The shape of the ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

 

The shape of the ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Columbian fiction

Original title – La forma de las ruinas

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – review copy

I read this a while ago but as the world cup unfold in the last week and it being Spanish Portuguese lit month I waited to review it. I have long been a fan of Vasquez books having reviewed three of his books. He uses the history of his country and has said he tries to avoid the Rhetoric of the Magic and marvelous Latin America. He has been on the IFFP shortlist in the past and his last novel in English the sound of things falling won the Impac award.

April 9 is a void in Colombian history, yes, but it is other things beside; a solitary act that sent a whole nation into a bloody war; a collectibe neurosis that has taught us to distrust each other for more than half a century. In the time that has passed since the crime we colombians have tried, without sucess, to comprehend what happened that friday in 1948, and many have turned it into a more or less serious entertainment and their time and energy have been consumedby it.There are also Americans – I know several – who spend their whole lives talking about the Kennedy asassination, its details and most recondite particulars

The parallels explained at the dr party early on in the book.

This book is in many ways the most personal book from Vásquez as the writer himself is at the center of the book. He is at a party held by Dr. Benavides a family friend when he meets another man Carlos Carballo over this evening they discuss a couple of events in the past of Columbian history an event the Carballo compares with the Kennedy assassinations of JFK and Robert. The first killing is that in 1948 of Jorge Gaitan a progressive liberal politician that was shot to death by Juan Sierra. This man was later killed by a mob. This assassination does echo the JFK and the killing of  Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Then an earlier killing of another liberal Leader and Senator who was hacked to death by two men in Bogota. We see Vasquez and the two other men look into their countries past. Carlos is a man that sees conspiracies and a long dark arm going through Columbia history. There are pieces of each story they discover have gone missing over the coming years. But we do see the spine of Gaitian in a Jar an eerie look at the death like those relics of the JFK Killing that leads those like Carballo to those wild theories of what happened. Along side this we see the everyday life of Vasquez the writer, his marriage, his wife giving birth. A man looking at his own countries dark past.

“My Father believed there’d been a second shooter” said Benavides,” At least for a time”

He was referring to one of the many conspiracy theories surrounding Gaitián’s assassinatin. According to this one, Juan Roa Sierra did not act alone on April 9: He was accompanied by another man, responsible for the other shots and one of the lethal bullets. During the 1950’s , the theroy of the second shooter was gaining groundm in large oart due to an uncntrovertible fact: one of the bullets that killed Gaitian had not appeared in the course of the autopsy”And of course, peoples imaginations does what it does said Benavides

Missing Bullets and other missing parts to the case lead to questions of what really happened.

I loved finding out about these two deaths this is what Vásquez does well as a writer and that draws you as a reader into his homeland’s history. This shows that everywhere has it conspiracies There is many Carlos and also many people like the Dr and Juan that are drawn into uncovering these stories of their own countries dark past. The feeling of him diving down the rabbit-hole of these deaths does remind me of the interviews and claims Oliver Stone made around the time he made JFK the parallels of these stories with the US killing is easy to see there are gaps in each story that can draw people into making their own stories of what happened. The character of Uribe in a twist back to Marquez was the person he based Aurelio Buenida in 100 years of solitude. So as England face Columbia tonight maybe you could try a great novel from there.

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The blind spot by Javier Cercas

 

The Blind Spot_HB.jpg

The Blind spot by Javier Cercas

Spanish Essay

Original title -El punto Ciego

Translator – Anne Mclean

Source – review copy

I am loving the fact that in recent years there has been more and more non-fiction lit book been translated into English. This time it is one of my favorite Spanish writers Javier Cercas. I have featured his novels on the blog before four of them all of which have made me question what a novel is? This is in part the question he answers or tries to answer in this book. This book is formed from a series piece he had read or written before thus formed into a book-length essay on various aspects of the novel.

In 209 I published a book , called The anatomy of a moment, which at the time the Majority if Spanish readers did not consider a novel; I myself, althoug I knew or felt that it was a novel, would not allow my editor to present it as one. Why?

Anatomy explores a decisive momnet in the recent history of Spain. It happened the last time we Spaninards practised our national sport, which is not football as tend to think, but Civil war or , failing that a coup d’etat; at least until very recently; after all, up until very recently all experiments with democracy in Spain were ended by Coup d’etat, to such an extent that in the last two centuries there were more than fifty of them.

I loved the football piece in this opening to a chapter about his book on the 1981 coup attempt.

The first thing that captures in this book is the cover which depicts the great white whale of Moby Dick and is the same cover as the Spanish version of the book. The points that Cercas fix on is one the Blind spot of the title in the Novel. That is the question in some books that seem central to the book that can go unanswered the perfect example of this is Quixote where Cercas points out, the question is Don Quixote crazy or Not. Other examples are for Example in Kafka trial what is Josef K exactly accused off! Waiting for Godot the blind spot is Godot himself. The more Cercas mentions examples the more I thought of myself I thought of the blind spot of what is happening to Europe in regards right-wing politics in Dasa Drndic Belladonna(I choose a fellow Maclehose book as this for me was an example I thought of when reading this piece.) Then he also asks the question which I have asked at times and that is about his book The Anatomy of a moment and how you classify a novel like this which walks the line between being reportage, history, and fiction. I go back to the word I was told there is in Slovenian for just good writing that defies categories. He also mentions books like HHHH and in cold blood, also New Journalism which was started by the likes of Tom Wolfe and expands this into a third novel for on top of the two that he had heard Milan Kundera. These are the digressive novel like Quixote and the second the realist novel with books from Zola and Dickens. Cercas says the third movement is writers like Calvino and Perec as he says Postmodern Narrative and may the anatomy of a moment belongs here.

Let’s get back to the question of form.

Vargas llosa considers himself a realist writer, This means in short, that each one of his novels aspires ideally to cinstruct a fictious reality as powerful and persuassive as real reality, a hermetic world fabricated out of words in which to enclose the reader under lock and key to make him live through a vicarous experince. That is Vargas Llosa objective, and to that objective the moral framework and formal arrangment of all his novels are subordinated.

A piece about Llosa and in particular his debut novel The time of the hero

As you can see I loved this essay series as it was one of those books that made me as a reader want to discover more about the books discussed in the essays. But also in a way found some answers to my own blind spots as a reader of Cercas work and that is how he views his own worker, in particular, The anatomy of a moment which for me when I read it eight year ago this week early on in the life of this blog was one of the books that drove me forward as a blogger as it was such a clever novel and since then it has led to  a quest for me as a reader to push the boundaries of what we call fiction in the books I read  and also what drives us as readers. Also to what connects books from different places like Cercas highlights here  with the blind spot is an example of a thread that can link a lot of great books together from around the world.

 

Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

 

Reputations

Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

 

Colombian fiction

Original title – Las reputaciones

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Library edition

last month I decide I may need pick a few books from the last year that may be in the Man booker list that I hadn’t got to near the top of the list was this the latest from Juan Gabriel Vasquez . Whom I have reviewed on the blog twice before with The sound of things falling and the secret history of Costaguna . The later was on the old IFFP list as well as his debut novel so it is a good chance that he may make it three times on the list. Juan Gabriel Vasquez Is considered one of the great living Latin American writers , his books have been on numerous list of the best books of recent times. He also writes a weekly column for a Colombian newspaper .

What about Javier mallarino ?

The bootblack took a second to realize the question was directed at him. “Sir?”

“Javier Mallarino.Do you know who he is ?”

“The guy who does the cartoons for the newspaper”,the man said.”but he doesn’t come around here any more. he got tired of Bogota, that’s what I was told. he’s been living out-of-town for ages now, up in the mountains

Mallarine ask the bootblack if he knows who he is without knowing he is him so to speak .

Reputatuons is a another slice of Colombian world , this time he use the life of a political cartoonist , One imagines to be in the position that Javier Mallarino is where we meet him he is on his way to the Grand Teatro Colon that evening. We meet him as he is wandering Bogata before this very prestigious evening the first part of the book sees him in this wandering seeing how he went from a serious artist at the beginning into taking up the pen and ink and doing Political caricatures somehow managing to avoid getting into trouble along the way  and building a following a sort of Latin American  Steve Bell is what came to my mind. But as he spends the evening in Glory he is leaving the grand Tearto colon when we meet a young woman a journalist he thinks but she is wanting him to admit to an incident he observed that happened at the very beginning of his life happened when she was maybe attacked by a leading figure in the  political life and this girl was also a friend of his own daughter so the great man has to face a dark secret in his past.

If that were the case, the deterioration could not be less opportune, for Samanta Leal, from whose face a little girl had vanished, was urgently asking him to remember that little girl and her visit to this house in the mountains in July of 1982, and not just that, but she was also asking him to remember the circumstances of that long-ago visit, the names and distinguishing marks of those present that afternoon, everything mallrino saw and heard

He thought she is a journalist to this point when she reminds him of this incident in the past .

I felt this is a clever book to bring out now in a way , how many secrets from the past and stars from the past have had very dark secrets like in the book or even dark Jimmy Saville is one that came straight to my mind when I read this and how power can hide the truth or make other disbelieves the truth about certain people. I also love the choice of political cartoonist a job which at some points in Columbia would have been a short life job! We also want to know what happened that evening when these two seven-year old got drunk and slept was it a dream or real. This is another question do others seek fame from telling stories about other why do it on this evening ! A real story of the modern age when secrets and reputations seem to be fragile in the public eye and the past people have now seem to catch them up more than before !

Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas

javier Cercas

javier Cercas

Soldier of Salamis by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title – Soldados de Salamina 

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Personnel copy .

 

you say you’ve got to go home ‘cos he’s sitting on his own again this evening.
I know you’re gonna let him bore your pants off again.
Oh God, it’s half past eight you’ll be late.
You say you’ve never been sure tho’ it makes good sense for you to be together.
Still you bought a toy that can reach
the places he never goes & now it’s getting late.
He’s so straight. Do you remember the first time?
I can’t remember a worse time
but you know that we’ve changed so much since then
Oh yeah, we’ve grown.
Now I don’t care what you’re doing

Do you remember the first time is a bit oike war stories our first time is often misremembered .source

 

I have read this book roughly around the time it came out and won the IFFP prize Lisa and I choose it as one of our books to celebrate 25 years od the IFFp running .With the clock running down to thursdays announcement I decide to start today with this tomorrow I have our shadow jury announcement and then thrursday will see what I have read of the longlist and what needs to be read by myself .Anyway back to Javier Cercas he is one of a number of great spanish writers that have in the last decade or two started looking at what happened during the Spanish civil war . I love this book as it in some ways captures what I enjoy most in recent Spanish language writing , even down to having the great Roberto Bolano as a character name  . Cercas has won numerous prize for his books this one in particular he has written 8 novels including two on here Outlaws and Anatomy of a moment  .

It was the summer of 1994 , more than six years ago now , when I first heard about Rafeal Sanchez Mazas facing the firing squad . Three things had just happened ; first my father had died ; then my wife had left me ; and finally , I’d given up my literary career .

Opening lines , the value of a story to a writer in the opening lines here .

The soldiers of Salamis , is really a study of how we view the past told in three parts . The connection between the three parts is the history of Rafeal Sanchez Mazas . The book revolves around an incident that happened during the civil war .Who in one day escapes a firing squad and then also nearly getting caught by a a soldier sent to search for him .The first is what he thought happened then in the following two parts more about the man that nearly caught him appear so was the original history the truth ? A writer in the present struggles with what is truth in historic fact and is all historic fact fiction in some way ? Was the man that spared Mazas Miralles the real hero of the story . A real look at hpw the events of the civil war still linked with the present and more so effected those involved .

Exhaling loudly , Bolano reminded me that he hadn’t seen Miralles for more than twenty years , and that he wasn’t friends with anyone from back then , anyone who could  – he stopped short and , offering no explanation , asked me to hang on a moment . I hung on . The moment got so long that I thought Bolano must have forgotten I was waiting on the phone .

I loved he called a character bolano .Like real Bolano he knows the other side of the story .

Well again like in the two other books I have reviewed by javier Cercas there is a thin line walked by him between truth and lies in fact between fact and fiction .This book could sit on the middle .the earlier books are Outlaws his childhood reimagined a fictional growing up story . Then in Anatomy  of a moment the attempt coup of the Spanish parliment in the 80’s is recounted more of a fact based non-fiction novel . So What do we learn , that the history of what happened in the spai=nish civil war was in some ways rewritten by those that won .There was good and bad on both sides . What we see is how history gets written or even invented or misrememebered . For me this is as near perfect novel and a fine example of what the IFFP should be there for promoting the best voices from around the world .

Have you read Javier Cercas

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 ?

Outlaws by Javier Cercas

outlaws by Javier Cercas

Outlaws by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title – Las leyes de la frontera

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Library book

One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca source

Now I had thought of rereading Soldiers Salamis for this Spanish lit month then by chance I caught Javier Cercas interviewed on the radio four book show about Outlaws and before the interview had finished I had already clicked the order button on my library ordering system .I have featured Javier Cercas before his last book out in the UK was The anatomy of a moment a non fiction narrative about the attempted coup in the mid 1980’s in Spain .Javier Cercas is of course an award-winning spanish writer ,he and some fellow writers have spent years writing books focusing on the historical memory of Spain’s past between the civil war and Franco’s death .

“That was where I saw Zarco for the first time .The Vilaro arcade was on Bonastruc de porta street ,still in La Devesa neighbourhood ,across from the railway overpass .It was one of those amusement arcades for teenagers that proliferated in the seventies and eighties.

Ignacio first sees him at the arcade on the edge of their part of town .

Now this book is again about the time of Franco just after he has died the vacuum that Spain had  ,but for once he isn’t the important figure in the book, but  no this is a story of growing up  in the 1970’s in a large Spanish town  Gerona and a triangle of friends one Ignacio is from one side of town or as Cercas put it in the interview one side of the river he is a quiet timid one could say a perfect vision of a bookish boy .When one day he is playing pinball and his life is changed forever when two kids from the other side of town (the rough side ) ,start playing pinball with him these two Zanco and Tere ,take Ignacio into their circle and show him the other side of town for just one summer in 1978  .Now this is the first part of the tale the story is strong with what Cercas called his own childhood memories of where he grew up  ,although Ignacio isn’t autobiographical he said in part he was Ignacio  at that age .The second line of the story finds the three characters in the mid 90’s on different sides of the fence again Zarco has gone on to be a huge gangster who after Igancio went away has spent time in prison and has now via their other friend Tere reached out to their old friend to help Zarco who is now a folk-lore gangster .But in doing so each must reflect on their own past .Add to that Tere is a girl you can see what can happen .

“Then Tere got to the point .She told me they wanted me to defend Zarco at a trial to be held in Barcelona in a few months time ,a trail in which Zarco would be accused of assaulting two guards at Brains prison .Of course ,Tere took it for granted that I knew ,as everyone did ,who Zarco had turned into over the years

Tere find Ignacio to help their old friend

Now it’s fair to say I liked this book ,no in fact I loved this book and was so glad I caught the interview ,I know so people don’t like to know to much about a book before they read it but the interview with Cercas sold it more so to me I would have picked it up from the library at some point to read but the writer sold it to me .The book is one of those soaked in the writers own past ,but also a dreamed past of what would have happened if he had ventured more into his own childhood town dark side .But it is also a story of the bond of friendship those ties that bind and as in this case can cross class ,moral and personnel beliefs .Zarco is a character that many places have the heroic or infamous gangster a sort of superstar of the underworld . Ignacio is the boy done good and Tere is the sort of go between .In fact the spanish title laws of the border maybe tells you more about this book that is what it is a bout crossing borders in one’s life .

Have you read Cercas ?

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