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 winterlings by Cristina Sanchez- Andrade

The Winterlings by Cristina Sanchez-Andrade

Spanish fiction

Original title – Las Inviernas

Translator – Samuel Ritter

Source – review copy

I was grabbed by this when it had a quote on the back cover by Manuel Rivas calling her writing Original and Unusual was a plus point for me having enjoyed his books, I knew this would be one for me. Cristina Sanchez-Andrade has a degree in law and mass media, she has written for numerous papers in Spain and has published seven novels.In 2013 she was shortlisted for the Herralde prize one of the top prizes in Spain. She has also written a novel about Coco Channel.

Don Manuel , the priest in Tierra de Cha, used to sit between the two winterlings, who were only little girls back then. He was short and fat, an absolute glutton. He was always somewhere between dinner and Mass. As soon as he finished the sermon, he’d be out and into the street. With great strides, pulling up his cassock to keep the manure off it, he would cross the square to eat his lunch. While the maid was tying a napkin around his neck and serving him, he positively burbled with pleasure.His mouth watered  at the sight of what lay before him : a hearty broth

I loved the imagery this passage evoked in me

The book follows the return of two sisters to a small village in Galicia Tierra De Cha, the two sisters have return after many years away. They have come back to their grandfather’s house. They have grown since they left but the place it self is just the same as the place they fled many years earlier. In a dark past that the village has hidden Delores and Saladina have their own secrets as well they are on course for disaster when a glimpse of light happens the sisters love the glamour of the film world and hear that the American actress Ava Gardener is to come to their part of Spain to make a film and they need some stand ins the sisters feel they could fill this roles. What will happen will they get the part or will everyone have to face their own pasts at last ?They are also drawn to the sea , why !

Throughout the following days, Dolores heard it while she went about her daily chores – immense and powerful and even nearer, turning her actual world into a narrow and boring place – an ocean pulling at her , calling her :”Did you hear that Ava Gardner is coming to Spain ?

To Spain ?

Ava Gardner coming to Spaaaaain ?

Sometimes , the sea was like a cornfield, with waves that ebbed and flowed. Dolores was in the middle of it, it smelt of salt, and that smell impregnated her clothes and hair .

The sea is a large draw to the sisters

I loved this it remind me what I love about fiction set in small villages where everyone knows everyone no matter how far you go from the village they will always remember your past when you return . What Cristina Snachez does so well here is build up the feeling of the dark past the sisters where part of . Also the feel of returning to a village the way they are still part of the place but looked at as thou they aren’t they’ve grown out of the place the sister have had their eyes open to the world by the world they have seen and the films they have watch , hence their wanting to be part of the Ava Gardener production. This also has the feel of an oral tradition of storytelling that Galicia is well-known for. This book is also a perfect choice for the forthcoming Woman in translation month .

what is your favourite Village based novel ?

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 ?

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun

Bolivian Fiction

Original title –  Los Afectos

Translator – Sophie Hughes

Source – Review copy

Another review for this years Spanish lit month and for the blog a new country a rare occurrence these days. Rodrigo Hasbun has published two novels and was one of the writers chosen a few years ago for the Hay festival Bogotá 39 collection of Latin american writers he was also on the list of the Granta best Spanish writers under 35 in 2010. Two of his stories have already been made into films .Affections is his second novel and the first to be in English.

Papa and my sisters had been in the jungle for months so mama and I spent that christmas on our own. It was the best one of my life.

I shouldn’t say this, it was our little secret, but I will anyway: while we prepared dinner, I smoked for the first time.

it was Mama who offered it to me.

“Want a drag?” she asked out of nowhere.

I smiled it was unbeleivable.

I was almost thirteen. Twelve and ten months to be precise

Trixi with her mother who starts her smoking at 13

Heidi , Monika and Trixi are three sisters, their father is Hans Ertl one of those mad german Explorer that was also a talented cameraman who had worked with Leni Riefenstahl on her early Nazi films as he had pioneered  a number of unusual camera styles and thus when the war end he took his family in 1950’s to Bolivia as he search adventure again, taking his daughters to the heart of the country and the poverty that it was suffering at the time what effect it has on his daughters seeing this horrors. Well one escapes to the city and is drawn into the way it can make her invisible from herself and her family. The other Monika is drawn to fight alongside the poor of the country and in her own right is well-known as a terrorist and freedom fighter . The other turns her back and returns to Europe to a domestic life. The story unfoldss in little bites of storries each interconnecting and passing the story of the sisters and their father.

But it’s no exaggeration to say that ultimately it was Monika who I thought about more than anyone. I was twenty six, and then twenty eight and twenty-nine , and sex was my way of holding on to my youth. In the moment these women I would start to feel safe again, but a few hour later I’d invariably ask them to leave. How it was possible that someone who never belonged to me kept returning I don’t know, but monika was always present, watching me screw those other women.

A strange dynamic that remind me of the images of olympia the young people exercising almost had a sexual feel to them,

I enjoyed this it remind me in a way of  Che Guevara book the motorcycle dares where he like Monika also saw the poverty and dark side of Latin america and like Monkia took up arms. she also took over from Che in Bolivia after he moved on . Elsewhere I saw echos to their fathers past where one sister is drawn to younger men the old she gets to keep her young it was like the scenes in the film her father made Olympia with loads of virile young men.The family slowly grows apart in the heat of the Latin america, LIke the Klinkl characters in the Herzog movies the father is drawn to the adventure of the land. Whilst it is also a drama of a family falling into pieces and driving in the wind like shatter shards.

Have you ever read a book from Bolivia ?

One million cows by Manuel Rivas

ONE MILLION COWS

One million cows by Manuel Rivas

Spanish Galican fiction

Original title -un millon de vacas

Translator – Jonathan Dunne

Source – review copy

I received the first for books from a small publisher Small station press , the press was set up by the translator of this book. There aim was to bring the best of Galican fiction to English for the first time . I reviewed Polaroid by the same press as well last year. I saved this for this spanish lit month as it is by one of my all time favourite Spanish writers |Manuel Rivas I have reviewed two of his novels all is silence and the carpenters pencil both of which were translator by Jonathan. This is a collection of short stories from early in the career of this writer.

“Did you see that guy ?” asked Rita. “He smells bad.”.In this day and age , still wearing a corduroy jacket,” remarked pachi. “He’s covered in dandruff,” observed Virxinia. Raul had a doubt “Does he not talk, or is he dumb?””That Girl complained Marije , no longer knows what to do to surprise us. First , she hooks up with an Arab and now she brings along a country bumpkin. Do you think she’s taken him to bed yet ?

A stranger appears with dandruff on his jacket or is it fish scales ?

One million cows is a selection of 18 stories with setting in modern-day Galica in the 1980’s . A time when spain had just shaken of the shackles of the Franco years. The stories range from a schoolgirl recounting her last day at school her favourite art teacher. A man returns from England in another. Then there is how we get the title when it is reported on a news piece that there is a million cows living in farms in Galicia. My favourite piece was a comic story of a man given the job of answering the phones at an army base , when he receives a call  from a woman asking for Jose to be let off on leave to come and sort out the cotton fields, but she won’t say which Jose and there is a lot of them do we ever find out which Jose she wants ? Elsewhere a stranger appears in a town covered in fishscales.

Having been assigned to the telephone exchange , i was one of the others, needless to say on that filthy afternoon, from behind the window of the exchange I thanked my lucky stars that I was only half a man . Until a bell rang , a noisy buzzer that warned of an incoming call.

“INfantry barracks, how can I help you ?”

Is Jose There ?”, asked the distant voice of a woman .

“Jose , what Jose ?”

“Jose is that you ? Can you put Jose on the line ?”

“What Jose , madam ? there are lots of Joses here ”

“I wanted Jose to be given leave, it’s for the cotton, you know. For harvesting the cotton

I like this short tale of a call to an Army Barracks .

I always wonder what the less known works of writers are, you often look at a writers Wiki page or interviews with them translated and see books or as in this case short stories that haven’t been translated this is where the small press come in and the ability to fill in the gaps in the cannon of great writers. I am a fan of Rivas he has a real eye of detail in his writing and that is shown here but also i liked the fact he had humour in a few of the stories which is something I discovered about his writing. I also like that fact in this collection of post Franco tales there was no mention of the fact it was post Franco era.

Do you like to reader lesser known works of writers in translation ?

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