize as the translator . for ,me this is a bridge between the african village fiction I love and the latin american magic realism I love ,in parts I remembered Borges or Marquez in others Okri came to mind .

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK ?

HAVE YOU A FAVOURITE LUSOPHILE NOVEL ?


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