Latin American literature is world renowned for its richness in a variety of genres–poetry, the essay, the short story and, of course, the novel. Spanish-language literature in diary form seems less well known. Ocosingo War Diary is the first-ever English translation of one well-known writer’s twelve-day ordeal, which took place in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, near Guatemala. Efraín Bartolomé gives an eyewitness account of the New Year’s Eve massacre of 1994. Published to critical acclaim in Spanish in 1995, Ocosingo is part of a now classic tradition of testimonial literature in the vein of Elena Poniatowska’s Massacre in Mexico (1971). Part pastoral elegy, part eyewitness reportage, Bartolomé’s artful war diary is as much a prose poem as it is a memoir.
Women of the Wind is the tale of a desperate Moroccan who works as a domestic servant in Tripoli, Libya, before the Libyan Revolution. She raises money from her friends to buy a place on a human trafficker’s ship, but then experiences a rough crossing. Her story is intertwined with the stories of other women, including an Iraqi who negotiates with the smugglers for her, a Libyan novelist, and a child whose mother deserted her.
Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota is a testimonial hybrid novel centered on the experience and effects of exile. It chronicles the lives of five family members and the true experiences (for example, health problems) of the author himself interspersed at random along parallel and joining narrative lines. Benedetti uses many points of view (first-person, third-person, interior monologue, stream of consciousness, free indirect) and different styles (conversational, epistolary, poetic) along with delayed information and word games.
The novel begins about eight months before the release of Santiago, a militant serving a five-year prison term in the Libertad de Montevideo prison for attempting to overthrow the government, and who, upon his release and return home to resume his family life, discovers the impossibility of resuming any previous personal relationships. Santiago’s family members include Don Rafael, his father; Graciela, his wife; and Beatriz, their daughter. Rolando, a friend to all of them, and lovestruck, wanders through the novel, eventually becoming Graciela’s lover. They’re all Uruguayan, and except for the prisoner, Santiago, reside in what appears to be Mexico City.
Santiago is present in the novel through his letters, which like most prisoner’s letters express hope for the future. Don Rafael represents the historical memory of the city of his exile, while reflecting on the wisdom gained by those who are able to live in the present. Graciela, a militant in her own right, feels despair and exhaustion, a sickness of the soul that doesn’t have to do with loyalties or treachery, but with the need to be useful and feel alive. Rolando is known as “Uncle Rolando” to Beatriz and offers unselfish and focused support to Graciela, who, although she is increasingly independent, is nevertheless confused or perhaps disoriented by her life. And just like her imprisoned father Santiago, who intervenes in the novel through his letters, young Beatriz does so through texts that could be a form of interior monologue, entries from a diary, or compositions written in school.
Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota is not only a magnificent exercise in literary style, lightly hampered by the incorporation of texts that are a bit foreign to the nucleus of the novel, but rather, principally, a remarkable display of patriotic literary courage on Benedetti’s behalf. Having been vaccinated against intimidation long before, he wasn’t afraid to present several unheroic, weak, and contradictory men and women while knowing that a good portion of expatriates would read the novel with a hypercritical military eye.
(A slightly different version of this translator’s note originally appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review (Issue #48, Spring/Summer 2011))
Ariane Drefyfus, born in 1958, has published Les miettes de Décembre (Le Dé Bleu, 1997), La durée des plantes (Tarabuste, 1998 and 2007 (revised edition)), Une histoire passera ici (Flammarion, 1999), Quelques branches vivantes and Les compagnies silencieuses (Flammarion, 2001), La belle vitesse (Le Dé Bleu, 2002), La bouche de quelqu’un (Tarabuste, 2003), L’inhabitable (Flammarion, 2006), Iris, c’est votre bleu (Le Castor Astral, 2008), La terre voudrait recommencer (Flammarion, 2010), Nous nous attendons (Le Castor Astral, 2012), and La lampe allumée si souvent dans l’ombre (forthcoming from José Corti, 2013).
Dennis and Mark have been friends since high school. Mark vacillates between becoming a writer or a teacher, but Dennis discovered early on his calling as a sculptor of body parts in concrete and supports himself with work in a porno movie theater and other odd jobs. But catastrophic TV coverage of his first exhibit changes everything, both his career as an artist and his friendship with Mark.
The Silent Woman is a novel that traces the events of the twentieth century and their dramatic influence on people’s lives. Sylva, half-German and half-Czech, is born into an aristocratic family in a sumptuous castle near Prague. With her husband, an ambassador in Paris, and later with her Russian boyfriend, Sylva witnesses the joyful madness of the 1920s and then the Nazi period of the ’30s and ’40s. During the Communist era, she loses all of her property and all of her loved ones. In the ’70s, a lonely old woman forgotten by all, she ends up living in a poor neighbourhood. That’s when she discovers the fate of her long-lost boyfriend: the Soviet regime had banished him to a Gulag. Sylva’s search for him begins…
We also follow Sylva’s son Jan, a world-famous mathematician who immigrates to the U.S. He earns a fortune, but struggles for understanding in his marriage to a beautiful Russian parvenu.
Poland’s Borgesian bibliophile, publisher, and writer Jan Gondowicz considers Agnieszka Taborska’s series of short reflections and vignettes in The Whale, widely reviewed in Poland, as “found objects,” reflecting Taborska’s long interest as a scholar and a writer in surrealism. She collects these brief works reflecting the idea of “objective chance” as they appear to her, and she says that they appear in waves. She may go several months without writing anything in this form, and then suddenly the appearance of one flash fictional found object orients the mind for the reception of new stories. They come from life, but from an enhanced awareness of “objective chance,” capturing the coincidences, absurdities, and barely perceptible rules hidden behind the marvelous surprises of everyday reality as she moves between Europe and the United States.
Les Invisibles brings together texts written by Luc Lang over the last fifteen years: a selection of pieces that together seem best to express the coherence and the particular obsession of a certain way of thinking. It is a way of thinking that develops over time and by means of a certain group of works and artists that together come to define a posteriori something like a force field, a shared sensibility and certain modes of questioning belonging to it. We have here twelve narratives. The author is, after all, a novelist, someone whose approach to these works involves first and foremost a narrative form of thought or, in other words, an approach to reality, a way of capturing reality, that is specific to the novel.
Ricardo Menéndez Salmón is one of the most respected writers in the Spanish literary scene. Born in Gijón (Asturias) in 1971, he studied philosophy and has written eight novels, a book of short stories, and a literary travel book. He regularly publishes articles in newspapers, and cultural and literary journals. His work has been translated into Catalan, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese, and he has received numerous literary awards. Praised unanimously by critics in Spain, his prose, rich and cultivated, has been described as having “a personal style, strong and close to expressionism” (El País); “a mature writer with the air of a classic” (ABC Cultural); “no writer today can compare to Ricardo Menéndez Salmón” (Qué Leer); “Goyaesque imagery” (Revista de Letras); “the best of a generation of writers” (La Razón). His latest novel Medusa was published in September 2012.
A love affair between the main character/narrator and Milena/Mailena, a Slovak writer, comes into being in the virtual world, thanks to an assiduous exchange of emails that intersect with the narrator’s messages to his wife, Marianne, who is in New York to treat a mysterious illness. In parallel, the narrator invents Tsvetan, a macho Bulgarian truck driver who is making his way across Europe, and Beatrice, an inscrutable dancer and lover of hedgehogs. Dumitru Tsepeneag weaves together the lives of these two characters invented by his narrator in a way that is strange and wholly unique. But behind the sound of the book, there is a more solemn story, one of emotions and lost illusions. For, ultimately, The Bulgarian Truck is a story of old age, and of preparing oneself to meet death.
Critic Eugen Simion wrote: “From the outset, Dumitru Tspeneag opted for experimental prose, and almost all his narratives are narratives of a text, rather than texts of a narrative, if we accept the distinction made by the theorists of the Nouveau Roman. In The Bulgarian Truck he goes further: he places all his cards on the table, he depicts the conventions of the experimental novel, he reveals the tricks of narrative, he converses with his characters about the construction and deconstruction of the novel he is trying to write. Finally, he turns his hesitations into an epic and rather than offering a unitary and coherent work, he presents its building site. In this new textual adventure, the writer wagers on the reader’s curiosity to discover the secrets of an atypical novelist. It must be said that he succeeds.”
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