Wakolda by Lucia Puenzo


Wakolda by Lucia Puenzo

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Wakolda

Translator – David William Foster

Source – Library book

Well I said the next stop of my woman in translation journey would be Argentina. Lucia Puenzo was part of the Granta best young Spanish writers edition a few years ago. She has won number of awards for her film work, she is a film maker as well as a writer. This novel is also a film she made with the english title the German Doctor, which was a feature at Cannes film festival when it came out . This strangely is also the second novel I have read this year about germans in Latin american after the second world war.  the other being Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun.

That day, mixture of sodium cholride and magnesium nitrate, injected with infinite patience into each eyeball, would change forever the course of science. The mass sterilization, the vivisections, the frustated attempts to change skin and hair colour using subcutaneous injection and even the night on which he thought he had finally succeeded in joining the veins of two twins to create a Siamese twins, only to find them a few hours later gasping like fish out of water – all his failures would be forgotten if he could manage to change the colour of the eyes of this child

The opening lines a chilling look at the man and what he did in the past !

As I said in the first paragraph the book revolves around an escape German from the second world war in this case it is a more famous German than in Rodrigo Hasbun book the escaped german in this story is Josef Mengele himself the man known as the angel  of death during his time as a doctor at the Auschwitz death camp . This is 1960 and Jose has settled in Bariloche a place that a number of Nazis have lived since the war in relative quiet from the rest of the world . Jose wants to carry on his work , that of trying to find the perfect human being. This leads him to a family that have all the qualities he is looking for except their daughter Lilith who has a growth defect . Add to that her mother is now expecting twins and the doctor had previously worked with twins in Auschwitz where he sewed two together like siamese twins to see what happen, but in this case he is fighting to keep them alive as the net is closing around him. We see most of the action through the eyes of the young girl who has a doll called Wakolda that Jose gave here.

Her father occupied the following pages , alongside her brothers , alongside her brothers, also surrounded by numbers and measurements.

she read Homo siriacus

she came last

Her illustration had more details than the others: measurements of almost all her bones, the circumference of her head notations in German, number and more numbers, calculations along with results, a list 0f illnesses … feeling a lump in the pit of her stomach, she gathered up the arms and legs of her doll. She left the dagger , the ring and the notebook where she’d found them. she climbed out the window after making sure that everything was exactly as she’d found it .

Jose notes about lilith  she finds in his office

This book is a clever take on fact and fiction Josef Mengele did spend time in Argentina after the war. This is imaging what would have happened had he decide to hide and carry on what he did it is a story of what is right and wrong in Ethics and how far people will go in the pursuit of perfection. Again as I have found in a number of latin american novel in recent years is the use of the child narrator from Andres Neuman to Marcelo Figueras .Lilith would have died in Auschwitz but here she has grabbed Jose by why she is here as part of what is otherwise a perfect aryan family what is the cause of her in this perfect family.

Have you a favourite novel about nazis on the run ?

An episode in the life of a landscape painter by Cesar Aira

An episode in the life of a landscape painter by Cesar Aira

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero

Translator – Chris Andrews

Source – personnel copy

I can’t believe I hadn’t till now cover Cesar Aira on the blog ,I have a few of his books and Thought I had reviewed one before now well  as I just missed the end of Spanish lit month being off work on holiday I need to catch up so here we are Cesar Aira Has lived in Buenos Aires since 1967, he is a prolific writer his books tend to be short but he has been writing them at the rate of two to three a year for a number of years a number of his works have been translated into english. This was first published by New directions but later in a three vol version from Penguin mine i the new direction edition.

Rugendas was a genre painter. His genre was the physiognomy of nature, based on a procedure invented by Humboldt. The great naturalist was the father of a discipline that virtually died with him: Erdtheroie or la physique du monde, a kind of artistic geography, an aesthetic understanding of the world, a science of landscape. Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an all-embracing scholar, perhaps the last of his kind:his aim was to apprehend the world in its totality

Humboldt was the last of the gentlemen scholars of the great age of discovery and in the eyes of someone like Rugendas a hero .

This is the tale of two real life characters that did meet in real life . But this is an episode that never happened except in Cesar Aira mind. The two characters are Johann Moritz Rugendas , he was one of the best landscape painters of his time known for his work on expeditions. He has been told by the famous explorer Alexander Von Humboldt  to go back to Latin american and record the nature and Landscapes around Chile and Argentina .This is a man driven by his own history his grandfather also a renowned painter of battle scenes . He is driven to record nature at its worst in his painting this is what leads to an event that leaves him scarred after a lightning strike in the Pampas whilst he is painting a scene  and struggling to recover he is a changed man.

They hurried on and , as they approached, saw him move yet remain face down, as if kissing the earth; the flicker of hope this aroused was quenched when they realized tat he was not moving himself, but being dragged by the horse’s blithe little browsing steps. They dismounted, took his foot from the stirrup and turned him over.. The horror struck them dumb. Rugendas’s face was a swollen, bloody mass; the bone of his forehead was exposed and strips of skin hung over his eyes.The distinctive aquiline form of his Augsburg nose was unrecognizable, and his lips, split and spread apart, revealed his teeth, all miraculously intact .

After the lightening strike he is never the same man as before

The book harks back to an age of adventure and a time when painters could be at the forefront of the new world that were being uncovered and in Rugendas Aira has chosen a painter that was considered the best documentary painter.He also had a life worthy of a novel on his return to Latin America after his meeting with Von Humboldt to do a full work on latin america which is where this novel is set , but he also later got involved in a coup in Mexico . This is a gem of a book at 87 pages long it is a perfect summer evening .

Have you a favourite book about Artists ?

The one before by Juan José Saer


The one before by Juan José Saer

Argentina  fiction

Original title – La Mayor

Translator – Roanne L. Kantor

Source – Review copy

Message In A Bottle”

Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
With no one here but me
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despairI’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
(Message in a bottle)A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life
But love can break your heart

I strangely choose A old Police lyric just as one part of arguments is about throwing a bottle with the word message in into the sea .

Now when this a three other books from the american publisher Open letter arrived for review , I was pleased this book in Particular is by a writer that is on my list of writer to read . Juan Jose Saer born to Syrian parents in Santa Fe , he studied philosophy at Litoral University and after that taught history of cinematography , he later got the chance to studied in Paris where he stayed in Exile up to his death ,Exile , Santa Fe and twins are recurring themes in his fiction according to his wiki page .He passed away in 2005 .

I ate the foods of the world ,My hands touched the stones of famous cities and my body , shriveled now but fit and feral , walked the streets more numerous than ripples in a river ,What man have I not known ? what book have I not read ? What might there be in the warehouse od visible and invisible things that could still be sold to me as a novelty ?

A poet remembering the places he has been Memories serve a part , another story is called scent memory

This book is a triptych of stories . Arguments are snatches of stories range from a paragraph to a few pages ,  thin slices of stories that range from little piece of info , arguments about books , being an exile , and memories  that stack up together to make you as the reader both think and feel  . The second and third story are more straight forward Half erased and the one before . I read the intro by the translator  and found that the Character Pigeon Garay is a character that has featured in other works by Saer ,here  he first appears in arguments here ,we see him wrestling with leaving his life in the last story , but his home town is also wrestling with an on coming flood almost as thou it is trying to wipe clean where he was . But also may drown him where he is which isn’t where he wants to be .

“The best thing a message can say ” said Barco , “is just message .So even when everything would seem to indicate we should write HELP! , I’d suggest that we write this is a message , Or just message  short and sweet .

Tomatis considered this a moment and at last agreed , only to encounter another question : who would write the word ?

I choose the police lyric due to these lines , I love the second part who should write the message .

Well this was my first collection by Saer , he is considered one of the main figures in Latin American fiction . For me I see lots of Borges in the first section .These stories  are like tapas like little pieces of fiction and as I say they are  thin slices so like tapas can be mixed together to everyone’s taste  however each reader approaches them taken what you want from them , rather like Borges made the reader work at times to get to the centre of the labyrinth . For me I got out his love of fiction , his feelings of exile (the parts on exile remind me of Goytisolo another great writer on exile ) The second two stories have a more visceral feel to them more of  a modern feel say like Aira and Bolano write and show how Saer was a writer that links the stylish style of Borges with that brutal cutting edge of prose of Bolano  .A great first book from Open letter books , I have two others coming in the next week or two .

Have you read Saer ?

The Adventures of the busts of Eva Peron by Carlos Gamerro



The adventures of the busts of Eva Peron by Carlos Gamerro

Argentinean fiction

Original title – La aventura de los bustos de Eva

Translator Ian Barnett

Source – Review copy

Please, holy Eva, will you feed a hungry child?
For I love you–tell Heaven I’m doing my best
I’m praying for you, even though you’re already blessed
Please, mother Eva, will you feed a hungry child?
For I love you–tell Heaven I’m doing my best
I’m praying for you, even though you’re already blessed

Turn a blind eye, Evita,
Turn a blind eye

I have watched Evita the film once and a book about Eva Peron in a small way maybe need lyrics about her .

Another trip to latin America for spanish lit month ,this time to Argentina . I revisit a writer that I have reviewed twice before on the blog Carlos Gamerro his books Open Secret and The islands  . Like his earlier books this looks again at the past of Argentina and like the other stories it takes a different angle . Carlos Gamerro has written a number of books , he has also translated a number of works into English by writers such as Shakespeare , Auden and Harold Bloom .This is his third book to be translated to English .

Yon know the latest thing they’ve come up with ? They want us to put a bust of Eva Peron in each of our offices .Even in this one !Can you think of anything more absurd ?

Marrone didn’t answer , as he was already mentally totting up the number of busts needed to meet the new demand .eighth floor : the “Vahalla” , the meeting room and two other offices ; seventh floor : nine offices , hallway … The hallways too

The task ma be absurd but Ernesto is up for the task .Like Don Quixote with his absurd tasks .

The book is set in the 1970 the time of the dirty war in Argentina a subject I have touch on before with other books from Argentina I have reviewed on the blog a book like A funny dirty war for example . This as ever being Carlos Gamerro has an angle to it a business magnet has been kidnapped and the people who have kidnapped him have set a task of getting a bust of Eva Peron put in every office of Fausto Tamerlan construction company . Now the man tasked with obtaining the bust is one of Tamerlan underlings Ernesto  Marrone ,here is a man who reads the books on success , books about Don Quixote .In fact to him this is maybe the mission of a knight errand to save the man by getting the maid .This journey takes him through the past to the present from top to bottom of Argentinean society how does a man who is maybe caught in the rat race given the chance to escape and become a hero cope .He has the books but is that all he will need ?

In this very spirit  Cervantes celebrated hero , Don Quixote of La Manche , decides one fine day to turn his back on the meagreness of his material life and the shallowness of the world around him – gutless mediocre folk devoted to traditional ways of doing things , for whom creativity is anathema – and strikes out on the highways in search of adventure .Don Quixote’s gesture encapsulates the adventurous spirit of today’s businessmen

One of the business books that Ernesto likes to read happens to be about Don Quixote using his deeds in the modern business world .


There is many echos to me to the great Cervantes and his classic book Don Quixote  in this book, Ernesto like the Don Quixote  likes to read books now given his books aren’t about knight .But the knights of the modern age those business men . We see what in a way would be a good reality show to prove yourself to your boss with the impossible task .Add to that a splatter of history about the time and about the woman herself Eva Peron , her story gets wound up in the story .So  Ernesto is tasked with his modern crusade of getting the busts in place .To the backdrop of the mad seventies in Argentina .

Have you a favourite books about Argentina’s past .

The tango singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez


The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Argentinean fiction

Original title –  El cantor de tango

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – personnel copy

Will they marvel at the miracles I did perform
And the heights I did aspire
Or will they tear out the pages of the book
To light a fire

With the rain on my face
There is no place that I belong
Did you forget this fucking singer so soon?
And did you forget my song?

The last two verses of the song The singer by Nick cave remind me of Julio in a way .


Well I’ve left it till near the end to finally join in Richards Argentinean theme writers of doom event for last three months of 2014 .I finally choose another book by a writer whose two previous books I have reviewed here and enjoyed .Tomas Eloy martinez I have reviewed on the blog  Santa Evita and Purgatory  , two books  for me that  rank among my favourite books from Latin America so I’m surprised it took me this long to get The tango singer which has sat on the shelves for a good few years .Martinez was Journalist and academic as well ,being a writer , he passed away in 2010 .

No one knew why Martel performed in such inhospitable places , without charging a cent .At the end of spring of 2001 there were lots of clubs , theaters , bars and Milongas in Buenos Aires that would have welcomed him with open arms .Perhaps he was ashamed of exposing a body mercilessly abused by illness day after day

Julio just plays in dark corners of the city that are hard to follow .

The tango singer follows the story of Bruno Cadogan , who has been given the chance as a student to go to Buenos Aires to study .But he is happy because he has become gripped by Tango singers and he has heard of one such singer from the city Julio Martel , who has never been recorded singing and doesn’t really do concerts more turns up and starts singing never announced. His voice is considered the best Tango singer ever .So Bruno arrives in the city and is hunting to see this old man sing , but along the way we find out Julio story how he became such a star and how sad is life is .Add to this Bruno is a bit of a literary romantic so wants to see the city of Borges , the story Aleph by Borges gets mentioned quite a lot as a reference point maybe for Bruno own journey through the city and finally meeting this mysterious singer .

A few days after arriving I visited the house at 994 Maipu street where Borges had lived for more than forty years, and I had the sensation that I’d seen it somewhere else or , which was worse , that it was a scene destined to disappear as soon as I turned my back .

Borges crops up a lot in the book his ghost still seems to haunt both the city and Martinez in this book .

I love the layer Martinez builds in this book as we take its twists and turns  .Julio and Bruno are like two planets orbiting  around the city of Buenos Aires and Borges is like the sun of the centre of the  city and eventually these two planets will eclipse one another .Oh I can be a little abstract at times, this book is  really an ode to a city warts and all , to the writers and singers that live with in that city .Martinez builds the tension as Bruno gets closer to Julio but also in the dark past of the city makes this feel like a thriller at times .I would picture this book making a great film the young man on the quest to find the old sage of a singer . Martinez manages to capture the good and bad of a city which he spent some time in but he had lived many years in exile and this feels more about the city he remembered than the city at the time the book is set .If you have read any other of his books I’m sure you will love this one and if you need an introduction to him this is maybe a good one to start with as it has bits of each of the other two books I’ve read .Well can’t see it be too long before I read The Peron novel by him .

Have you a favourite book about music or singers ?

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