Mouthful of birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of birds by Smanta Schweblin

Argentinean short fiction

Original title – Pájaros en la boca

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source – library copy

When the longlist of the Man Booker came out I was happy I had one book on the list and had read half of it just in case it made the longlist as I had it on loan from the library. This is the second book by Samanta Schweblin to be listed by the man Booker international prize. She has published three collections of short stories and one novel. She was chosen by Granta in 2010 as one of the best 22 Spanish language writers under 35. I enjoyed her previous shortlisted book Fever Dream.

When she reaches the road, Felicity understandsher fate. He has not waited for her, and, as if the pastwere a tangible thing, she thinks she can still see the weak reddish glow of the car’s taillights fading on the horizon. In the flat darkness of the countryside, there is only disappointment, a wedding dress, and a bathroom she shouldn’t have taken so long in

Sitting on a rock beside the door, she picks grains of rice from embroidery on her dress, with nothing to look at but the open fields, the highway, and, besides the highway, a women’s bathroom.

The opening lines of the first story Headlights a woman jilted on her wedding day.

The collection has twenty stories. The opening story Headlights is a tale of a bride jilted left by the side of the road. I was hit by one line in the opening as she picked the rice from the embroidery of her dress so soon after they haven’t even fallen out themselves. Ther woman Felicity then wanders and meets another woman Nene who it seems was expecting her to be there. Then the next story sees a pregnant woman and her partner trying to get free of the pregnancy in some strange ways. Further on a strange tale of a brother visiting his depressed brother Walter a man that everything is a struggle for him to do. The title story is Sara who has decided she will only eat living birds a macabre tale and how it affects her relationships with her father he comes to take her to live with him after hearing about his daughter’s new diet. It ends with a bird being left in Sara’s room in a cardboard box and the door being closed. Then lastly the Merman a woman heads to a dockside bar and finds him sat on a post nearby looking at her the two have a conversation. In which she explains about her ill mother who is slightly insane and how her brother isn’t accepting the fact she somehow ends up kissing the merman.

I’m sitting at the port, waiting for Daniel, when I see the merman look at me from the pier. He’s sitting on the first concrete column, where the water is deeper and the beach hasn’t begun, some fifty yard out. It takes me a minute to relize what I’ seeing, what he is eexactly: such a man from the waist up, such a sea creature from the waist down.He looks to one side, then calmly to the other, and finally his eyes turn back to me.

The woman sat having a coffee has caught the eye of the merman the two then talk .

I enjoyed fever dream but for me, this collection maybe shows her real talent is with short stories there is a real sense of the supernatural and surreal at times in this collection. Schweblin has cleverly left place out of this collection which means it makes the tales more universal in there feeling. She also seems to nod towards the great of short stories a pinch of Poe in the supernatural tales, in the depressing ones I saw a real touch of Raymond Carver for me the opening tale especially had hints of his sorrowful style. even Roald Dahl in the darkness in the tales which is something he was great at.  then if Borges had rewritten Grimms tales for a modern reader he would produce something like this the merman for example where maybe the Mermann is a mirror of what the woman wanted her brother to really be? ok cold to kiss but willing to listen to her. I can see why it made the longlist finishing it off since the list came out it is one of the best short story collections I have read probably since circus Bulgaria

Advertisements

Not to read by Alejandro Zambra

Not to read by Alejandro Zambra

Chilean essays

Original title  – No Leer

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source – personal copy

I was talking last week on twitter on #Translationthurs about what books people are reading. Jeff a fellow translation fan said he was in the middle of this book the latest by Zambra to be translated into English and also the first non-fiction to be translated into English.I have reviewed his novel ways of going home and his short story collection My documents. Which like this collection came out on Fitzcarraldo editions. I loved his short story collection so was looking forward to this as it was a collection of short essays.

The Mexican Josefina Vicens preferred the slippery simplicity of natrual phrases, even if she had to spend years searching for them. In one of the few interviews she granted. She tells of that time Julio Rulfo asked her why she was taking so long to publish another novel. The joke made sense, since in the end of Vicen’s oeuvre turned out to be even smaller than Rulfo’s: her two novels were recently published together in a volume that could fit in a shirt pocket.

Her most well known work El libro Vacio (the empty book), from 1958 which took eight years to write and which depicts the process of a man fighting against a blank page

A novel about writers block , I hope this books gets reissued at some point.

This is a collection of short piece where we discover what drives Zambra as a reader. From the first piece Obligatory reading about those books that we tackle in school. He talks about what he feels of the choice of Madame Bovary, where he learns for the first time movie adaptions can be a little liberal with the story. Then we have a piece about the great Argentina writer Julio Cortazar. He talks about how good the writer is and how he is a fond memory from school. The essays are like discovering little gems,  as the essays go on we see times he read photocopies of great books passed around when he was studying. He  mentions writer after writer, people like Josefina Vicens  and Nicanor Parra the first a great Mexican writer, I looked up but only one book translated and it wasn’t available at a sensible price then we have the great Chilean poet Parra who passed earlier this year, a number of his poems can be found online he is was called the alpha male of Chilean letters. Later he visits the hometown of Cesare Pavese, now one of his books is due out this summer from Penguin and Peter Owen have also published a number. Zambra talks about how he was searching for the settings of the books as he wandered around where he lived.

Only now do I fully take in the landscape. A tranquil green lingers in the eyes and it seems I can take everything in with just one long look: te valley , the hill. the church, the ruins of a medieval tower. I search for the setting of the moon and the bonfire . I adjust the image to position the Belbo river and the road to Caneli, which is the novels vanishing point, the corner where the worlds begin.

Zambra visiting the home town of Pavase and trying to find the setting for one of his great novels.

This is just a small glimpse at the writers mentioned in the book. As with his novels and short stories, Zambra is the master of the small. He is almost like a Bonsai master his piece are so neatly trimmed that they are almost like a gallery of his trees the root of his writing is that of him as a reader for to be a great writer one must also be a great reader. Here we see those roots of him as a reader but also why he reads this book over another book a sort of system of choice he makes. Also what he finds in writers from the Julio Riberyio a fellow Chilean, who is very shy or as he say when Mario Vargas Llosa called him “the shyest man he has ever met ” and that from the least shy writer from Peru as Zambra puts it. A great collection and a wonderful journey with a reader around the world lit and in particular Latin American fiction, I have added a few writers to my list of writers to read

My documents by Alejandro Zambra

My Documents by ALejandro Zambra

Chilean fiction

Original title – Mis documentos

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source – review copy

The flash of a distant camera
reconnecting
thoughts and actions,
Fragments of our missing dreams,
Pieces from here and there
fall in place along the line,
Disappearing between you and me.

Life is changing everywhere I go,
New things and old both disappear.
If life is a photograph,
Fading in the mirror….

A Neil young lyric Distant camera from silver and gold album i felt the line fragments of our missing dreams suited this collection do well .

I have read Alejandro Zambra before his two Novella’s Bonsai and ways of going home  the ,later I did review here . I remember at the time I read it thinking , he would be a great short story writer so when this collection from Fitzcarraldo editions arrived I was excited to see if my feelings about him were right .Alejandro Zambra currently teaches at Santiago Diego Portales university he has won a number of awards including the best Chilean Novel award and was part of the 2010 Granta best Spanish writer collection (time flies that was a great collection ).

He was twenty-three years old, it was the first computer he’d owned and he didn’t know exactly what he wanted it for, considering he barely knew how to turn it on and open the word processor. But it was necessary to have a computer, everyone said so, even his mother . Who’d promised to help him with payments .

I was a bit old when I got my first lapton but had same feeling as what is this for in my life as our narrator did .

My documents could easily be called a novel in the way it is a collection of memories strung together , but the narrator isn’t defined as the same one, so it’s not a novel but a wonderful collection of gems memories drawn like the miniatures of old .Rather like in the 18th century people used carry a miniature of their loved ones eye just the eye and like that this collection it is a detached collection of stories of lives and memories . A remembrance of a first computer , from putting a poem on it , then listening to music , editing pictures and music finally to a dark side of the owning of a pc .Then we follow a smoker as he writers a diary of his giving up smoking (The irony is I just read Nicotine another non fiction work from FItzcarraldo also about stopping smoking ) .Then Condor Rojas is mentioned in one of the stories and rather like the stories themselves an echo of one of my own memories was remembered as like the writer himself , I remember the story of Roberto Rojas when this Chilean keeper pretend to be injured from a firework a match was abandoned and then he was found to have injured himself .

He’d been there with us, in front of the tv . When Condor Rojas faked his injury in Brazil and the Chilean team walked of the field at the Maracana. My father and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing and Camilo was distraught too. “Fucking Brazilians!” I shouted to see if anyone would scold me,but no one did. My father sank into a furious silence. Camilo immediately set off downtown, and he was part of the crowd that protested in front of the Brazilian embassy. I wanted to go with him, but my parents wouldn’t let me , and I had to swallow my rage.

The moment Rojas did the injury that turned out to be fake .

Again i was touched by Zambra I said although he grew up a million miles away from me and in a different world . I connected with him in ways of going home and again here , I remember my first interactions with a pc .But more than that the memory of what happened in that world cup qualifying game in 1989 that saw chile miss the 1990 world cup all but forgotten now outside Chile was by me at least remembered for a number of days after the reading of the story .Rather like Robin Williams in the film the final cut Zambra is a master of slicing together parts of life memories , loves and behind it all the dark past of Chile .This is a wonderful debut short story collection from one of the leading lights of Latin American fiction at the moment.

Have you read Zambra ?

 

July 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  
%d bloggers like this: