South America


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South America

marraskuu 12, 2019, 2:54 pm

Just received two new books belonging to the top 100 list.

Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado
Three sad Tigers by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

marraskuu 12, 2019, 10:38 pm

If you add mine, and Jose Lezama Lima's Paradiso, and Rulfo's Pedro Paramo...the south of the US writers are going to end up with a quarter of the 100.

marraskuu 12, 2019, 10:39 pm

Three Trapped Tigers, isn't it?

marraskuu 14, 2019, 1:38 pm

An Invincible Memory by João Ubaldo Ribeiro is a great South American novel. It was the first one I wrote about for my Invisible Books column.

See here:

I have another from him awaiting me on my shelf.

Also, Three Trapped Tigers, two by Abel Posse, Avalovara, Terra Nostra, He Who Searches, etc.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 14, 2019, 1:54 pm

He Who Searches?

Ah, Luisa...

marraskuu 14, 2019, 3:09 pm

Since The Lizard's Tail was quite good, I ordered her small Dalkey one. I don't think she has too many books translated into English or in general.

I heard that she recently one some big Spanish prize. Something like 120,000 U.S. dollars. Good for her!

marraskuu 14, 2019, 3:12 pm

Looks like the literal translation of TTT is actually three sad tigers. Tres Tristes Tigres. The translator must have wanted to keep the TTT, even though the "t" in "the" doesn't have the same sound.

marraskuu 14, 2019, 3:32 pm

That's why I never translate my books into Bulgarian.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2019, 11:07 am

Okay, let's do this together: the top 100 Latin American fictions:

here is my list from the other page.

Borges: Ficciones
Vargas Llosa: Conversation in the Cathedral
Garcia Marquez: 100 Years of Solitude
Roberto Arlt: The Seven Madmen and the Flamethrowers
Julio Cortazar: Hopscotch
Carlos Fuentes: The Death of Artemio Cruz
Asturias: The Eyes of the Interred
Donoso: The Obscene Bird of Night
Mutis: The Maqroll works
da Cunha: Rebellion in the Backlands
Guimaraes Rosa: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
Infante: Three Sad Tigers
Valenzuela: He Who Searches
Valenzuela: The Lizard's Tail
Onetti: Body Snatcher
Onetti: A Brief Life
Fuentes: Terra Nostra
Lins: Avalovara
Vargas Llosa: The War of the End of the World
da Cunha: The Backlands
Lima: Paradiso
Bolano: 2666
Amado: Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon
de Loyola: Zero
Castellanos: THe Book of Lamentatios
Piglia: Money to Burn
Piglia: Artificial Respiration
Rey Rosa
Catellanos Moya
Walsh: Operation Massacre
Puig: Kiss of the Spider Woman
Eloy Martinez: Evita
Taibo: works
Machado de Assis: Quincas Borba
Bioy Casares: The Invention of Morel
Carpentier: The Lost Steps
Sabato: The Tunnel
Sabato: On Heroes and Tombs
Galeano: Memory of Fire
Dalton: Miguel Marmol
Azuela: The Underdogs

We need Larry Riley here

marraskuu 14, 2019, 3:35 pm

Roa Bastos, I the Supreme

marraskuu 14, 2019, 4:17 pm

The House of the Spirits started off great but was ultimately a disappointment for me.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2019, 1:03 pm

The Chilean anti-poet Nicanor Parra is my favorite poet of all time. Apart from Luisa Valenzuela there are no women in the lists above so I would offer up Rosario Castellanos who wrote among other things The book of lamentations which is excellent. Ricardo Piglia has always been a favorite of mine particularly Artificial Respiration and Money to burn. I also like Tomas Eloy Martinez and quite a lot of Bolano. Horacio Castellanos Moya, Homero Aridjis, Paco Ignacio Taibo III, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Mempo Giardinelli are others that just popped into my head. There are a lot of good writers really

marraskuu 15, 2019, 1:21 pm

Well, Larry, I regret to inform you that both Taibo and Eloy Martinez are mediocrities in my view, so until we get a third opinion they are in limbo.

Hey, I just found Black Spring: it was way to the left after my Latin American books!

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2019, 1:43 pm

#13--well FWIW I've never been a big fan of magic realism. 100 years of solitude has never struck me as some be all end all accomplishment. It's good but not good enough where I'd contemplate reading it again. And if given a choice between reading that again or Eloy Martinez's Santa Evita I would go with Santa Evita without any hesitation at all. Funny no mention of Rodolfo Walsh either though Operation Massacre and a couple short stories are about all translated into English.

I'm not a huge fan of Carlos Fuentes either. And if we're talking about Mexicans I like Taibo's undergroundish attitude towards life a whole lot more than Fuentes which is another reason I like Castellanos. She came from a rich family but she was very much about the poor. To me that's a foundation of how I look at Latin American writing--who is on the right side, who plays both sides and who is on the wrong side and Fuentes plays both sides and Vargas Llosa plays both sides---though Conversation (it's also one of his earlier works) is a great, great novel. Borges is another who plays both sides. Politics IMO really plays into Latin American literature like maybe no other literature on earth and it helps appreciation if you're on the left side of the political spectrum of things.

Anyway Bert Hirsch would be a good add to this thread. He's read lots on this.

marraskuu 15, 2019, 2:18 pm

Walsh! Great call

marraskuu 15, 2019, 2:22 pm

I agree to some degree about the political in LA fiction, but Vargas Llosa, swine at times, wrote Conversation like a feller of the people, and War of the End of the World was a tour de force.

Get Bert over here to vote on Taibo and Eloy Marinez.

marraskuu 15, 2019, 3:33 pm

>7 George_Salis: Thanks George for putting the T's straight

marraskuu 15, 2019, 3:41 pm

#16--Bert would certainly vote for Eloy Martinez. That's one of his favorites. He pushed him for a long time on me and it took me a while but I finally got it. By the way Taibo was born in Spain and comes from a family of persecuted Spanish Civil War anarcho/syndicalists. Maybe he's a more entertaining writer than a great writer but still he's very good. He has at least a couple books based on the 1968 Mexico City (Olympics) massacre.

MVL is a great writer but he is also a mass of political contradictions. For instance he extols some liberation theology priests in Alejandro Mayta--one of them had a hammer and sickle tattooed on his forearm and yet MVL ran for President of Peru as a free trade pro IMF neo-liberal. The problem wasn't so much what he was but what he seemed to evolve into and maybe he's evolved again--I don't know.

marraskuu 15, 2019, 3:43 pm

Jose Lezama Lima's Paradiso ! That one caught my eye : jotting down

and Onetti: A Brief Life, another nugget

where is the kiss of the Spider woman by Puig ?

City and the dogs by Vargas Llosa ?

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 15, 2019, 3:52 pm

City and the Dogs? Ain't read it. Should it be there? I added Puig and accepted Larry's proxy delivery

Another translation fuckup: The Time of the Hero in English

marraskuu 15, 2019, 3:56 pm

Si, la ciudad y los perros

marraskuu 15, 2019, 4:17 pm

Santa Evita is another one on my shelf. Thanks for reminding me, Larry!

100 Years of Solitude was missing something for me. I still enjoy it quite a bit but found it just shy of a masterpiece. At that time, I also read Midnight's Children which I enjoyed more as an example of magic realism. I wonder if any other of Gabo's books are better than 100. Chronicles didn't do much for me. Some of the short stories in Leaf Storm are phenomenal, particularly the fables.

marraskuu 15, 2019, 4:39 pm

Remember, before finally adoring Midnight's Children, read Gunther Grass' Tin Drum and decide if Rushdie was walking on his own prosthetics.

marraskuu 15, 2019, 4:41 pm

I say we get to 50 and then put them in order by vote and persuasion.

marraskuu 15, 2019, 7:02 pm

I will read that but...books give birth to books. What came first, the book or the book? The answer is always the book.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2019, 4:19 pm


1. Conversation in the Cathedral (rick)
2666 (Bas)
The Seven Madmen/The Flamethrowers (Larry)
The War of the End of the World (Mac)

marraskuu 16, 2019, 8:14 am

just noticed that la ciudad y los perros by Vargas Llosa is translated as The time of the hero

marraskuu 16, 2019, 8:54 am

> see #20

marraskuu 16, 2019, 8:54 am

Please case your votes for best LA novel, folks.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 16, 2019, 10:44 am

The war that ends all war ?

marraskuu 16, 2019, 4:45 pm

I have only read two our three so lot of catching up to do. My vote goes to 2666 - Roberto Bolano

marraskuu 16, 2019, 5:39 pm

>30 Macumbeira: ? Is that The War of the End of the World in official English translation? are you nominating it?

marraskuu 16, 2019, 5:43 pm

Seven Madmen/Flamethrowers. I'm biased.

marraskuu 16, 2019, 6:53 pm

The nominees are posted in 26. so far we have three different votes. I have to admit that I gave your choice some thought, Larry.
For me 2666 is out because it was not a novel according to Bolano himself, who considered them five novels, and the five are so uneven I have to figure one of the five would have to be so fucking great that it stood out so much on its own that it would in itself be unforgettable. I think that if he had to make it a novel he would have written it differently. At least two of the five are on their own top 50 caliber, but it's hard to place the group at the top.
My own choice, Conversation in the Cathedral, is to me the best combination of political dissection of power and literary invention of all of the books. It's amazing that he can keep a conversation interesting, compelling enough that one of them has roughly 100 pages between statement and response. If I still had it laying around I would find that converstation and check it out. How many lines. How would the conversation look all on one or two pages...
If Mac is nominating War of the End of the World, my response is that it isn't even Vargas Llosa's first novel, but also that it is extraordinary writing, capturing the events amazingly well, but without any extra literary technique to match the very best books on the list. Which is probably to say a realist novel can't be the best Latin American novel.
Arlt's can be for the reasons I state in the intro to the book, that it is prophetic, that it takes on modernity before the cement has even hardened...

marraskuu 16, 2019, 11:07 pm

>32 RickHarsch: Yes The War of the End of the World

marraskuu 17, 2019, 7:12 am

so 4 different votes, none insane

marraskuu 17, 2019, 9:20 am

10 names for the top of your list

Mariano Azuela
Jorge Luis Borges
Ruben Dario
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
José Lezama Lima
Pablo Neruda
Juan Carlos Onnetti
Octavio Paz
Juan Rulfo
Mario Vargas Llosa

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2019, 10:30 am

The only one I don't have is Azuela. I'll add him.

Post 9. Any particular work?

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 17, 2019, 11:02 am

>38 RickHarsch: It's a Mexican Western
Title : those below ?

The correct title is The underdogs

marraskuu 17, 2019, 11:03 am

I am tempting to add the treasure of the Sierra Madre by you-know-who

marraskuu 17, 2019, 11:07 am

Traven was a terrible writer, very wooden dialogue...

marraskuu 17, 2019, 11:08 am

oh common Rick

marraskuu 17, 2019, 11:36 am

I like Traven--particularly the Death Ship. The Underdogs is Mexican Revolution stuff.

marraskuu 17, 2019, 2:27 pm

I like Traven too

marraskuu 17, 2019, 2:54 pm

I can't remember if it was decided who bites who in this group, but Mac is really asking for it.

marraskuu 18, 2019, 2:25 am

Anyway Arlt's Seven Madmen/Flamethrowers is a great work but it's also pretty damn brutal all in all. I handed out over 20 copies or so of each and only a handful--well less than half have been read. I don't push people on it because they're going to do what they're going to do and really for the most part those people who got it who haven't read it probably wouldn't like it anyway.

I will note on the character Erdosain--in the second part the Flamethrowers whenever he's alone he's always tormenting himself--he hears voices and has visions and the visions and voices aren't nice ones and he's always in a sweat. When other people are around he behaves more or less normally. He's a guy constantly on the edge of tipping over into insanity.....and towards the end he commits a heinous and unredeemable act. I have sympathy for the character but I don't really like him. I have a lot more affection for the characters of Hipolita and the Astrologer.

marraskuu 18, 2019, 2:34 am

Erdosain is humanity. The book is prophecy.

marraskuu 18, 2019, 11:46 am

come on folks. everybody gets a vote. let's get this done. I'm not used to being a leader. don't fail me. Rah rah...

marraskuu 18, 2019, 12:16 pm

#48--is prophecy and being prophetic the same thing? There are things about it that are before its time.

marraskuu 18, 2019, 12:38 pm

Yeah, I mean he saw what was coming in many ways...I don't mean Khalil Gibran are Coelho, or any of that shit.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2019, 1:57 pm

thirds: I loved The Peron Novel, The Tango Singer and Purgatory.
Eloy Martinez is Argentine through and through.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2019, 2:00 pm

For me it all starts and could end with Borges. Some of his stories are timeless, some favorites being Tlon,Uqbar,Obis Tertius, Funes-His Memory, and The Aleph (which Eloy Martinez's Tango Singer does a take on).

Piglia's Artificial Respiration is an ode to Macedonio Fernandez (who was a Borges muse) and is still relevant today as a study on government surveillance. Piglia's Diaries are fantastic as Argentine literary history and a writer's coming of age.

Bolano's Savage Detectives is a fun romp.

Edgardo Cozarinsky, though minor, is worth exploring.

Ilan Stavans provides great commentaries on Latin American lit and culture.

Two more current favorites are Eduardo Halfon, The Polish Boxer and Columbia's Juan Gabriel Vasquez. additionally Andres Neuman The Things We Don't Do and Alejandro Zambra are up and comers.

I know I have strayed from the best 100 but so be it.

two females that must be mentioned Laura Restrepo and Clarice Lispector

I fully endorse Infante, a wild man on fire.

I have left many off that I also adore. the above is off the top of my head.

marraskuu 18, 2019, 2:38 pm

Infante is really entertaining.
Love the sad tigers so far

marraskuu 18, 2019, 2:49 pm

Thanks, Bert. So Do we have your vote for number one in Borges?

marraskuu 18, 2019, 4:10 pm

YES. Borges is the man.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 18, 2019, 4:23 pm

So we have five votes for number one of Latin American writers--all different.
I think we might be able to form a party of two for Arlt.

Then again, the two I choose Arlt. But I also consider Mutis a candidate for number one. Still, it makes sense to give it to a precursor.

marraskuu 20, 2019, 1:05 am

I'll throw in for Borges. Some stories are only a few pages long, yet all of them are infinite.

marraskuu 20, 2019, 1:08 am

I actually wrote a story that was published in an anthology called Afterlives of the Writers (I also did one for David Foster Wallace). This is the Borges one I wrote, something of a sequel to Borges and I:

Tres Borges

"…When I, Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, died of liver cancer on the 14th of June, aged 86, in Geneva, it was not me who died, but him, Borges. You see, while I, Borges, am writing this sentence, he is in Paradise with sight restored, rereading Dante, or at least I believe this is the case. We have always had this problem, Borges and I, unable to distinguish who is who. For all I know, Borges is writing this while I echo against the moss-laden walls of a purgatorial labyrinth, my voice softer and more distant than a newborn tiger's first whine. Do I envy Borges' fresh, infinite library, to the point where I want to wish it away, write it out of existence? Or does he envy my ostensible immortality, and with his last gasp did he swallow me into his final death dream, the one that is as long as the universe and as thundering as the Big Bang? Or is this text being written by neither Borges nor me, but a third, an other-Borges, an anti-Borges who desires to bring us both back from the beyond, or to banish us absolutely? Can one mirror offer two reflections, or three reflections in the absence of a face to reflect? Time will tell...."

—an excerpt of an apocryphal page from El libro de los muertos, translated from the Spanish by Jorge Salis

marraskuu 20, 2019, 10:54 am

Okay, basically we have a tie with Borges and Arlt on top. Is that acceptable to the group?
Top 50 Latin American writers:
1 and 2: Arlt and Borges


marraskuu 20, 2019, 4:51 pm

>59 George_Salis:

love you're channeling Borges. Well done.

Infinite is a perfect word to describe much of his work He was tuned in to the limitless possibilities.

marraskuu 21, 2019, 2:46 pm

Thanks, berthirsch! Borges is one of my top favorite writers for sure.

marraskuu 21, 2019, 3:38 pm

Time to vote for third best LA book, after the tie for first raised no objections.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 23, 2019, 7:50 am

>63 RickHarsch:
given his over riding influence and long career I would give the nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

My favorites are
Autumn of the Patriarch
Memories of Melancholy Whores
100 years of Solitude (a grand accompaniment to the expanding consciousness of the 60s)

marraskuu 23, 2019, 12:25 pm

Top 50 LA writers/books

1. Borges/Arlt
3. 100 Years of Solitude

Now, anyone care to vote for # 4? I think I'm going with Conversation in the Cathedral. 3 was chosen because only Bert voted and I would cast my vote his way to break a tie and and and...let's get MOVING

marraskuu 23, 2019, 5:16 pm

at some point Neruda should be on the list. not sure as a #4

Vargas Llosa is a strong choice.
Carlos Fuente will be in the top 10.

marraskuu 23, 2019, 7:49 pm

Neruda is on the original list: post 9

If we get some voters Fuentes won't make the top ten, but Death of Artemio Cruz has a shot. The original idea was best works, but with Borges and of course Neruda, it's the body of work. So right now it's time for another novel.
Conversation in the Cathedral
Death of Artemio Cruz
The Obscene Bird of Night
I, the Supreme
Memory of Fire
The Eyes of the Interred
Mutis: The Maqroll works
The War of the End of the World
The Backlands
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
The Lost Steps

others are welcome to nominate of course

As I see it, the choice is between the best of the above and Neruda

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 24, 2019, 2:58 am

The Canudos have inspired a lot of masterpieces

Canudos by Euclides da Cunha ( The Backlands )
Diadorim by Joao Guimaraes Rosa ( The Devil to Pay in the Backlands )
The War... by Vargas Losa
Masters and servants by Gilberto Freyre

marraskuu 24, 2019, 2:54 am

To confuse the list even more

Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis ( admired by Stefan Zweig )
The crime of padre Amaro by Eça de Queiroz ( Borges greatly admired this writer )
Memories from prison by Graciliano Ramos

marraskuu 24, 2019, 2:56 am

I am halfway with the three sad tigers and it is entertaining enough to keep me going. : )

marraskuu 24, 2019, 5:33 am

I've read at least once all of the four but Freyre's which I never heard of...

Machado de Assis has been listed, a different book, but I am not well acquainted with him. He deserves, probably, a space near the top...but the 'boom' was the kind of thing where some percolation led to BOOM, so that most of the great boomolas were better than most of what came before.

marraskuu 24, 2019, 8:24 am

#70--if you like that you also might like Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutierrez.

marraskuu 24, 2019, 10:30 am

>72 lriley: an insane journey into the condemned soul of a sexual deviant ? What do we need more for a lazy Sunday afternoon?

marraskuu 24, 2019, 12:22 pm

#73--it's now all that far away from Cabrera Infante IMO in a kind of Bukowski/Henry Miller-ish way.

marraskuu 24, 2019, 1:34 pm

You really make me want to read it...

marraskuu 24, 2019, 1:35 pm

Anybody want to fucking vote or what?

marraskuu 24, 2019, 3:45 pm

#75--I thought it was good fun.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 8:49 am

>74 lriley: must endorse Infante as one of the wild men of literature His writing is on fire.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 9:54 am

#78--I've read Cabrera Infante three times.Three trapped tigers, Infante's inferno and Holy Smoke. Three trapped tigers is the one I liked best and it's really really good. Infante's Inferno is good too just not as good. Holy Smoke is not so much a novel as a book on the Cuban cigar. I liked it a lot though and I've never really been a smoker.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 11:41 am

The list grows:

1. Borges/Arlt
3. 100 Years of Solitude
4. Conversation in the Cathedral
5. Neruda
6. Mutis: Magroll
7. Asturias: THe Eyes of the Interred
8. Fuentes: The Death of Artemio Cruz
9. Cortazar: Hopscotch
10. The Backlands Trilogy: Os Sertoes, da Cunha; The War of the End of the World, Vargas Llosa; Backlands novel, Rosa
11. Donoso: The Obscene Bird of Night
12. Bolano, works
13. Rulfo, works
14. Galeano, Memories of Fire
15. Sabato, works

marraskuu 25, 2019, 12:11 pm

I am a big fan of Piglia He should be added soon. Both Absent City and Artificial Respiration are his classics yet his diaries are addictive.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 12:21 pm

I much much prefer Nicanor Parra to Pablo Neruda. Just saying.

#81--Piglia's Money to burn is great too.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 1:57 pm

Yes, Parra though is very particular, to particular taste--Neruda was one of the giant poet figures of last century, and an important political voice.
I'm willing to be flexible, but no one is voting, so I am suggesting a list that takes into account what I know of the thoughts of a few of you. Without Larry, Arlt could not have tied for number 1. And Mac's love of The War of the End of the World had to be dealt with somehow. I loved it as a reader, less so as a writer. But it led me to da Cunha and Rosa, and so I think the three together may actually deserve a higher place than ten. But with most of these, even if I name a work I tend to consider the body of work in most cases.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 25, 2019, 4:46 pm

The list grows:

1. Borges/Arlt
3. 100 Years of Solitude
4. Conversation in the Cathedral
5. Neruda
6. Mutis: Magroll
7. Asturias: THe Eyes of the Interred
8. Fuentes: The Death of Artemio Cruz
9. Cortazar: Hopscotch
10. The Backlands Trilogy: Os Sertoes, da Cunha; The War of the End of the World, Vargas Llosa; Backlands novel, Rosa
11. Donoso: The Obscene Bird of Night
12. Bolano, works
13. Rulfo, works
14. Galeano, Memories of Fire
15. Onetti, works
15. Sabato, works
16. Walsh, Operation Massacre
17. Piglia, works
18. Lima: Paradiso

marraskuu 25, 2019, 2:57 pm

>83 RickHarsch:
appreciate the effort. I can never get enough of the Latin American/Iberian literature subject.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 4:15 pm

>84 RickHarsch: Octavio Paz is missing...Azuela is missing and Lima is missing ( 2 Mexicans and a one Cuban )

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 25, 2019, 4:19 pm

Parra always struck me as a social anarchist. It wasn't that he wasn't political---he just wasn't following any kind of party consensus. He saw the joke behind political power. He really didn't give a fuck about those that had that--wherever they came from. There is this mocking of everything that is complacent and all those who have found their little niches in the apparatus of power. I appreciate that.

marraskuu 25, 2019, 4:49 pm

>86 Macumbeira: I put Lima in, then realized I wanted Onetti higher, and then Walsh and I had to get these Pigliacs off my back. So now Lima is in. As for Paz and Azuela...Roa Bastos is not there yet, nor Assis...At this point, I am ready for more suggestions. Who should be in the top ten and is not?

marraskuu 25, 2019, 11:52 pm

It's good like it is now. Let's just start reading the ones who haven't read yet.

marraskuu 26, 2019, 5:51 am

Dude, if I may call you that, you are three years behind.

marraskuu 26, 2019, 1:51 pm

Man, if I may call you that, the Dude abides!

marraskuu 26, 2019, 4:03 pm


marraskuu 27, 2019, 3:28 pm

I have a library hold on Onetti’s A Dream Come True

marraskuu 27, 2019, 6:30 pm

That is one of the rare ones I never heard of..

marraskuu 28, 2019, 10:14 am

regarding Piglia, I just realized that in touting him I never mentioned his novella, Assumed name which was a wild story about a search for a lost Roberto Arlt manuscript. Rick- you would love it!

marraskuu 28, 2019, 11:56 am

I think Larry has mentioned it to me. When the time is right I need to go on a Piglia binge. I read Artificial Respiration, and am in the middle of Target in the night, which hasn't much impressed me.

marraskuu 30, 2019, 8:46 pm

Target is on my shelf to be read.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 11, 2020, 8:56 am

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 11, 2020, 8:58 am

Bestiary: Selected Stories, Julio Cortazar
Bestiario was published in 1951 and was the first collection of short stories by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar. I don't read in Spanish and so I ordered an English translation and the book that arrived was somewhat bigger than I expected: Bestiario is a slim volume of 160 odd pages. Bestiary turned out to be selected short stories from most of the collections published throughout Cortazar's life (which happened to include six of the eight stories in Bestiario). At first being something of a completist I was disappointed at not having all the stories originally published in Bestiario, but as I read on through the book I realised what a privileged piece of good fortune it was to read not only some wonderful stories but also to follow the development of Julio Cortazar the writer.

Julio Cortazar was born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentinian parents in 1914, but moved to Buenos Aires when he was five years old, where he spent his formative years. He emigrated to France in 1951 the year of the publication of his first collection of stories and was based in Paris, although he had a second home in the South of France. He worked as a translator. Not surprisingly in subsequent collections of stories after Bestiario they seem to be set more or less equally in France or Argentina. He became politically involved late in the 1960's and his stories came to reflect this more obviously, although I would argue that most of the stories I have read in this collection show an intense political awareness of one kind or another.

There are 35 stories in this collection with an average of ten pages for each one. Typically the stories start with a rush of information, ideas and startling imagery which set this readers head spinning. They soon settle down allowing you to catch up a little and also to appreciate what a fine teller of stories Cortazar was in this medium, because he places his readers inside the story: first of all there is that immediate grabbing of attention before the tale unravels. Take one of his most famous stories from his first collection: "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris" where the speaker has a curious condition of vomiting up live rabbits, it starts:

"Andrea, I didn't want to live in your apartment on Suipacha. Not so much because of the bunnies, but rather that it offends me to intrude on a compact order, built even to the finest nets of air, networks that in your environment conserve the music in the lavender, the heavy fluff of the powder puff in the talcum, the play between the violin and the viola in Ravels quartet. It hurts me to come into an ambience where someone who lives beautifully has arranged everything like a visible affirmation of her soul............."

The speaker from time to time vomits up tiny rabbits, he keeps them in a pen allowing them to grow and he spends time gathering clover on which to feed them. This surrealist image like the best surreal images becomes an accepted fact of the speakers existence; he vomits up rabbits, it doesn't happen all that often and he deals with the consequences. When he takes over the occupancy of Andrea's apartment he finds that he is vomiting rabbits on almost a daily basis. The early stories are shot through with these surrealist images, but they become so much part of the story that the allegory is not difficult to grasp and Cortazar usually provides an ending that is not only satisfying, but reflects back on the story that you have just read.
The stories from the first selection are stunning indeed, varied, finely crafted and involving. In the Gates of Heaven a grieving lover becomes convinced he seas his dead wife in a sleazy nightclub, in 'Circe' a young man gets involved with a girl who it is rumoured has killed two of her previous boyfriends, In "Omnibus" a young woman becomes aware of all the other passengers on the bus staring at her because she is not carrying a bunch of flowers for a graveyard on route, in "House taken Over" a reclusive brother and sister shut off portions of their large family home when they hear mysterious noises.

The tales selected from the second collection "Final del juego" (End of the game) are shorter and contain more elements of magic realism, but again there are some unforgettable stories: in 'The Night Face Up' a motorcyclist has an accident and in hospital with a fever he dreams he has been selected for a human sacrifice by the Aztecs, it becomes all too real, in 'In the Afternoon' a young boy is charged with taking his idiotic younger brother for a walk in town, 'End of the Game' itself is an arresting story of three girls who play at making a tableau of themselves beside the railway tracks at a certain time each day when the train carrying the commuters comes along, one day a passenger gets off the train and walks back along the track to meet the girls. The selections from "Todos Los Fuegos El Fuego ( All fires the fire) are set in Paris and contains "The Southern Thruway" which was adapted for a Jean Luc Godard film 'Weekend" Cortazar imagines an endless traffic jam approaching Paris where immobilised travellers have to survive for days in a hostile environment. In this selection there is also 'Instructions for John Howard' where a casual theatre goer at an intermission to a play is selected to go backstage where he finds the actors want him to improvise his way through the rest of the play with them, there are strange undercurrents......

Selections from the 1974 collection Octaedro are once again based largely in South America, there is less magical realism in these stories as the author is telling stories of love and relationships, but once again full of atmosphere and mystery. The 1977 collection 'Alguien que anda por ahl' continues these themes, but against a more cosmopolitan European background for example 'The Faces of the Medal tells of a romance set against the headquarters of CERN: The Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. Press Clipping from Quaremos Tantoa Glenda tells of missing people and torture in Argentina and is much more of a political statement, but is juxtaposed with a newspaper story of a woman being tortured by her lover in Marseilles (France). Their are four stories from Deshoras published in 1982 two years before the authors death that show that Cortazar never lost his mastery of the short story format. No loss of the power of the story teller here and the final story Nightmare provides the perfect bookend to the very first story in the collection.

Having read this selection of short stories I am sorry not to have a complete collection in translation, buI can console my self with the prospect of reading most of these again without the need of rushing toward the denouement (always a temptation in short stories for me). I am certainly going to get a copy of Cortazar's celebrated novel Rayuela (Hopscotch). This was a major discovery for me and a five star read.

huhtikuu 11, 2020, 3:01 pm

Merci Bas !

huhtikuu 11, 2020, 4:02 pm


huhtikuu 12, 2020, 1:12 am

Good to see you are both alive.
Kicking too ?

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 12, 2020, 3:17 am

Stay well in Belgium, gardez la santé gardez le moral

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 12, 2020, 9:22 am

yes, I am bit concerned about the post-Corona Europe, which is not good for my moral : )

I see a police-state lurking around the corner, using the covid19 excuse to tighten the control in our daily live.
You recognize in the sayings of some politicians and scientists early sketches of the mechanisms leading to a totalitarian state.