Snippet: Antonio Di Benedetto’s “Zama”


Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama, 2016 (translation), 224 p.

You can find a summary on the NYRB Classics page.

Originally published in Buenos Aires in 1956, the English version published in 2016 made some waves on the literary horizon. J.M. Coetzee speculated that this might be the “great American novel” (cf. his review of the New York Review of Books). Benjamin Kunkel reviewed it for The New Yorker. The Paris Review had this note; and Publisher’s Weekly this review.

As to author information in English, there is a short article of the Wikipedia. The Spanish one is somewhat larger but not really extensive for an important author.

From 1977, after his release from prison and torture under the military dictatorship in Argentina, until 1983, Di Benedetto lived in Spain.

In Spanish, there recently appeared Antonio Di Benedetto, Escritos periodísticos (1943-1986) [Journalistic writings], edited by Liliana Reales, 2017, 602 p.

Jimena Néspolo, El País, summarizes it as follows:

Escritos periodísticos … contains very different texts by the author published between 1943 and 1986 –from a large article on the Mendoza Zoo written by a young guy hardly 21 years old, over the coverage of the San Juan earthquake in 1944, prestigious international film festivals or the military coup in Bolivia in the 1960s, until getting to the culture notes published shortly before he died–. 43 years of journalism where we see, above all, the presence of a singular style of writing put to the service of information.

The movie version of Zama, directed by Lucrecia Martel, starring Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Rafael Spregelburd and Daniel Veronese, produced by Pedro Almodóvar, will be released in Argentina on June 1, 2017.

SOURCE: NYRB; “Babelia”, El País, April 1, 2017, pp. 2-3 (printed edition)

Moisés Naím discovers Sant Jordi (2016)

In 2016, a lot of foreign visitors discovered the Sant Jordi books-and-roses activities during a weekend stay in Barcelona, among them the Venezuelan foreign affairs commentator Moisés Naím. His impressions are reproduced here as an exercise in translation, as International Book Day (April 23) is around the corner again.

A miracle in Barcelona

Despite the upswing in new technologies, the Saint George’s feast still remains massive. This year there were sold 1.6 million books.

“A rare, extraordinary, and wonderful event or thing.” This is how the word “miracle” is defined by the Royal Spanish Academy [“milagro”].

Last week I was present at an event that was all together rare, extraordinary and wonderful. For the first time, I attended the feast of Sant Jordi in Barcelona.

As it happens, every year on April 23, the Ramblas boulevard of the Catalan capital fills up with roses, books and people.

The celebration of Saint George’s, the region’s patron saint, is naturally very old. Linked to the legend of the saint, in the 15th century there was popularized the custom as to which on this day the men give their loved one a red rose. From the 1930s onward, the festivity coincided with the celebration of Book Day. And so there was begun the practice that in exchange for the rose, the women gave a book to their man.
To affirm that these customs are well rooted doesn’t do justice to describe what happens on this day in Barcelona. In the Catalan capital, on Saturday, April 23, there were sold 1.6 M books and nearly 6 M roses. Nearly 1,000 booksellers put up their stalls on the Ramblas, where it is estimated that more than 1 M people passed by. Hundreds of authors, of which many had come from other countries, sat down to sign books for their readers. On that Saturday alone, bookstores took in nearly 21 M EUR, which is equivalent to 10% of their annual sales.
The masses of people, of young and old couples, complete families, mothers with their babies, and people of all varieties and ages interested in books, in talking to their favorite authors –or to new authors of which they had never heard before– or simply interested in walking through the streets full of roses and books created a wonderful atmosphere. In other parts of the world, open air events that attract millions of people tend to be accompanied by both a high alcohol consumption and a certain insecurity. Not so with Sant Jordi. I didn’t see anybody who had taken a glass too much or who acted in a menacing or aggressive manner. Even though, as the rest of Europe, Spain is on heightened alert in front of the threat of new terrorist attacks, this danger seemed to be very far away from the minds of those who took to the streets. On this day, street crime, violence and terrorism didn’t exist. This was a feast of coexistence and culture which is hard to find in other places.
So much so that Markus Dohle, one of the foreign participants, commented to me that his dream would be having an event like Sant Jordi in Manhattan, where he lives. “Imagine Broadway full of stalls selling books,” he told me. That is not a disinterested desire. Dohle is the CEO of Penguin Random House, one of the biggest publishing empires in the world, and their headquarters is on Broadway. Dohle wasn’t the only foreign visitor who felt envy while experiencing Sant Jordi. A lot of us who came from other countries thought about the possibility of promoting something equally ambitious in our cities. There are a lot of book fairs and festivals. Some of them are even bigger. But nowhere one breathes the atmosphere of joy and civilization produced by Sant Jordi. For this reason it is surprising how relatively little known this event is outside of Spain. The opportunity to convert it into an international destination has to be used.
Another of the reasons why I felt that in Barcelona one experienced a miracle is that, in theory, the passion for books, and specifically for paper books, should not exist any longer –or at least not with the force that I perceived on Sant Jordi. Today we are told that books printed on paper are on their way to extinction. That as to cost and convenience they cannot compete with e-books, and that in the future they will only be decorative objetcs or museum pieces. The experts also tell us that social networks and other revolutions in information technology will bring with them that our attention will become more and more fragmented and that we will be constantly distracted, all of which doesn’t lead to reading. In this age there dominate the 140 characters of a tweet on Twitter, not the 500 pages of a good book. Who has got nowadays time to read books?
But it seems that none of this has reached the passionate readers who assembled on Sant Jordi. They continue to read. And on paper. And thus, every year, they create a “rare, extraordinary, and wonderful thing.”
This week don’t follow me on Twitter. Read a book.


Due to the fears of terrorist attacks, the Barcelona city government will try to somewhat deconcentrate the 2017 festivities. Let’s hope that despite this they will be as joyful as described by Naím.

You can read more on the Sant Jordi [Saint George’s] festivities in this older post, that links to other still older ones…

SOURCE: El País, April 30, 2016

Snippet: Lolita Bosch’s “Rage”

Lolita Bosch, La rábia [Rage], 2016

Premi Roc Boronat 2016 [prize]

Publisher’s summary:

Brave, honest and brutally personal, Lolita Bosch’s new novel remembers the bullying suffered by the author during her adolescence. The Roc Boronat prize 2016 is a moving and essential story, a denunciation of an execrable and too often silenced reality. Today, Lolita is a renowned writer and journalist; a mother who works for peace and who is happy to live. And finally she has found the strength to write about her adolescence, when at age fourteen to seventeen, like many other adolescents, she was the victim of bullying.

Lolita suffered insults and humiliations, and she felt the indifference and contempt. She became someone who wants to pass unnoticed, a nobody, and she had to learn what it means to be steel and to only want that the days that pass so slowly come to an end, an end, an end… A time of cruel complicity between classmates, but relieved by a green diary in which the author began to write about the unbearable feeling of drowning that crumbled her, about the darkness that surrounded her, and about the rage that grew thinking this would last for ever. Until today. A narration that oozes feeling and sincerity and that one reads with a heavy heart, in the same manner that the author lived during the years that she describes here. A required reading.

“To hate is to go away. To march. To flee. To lose. To feel rage however, is to feel defeated. It is like watching things from a very small and very high door that leads to an immense world far down and where nearly everything seems to be in the dark. A world where you don’t know why but you want to enter again. Make it your own. Maybe to find there the only exit door. Rage is a strange form of hope.”

Lolita Bosch was born in Barcelona in 1970, but she lived in Albons (Baix Empordà), the United States, India and Mexico, which she has considered home for more than 20 years. She is a novelist and a peace activist. But she also writes children’s and juvenile literature, essays, and she edits anthologies. Two of her novels were made into movies. In total she has written more than 70 books that have been translated into different languages. She has won prestigious awards in literature and in journalism. She constantly investigates from all possible angles the links between literature, violence and peace. lists quite a few of her books but none in English.

You can find more author information and links in this post written in 2013.

SOURCE: Ara Llibres (publisher)

Snippet: “The lost children” (not Iberian)

Niños Perdidos Los Portada ALTA

Valeria Luiselli, Los niños perdidos. Un ensayo en cuarenta preguntas [The lost children: an essay in fourty questions], 2016, 112 p.


“Why did you come to the United States? That’s the first question on the intake questionnaire for unaccompanied child migrants.” Through her work as an interpreter in defense of child migrants in the federal immigration court in New York City, Valeria Luiselli could get to know first hand the tangled legal process on which depends literally the future of thousands of children from Central America who risk their lives to cross the borders of Mexico and the United States to escape the daily inferno in their respective countries of origin.

Los niños perdidos is a brutal, intimate testimony, written in a frank, brilliant and lucid prose that observes the child migrants’ reality from a distance situated between the desire to remedy the existential helplessness in which they find themselves and the impotence caused by the incapacity to do so. And there is the question put honestly by Luiselli herself: “How does one explain it that it is never inspiration that drives people to tell a story, but rather a combination of rage and clarity?”.

Using as the conductive thread the fourty questions of the questionnaire that serves as the base for the legal process that will determine their situation, Luiselli has entered the migrant children’s reality in order to show us both their past, present and future lives and the labyrinthine and ruthless immigration system of the United States.

There is a very informative recent article by Luiselli on Literary hub (in English); and an author interview on the New York Times (in Spanish).

Other books by Luiselli are:

Papeles falsos (2010; Fake papers)

Los ingrávidos (2011; English: Faces in the Crowd)

La historia de mis dientes (2014; English: The Story of My Teeth)

The Wikipedia has got this article on Valeria Luiselli.

Though this book hasn’t been written by a Spanish author and doesn’t talk about Spain or Portugal, this blogger considers it important enough to mention it here.

SOURCE: Sexto Piso [publisher]; Weekly literary chronicle by Llucia Ramis, La Vanguardia, March 25, 2017, p. 42 [printed edition]


Snippet: Martínez de Pisón’s “Natural law”

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Derecho natural [Natural law], 2017, 448 p.

Publisher’s summary:

At the time when he passes from childhood to adult age in a Spain that is in the middle of the opening process after the “Transition” to democracy, in the interior of Ángel, the protagonist of Derecho natural, throbs the imperious necessity to give meaning to things, to find an order, given that his family has been a model of instability and disorder. The father, an erratic actor of B-movies and Demis Roussos imitator, has got an irrepressible tendency to flight. His stellar appearances and disappearances leave unvisible but indelible marks in every one of his four children. The mother, for her part, is a woman in love who, fed up with believing in him, will have to make superhuman efforts to take life in her own hands in a Spain that hasn’t yet totally woken up from the Franco system. Through Ángel’s conciliatory voice, who will study Law and look for reconciliation with the father, the readers lean into 1970s Barcelona and 1980s Madrid.

Derecho natural gathers in its title those years in which there began the building of a full legislative development, in open contradiction to the long time during which law and justice didn’t coincide.

“How does one sum up a life?”, the narrator asks himself in a given moment. Depending on where one puts the final point, the summary adopts the form of a drama or of a comedy. In the reconstruction that he does, comedy and drama live toghether in an inextricable intimacy that again and again carries us from emotion to laughter.

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón was born in Zaragoza in 1960, where he studied Spanish Philology. Since 1982, he lives in Barcelona, where he studied Italian Philology. He is the author of a dozen books, among them stand out the short story collection El fin de los buenos tiempos [The end of the good times; 1994], the novels Carreteras secundarias [Secondary roads, 1996], María bonita [Beautiful Mary; 2001] and El tiempo de las mujeres [The women’s time; 2003], and the essay Enterrar a los muertos [Burying the dead; 2005] that received the Rodolfo Walsh and Dulce Chacón awards and was unanimously praised by the critics in various European countries.

Antón Castro, in his biographical sketch on Martínez de Pisón, adds other works by the author, not mentioned by his publisher:

Dientes de leche [Milk teeth; 2008; novel]

Aeropuerto de Funchal [Funchal airport; 2009; a short story anthology]

El día de mañana [The day of tomorrow; 2011; novel]

Spanish state TV’s Página 2 book show offers this extended interview with the author on Derecho Natural (in Spanish with Spanish subtitles).

In 2012, Martínez de Pisón won the National Fiction prize for La buena reputación (cf. post).

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta, publisher); Antón Castro, ‘El narrador invisible…’, “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, March 18, 2017, p. 4-6 [printed edition]

Personal readings: B. Lynn’s long halftime walk (favorite quotes)

“You know what’s funny,” she said, “everybody around here’s such a major conservative till they get sick, get screwed over by their insurance company, their job goes over to China or whatever, and they’re like, ‘Oooooh, what happened? I thought America was just the greatest country ever and I’m such a good person, why is all this terrible shit happening to me?’…”       (Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, p. 95)

Billy has noticed that audiences don’t seem to mind anyway. All the fakeness just rolls right off them, maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life has installed in them exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words for advertising in all its forms. Billy himself never noticed how fake it all is until he’d done time in a combat zone. (p. 131)

This blogger hasn’t been overwhelmed by the book, but he likes how Ben Fountain renders a convincing portrait of Americans -under the George W. Bush presidency, but it could also be under Trump- who don’t belong to the liberal, East Coast establishment, and how he uses the right language register according to his characters’ origins, level of education, social status, etc. The novel has been translated to Spanish and Catalan.