Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

 

Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Guatemalan Fiction

Original title – Severina

Translator – Chris Andrews

Source – Personal copy

This is the second book I have reviewed on the blog from Rey Rosa, the first was the African shore like this book was published by Yale Press. Rey Rosa travels after school, this is where he meets the American writer Paul Bowles in Tangiers, where Bowles translated his books into English, also on his death made Rey Rosa in charge of his estate. This book is a love story of sorts both of a relationship and the life long journey we all take as readers through the city of Lit and its many turns.

The next time, two or three weeks later, when I saw her come in , I said good afternoon and asked if she was looking for something in particular.

“Yes, I’m looking for a present ” were the forst wprds I heard her say .

“Can I ask who it’s for ?”

“For my boyfriend,” She said. She had an unidentifiable accent.

“well, you’re the best judge. There are  some new books  in the Japanese literatuere section ”

Her face lit up

“Ah ,” She said.”I love Japanese literature”

He saw her take some Japanese books on the previous visit, this passage made me Laugh

Severina is the name of a girl, we don’t find this out till later in the book. We first see her in a bookshop being observed by the narrator who is also the owner of the said bookshop “La Entrenida” that he and a group of friends they choose to open due to paying so much for their own books. This is a boring Monday afternoon when he observes the girl he had seen before but this time he follows her around the shop noting each of the books that she has picked up and hidden on a couple of occasions. He lets her off but is drawn into her life. Where we see both her life and his life of a bookseller. But also as a lover of lit from the writers he reads and his friends reads.Again another book that mentions Borges and his Mirrors and maybe the Narrator sees a mirror in Severina  Then Ana Severina grandfather falls ill and this changes the picture between the two main characters.

“I rushed to the door and down the corridor , ran up the stair, but she had disappeared. I returned to the bookstore. My head was spinning. A pemonition sent me back to the shelf beside which I had kissed her, and I discovered that she had taken another book. A hardback edition of Faulkner’s The Wild Palms, translated by Borges. Rather than anger. I felt a strange relief. I went to the cash register and added Faulkners novel to the list of stolen books.

Wild Palms was a book that was influnencial in the latin american world after this translton by Borges .

This is a very short novella clocking in at 87 pages unlike the African shore this is a story told from the unnamed shop owner a first person narrative. There is a  book revolves around a book that might have been Borges and inspired one of his Mirror stories. I always love the way Borges stories ripple out and touch other writers.There are lots clever names like the shop is Spanish for Mistress the surname of Ana grandfather Mr White to name two there are others. There is also the love story between the narrator and Severina is almost like a mirror.

The African shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Image result for the african shore by rodrigo rey rosa

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Guatemalan fiction

Original title – Le Orilla Africana

Translator – Jeffrey Gray

Source – personnel copy

Rodrigo Rey rosa is a Guatemalan writer from a middle class family that meant he travelled a lot growing up. Including europe . When he started studying at a summer writing workshop run by the great writer Paul Bowles , who many books where set in North Africa, Rey Rosa fiction is set in Latin American and also like this book in North Africa where he later spent time with Bowles in Morocco where he translated Rey rosa books into english and after Bowles death he was the executor of Bowles estate . I know that is a lot of mention of Bowles but as you see in this book he has a lot to owe the American writer.

Everyone knew that owls don’t sleep at night and that they can see in the dark. That was why, when someone want to stay awake all night, it was a good idea to catch an Owl and pull out its eyes. Some people boiled the eyes in water and ate them, or you could make an amulet with one of the eyes and wear it on your chest to keep off sleep.

Hamsa returned to the tool shed and smoked several pipes of Kif, thinking of what he should do.

Hamsa captures the owl that links the two tales.

The African shore is one of those short books that after you have put it down seem so much longer than it was. The book is a pair of stories twisting around each other the first is a Take of a Shepard boy given a chance to be a lookout for his Uncle which he hopes I feel he will eventually get money or be given a chance to get across the water to Europe. The we have the second story a young man from Columbia is having to spend some extra time in The country after he lost his passport so we see him meeting and wander the town mix with french woman . A man not in the rush to get home to his wife and life . Then we have the Owl he sees it all and is the character connecting the two stories .

At the end of the street, on the sidewalk across from the herbalist’s , he saw a ragged boy with a two-handled basket trying to sell a barn owl.

He stopped and leaned over the basket to examine it. the owl said “Chi Chichich” Its big black eyes, circled with ochre disc, looked straight ahead. Its old woman’s face was framed by a small halo of feathers.It moved constantly, following the slightest movement around it .

The two meet as the owl changes hand between them both .

This is a clever little book about place , being lost in a place . Being in a place but wanting to be lost in another place it is about that short distance between the two continents Africa and Europe that is only miles but is also millions of miles away from one another. The we have the owl he is another character link the two people in the story but also the sense of place this desert and the town of Tangiers always a melting pot of Africa and europe . Like his Hero Bowles it is a story about coming to this place and feeling part of it The other character in the book is Morocco itself  the street life and characters we meet. Rey Rosa has part Bowles in his writing and also bit of Borges the book is built of short chapters that could almost be little piece of Borges he also has that sense of wanderlust and getting out of Latin america I have found at various times in Bolano’s work but also the works of some like Neuman a sense of connecting the old and new world through the needle of Africa . A great intro to a writer I want to try more of.

Have you read a Guatemalan fiction before ?

 

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