Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

 

Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Guatemalan Fiction

Original title – Severina

Translator – Chris Andrews

Source – Personal copy

This is the second book I have reviewed on the blog from Rey Rosa, the first was the African shore like this book was published by Yale Press. Rey Rosa travels after school, this is where he meets the American writer Paul Bowles in Tangiers, where Bowles translated his books into English, also on his death made Rey Rosa in charge of his estate. This book is a love story of sorts both of a relationship and the life long journey we all take as readers through the city of Lit and its many turns.

The next time, two or three weeks later, when I saw her come in , I said good afternoon and asked if she was looking for something in particular.

“Yes, I’m looking for a present ” were the forst wprds I heard her say .

“Can I ask who it’s for ?”

“For my boyfriend,” She said. She had an unidentifiable accent.

“well, you’re the best judge. There are  some new books  in the Japanese literatuere section ”

Her face lit up

“Ah ,” She said.”I love Japanese literature”

He saw her take some Japanese books on the previous visit, this passage made me Laugh

Severina is the name of a girl, we don’t find this out till later in the book. We first see her in a bookshop being observed by the narrator who is also the owner of the said bookshop “La Entrenida” that he and a group of friends they choose to open due to paying so much for their own books. This is a boring Monday afternoon when he observes the girl he had seen before but this time he follows her around the shop noting each of the books that she has picked up and hidden on a couple of occasions. He lets her off but is drawn into her life. Where we see both her life and his life of a bookseller. But also as a lover of lit from the writers he reads and his friends reads.Again another book that mentions Borges and his Mirrors and maybe the Narrator sees a mirror in Severina  Then Ana Severina grandfather falls ill and this changes the picture between the two main characters.

“I rushed to the door and down the corridor , ran up the stair, but she had disappeared. I returned to the bookstore. My head was spinning. A pemonition sent me back to the shelf beside which I had kissed her, and I discovered that she had taken another book. A hardback edition of Faulkner’s The Wild Palms, translated by Borges. Rather than anger. I felt a strange relief. I went to the cash register and added Faulkners novel to the list of stolen books.

Wild Palms was a book that was influnencial in the latin american world after this translton by Borges .

This is a very short novella clocking in at 87 pages unlike the African shore this is a story told from the unnamed shop owner a first person narrative. There is a  book revolves around a book that might have been Borges and inspired one of his Mirror stories. I always love the way Borges stories ripple out and touch other writers.There are lots clever names like the shop is Spanish for Mistress the surname of Ana grandfather Mr White to name two there are others. There is also the love story between the narrator and Severina is almost like a mirror.

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The Corpse washer by Sinan Antoon

The Corpse Washer

The Corpse washer by Sinan Antoon

Iraqi fiction

Original title –  وحدها شجرة الرمان

Translator – By the writer himself

Source – Personnel copy on Kindle

Sinan Antoon is and Iraqi/American writer born in Baghdad to an Iraqi father and American mother ,he lived and studied English in Iraq  .Before moving to the US in 1990 where he gained a Phd in Arabic and Islamic studies from Harvard .He is currently an associate professor at Galltain school in New York .He has written five books and also made a well-known Documentary called  About Baghdad.

If death is a postman, then I receive his letters every day. I am the one who opens carefully the bloodied and torn envelopes. I am the one who washes them, who removes the stamps of death and dries and perfumes them, mumbling what I don’t entirely believe in. Then I wrap them carefully in white so they may reach their final reader— the grave.

Very poetic thoughts at times as they look after the cities dead .

 

Well this was the one book on this years IFFP I didn’t see being there ,but that said one I was pleased to see on the list as however curates the Yale imprint ”  THE MARGELLOS WORLD REPUBLIC OF LETTERS” has rather good taste from the other two books I have read from the list Diary and Blindly .So to the book the corpse washer is set in the Shi’ite community and follows Jawad who at the beginning of the book is working with his father as a corpse washer following the Islamic practice of Ghusl ,were a body needs to be washed in the correct water and shroud  in the Kafan ,as soon after some one dies .Now young Jawad has his own dreams he wants to become an artist  so he leaves his father and goes to follow his dream of art becoming a sculpture .But as  he is studying and then the gulf war and Saddam leadership becomes more manic ,his father dies ,his mother becomes very ill and the family rack up cost in her care so Jawad life goes full circle and in the middle of the violence yet again becomes a corpse washer telling us the horrors of conflict as he washes and shrouds the bodies of the dead .As war brings Jawad so many more stories and bodies to clean and shroud .

Like all children I was very curious and would pester Father with questions about his work, but he said he’d tell me all about it later when the time was right. I would accompany him when I was old enough. “It’s too early, focus on school.” Ammoury had started helping Father when he was fifteen and started to wash at eighteen, but my father never allowed me to go inside his workplace. He wanted to keep work and home separate. When I used to ask Ammoury about work, he never gave me satisfying answers; these were matters for grown-ups and I was still a child.

I loved visiting my father factory as a kid didn’t we all do this ?

Now I found this maybe the most powerful book I have read so far from the list and knowing the IFFP it will be a good contender for a winner Jawad is a man caught in the vicious circle of failed dreams he glimpse another life ,he wants more than his father but in the end maybe sees what his father didn’t in their job when he returns to it .When the story is washed clean it is a universally themed story of father and sons ,foiled ambition ,family ,war and losing a dream .A modern tragedy maybe ,War story maybe ,but for me most of all one mans struggle Jawad he could be compared to characters from a dickens novel or even an older version  Billy Casper where Jawad’s art is like Billy kestrel and escape a dream of a better life .

September 2017
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