Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

 

Pedro Páramo By Juan Rulfo

Mexican fiction

Original title -Pedro Páramo

Translator – Margaret Sayers Peden

Source – Library copy

Have you got just a minute
Are you easily mad
Let me show you the back room
Where I saw the dead
Dancing like children
On a midsummer morn
And they asked me to join
They asked me to join
But my body was stubborn
Wouldn’t let me give in
So I offered a good deed
In return for a sin

I thought of this song even as i read this book I saw the dead by the underrated Irish band the villagers source

Now I ask myself a couple of years ago when the right time to read and put this book on the blog would be and I decide to wait as it is considered one of the most important books in Latin American fiction as it has influenced some of the biggest names in Latin American fiction .Juan Rulfo had lost both his parent before his tenth Birthday , he carried on to complete his schooling but due to university being on strike he ended up in Mexico city at the military academy ,which he left after three months worked as a clerk managing to study literature at the university in between .He started to write ,publishing a literary journal , then from getting a fellowship he got time to write his first two novel which where a huge hit and in 1955 this book his second book came out .

I came to Comala because I had been told my father a man named Pedro Páramo , lived there .It was my mother who told me .And I promised her that after shee died I would do it .She was near death , and I would have promised her anything .”Don’t fail to go see him ” she had insisted .”Some call him one thing , some another .I’m sure he will want to know you ”

Juan completes the promise he made his dying mother .

Pedro Páramo   is the story of a son returning to his home town , after his mother death to find his father , but also to find out more about his father  .The son Juan Preciado sets out to the town of Comala .Now this is the point where the story starts getting odd because he gets to the town and finds it is full of ghosts of his fathers past and the present , so the story drifts between his father  Pedro Páramo time in the village , his father as a boy falling for a girl called Susana .Her life is one of death and madness .Pedro own life takes many a turn he is a womanizer , tyrant and quite a cruel man .But Juan is in the present where this town isn’t the vibrant place it once was now it’s a dying town .THis is a small part of what are many threads Juan sees in his time in Comala .

If was as if time had turned backward .Once again I saw the star nestling close to the moon ,scattering clouds .Flocks of thrushes .And suddenly , bright afternoon light .

Time is very fluid in this book it is almost as thou the past and present are one place at times .

It’s hard to grasp this book without giving to many bits and side stories away  as there are a number of small threads in this book .The book although 120 pages long feels like an epic russian novel by the time you have finished it you feel as thou it was a real epic journey not a short novella .You feel part of Juan Rulfo own story is in this  book , parents dying ,young family torn apart .His greatest influence as  a writer is on the generation that follow just after him .Marquez said he saw how to write after he felt blocked in his first four books , so yes this is the book that gave birth to magic realism , but is a book of Magic realism  , for me no it owes more to its writers homeland mexico where the dead are celebrated and death sometimes isn’t  the end of someones life these are echoes of what was once a more vibrant  place juan sees at times  .The book also shows how sometimes thwarted love as in the case of Pedro and Susana can lead people down different paths .For me the time was right to read it just after a burst of Marquez , but also Fuentes and Llosa in recent years you can see how this slim book had maybe pushed each of these writers to write in turn as I have also read the other great Mexican book that came out five years before this labyrinth of solitude by Octavio Paz a collection of Essays about mexico and its love of death and myths !

Have you a favourite book from Mexico

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In search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi

in search of Klingsor

In search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi

Mexican Fiction

Original title –  ‘En busca de Klingsor’

Translator – Kristina Cordero

Source – Personnel copy

The scientist only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity, imposes them upon himself and upon other scientists.
Erwin Schrodinger Source

 

Now Volpi had long been on my list of writers I wanted to read this book is on most list of books to read from Spanish or the best books of the last twenty years .So when just before Spanish Lit month ,I did one of my regular visits to our local Oxfam ,I was pleased to find this and Lizard tales by Juan Marse both of which I brought .Jorge Volpi was born in Mexico ,studied law and literature ,starting a career as a Lawyer ,but still writing around this time with another of other Mexican writers he founded the Crack movement ,a style of writing moving Mexican and Latin american writing away from the Magic realism and Latin American boom .This book his best known so far is a perfect example of what they had in mind .

Let me give you a simple example .Lets take the Nazis and Britain :What is there common Objective ? The same pie Bacon :The Europe pie .Ever since Hitler took control of Germany in 1933 , all he has done is ask for pieces .First he wanted Austria ,then Czechoslovakia ,then Poland ,Belgium ,Holland ,France, Norway .Now he wants the whole pie .

Bacon talking with his professor before he went to Germany to find Klingsor

 

In search of Klingsor ,is the story of one man trying to find another man just after the second world war ,a young American Francis P Bacon is sent to the crumbling centre of Europe as the American want klingsor the codename for the top man in Hitler’s race to build an Atomic bomb .All Bacon knows is this could name and a few of the men involved ,Bacon Knows Einstein and is a pupil of him so he knows the names of the men to talk too first is a man who survived the bombing of Hitler  Links this then goes through an array of the best known scientist like Erwin Schrödinger and Niels Henrik David Bohr to find out whom was Klingsor ,but also along the way discovering how much the more or less the Germans knew than the american at the time ,many people could be Klingsor but Will Bacon ,get his Bacon so to speak .

“Klingsor ”

Francis P. Bacon read the word again and Again from a mineographed page of one of the Nuremburg trail transcripts .But it refused to reveal its hidden meaning .He had to be honest  with himself :He hadn’t  the foggiest notion of what he was looking for ,nor did he have any idea how he would go about finding it ,whatever it was .

Bacon is giving the task of finding Klingsor with the scantiest of details at hand .

 

Now this book is one of those books that doesn’t easily fit into the category of say historic fiction and it’s not slight enough to be compared to say Robert Harris it isn’t a pur historic thriller no this book is full of Ideas about Atomic theory ,Maths ,Philosophy ,Physics .No for me the two names I was left with after reading this was Umberto Eco and Thomas Pynchon ,the way the book unfolds reminds you some what of Eco that slow  bit by bit unravelling of what is going on and of course Pynchon one only has to think of Gravity’s rainbow and you can see the comparison the race to grab the best of the best that both the US forces and Russian forces did is seen here as we follow Bacon down the list of people it could be .Now this was written in 1999 ,Volpi is a professor and a well-known figure and has written a number of books since ,I want to try them but from what I’ve read he is yet to match this but I’m sure he will again this is a true masterpiece a book worthy to sit along side in the name of the rose and Gravity’s rainbow .

Have you read Volpi or any other member of the Crack movement writers ?

Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli

sidewalks

Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli

Mexican non fiction (essays /travel)

Original title Papeles falos

Translator Christina MacSweeney (Nooteboom intro by Laura Watkinson )

Source review copy

When you see a book in the forthcoming season from a publisher you often cross your fingers and hope you are chosen to review it and that was the case (I know I could ask but not one for this if any PR folk read this and would like me to request books more I will just let me know ),Faces in the crowd by Luiselli was one of my books of last year and one I have mentioned to a number of people as a book to try .So when this dropped through my door I was pleased to be reading her wonderful writing again and also to sample her non fiction style .

Joesph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Searching for a grave is ,to some extent ,like arranging to meet a stranger in a cafe ,the lobby of a hotel or a public square ,in that both activities engender the same way of being they’re looking at a given distance ,every person could be the one waiting for us ,every grave could be the one we are searching for .Finding either involves circulating among people or tombs ;approaching and scrutinizing their retrospective features .

The opening paragraph sums up the search for his grave so well .

 

A  mark of how good this book is ,for even thou it is a short book, it has managed to get a wonderful forward by the great Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom(worth reading especially as Laura has translated it ) .The book is a collection of  ten  essays mainly on travel .WE move from her home land of Mexico cycling round mexico city ,sharing a smoke with a guard late at night in her current home New York and my favourite wandering a Venice graveyard in search of the grave of Joseph Brodsky .Brodsky and Flaneurism is a sort of thread through this book .The original Mexican title False papers maybe alludes to an earlier Mexican books by the like of Alfonso Reyes .

I, who have rather fruitlessly attempted some of these thing ,now have the joy of being an offical resident of one of the most literary of cities ,though neither through the blessing of a graceful pen nor the fidelity of the muses .And ,worse still not even through the sweat of my brow and fist ,but beacuse of a terrible …..

Valeria talks about how she got where she was in the very last section and her ending up in New York .

The book is similar at times to the her début novel ,The link between past and present she used to such great effect is again in evidence especially when she wanders the grave yard and pass other poets writers and thinkers in search of that great sage of Venice Joseph Brodsky .A sort of surreal Mexican take of the Flaneur  instead of a city of the living we wander a city of the dead using the graves as signposts to the writers grave she is seeking out .Strangely in a later  essay ,this signpost motif is repeated as obviously wandering a city short vignettes are sparked by the sign post she passes so we  see a stop  sign connecting Rousseau and Walser,a pedestrian crossing the poet Salvador Novo .A new stopping point on the world-wide journey of the Flaneur and psychogeography as a writing style all the names we associate with this scene are mention Starting with Rousseau through Walter Benjamin (whose epic unfinished arcades project I am just slowly working through my self ) ,Brodsky who watermark itself an ode to Venice has brought Valeria herself to Venice to write and ode to him and the dead of that same city ,through Sebald and in the last piece a mention of herself .

Do you have a favourite book from the Flaneur oeuvre ?

Faces in the crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Faces in the crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Mexican Fiction

Translator Christina Macsweeney

Valeria Luiselli is young Mexican writer she lives in New york and has had pieces published in New york times and Letras Libres .She has a degree in Philosophy .She is due to appear at this year Hay festival .

Faces in crowd is her first book to be translated to english .This is a little gem .A women now in middle of marriage and looking after kids decides one day to write the story of her early life when she worked in New york ,this in turns leads to the story of an older mexican poet that also lived in New york in the 1920’s one Gilberto Owens  he is a partly forgotten member of the Harlem Renaissance so we meet a second story with in the first of the narrators life then she imagines a life of Gilberto Owen as he seems to seep into her world as she sees him on the subway appearing to her .She also imagines Owens life and how he was both friend and enemies  with the famous poet Frederico Garcia Lorca On top of that we she the Narrators marriage maybe isn’t the best already a feel of how it is to be young and a student and them starting on the job ladder in New york in this case in the publishing industry .

The obscure Mexican poet became ,in time the new Bolano or ,rather a new Neruda .But that day ,while I was reading an article in the NYRB ,neither white nor I knew what would happen about Owen .I tried to call the Office once more when I d finished reading the article but nobody answered .I took a long hot bath .

Past and present mix so well in this novel .

 

Valeria has done a wonderful job managing  all this in just 150 pages shows why Valeria Luiselli is considered one of the hottest talents in Latin American writing having cut her teeth in Essay writing you can see how see has used the essay writing skills to produce a tight precise piece of prose I was reminded of how Bolano mostly wrote about poets that said mostly fictional and how Valeria had made Owen feel real in a much shorter novel than Bolano did in some of huge novels .That said Owens was a real person you can view his Wiki page here  so Valeria probably had a lot of historical data to work from .This book is about memories the narrator memories so rather like Julian Barnes booker winning book you see how some times in hindsight things get muddled in this case it is the distant past and the early part of the twentieth century merge into one .

We aim that sky
collapsed before us, dark green.
Those who passed were far off
? shadow puppets
on the screen of twilight?
our shadows on other worlds.

The sky truly
was, outside prison,
and peeked between the trees, watching us
with his eye of the moon, hollow.
A star, the only trembled
without light in our souls.

And if we closed our eyes
we heard, platonic,
like a bee buzzing
music of the spheres.

This is a poem from Gilberto Owen translated via google translate from the site poemasde.net .I think even thou it is a rough translation it shows Owens beauty and why he was chosen to be remembered by Valeria .Yet again showing the talent that is coming from Mexico in the last few years it was nice t read a female voice from the region for once .

Do you have a favourite Mexican writer ?

 

The night Buffalo by Guillermo Arriaga

The night Buffalo by Guillermo Arriaga

Mexican Fiction

Translator Alan Page

Guillermo Arriaga is a mexican writer ,but describes himself as a hunter that writes, maybe best known for his screen writing work in the uk his scripts include 21 grams and Babel both successful films ,he has also written three novels ,this one was also made into a film in 2007 .He also got a award in Cannes for best screenplay in 2005 .

The night buffalo is set Mexico city and it follows a best friend Manuel trying to come to terms with the death of his friend Gregorio  death via suicide ,the book takes back over one day but is also  told a lot in flashbacks to the time they spent together .then we throw in Gregorio girlfriend Tania that Manuel had been having an affair meeting her in a hotel room .A box of letters and the police looking at what happened add to this tale of latin american teens in a interview here Guillermo said he didn’t realise how bad suicides and mental health problems were in mexico before he wrote the book .Rather like his more famous screenplays this deals with the human condition and people on the edge ,also friendship what it means to people this is a classic threesome story ,of a women divide male friends  like garden of eden or jules et jim two more books dealing with this  subject .

I lay on the bed .Where could tania be ? I couldn’t tell and, at this point considered the zoo or the airport as possibilties was absurd .I had no choice but to wait for her to reappearin her usual surrepitious ,unexpected way .

Manuel waiting in room 803 there secret meeting place.

The other book I read set mainly in Mexico city Bolano’s savage detectives but that  book is a muddle tale of the city with many storylines and a bit crazy like the city itself ,But here because the focus is on three lives ,you get what is obviously Arriaga cinematic eye he has eyes for  detail character and dialogue not over doing any the bareness adds to the story and also means the story doesn’t drift like Bolano’s did , as manuel drifts back  in time and gives you the little glimpse in what lead to his friends death . Even thou he wrote it before his screenplays  you can see him having a eye on this potential being made to a film .Manuel isn’t the nicest guy I mean he cheated on his friend with his girlfriend Tania but this relationship was mostly sexual meeting in the  hotel room ,but that said he had been embroiled in many things with his friend Gregorio not all legal and seen his friends mental health decline over there friendship .This is a great read of teen agnst and what happens when that crosses over into suicide .The title is from the fact the two best friends have matching tatoos of night Buffalos .The book is translate by Alan Page .

Who is your favourtie Mexican writer or have you a favourite Mexican novel ?

Down the rabbit hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos or (dad I want a pygmy hippo)

Down the rabbit hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

Source – review copy from &other stories

Translator – Rosalind Harvey

Juan Pablo Villalobos is a Mexican writer ,the studied marketing and spanish literature ,he has an interested in the avant grade having written about Cesar Aira ,he currently lives in Barcelona in Spain  .This is his Debut novel and has already been translated into 8 languages  since it came out last year ,including this English Translation ,that marks the start of a new Press in translation” and other stories ” .They’ll be so happy this was also the first book named on Guardians first book 2011 long list .

So what is this book about well ,dear me I gave a bit away in the title this about Tochtli a child ,well may I say this child is in some ways a normal child wanting thing he can’t have and telling us about his family ,cute you ‘re thing ,well er no cause Tochtli (this means rabbit in mexico main native language ) is the son of a notorious Mexican drugs baron and is well how do I put a little different to normal kids his age  he has the real swords and a real guillotine his house is full of the underworld characters hit men ,prostitutes and dodgy politicians  so when he turns round one day and says he wants a Liberian Pygmy hippopotamus for his collection of animals ,the people round his father’s luruxy hideout start finding a way to do this ,do they succeed well the best way to find out is to rush to the book shop and buy this thrilling ride of a book .

Today Paul Smith ,who hasn’t been to our place for a really long time ,about three months,came round .I found out I actually know fifteen people and not fourteen or fifteen .The thing is I wasn’t sure if Paul smith was still a person or if by now he was a corpse .I had my doubts because of one of Yolcaut’s enigmatic phrases,which he had said when asked once why Paul Smith didn’t come round any more .

“if he’s smart he’ll come back ,if he’s an asshole he won’t ”

You have to give a dark laugh as this is how Tochtli sees the world .

So this book is short seventy pages but hell it packs a punch in those seventy pages .We enter Villalobos dark comic world ,this is black comedy at it’s best Tochtli is a perfect glimpse into the surreal world of the Mexican drug barons as we see his day-to-day life we catch a little glimpse of what is happening in his fathers world and maybe why there at the hideaway at this time as he father tries to step up in his world .Tochtli rabbit hole is a place you wouldn’t want a kid to be but it is his rabbit hole and if he wants something no matter how odd it seems because of his rabbit hole being what it is he may just get it in the end .So I commend And other stories on a great first choice for the press ,these books were chosen as a result of reading groups with people reading books in the original spanish .I first came across via  a e-mail to me fro Stefan from and other ,so have mention them before for their reading groups here  .the translation is crisp and also a nice glossary of some words used in the text at the end which is handy .&other stories allow you to subscribe and via this you can have your name in the future  book s

Have you a book you heard of that you think should be translated ?

Would you read a book in another language to decide if its right for english translation ?

Antipodes by Ignacio Padilla

Source – library

Translator -Alistair Reid

 

Ignacio Padilla is a mexican writer ,he grew up liking Joyce and Stevenson as a child ,he studied communication and got a masters in english literature .Eventually end up teaching hispanic american literature at university of Salamanca in spain .He is also with Eloy Urroz and Jorge Volpi part of the crack movement ,a new movement of writing from mexico to move on from the latin american boom movement ,by using complex literature ,different structural writing .

So that in mind what did I learn from Antipodes about Ignacio and the crack movement well this book is structured round a collection of twelve very short stories all about five or six pages long .There all sort of boys own stories ,sometimes funny sometimes reminding me of a collection I had adventure stories for boys and also the tv series ripping yarns where the stories were all slightly tall tales but based on real types of characters .The characters on whole tend to be English or ex pats and a lot of locations are in the English speaking world  from India to Scotland.Included in the mad adventures include rebuilding a copy of Edinburgh in the desert ,a man the may have climb Everest this reminded me of the great true story of George Mallory ,who was born near were I grew up so heard his story as a kid .Another is the one I quote from about a famous gun and how there were a number of fakes made of it at the time and how you could tell they were fakes .

There is no denying that the craftsmen of Cappadocia were extremely accomplished ,but anyone with half an eye could recognize an authentic Hutchinson – van Neuvel among the many pirated copies that have shown up in the armies of europe over the last five years .For a start the butt of the Hutchinson almost always carved from Fijian red oak ,weights exactly 3 pounds ,25 ounces and measures 15.4 inches from  the stock to the firing pin .

the opening of the short story ballistics :some notes .

Well its hard to say much twelve very short stories I did like them the brought to mind Bolanos nazi literature ,small insights and maybe Borges a brief history of infamy style wise .I liked them a lot like I liked the Borges and Bolano ,maybe flippish and no real story but jumping almost leaping in and pout these places and times getting a taste like A Tapas of Padilla style well if these are nibbles I m hook .If you want something to pass a cheerful hour or two try these little nibbles of Ignacio Padilla .Reid did a good job on the translation keeping the sense of fun at times in these tales .

the labyrinth of solitude by octavio paz

Notes –

Paz was one of the greatest writers from mexico he wrote numerous novel and poems ,he was also very active politically during his life and commented on numerous latin american and spanish causes during his life .He was awarded the nobel prize for literature on 1990 and is only third mexican to win a nobel and only nobel laureate in literature .this book is considered his masterpiece .

The Book –

The book is a journey through in a number of different chapters what it is to be mexican ,it examines the mexican psyche ,the history ,there are a number of recurring theme that keep appearing like spain ,indian culture and the Catholic church ,Paz weaves the story with the mexican nation being describe as though they where a person and what are characteristics that are common to all mexican like often a mixed heritage of native indian and spanish family background .how spain running lead to the revolution and the beginning of the mexican state and the laws of the stat regarding education etc ,the church’s influence over everyday life and the state as a whole ,also how the church has adapt to the mexicans as a people .the is lots of mysticism like the journey of being mexican like the ancient quests of labyrinths and how every mexican has this deep well of solitude at the core .

Any contact with the mexican people, however brief ,reveals that the ancient belief and customs are still in existence beneath western forms .These still living remains testify to the vitality of the pre-courtesian cultures .and after discoveries of archeologists and historians  it is no longer possible to refer to these societies as savage or primitives tribes.

the opening of the fifth chapter .

My view –

Paz has encapsulated what to be a mexican is here and it is wonderful reading the history views perception of mexico ,mexico has always fascinated me a country of vast contrasts in class on the edge of the richest country in the world the politics ,chaos of its capital ,I heard that Martin Amis said China and Japan are going to be the new literary centres but i have a feeling mexico has something to tell us all the vast metropolis of mexico city is sure to stir up many amazing stories in the future and as a book to give you a start on the track of mexican lit this has been a great help for me into this vibrant and diverse country .The edition i borrowed from  library was in 1967 ,in later versions a 10th essay was added to the 9 orginals ,this essay dealt with a massacre in 1968 that lead to Paz resighning as an ambasador for mexico in India where he had spent a lot of his later life ,this edition was translated by lysander kemp and was the first translation available .

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