Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

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Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Argentinean fiction

Original title – La Virgen Cabeza

Translator – Frances Riddle

Source – Review copy

I reviewed the first of three books from New press Charco press last week a new publisher featuring the freshest voices in Latin American fiction. I was grabbed when I saw Andres Neuman was quoted on the front cover calling this book Pure dynamite. More than enough for me to want to read the book, having met and read Andres books I trust his taste. This was Gabriela debut novel and won a number of prizes when it came out. She has since written four more novels this is her first book to appear in English.

Oh, Quity, if you’d only started the story at the beginning you’d understand things so much better. What’s the beginning? There are loads of beginnings, my sweetness, because there are loads of stories, but I want to tell the story of this love of ours, which you don’t remember to well, Quity.You tell some things like the happened and some of the other things , well I don’t know what you do my love say all kinds of stupid stuff.So I’m going to tell our story myself

One of the chaoers where Cleo first speaks interupting Quity as she writes.

Slum virgin is told in the form of someone sitting writing a story about the Slum in Buenos Aires and a transvestite prostitute called Cleo. The main Narrator of the story is a journalist Quity who is searching for the story of the year to climb the ladder in her job at the newspaper when via a friend Daniel, the story of Cleo and how she is trying to better the slums where she lives. So the journalist goes where she has not been before to the slums to see what Cleo is trying to do for the slum people and herself as she had seen a vision fo the Virgin Mary telling her to sort her life and those around her out. The story is told mixing the slum world with Quity obvious classical world loving prose as she sees the world of the slum-like greek and classical myths. The two grow closer and closer as the book goes on.

I know I’m famous because I cantalk to the virgin and not because of my tits, even thou they are pretty big. For someone who claims to be straight, I have to say you went pretty crazy for them, and when I got these huge nipples that youlove so much and cost us a fortune to redo in Miami you made me feel like the wolfthat nursed beoth Remus and Romulus .

The quote comparing Cleo breast to the wolf from Classical greek myths

This book has a lovely feel to the prose it is written as thou we are reading Quity writing about the story in short piece almost like the small pieces for a newspaper with the continuing story of Cleo and the slum. But this is also interrupted at times as Cleo in her voice sets the record straight. Like in the start where Quity starts at the end of the story and Cleo interupts between chapters and says she should start at the start. I loved the vision of comparing the world to that of classical myth this is rather similar to Joyce and Ulysses where certain situations follow Homers prose. Her we see Cleo whose surname is the spanish for Wolf sees her impressive fake breast compared to that of the wolf that fed Romulus and Remus in classic myth. A powerful novella about trying to change the world in a world of drugs, secret police private security, transvestites, dealers and the down and outs in the underbelly of Buenos Aires.

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Fireflies by Luis Sagasti

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Fireflies by Luis Sagasti

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Bellas Artes

Translator – Fionn Petch

Source – Review copy

I’m so pleased when I discover a new publisher. Charco press is a new publisher and is based in Scotland and wanting to bring the brightest new talents from Latin America. The first of three books I have been sent to read by them. This is one of those books that makes you remember why as a reader I have chosen to read fiction in translation. Luis Sagasti is a writer, Lecturer and art critic. He s also Curator of the museum of contemporary art in Bahia Blanca, they have an interesting blog

Beuys’ deep blue eyes seem to have cracked. He places his hands on the woman’s shoulders.She blinks awkwardly. Amd asks him: “is the story of the Tartars true? is Karl with the Tartars?”

Beuys removes his felt hat and holds it to his chest.The woman gazes at his scars and understood what she need to understand.

The hare understands art

is the anything to understand?

without the slightest doubt, art is the answer.

What he can’t be sure about is the question

Beuys was an enigma and again even his hat linked to Crimea and the Tartars !

In his song, Fireflies John grant says ~”She catches fireflies at the ice cream social and oh we watch them take flight” The title of this book in English is fireflies and the fireflies in these books are ideas. The book has a sebaldian feel to it a book where each part interconnects with earlier part a collection of small pieces about famous and less famous people. The core of the book is a story of Joesph Beuys and the aftermath of his crash in the second world war in Crimea, where he survived by being wrapped in felt and fat. Then how Gagarin got picked for the space flight over another man un the end. Urban myths like was it Pete Best in the abbey road cover in the background. The death of Antoine de Saint Exupery all gets mention and link in as we have eight stories or vignettes interlinking.

Yuri Gararin was chosen from among 300 candidates to make the first manned voyage outside the earths atmosphere. The son of a milkmaid and carpenter upholds the spirit of Socialism better than one whose father is a teacher and has a foreign sounding name: Gherman Titov misses out after two tie-breaks.

How He ended up in space , remind me of an exhbition Star city about Soviet space flight and art.

As I said this is hard to pin down what it is as a book? It is my good friend Susan from Istros they have a word in Slovenian for good prose that walks the line between fiction and non-fiction like the great book Panorama this is a book that rips at the soul of the reader. For me, I love when a book connects to my own life and this is what has happened here, in particular, the piece about Joesph Beuys rung with me as I lived for a time in the town of his birth just as they were doing a museum at his birthplace and my partner of the time her father lived in Kassel where there is a number of Beuys installations the 700s oaks rung the connection to the crashing in the forest of Crimea he and other plants 700 trees each with a special stone marker. then remembering being amazed the first time I heard the story of the piece  Fettecke another line back to the Crimea and the fat the smothered his body. This is what great books like this do ignite a light in the reader’s mind. A Spanish review describes the book as being like opening pages and linking through a web browser. Fireflies is an apt title as they light up the dark and fly around so quickly, like them this is a book small but full of light easily read in an evening you’ll be thinking about it for days after and going back and rereading parts.

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