Manuel Rivas on Vicente Ferrer

Manuel Rivas (A Coruña, 1957, Wikipedia) recently presented his first contract work as a writer, Vicente Ferrer – Rumbo a las estrellas, con dificultades [VF – Starbound, with difficulties]. Ferrer, a former Jesuit priest, was the founder of an NGO that works in India (Wikipedia). Some excerpts from an article on the book by Xosé Manuel Pereiro here:

“It’s not a hagiography, not even a biography. It is a work of reinventing Ferrer through the social network of people that he knit. It is an essay on the experience, a travel diary, every chapter is a centering on and covering one life. Lifes of the untouchables -when they could speak they called themselves dálit, “downtrodden”- and women, i.e. doubly untouchable.”

“It could appear to be somewhat soft as it treats a saint, but this is probably the hardest book I ever wrote,” resumes Rivas.

“[Ferrer] has got a secret history, to create beneficious provocations, to wear the watch going fast.” Rivas details these forward steps: from his membership in the POUM, the most alternative and creative  party during the Republic, until his participation, still an adolescent, in the slaughterhouse Battle of the Ebro, that transformed him into a pacifist, his passing through the [so called] concentration camps of Argelés and Betanzos [Southern France, for Spanish refugees from Franco troops], his entry in the Jesuit order and his work as one of the first worker priest in the outskirts of Barcelona.

 “At the end of the 1950s, Ferrer landed in India, and earlier than Liberation Theology, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed of Paulo Freire, or the Vatican II’s ecumenism, he discovered that his work was not to start the competition on who’s god is better,” narrates Rivas who characterizes the protagonist of his documentary essay as “a shipwrecked of history, who asked everybody who came near to him, being it a successful professional or somebody looking for the last refuge: ‘And you, where have they cast you away?’, and who walked the paths with a dowser, a hindu from Goa, looking for water, and carrying an umbrella. He was a saint with an umbrella.”

Vicente Ferrer Foundation’s website

Source: El País, Feb. 21, 2014


“The books that call out to us”

An interesting-sounding op-ed piece by [the Portuguese politician] José Pacheco Pereira: “Os livros que nos chamam” [The books that call us]:

There is a peculiar kind of books that call out to us in bookstores. This is one of the major arguments in favor of bookstores .

Without them it would be impossible to listen to that voice that makes us buy books we never thought to find, or seek, let alone buy.  If  I “enter ” an electronic bookstore such as Amazon, I know what I seek and through the search engines I find books that are similar to those which I seek, but I get no real surprises there.  I can buy with contentment, but not discover anything.

I discover in bookstores , though unfortunately less and less in Portuguese bookshops; they look almost all the same, full of painted paper with the same graphics, the same cover style, and with (few) the reasonable and good books drowned by hundreds of titles that do not last a week of exposure, and that are, as a rule, little more than fads. On the other hand, my proximity to Portugues publishing, the knowledge of what will come, removes much of the surprise factor, and therefore the books that will speak to me are written in English and mostly purchased in foreign bookstores .

For a compulsive bookstore-goer this book voice is not strange, but I had never asked about the reasons and, in each case, there are reasons. As almost everything interesting in life is driven by curiosity, the ever great intellectual engine. I am surprised by the little that has been written about curiosity, given the role it has in the way we move the head and the body. You can attend dozens of seminars and debates on knowledge, innovation, learning, school, business, art, literature, and although there are references to curiosity, in general it is undervalued. I could be wrong, but without curiosity one is little more than a specialized idiot, with an emphasis on idiot.

How does it work, how does it work on me? It works by the consciousness of ignorance, a desire to learn, but it also works by fragments of what is already known and the “pull”, or it works by a certain playful game with a phrase, or an image or an idea. Often it is a purely irrational manifestation of obscure mechanisms of taste, at other times it is the result of intelligent marketing. Yes, also. The flesh is weak.

Which books did I buy that I had no intention of buying? Let me start by saying that of the books that talked to me, I did not read more than the title and back-cover, and one or two pages I thumbed through in the bookstore. Thumbed more than read, and thumbing continues to be an activity that can only be done with printed paper books. With electronic books it might be in demand, but the act of thumbing is much more effective in paper, more in line with our senses and the associative way we think, the ” fuzzy logic” of people’s heads.

I suspect that it is highly likely that many of these books are ultimately not read. Sometimes the interest that motivated me to buy them has passed by the time when I finally try to read them. It remains for them to stay in the giant limbo of books to read, although I am always reluctant to keep them permanently. The mark of their unexpected entry into my library, lets them always in the air as “interesting.” Curiosity is very fickle, very prowling, and its “market” very competitive. There are always appearing new reasons and others are left behind. It changes over time and with other readings, films, images and interests. It is very much self-taught, a species with a bad reputation among the technocrats , but of which I enjoy the amateur side. The self-taught are not always to get along with; ​​and there are some particularly unbearable, those who think they can compete with the professionals in the field, i.e. those who forget that they are amateurs. But the amateurs are curious people and devoted to their curiosity.

Let me give you some recent examples of these unexpected books. I bought The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean,  in a bookstore in Lisbon,  one of those that are close to Largo da Misericordia, probably as a second hand book. I know why I bought it; the fault is with Professor Poliakoff and his videos of Periodic Table of Videos made ​​by the University of Nottingham. I do not know if I’ll read it, but when I bought it I already knew the famous trick of gallium that gives the book its title. In fact, of the series that is a bit chaotic, and amateur in the best sense of the word, what has interested me most is to see, I insist to see, an overwhelming majority of elements that I knew by name but had no idea how they were. Gallium, Cesium, Strontium, Molybdenum, Plutonium, Iridium, Neodymium, etc. etc.  And watch them burn, explode, behave bizarrely in contact with air, poisonous, dangerous, “interesting” or innocuous, “noble”, or just “bored”. And to see some of the chemicals that passing through with curiosity most of the elements of the periodic table, we would have never even seen. The murky Fluoride for example. In my high school laboratory, there were a Bunsen burner, a pipette, a vial with hydrochloric acid, a sodium bottle and little else. I always felt sorry that there wasn’t more. There is in the books.

In New York I bought in the habitual Barnes and Noble, a book by Thomas Healy, entitled The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind – and Changed the History of Free Speech in America. Here it was the back cover that made me buy the book, although the title helped also. The laudatory quote in the description is not very original: “an intellectual detective  story,” but the flaps are going farther, and the author explained his interest in understanding why a judge traditionally contemptuous of individual rights defended in 1919 a position on freedom of opinion, “free speech”, that would shape American legal thought until the present day. Of Holmes, I knew the name and was reminded of a stamp with his portrait, nothing more. But as these “changes of mind” are interesting and I am interested in freedom, in these days of subjugation, and as Americans are better than any others in doing these stories of intellectual daring, I bought the book. Let’s see if I will read it.

In the same place I bought a book of essays by Sloane Crosley, entitled I Was Told Ther’d Be Cake, influenced by the indication that it was a “New York Times Bestseller”. It doesn’t seem like it, but the lists count. Also I bought a “Pulitzer Prize”, the book by Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, but it seems to me to be another championship. The young author, much like our minister [of agriculture, Maria] Cristas, writes in those places where in general it is written well, Salon, Village Voice, Playboy, but without being more than that. I read a few lines of the text first, but I doubt that my reading will go much further. It seems to me, maybe bold to say after having read just a few lines, a kind of light writing that today is very successful, funny and trivial, that a multitude of disciples of Miguel Esteves Cardoso practice, but that I do not have the time to read. We’ll see.

Finally, one more example that still fits into the article, Douglas Egerton’s book  The Wars of Reconstruction. The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era. In this case I have gone farther, having read almost a complete chapter, and I am pretty sure that I will continue. For professional reasons and out of curiosity I buy a lot of history books, but … [unclear]… and much of it can now be seen on television and the iPad. Series, for example, a television revolution. Or classes of American universities that I watch on the iPad. In this case, it was a series of lectures by David Blight, given at Yale, about the American Civil War and the period known as “reconstruction,” one of the most violent moments ever in American history, when the Ku Klux Klan was born and when newly freed blacks ruled many cities and villages of the South, until they were expelled with collective serial killings.

While there are books to be read, I know I will not have a single dull moment in life. This alone is enough to owe them a lot.

[This has been an unauthorized, Google assisted exercise in translation. If the blogger had seen from the very beginning that the author was a politician, he might not have done it, though he thinks that the text is not bad…]


Source: Público, March 22, 2014




Snippet: March 18-23, Madeira Literary Festival

Event: IV. Festival Literário da Madeira (Madeira Literary Festival)

Place: Funchal, Madeira

Discussions by more than 30 Portuguese authors on topics such as the state of Portuguese literature, the 40th anniversary of the end of dictatorship (April 25, 1974, “Carnation Revolution” – Wikipedia, BBC), the identity of a country “hostage” to international financial entities, and the PALOP countries’ [African countries whose official language is Portuguese] literature’s influence on that identity. Among the participating authors are Luís Rufatto (from Brazil), Irene Flusner Pimentel, Gonçalo M. Tavares, Ricardo Araújo Pereira, Miguel Real, Nuno Lobo Antunes, Valério Romão, Alexandra Lucas Coelho, Jorge Sousa Braga, Manuel Jorge Marmelo, Carlos Quiroga (Galiza), Diogo Vaz Pinto, and Vasco Rato.

More information: official website

Source: Diário de Notícias (paywall), March 18, 2014

Snippet: Penguin Random House strengthens Iberian presence

One of the big players in the Spanish language editorial scene, Santillana (part of the, some would say struggling, Prisa group) has sold nearly all of its editorial labels (except those for textbooks) to one of the biggest “world league players”, Penguin Random House: Alfaguara, Taurus, Suma de Letras, Aguilar, Altea, Fontanar, Objetiva and Punto de Lectura. More details to be found at the sources.

Sources: Financial Times (paywall), Cinco Dias (Spanish), March 20, 2014

Renewed existence for a literary magazine

“Transfer high cultural opinion to a well-educated reading public with interests beyond their special field”. Since 1996 this has been the aim of Revista de Libros [Book Magazine, website, Spanish only] -before on paper and now online… the digital publication promises a profound rebirth to its readers.

This is how [the responsible managers] presented the renewed existence of a publication that had among its staff writers such as Félix de Azúa, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, César Antonio Molina, and Clara Eugenia Núñez.

Beyond a new design, the magazine bets on being “true to the spirit that saw it being born 18 years ago.” … it means a strengthened bet on “a restful and profound analysis of the most important books in the cultural present, in a digital environment,” according to an official press release. The same document promised rigor, “guaranteed by the authors’ quality,” independence, and “clarity, … by an editorial control so far unheard of in the Spanish sphere”.

From History to Philosophy, from Literature to Math, Music and Science, the publication wants to address all kinds of topics, through the writing of “the most distinguished specialists in each topics, Spanish as well as foreign.” To do this, it foresees to publish four essays and twelve literary reviews per month. And also theatre, music and exhibition reviews.

Source: El País, March 12, 2014

Snippet: A. Schimmelbusch’s “Die Murau Identität”

A novel written in German by an Austrian author, Die Murau Identität [The Murau identity]. It is set in the Balearic island of Mallorca, that is why this blog comments on it. Alexander Schimmelbusch (Frankfurt/Main, 1975) presents Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989, Wikipedia) as alive in a secret exile, under the pseudonym of Franz-Josef Murau, in a peaceful existence until a culture journalists starts to investigate. “[A] novel with many identities: a fever dream on Austria’s greats of mind, a media satire, a comedy on the literary establishment, a grotesqueness that shows the cirumstances in Southern Europe in a distorting mirror. And an homage to Thomas Bernhard…” (Thomas Andre)

Source: Der Spiegel, Jan. 23, 2014