Posts Tagged 'fiction'

"I want to read my own production and astonish myself"

In one index of his growing international reputation, Mr. Bellatin recently signed a multibook deal with Gallimard, the prestigious French publisher, that calls for his next several works to be issued in France before they appear in Spanish in Latin America. As usual he has seized on that opportunity to make mischief: rather than publish his original manuscript here, he intends to have someone else render the French translation back into Spanish.

There is a feature on Mexican writer Mario Bellatín in the NY Times from last Sunday. His novella Beauty Salon (originally published in Spanish in 1994) is out now in translation (by Kurt Hollander) from City Lights Books. Between him and Alejandro Zambra you can read very few pages and still be hip to contemporary Latin American letters. Get on it (my slow ass is).

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Evolution Through Storytelling

I stood up—the pain beginning to set in—and unpacked my mother’s chicken-and-pepper sandwich; it was stale, the pepper mushy and bitter. I turned on the lights, found my notebook, and after biting into the sandwich and staring at the blank page for a long time, wrote a poem that I titled “Love and Obstacles,” the first lines: There are walls between the world and me,/and I have to walk through them.
-“Everything”

Literature is a constant and storytelling is necessity in Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles, a collection of interlocking stories about the growth of a nameless Bosnian writer. It begins and ends with stories that include American storytellers—Spinelli the conman and McCalister the Pulitzer winner—and between these are many Bosnians who approach the act of writing in vastly different ways—from poetry, to straight nonfiction, to aggressive notes to roommates, to film. Through it all, the protagonist is evolving, bringing the lessons from each storyteller he meets into the next experience.

The protagonist has in common with Hemon all the skeletal aspects of life—birthplace, vocation, and ultimate life as a not-quite-exiled writer in the US. This is the case in each of his books, and as in the others it takes nothing away from the work. English is Hemon’s second language and he takes no aspect of it for granted; from using words we don’t hear in ways we couldn’t have imagined to his perfect use of the oft-maligned semicolon. He often gets playful: “atwitter,” “asparkle,” and “adrizzle” all make appearances.

“The Conductor” is the collection’s best moment. Placed between stories of the protagonist’s youth in Bosnia and his life in America, it encompasses the chronological trajectory of the collection and gives it its shape. At the beginning, the protagonist is a student of literature in Sarajevo who goes to a café to hang out with the famous poets, including the most famous of them all, Dedo. Eventually, after the war in Sarajevo when they are living in the States, they are both invited to speak on the same panel and end up sleeping in the same bed. It, like the entire book, is a gorgeous, seamless ride from youthful stupidity to wise uncertainty.

What is most refreshing is that through it all, we’re not wrestling with whether or not his Bosnian nationality is important to him, or whether Americans are assholes, or if his father’s hatred of fiction means anything grand. There is no tossing and turning over politics or relevance, it’s just human characters, living and being portrayed in writing that is both palpable and meditative.

Short Stories, Writers, Translation, Question Marks, Etc.

This is a very long post that could probably be much more precise and concise, but this is my blog so I just let it roll.

Short stories. They’re difficult to describe. In his column on the form in The Rumpus, Peter Orner explains the problem:

Because the thing about stories, and this might be the exact reason they so often fly under the radar is that few things are harder to talk about than why a particular story is great. It’s like trying to explain love and not love. It goes back to that pang.

The ones I’ve been putting in the most time with are from Zoetrope: All-Story’s Spring 2009 Latin American Issue, edited by Daniel Alarcón and Diego Trelles-Paz, and The Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, a bilingual anthology put out by Dalkey Archive and edited by Álvaro Uribe. A few stories from each have stood out for me (Have you read any Alejandro Zambra? If not, go here.), but especially the late Aura Estrada’s “An Open Secret” from All-Story and Álvaro Enrigue’s “Sobre la muerte del autor” from The Best of…*

Both stories are about writers and the writing process. Both are by Mexicans. Their last names also both begin with ‘E,’ but we don’t need to get carried away. I’m compelled to connect them, but I’m not sure they have much more than these basic facts in common.
Continue reading ‘Short Stories, Writers, Translation, Question Marks, Etc.’