The Body Where I was Born by Guadalupe Nettel

The Body Where I was Born

The Body where I was born by Guadalupe Nettel

Mexican fiction

Original title – El cuerpo en que nací

Translator – J T LIchenstein

Source – review copy

Guadalupe Nettel is another of those wonderful young Mexican writers that has appeared over recent years.She is also another from the selection of Bogota 39 writers the Hay festival did in 2007 . She studied Spanish literature at university , particually the works of Octavio Paz. She has written three novels , this is her first to be translated to English ,, this is her second novel her third novel After the winter won the leading  spanish lit prize , The Herralde Prize.

While the two parental hemispheres never gave me and my brother any navigational problems, the ninetennth-century grandmother universe was the least hospitable territory we’d known. This universe was governed, at least in my opinon, by completely arbitrary laws that took months to assimate. Many of them were based on the supposed inferiotry of women. The way my grandmother saw it, a little girl’s first and foremost even before going to school – was to help clean the home.

After freedom in Mexico , her mother breaks down and has to go back to her mothers

The book is told as a dialogue on a life growing up. A woman born with a white mark over her right eye. Her parents are determined to at some point try to find a way to give her the full sight she should have. What follows is a story of a childhood , her parents split up as this is the seventies and the marriage splits as they had an Open marriage. This leads to her travelling the world with her lone  parent to the other as she grows both in her body but also in her mind as she dives into a world of books and discovers literature , but also freedom and the lack of freedom as she moves from the Commune world of Mexico where she is given the freedom to study. To the older world of her mother in France. She was called a cockroach when she was born the way she was curled up when walking  . Strange how they crop up in literature a roach is a feature in the novel The passion according to GH where it is crushed by the woman in that story , but in this Nettel the female narrator of this book connects with Kafka character that turns into a roach.We she her grow up almost a female bildungsroman

In the dream, I entered the operating room but stayed awake for a long time. I watched the doctor cut into my eye, very slowly with a razor like the one in the film UnChein Andalou . Once my eye was gaping open, the doctor removed from it a very small object. It was a red seed no bigger than two centimeters long, like a bean seed.

The day before her Operation Nettel has a dream . I would have the same dream myself .

There is a scene near the end when they find some one to do the operation on her eye and she imagine the scene in the famous film Un chein andalou by Luis Brunel and Dali a chilling way to look at the operation. It turns out the book has certain autobiographical themes the name Cockroach was given to her by her mother as a two-year old as well. She also live in her teens in Aix En Provence a city as she shows in the book has two sides to it. This is a story of a broken childhood that is so much the normal now with families split told from the point of view of those divide by it. Nettel shows how it is to grow up , with your parents not their. The cover maybe shows the blurred vision of the character but also the chaos of her growing up.

Have you read any books Nettel ?

Sudden death by Álvaro Enrigue

Sudden death by  Álvaro Enrigue

Mexican fiction

original title – Muerte súbita

Translator – Natasha Wimmer

Source – review copy

Well it is Thursday and this translation Thursday I bring to you all one of the biggest stars in Mexican Lit, in fact part of what we may say is the Power couple of mexican fiction as Alvaro is married to fellow Mexican writer Valerie Luiselli. He has won a number of prizes and one of his books was picked on a list of the best recent books from Mexico .. I have read his book before I brought a copy of Hypothermia which came out a few years ago that was a collection of short stories this is his first novel to be translated into English.

At the collegiate church of Ottery St Mary, under Lacey’s rule, a group of novices had been using at the roofed gallery of the cloister to play matches against townies. In those day tennis was much rougher and noiser than it is today some were attackers, others defenders, there were no nets or lines, and points were won tooth and nail, by slamming the ball into an opening called a dedans. since it was invented by Mediterranean monks, it had redemptive overtones.

The rearly tennis so much different I once saw a court in Oxford for what is now known as Real tennis

Now the shock for you all the book is set of a fictional game of tennis , although this appears to be what we in the uk would call real tennis which is a slightly different game that game before the modern game we know. The match is between the Italian Painter Caravaggio (I mainly know about him from the Derek Jarman film in the 80’s about him ) he is playing the Spanish poet Francesco de Quevedo a quick-witted poet that wrote prose satire and many poems. As the match unfolds in other chapters we travel the world from England with Thomas Cromwell and Henry viii then through to latin america and the dying Aztec empire as they also play a game with the Spaniards there . whilst the two are cheer on from the sidelines by many well-known figures of the time Galileo, Saint Mathew and Mary Magdalene all cheer the two the vulgar Italian painter well-known for his pictures (he did paint the first still life of the modern age in his basket of fruit and the Spanish poet still trying to keep in favour with the royal court of Spain via this match.

Scarcely had Jean Rombaud disembarked at Franciscopolis – such a ridiculous name of the port of Le Harve until the death of King Francis I – before he began to spread the rumour that he was in possession of the darksome braids of Anne Boleyn and the he would make tennis balls with them that would at last gain him entry to the closed courts, where the nobility sweatedt hrough one shirt per game, five per set and fifteen per match. He had always felt that his freshed washed lions mane gave him the right to hardwood and tile: to play for sport rather than money .

I love the story of the ball it is great fun tale one of those odd stories that could be real or could be fake.

I have said before that I hate tennis , well in this case it didn’t matter as the match is just a small framing device to capture two figures that maybe show the world of the time the match is set is in change this is the golden age of discovery, When The world was moving from one age to another even the ball in this story has its own story it is made from the hair of the late Anne Boeyln. Enrique plays with what a novel is this like an earlier novel from Mexico I read By Jorge Volpi , shows how history can be made to serve the present also be caught in one match a duel between two artist to the end as the world around them sees an empire fall a man marry many woman and even the crowd have their stories to tell along the way .Of course with Wimmer translating this book it will of course bring many to connect this to Bolano, but for me they are just two great writers and for me Enrique has maybe more in common with Volpi than Bolano. This is one of those book that defies pigeonholing as a novel one of those that break the mould.

Hve you read anything by Enrique ?

Signs preceding the end of the world by Yuri Herrera

Signs Preceding the End of the World_CMYK SMALL

Signs Preceding the end of the world by Yuri Herrera

Mexican fiction

Original title – Señales que precederán al fin del mundo

Translator – Lisa Dillman

Source – Review copy

My trip through last years books that could make the Man booker longlist has hit one I eel fits the old IFFP mould an issue novel as Tony and I have been saying the last few years, but this is a clever take on an issue by one of the rising stars of Mexican writing Yuri Herrera. This is his second novel and has already been translated into a number of other languages . This is his first book in English.

Slippery bitch of a city, she said to herself. Always about to sink back into the cellar

This was the first time the earth’s insanity had affected her. The little town was riddled with bullet holes and tunnels bored by five centuries of voracious silver lust, and from time to time some poor soul accidentally discovered just what a half-assed job they’d done of covering them over. A few houses had already been sent packing to the underworld, as had a soccer pitch and half empty school. these things always happen to someone else, until they happen to you, she thought. She had a quick peek over the precipice, empathized with the poor soul on his way to hell. Happy trails, she said without irony, and then muttered Best be on with my errand

Makina on way to get her errands to go North for her Brother.

Signs preceding the end of the world follows a journey that happens a hundred times a day and that is the migrant journey between Mexico and United States. What Yuri has done here is taken the location away from the story and just told the story through the person and people involved Makina a young woman who has a dual purpose for being on the journey. personal and for the underworld  That is to find her brother and bring him back down south but also deliver messages from the underworld via Mr Double- U ( love that name almost like a Trantino name ) in her small town and her own mother as they want the brother to return. Makina makes this journey that is well trodden but through her eyes we see a strange world of odd towns and weird rivers as she heads north, how do you see snow when you see it for the first time ?

When she reached the top of the saddle between the two mountains it began to snow. Makina had never seen snow before and the first thing that struck her as she stopped to watch the weightless crystals raining down was that something was burning. One came to perch on her eyelashes: it looked like a stack of crosses or the map of a palace, a solid and intricate marvel at any rate, and when it dissolved a few seconds later she wondered how it was some things in the world – some countries, some people could see eternal when everything was actually like that miniature ice palace:

Snow for the first time also the way it has a myth like nature to Herrera’s prose.

 

This is a book I read twice, Herrrera has taken a fresh way at looking at makina journey and that is make it feel like an odssey , make her journey feel like a myth like a classic quest as she tries to get north. I was reminded of when I read Paz years ago how he viewed Mexico as a labyrinth of myths and history and this takes this and also clashes this past with the neighbour to the north the bright shining lights of US and there modern myths that have taken Makina’s brother and now she is having to go there as well. This is how we see migrants through  there eyes Makina could be anyone from around the world she could be a sister on the back of a lorry entering The uk , or a sister walking the tracks into Europe  or on a boat. Herrera has made Makina an everyone more than just a small village girl.

Have you a favourite Migrant story ?

 

The story of my teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The story of my teeth

The story of my teeth by Valeria Luiselli

Mexican Fiction

Original title – La Historia de mis dientes

Translator – Christina MacSweeney

Source – library book

I’ve been up and I been down
When I been between I just been hangin’ around.
Things are quite different
And life ain’t the same
Since I lost my tooth.

Now the women they treat me rude,
Not that they ever really treated me that good
I’m a minority and now I know
What it’s like and how it feels to be a negro.
doo doo doo doo

It’s gettin’ down to the nitty gritty
If you can’t smile nice and you can’t smile pretty
They don’t wantchya around they say you look sloppy
When you eat

I love the songs of Daniel Johnson and his song since I lost my tooth is a perfect lyric match for this book

Well it is upon us the second women in translation month and I start with a crossover book as we decide to carry spanish lit month over for another month ,so the perfect choice is this book from one of the best writers to appear in recent years in translation the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli I have reviewed her first novel Faces in the crowd and her essay collection sidewalks here as well .Valeria Luiselli still is living in New york , she also writes a monthly coloumn for El pais .This is her second novel to be translated to English .

I’m the best auctioneer in the world .But no one knows it because I’m discreet sort of man .My name is Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez , though people call ,e highway , I believe with affection .I can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums . I can interupt Chinese fortune cookies .I can stand an egg upright on the table , the way Christopher Columbus did in famous anecdote . I know how to count to eight in Japanese Ichi , ni san , shi , go , roku , Schicho , Hachi .I can float on my back .

Gustavo tells us all about himself in the opening lines of the book .

I couldn’t resist a book on teeth . This is a tall tale of one man and his teeth both his own and his collection of famous teeth . Gustavo Sanchez is a man of many talents , but all this is overshadowed by the state of his teeth . So along the way in his life he has somehow managed to collect a selection of teeth of the rich and famous and has reached a point where he wants to sell these teeth to get himself a new set of teeth .But where did he get those teeth he is selling and where did his own teeth go ? Gustavo is a real character and his stories of the teeth and how he got them are real gems to read .Also the lot descriptions of the teeth in the sale , he is a real salesman

Hyperbolic Lot No. 8

Some teeth are tormented , such is the case of this one the property of Mrs Virginia Woolf .When she was thirty years old , a psychiatrist posted the theory that her emotional ills were due to an excess of bacteria around the roots of her teeth .He decided to extract the three most affected ones .Nothing changed

I love this tall tale of Woolf and her teeth being the cause of her problems .

Now this is the sort of book I love and for me the sort of book that we only find in translation this isn’t a book that would see the light of day in english I imagine . For me teeth have often cropped up in books from Martin amis talking in his autobiography about his own dental problems is one I remember a lot especially as his novel times arrow had echos of the film Marathon man . Now Gustavo is a character that jumps of the page ,a voice that is maybe a every man who is pursuing his dreams , but it is  how he is trying to get his dream teeth is a unique take on how to get to your dreams in this modern age  .It is maybe also a reflection on what price we put on perfection these days . Add to that a tour of the lives of Plato Woolf and Chesterton to name a few and you have a wonderfully witty and truly unique book .

Have you a favourite book with teeth in ?

 

 

The Eagle’s throne by Carlos Fuentes

 

The Eagle’s throne by Carlos Fuentes

Mexican Fiction

Original title – La silla del águila

Translator – Kristina Cordero

Source – Personnel copy

 

Here we are, seeking out the Reds
Trying to keep the communists in order
Just remember when you’re sleeping in your beds
They’re only two days drive from the Texas border

How can a country large as ours be scared of such a threat
Well, if they won’t work for us, they’re against us you can bet
They may be sovereign countries but you folks at home forget
That they all want what we’ve got but they don’t know it yet

We’re making the world safe for capitalism

Billy Bragg wrote this song , The marching Ballard of the covert battalions ,the song is a satirical take on US foreign policy .

This was one of the first books I brought around the time I started the blog with the idea of  52 books from 52 countries , well of course that has long since been past and this book has sat on the shelf for over five years , I was attracted by both the fact it was a Fuentes novel , but also the great cover on this book a linocutout of an eagle is very eye-catching .Carlos Fuentes is probably the best known Mexican writer in his time a member of what is called the latin American boom ,he wrote over thirty novels , and was always a writer tipped for the Nobel prize .He supported Castro and was at one time investigated by FBI .I had thought i reviewed him before on the blog , but no this is the first by him on here .

Our modern communications system has suffered a grave paradox .On the one hand ,we strived to become part of the largest global communication network in existence .On the other hand , we have wanted to monopolise access to information for our Government’s benefit.

They put all their eggs in one basket so ended up getting cut off , when US struck back at them .

The eagles throne although written twelve years ago and set in 2020 , seems more apt now than it did at the time it was written .We are told the story in a series of letters , yes letters as the premise of the book is the the Mexican president and government in 2020 , has angered the US government  this has led to the US effectively removing all the modern communication tools from Mexico .So with letters are the only way contacting and keeping in touch .We see a change in life as people start to open up more in letters .The topic of course on the mind is how will take over The Eagle’s throne (the name of the seat of the president !) .So what we get is the inner workings of the Mexican government laid bare in letters as we see the leading figures and powerbrokers jostling for power and trying to get the throne and the blackout sorted .Also what secrets will be let out in the letters .

Ex-president Cesar Leon came to visit me .At first I didn’t even recognise him .That young man with wavy black hair is now a mature man with wavy white hair .Those matinée idol’s wavy locks are what define him for me , politically and morally as well as physically .They remind me of that old song “The waves of the lagoon” some waves come ,while others go .

I was struck by the opening of this letter it is so true , leaders do age when in power .

Now I said this is more meaningful now than twelve years ago , imagine the  present with out the chance to use smartphones , laptops etc .I doubt even Fuentes could see how much the world would move on and really even more on wireless communication , this is like the millenium bug happening a country thrown back to a time when the written word was the only way to contact one another .Another thread to this book is of course the relationship between mexico and the US , this strangely has changed as well (from the totally uniformed view of me ) it seems Mexico is growing and is often mentioned as one of those countries along side Brazil , China  and India that will one day hold more power in world affairs ,whereas the US has seen the world power shrinking in recent years .So Fuentes wrote this after fifty years of writing , it isn’t as epic as some of his other books but is said a unusal future take on the epistolary novel .I must not wait five years to have another book by Fuentes on the blog .

Have you read Fuentes

 

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