Older “literary rambles”

Between 2009 and 2012, this blogger published on blogspot before deciding to switch to wordpress and dedicate a blog to literary questions only; these older entries  include posts on Quim Monzó, also here, Javier Marías, also here, the Planeta book prize 2012 – and 2011, the Liber book fair 2012, the 50th anniversary of Edicions 62 publishing house, E-books from Barcelona, Gabriel Ferrater, Carme Riera, Enrique Vila-Matas, Québec Book Fair 2012, Jaume Cabré, Crime Novel Week 2012 and 2011, the Ramon Llull prize 2012, Miguel de Unamuno,  Josep Maria de Sagarra, Madrid Book Fair 2011, Sant Jordi 2011, Mercè Rodoreda, the international day of the imprisoned writer 2009, Noah Gordon (as Bodega is set in Catalonia), books for pedestrians, a translation of a text by Almudena Grandes, excerpts from a NYRB article on blogging,  publicly funded reading material, and my first literary comment ever (second blog post).

Lolita Bosch and Mexican drug-trafficking

Lolita Bosch (Barcelona, 1970, web) has written a documentary novel, Camps abans de tot això/Campos de amapola antes de esto [(Poppy) Fields before all this], in which she portrays the logic, organization and violence of Mexico’s drug-trafficking. For ten years up to 2005 Bosch lived in Mexico. The novel was  published in two original versions – the Catalan version being somewhat artificial, at least according to Julià Guillamon who recently reviewed the novel [“Culturas”, La Vanguardia, 15 May 2013, p. 10]. Apart from this point, his review is positive. Guillamon writes:

“She reconstructs a series of histories related to the drug traffic that crosses Mexico on its way from Colombia to the United States. The drug traffic has created drug lords and a web of interests that runs through the country’s political structure, dominates the local powers, and touches the police, the military and the anti-drug units. Some of these big bosses have become mythical figures, feared and admired. The norteños [northern] bands dedicate narcocorridos [ballads]to them that narrate their lives, in such a manner as the traditional corridos narrated the lives and deeds of the revolutionary heroes. Because they bypass government control; in a moment of institutional crisis they get by as a kind of vengeance figures. Their fame is made and unmade in flares: today everybody talks about them, tomorrow nobody will remember them.  And the problem continues and spreads: from the frontier states -Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas- to Jalisco where they reinforce. Almighty cartels are created. And paramilitary units that become an alternative for the youths that suffer famine. The violence is becoming ever more delirious with people being beheaded, buried alive and dissolved in acid.”

“Lolita Bosch’s book wants to be a wake up call on the drama of drug trafficking. It starts with the case of a child kidnapping. It examines the history of some of the best-known smugglers and treats personal and family questions, with interesting digressions on weapons… , on the narcos‘ pantheons and on the paint of the planes used for the drug trade. The text is written as if it was a poen, with botanical and geological metaphors, circular compositions and parallelistic structures that create an obsessive internal rhythm and prepare the reader for the big crash of bloody deaths, like the one of the assassin called El Pozolero [the well-keeper (?)], accused of dissolving in acid 300 victims. As the book progresses it is people who become protagonists: the people who think that nothing will ever happen to them, who might take drugs, who disseminate different versions of the same facts, who cannot understand what’s happening. Bosch examines the mechanisms that make the drug trafficking fascinating; she presents it as an exasperation of capitalism, and she demonstrates that nobody escapes its power.”

The Spanish Amazon lists quite a few books written, as well in Spanish as in Catalan, by Lolita Bosch, none (? cf. below) of which has been translated into English so far. Among these are Elisa Kiseljak (2005), Qui vam ser [Who we were, 2006], Hecho en México [Made in Mexico], La família del meu pare [My father’s family, 2008], Voces: Antología de narrativa catalana contemporánea [Voices: Anthology of Contemporary Catalan Narrative], Ara escric [Now I write, 2011], and a good number of children’s and juvenile books.

Bosch’s homepage lists some examples of translations into English, but it’s not clear if the whole book is available in English or just a part to get an idea. What becomes clear, though, is that she’s quite prolific!



Lluís-Anton Baulenas: between adventure and crime fiction

Lluís-Anton Baulenas (Barcelona, 1958) is an author of thirty works so far. His latest novel, Quan arribi el pirata i se m’emporti [When the pirate arrives and takes me away with him] is described by a favorable review as a hybrid between an adventure and a crime novel. Set in Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood (evokes to the locals: immigration, prostitution, drugs, difficult living), it is characterized as a meditation on greed and the human passions. The histories of two very different characters whose paths cross are explained in alternating chapters: one is that of a Catalan mafioso close to death, narrated in third person by an omnicient author; the other that of a man in the middle of his life after a break-up and the loss of a family member, narrated in the first person. Both reflect on concepts such as morality, power, emotions and their validity in a moment of vanishing referents. Other concepts mentioned by the reviewer are guilt, abyssal fear, limitless ambition for power, mediocrity as a crime.

Amazon.com lists For a Sack of Bones as the only novel available by Baulenas translated into English.

[All the information on the Baulena’s latest novel is taken from a review by Anna Carreras, published in “Culturas” of La Vanguardia, 15 May 2013, p. 14]

Rafael Chirbes and the Spanish crisis

La Vanguardia called him one of the most important living Spanish writers, Rafael Chirbes (Taverna de la Valldigna, 1949). His latest novel, En la orilla [On the shore], deals with the material and human desolation of the current economic crisis. Set in a desolate landscape in which appear prostitutes, mafiosi, field hands, unemployed, businessmen, workers, retired, pedophiles, terrorists, cocaine addicts, immigrants -Romanese, Latin American, and Arab-, and a carpenter forced to close shop.

The plot is summarized as follows: there appears a corpse in the Olba reservoir, an area severly affected by the crisis, where Esteban closed his business and is taking care of his dying father. But according to its author, the plot is not really important. “It’s a novel of digressions. The important thing are the voices. … It’s about a world left to its own devices where everything is rotting. … It’s about the great hangover after the biggest feast of power, money, and sex ever to have taken place in Spain.”

Chirbes autodefines himself as a firm advocate of realism: “… the most radical materialism, to reduce the things to that closest to the bed and money…” and he sustains “The middle class is reading me, [a class] that I don’t know personally.”

Wikipedia article [Spanish]. Other than a few blog entries, e.g. here on the preceding novel, in English there are few mentionings to be found for Chirbes. None of his novels has been translated into English so far.

Update (August 2015): Amazon.com announces the translation into English as On the edge to be available from January 2016.

[All information on Chirbes’ latest novel and his comments are taken from an article by Xavi Ayén, published in La Vanguardia, on March 20, 2013, p. 31]

Paul Auster’s Portuguese notebooks

In Paul Auster’s 2002 novel Oracle Night (see very contrasting reader reviews on amazon.com), a blue notebook plays a central role. It is probably one as those pictured above.

This blogger discovered the notebooks before the novel due to an article by the political analyst Enric Juliana (La Vanguardia, Jan. 6, 2013) on his impressions of a recent visit to Lisbon.

Juliana writes about a small store on Largo do Calhariz street where Luis Bordalo and his wife sell newspapers, magazines, and stationery, and where he believed to have discovered Auster’s notebooks five years earlier. He describes them as follows:

“Notebooks bound in a blue fabric and with an accounting book sticker on front. None had the same number of pages, the paper cutting was tinted blue or pink; the manually glued stickers played with the symmetry. Imperfect. Beautiful. I thought of the blue Portuguese notebooks described by Auster …, and Senhor Bordalo told me: ‘I think they are these.’ … The word went out, and a few months later [the Portuguese airline] TAP’s inflight magazine dedicated a page to them. That was five years ago. Portugal had not been officially declared in crisis at that time; but, as they had a presentiment of the desaster that was about to strike, the Portuguese began to worship their traditional products. They fell in love with the objects that were prior to globalization. … Senhor Bordalo tells me: ‘Five  years ago I sent a report to the stationery maker with the possibilities offered by the product, and meanwhile, I decided to sell it with a removable rubber band. Now, finally they have taken a decision.’ There has come out a stylized version of the Portuguese blue notebook, with more elegant paper, a ribbon page marker, and an removable rubber band. Paul Auster take note:  things of the old world that change to remain the same. […; the article ends with:] I get home from Lisbon with quite a few blue notebooks (rustic and stylized) and some idea of the possible surprises for the years 2013 and 2014. ”

These notebooks are made by the  stationery maker FIRMO, they are called Blue Note, available in A6 and A5, in Portugal at a price of around 7 to 10 EUR respectively. Online here [no commission to this blogger ;-)].




Crítica Serra d’Or Prizes

On April 30, it was the turn of the publishing house of  Montserrat Abbey (close to Barcelona) and their (high) culture magazine Serra d’Or [literally “Golden Saw”, as in “Sawn Mountain” (=Montserrat)] to award a total of 14 prizes in a wide range of categories.

Especially worth mentioning is the life-time achievement award in the category of children’s literature that went to the author Joana Raspall (Barcelona, 1913 (sic!)) who attended personally to receive it. A short bio in English is here, the Catalan Wikipedia article here.

The prize for best novel in 2012 went to  Josefa Contijoch (Manlleu, 1940) for Sense Alè [Breathless], a book with autobiographical influences that remembers the 1960s and 1970s,  and that already won the Ciutat de Barcelona [City of Barcelona] prize and has made it on the short-list for the Crexells prize.

The prize for best work of poetry went to the painter and poet Narcís Comadira (Girona, 1942) for Lent [Slow].

The prize for best translation of 2012 went to Jaume Bosquet and Miquel Àngel Llauger for the Catalan version of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915).

A full list of all prizes and the winners can be found in an article published by the daily El Punt Avui here.