The African shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

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The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Guatemalan fiction

Original title – Le Orilla Africana

Translator – Jeffrey Gray

Source – personnel copy

Rodrigo Rey rosa is a Guatemalan writer from a middle class family that meant he travelled a lot growing up. Including europe . When he started studying at a summer writing workshop run by the great writer Paul Bowles , who many books where set in North Africa, Rey Rosa fiction is set in Latin American and also like this book in North Africa where he later spent time with Bowles in Morocco where he translated Rey rosa books into english and after Bowles death he was the executor of Bowles estate . I know that is a lot of mention of Bowles but as you see in this book he has a lot to owe the American writer.

Everyone knew that owls don’t sleep at night and that they can see in the dark. That was why, when someone want to stay awake all night, it was a good idea to catch an Owl and pull out its eyes. Some people boiled the eyes in water and ate them, or you could make an amulet with one of the eyes and wear it on your chest to keep off sleep.

Hamsa returned to the tool shed and smoked several pipes of Kif, thinking of what he should do.

Hamsa captures the owl that links the two tales.

The African shore is one of those short books that after you have put it down seem so much longer than it was. The book is a pair of stories twisting around each other the first is a Take of a Shepard boy given a chance to be a lookout for his Uncle which he hopes I feel he will eventually get money or be given a chance to get across the water to Europe. The we have the second story a young man from Columbia is having to spend some extra time in The country after he lost his passport so we see him meeting and wander the town mix with french woman . A man not in the rush to get home to his wife and life . Then we have the Owl he sees it all and is the character connecting the two stories .

At the end of the street, on the sidewalk across from the herbalist’s , he saw a ragged boy with a two-handled basket trying to sell a barn owl.

He stopped and leaned over the basket to examine it. the owl said “Chi Chichich” Its big black eyes, circled with ochre disc, looked straight ahead. Its old woman’s face was framed by a small halo of feathers.It moved constantly, following the slightest movement around it .

The two meet as the owl changes hand between them both .

This is a clever little book about place , being lost in a place . Being in a place but wanting to be lost in another place it is about that short distance between the two continents Africa and Europe that is only miles but is also millions of miles away from one another. The we have the owl he is another character link the two people in the story but also the sense of place this desert and the town of Tangiers always a melting pot of Africa and europe . Like his Hero Bowles it is a story about coming to this place and feeling part of it The other character in the book is Morocco itself  the street life and characters we meet. Rey Rosa has part Bowles in his writing and also bit of Borges the book is built of short chapters that could almost be little piece of Borges he also has that sense of wanderlust and getting out of Latin america I have found at various times in Bolano’s work but also the works of some like Neuman a sense of connecting the old and new world through the needle of Africa . A great intro to a writer I want to try more of.

Have you read a Guatemalan fiction before ?

 

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 !

Revulsion : Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya

 

 

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Revulsion : Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya

El Salvadoran fiction

Original title – El asco, Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador

Translator – Lee Klein

Source – personnel copy

Now I saw this shortly after it came out in the summer, I was searching for some Bernhard books and this from a writer I have featured twice before on the blog appeared . Horacio Casrtellanos Moya is an ex pat salvodoran writer, he has written eleven novels . This book is the reason he left El Salvador when it came out is was considered to political many calling for it to be banned and his mother received death threats and Horacio himself fled. He now teaches at Iowa university.

The last time my mother came to Montreal twelve-year ago, she warned ,e. Moya , she said I had to return when she died, I couldn’t be an ingrate.Now here I am, even if it’s only a month, even if it’s no more than thirty days, I don’t intend to stay here a day longer, although we haven’t been able to sell my mother’s house; I’m here a place I never thought I’d return to, to which I never wanted to return.Nut IO don’t understand what you’re doing here, Moya , this is something I wanted to ask you, this worries me the most, how could someone who is free to live in another country, some place minimally decent ,prefer to stay in this shithole

The hatred is clear in this passage near the start of the book Vega hatred of the place .

Now the title is a give away here the book is very much an homage to the style of writing that Thomas Bernhard became known , so the book is a single paragraph and in the best Bernhard tradition the main character is miserable . The book is formed of a couple of hours one evening between to men . Vega a professor how escaped the country and was living in Canada till his mother died and a writer called Moya (another nod to Bernhard he has put himself in his books as well) Vega is talking about the country and the way it has changed and go down hill a tirade against Salvador of the time but this is somewhat tongue in check in style there is a dark humour at times. This is a classic pub scene in a way with two men talking about the world one returning has seen the world and wants to tell his friend about how bad this place was .The Bernhard connection is also the last lines of the book as Vega took his name as an alias back in the day as he liked him as a writer.

Television is already a plague; sure, in Montreal I don’t have a television, but here at my brother’s house, where I’ve stayed until this morning, they’ve forced me to watch television whilst eating meals; you wouldn’t believe it, Moya , the television is in front of the dining table,it’s horrible , you can’t eat normally, you can’t have any sort of normal meal, because of television’s on ready to disturb your nerves.

I like this part Bernhard but also partly hilarious in its tones from vega .

I loved this short book Moya is a marmite writer I think you will either love his works like I do or hate them they tend to be grim and like this rather uneventful but full of life , it is easy to see why the book when it came out twenty years ago but not long after the end of the civil war in El Salvador a glimpse into the abyss that was the country before told by Vega and the way he saw the peace. This book is also an homage to modernism ala Bernhard but also Joyce with the action taking place over the space of two hours in an evening as the two get drunk and try to relive their earlier life . Have you read a Moya book , never sure why he isn’t as considered as highly as  Bolano for me he is actually a better writer and in this translation Lee klein has brought the Bernhard side to life for me.He is the master of capturing those dark times of the late 20th century in central america where violence , dark police forces and violence where just below the surface.

A little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano

 

 

A little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano

Chilean fiction

Original title – Una Novelita Lumpen

Translator – Natasha Wimmer

Source – Personnel copy

It has been a while since I reviewed Bolano he is one of the most review writers on the blog I have reviewed seven of his works on the blog as I work through all short books before I go back and reread savage detectives and 2666 both of which I read before the blog. I still have the return and Amulet on my tbr pile to read. This particular book was part of a project to get ten latin american writers at the turn or the millennium to write a story set in Rome. This book has also been made into a film.

One morning the Bolognan and the Libyan left. I spent an hour, more or less, going through the drawers to see whether they’d stolen anything. Nothing was missing.

Even I couldn’t deny that their conduct had been impeccable for the five days they’d stayed with us. They always washed the dishes, three times they hade dinner themselves, and they didn’t try anything with mr , which was important. I could sense the interest in their eyess, in the way they moved, and the way they talked to me, but I noted their self control and found it flattering

Bianca is an innocent in many ways as this passages shows .

This is a typical work of Bolano in his novella writing as it is a patchwork of a book . The story follows a orphaned brother and sister in Rome . Bianca the sister narrators the story, it see them trying to cope with the loss of their parents as they have to start work. But then her brother appears with two criminals just known as the Libiyan and Bolognan ,  they start to work out a crime that the four can do . This involves Bianca become close to a man Maciste a blind former film star , but in a weird twist she develops a weird S&M relationship with the man she is meant to be finding where this former star keeps his money.

Maciste’s eyes- unlike my brother’s eyes and his friends eyes- weren’t innocent. He almost always wore sunglasses. But sometimes he would take them off and look at me or pretend to look at me. Then I would shiver and close my eyes and hug him or try to hug him, which was alway hard considering his size. One day the Bolognan said to me

“That bastard is messing with your head.Find the safe ansd let’s get this over with”

I was reminded of that look frank had in the film Blue velvet as he is watch by Jeffrey

This is one of the stories that has no crime but is a crime story the crime isn’t part of the story it is rather like what Tarantino did in his classic film reservoir dogs where the crime is never show just the the meeting before and the aftermath this is like that we see the four discussing the crime , Bianca taking a lowly and dangerous position as a cleaner come sex toy for the blond old man this remind me somewhat of David Lynch;’s character Frank Booth another man with illness  and unhealthy way with woman. This isn’t a masterpiece but another little piece of the mosaic that is  Roberto Bolano the writer. glimpse at what made him the great writer that he was in this work .Also his love of good and evil the paths people take in there lives which has been at the centre of most of his works and how poverty sometimes leads to the wrong paths in life just to survive whether in Rome or the streets of Mexico city say .

Have you a favourite short Bolano work ?

Wakolda by Lucia Puenzo

 

Wakolda by Lucia Puenzo

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Wakolda

Translator – David William Foster

Source – Library book

Well I said the next stop of my woman in translation journey would be Argentina. Lucia Puenzo was part of the Granta best young Spanish writers edition a few years ago. She has won number of awards for her film work, she is a film maker as well as a writer. This novel is also a film she made with the english title the German Doctor, which was a feature at Cannes film festival when it came out . This strangely is also the second novel I have read this year about germans in Latin american after the second world war.  the other being Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun.

That day, mixture of sodium cholride and magnesium nitrate, injected with infinite patience into each eyeball, would change forever the course of science. The mass sterilization, the vivisections, the frustated attempts to change skin and hair colour using subcutaneous injection and even the night on which he thought he had finally succeeded in joining the veins of two twins to create a Siamese twins, only to find them a few hours later gasping like fish out of water – all his failures would be forgotten if he could manage to change the colour of the eyes of this child

The opening lines a chilling look at the man and what he did in the past !

As I said in the first paragraph the book revolves around an escape German from the second world war in this case it is a more famous German than in Rodrigo Hasbun book the escaped german in this story is Josef Mengele himself the man known as the angel  of death during his time as a doctor at the Auschwitz death camp . This is 1960 and Jose has settled in Bariloche a place that a number of Nazis have lived since the war in relative quiet from the rest of the world . Jose wants to carry on his work , that of trying to find the perfect human being. This leads him to a family that have all the qualities he is looking for except their daughter Lilith who has a growth defect . Add to that her mother is now expecting twins and the doctor had previously worked with twins in Auschwitz where he sewed two together like siamese twins to see what happen, but in this case he is fighting to keep them alive as the net is closing around him. We see most of the action through the eyes of the young girl who has a doll called Wakolda that Jose gave here.

Her father occupied the following pages , alongside her brothers , alongside her brothers, also surrounded by numbers and measurements.

she read Homo siriacus

she came last

Her illustration had more details than the others: measurements of almost all her bones, the circumference of her head notations in German, number and more numbers, calculations along with results, a list 0f illnesses … feeling a lump in the pit of her stomach, she gathered up the arms and legs of her doll. She left the dagger , the ring and the notebook where she’d found them. she climbed out the window after making sure that everything was exactly as she’d found it .

Jose notes about lilith  she finds in his office

This book is a clever take on fact and fiction Josef Mengele did spend time in Argentina after the war. This is imaging what would have happened had he decide to hide and carry on what he did it is a story of what is right and wrong in Ethics and how far people will go in the pursuit of perfection. Again as I have found in a number of latin american novel in recent years is the use of the child narrator from Andres Neuman to Marcelo Figueras .Lilith would have died in Auschwitz but here she has grabbed Jose by why she is here as part of what is otherwise a perfect aryan family what is the cause of her in this perfect family.

Have you a favourite novel about nazis on the run ?

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