Snippet: Fortes’ “September can wait”

Susana Fortes, Septiembre puede esperar [September can wait], 2017, 272 p.

publisher’s summary:

A missing writer. An unsolved mystery. A female student who has decided to reveal the secrets of the past.

On May 8, 1955, the writer Emily J. Parker disappears in London while the city celebrates the tenth anniversary of the end of World War II. There will be nothing ever heard of her again.

Years later, Rebeca, a Spanish student of philology, decides to move to London to prepare her PhD thesis on the mysterious writer. During the investigation, Rebeca’s infancy and family life interweave with Emily’s past in the London of the Blitz and of the postwar, in a framework of spying and love relationships that make up a strange puzzle that is as suggestive as it is difficult to interpret.

Susana Fortes creates a passionate plot of mystery and psychological intrigue that encompass the world of spying as welll as the most personal nooks of her protagonists.

 

excerpted from Juan Ángel Juristo’s review:

The life of this pioneer of crytography and informatics [Alan Turing] has been brought to the movie screen on different occasions: Ex Machina, Breaking the code or The imitation game… the most famous novel reference is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001.

Alan Pearson, who had worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, is married to Emily Jane Parker, a brilliant novelist who disappears…

“…seasoned with literary winks to James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and James Barrie that grant the novel a certain literary complicity. A good thriller.”

The Wikipedia offers this author article in English.

The review of Septiembre puede esperar sounded more interesting to this blogger than the publisher’s information…

SOURCE: Planeta (publisher); review in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Jan. 13, 2018, p. 8 [printed edition].

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Cuba on my mind

The first weekend of February 2018 saw quite a few articles related to Cuba and Cuban writers in the newspapers perused by this blogger.

La Vanguardia had an obituary on Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart, called “Fidelito” [little Fidel] (1949-2018), Fidel Castro’s oldest son who suffered from depression and took his life the previous week [Wikipedia article].

“Babelia,” El País‘ culture supplement, presented three books on contemporary Cuba and/or written by Cubans:

La tribu. Retratos de Cuba

Carlos Manuel Álvarez Rodríguez, La tribu. Retratos de Cuba [The tribe: portraits from Cuba], 2017, 264 p.

publisher’s summary:

Carlos Manuel Álvarez is a young Cuban writer with an immense talent, and this book is the living proof of it. La tribu is an intimate journey among the Cubans during a time of dramatic change –from 2014 to 2016–, beginning with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, and ending with the death of the historic leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro.

[There is] no better guide than C.M. Álvarez to tell us the stories of some who lived –and survived– the great revolutionary epic that comes to an end now. There are the adventures and the calvaries of some Cubans who leave the island in search of fortune in the north; the life of a great poet who has hardly been published and who comes to terms with the fact that he will die unknown; the daily life of a former “Tropicana” dancer who lives in a dump; a mother’s odyssey in her efforts to recover the body of her daughter who committed suicide in a foreign country; the moving return of a Cuban baseball player [José Contreras] who fled, was recruited by the Yankees, and who returns to visit his people and his neighborhood after a lot of years.

 If one loves Cuba –or if one is Cuban and carries it in one’s blood–, one will have to read La tribu, because there is some kind of magic on its pages. But it’s not an invented magic. There is the Cuba that really exists. There is the lasting Cuba, the loved one, the sad one and the abhorred one, that of the bolero verses and now of the reggaeton, that one that is for ever, if one likes it or not. The readers will realize again, that is if they ever doubted it, that despite all the Cubans have got something special, that despite all, they have got a future ahead, in the same way that without a doubt the author of this book has got one.

                                                                                                                                  Jon Lee Anderson

The review by Iván de la Nuez is not as enthusiastic as Anderson:

… a compendium of chronicles that prefers the consequences of the acts to the causes that encouraged them. […] These chronicles of the thaw prefer, in front of the derision of the doctrines, the meat of the facts (with the virtues and some defect that sometimes come with the preference for the bowels).

 

megustaleer - Cuba en la encrucijada - Leila Guerriero

Leila Guerriero, ed., Cuba en la encrucijada [Cuba at the crossroads], 2017, 180 p.

publisher’s summary:

A book of Cuban chronicles by twelve of the most prestigious journalists and writers of our times –Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Jon Lee Anderson, Vladimir Cruz, Iván de la Nuez, Patricia Engel, Patricio Fernández, Rubén Gallo, Francisco Goldman, Wendy Guerra, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, Leonardo Padura and Mauricio Vicent– that encompasses politics and art, music and baseball, present and past, and that offers to us an exceptional snapshot of the particular crossroads at which the Cuban society stands.

« Of all the questions that need to be asked by journalism, there is only one, if we talk about Cuba, that can be answered easily: where. Everybody knows –more or less– where Cuba is. For all the others –what is Cuba, who are the Cubans, how is Cuba, when did Cuba start to become what it is, why is Cuba like it is, and different variations and combinations of the same– there are not only no easy answers but everyone seems to have theirs.

The twelve texts constituting this book try to get away from the most topical reductionisms and tell the country from the most dangerous, and for the same most interesting, territory of doubt and contradiction. Telling Cuba –like narrating the Normandy landings or the fall of the Berlin Wall– is telling History with a capital “h”: an ambitious task. But, in the strafed stuttering of the present times, these are some attempts.»
Leila Guerriero

In his review, Javier Rodríguez Marcos calls this book “a gold mine”.

 

Leonardo Padura, La transpariencia del tiempo [Time’s transparency], 2018, 448 p.

publisher’s summary:

Mario Conde who is about to turn 60, and who feels unusually in crisis and more sceptical towards his country than normally, receives unexpectedly an assignment by an old friend from high school, Bobby, who asks him for help to recover the statue of a black virgin that was stolen from him. Conde discovers that this piece is a lot more valuable than was told to him, and his friend has to confess to him that it comes from his Spanish grandfather who, fleeing from the Civil War, brought it over from a hermitage in the Catalan Pyrenees. In Havana’s underworld, Conde finds a suspect that has just been murdered. With the assassination of another accomplice, Conde discovers an unexpected plot of gallery owners and foreign collectors interested in the medieval carving, and he inevitably stumbles on Havana’s homicide squad. But, in interspersed chapters, La transparencia del tiempo also narrates the statue’s century-long epic, a black virgin brought from the last crusade to a hermitage in the Pyrenees by somebody called Antoni Barral, and there will be a different Antoni Barral who saves it and who finds himself forced to embark as a stowaway on the way to Havana.

from J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip’s review:

The formula that gave him a brilliant result in Herejes [Heretics] now turns tiresome and unnecessary. The novel’s focus of interest is blurred every time that the readers need to change the perspective, without this contributing anything to the core story. … in this trance, Padura lets his detective too lost in time.

On the occasion of Leonardo Padura’s presence at the crime novel festival “BCNegra”, La Vanguardia interviewed the author and asked him about the current situation on the island. Here are some excerpts that show quite a bleak picture:

[Question: Why is the generation of the “revolution’s puppies” frustrated?]

… To our broken dreams are added our children who leave us, I would say this is the case in about 90% among my friends, and additionally we have our nonagenarian parents we need to help because they receive pensions of about ten dollars a month.

[Q: You’ve said “moral collapse”…]

In the 1990s the people began to develop survival strategies. There imposed itself the anything goes. There resurfaced prostitution, there appeared drugs, and the black market turned into the only market. The society suffered an enormous los of values that were ancestral. There spread the lack of respect for the rights of the others and being a rogue as a form of living. The word decent, so important before, disappeared from the Cuban vocabulary.

[Q: In that present, that you situate in 2014, you show a marked tendency towards vulgarity in Havana. …]

Reggaeton, all noise, is an effect, not a cause. It’s the consequence of this lack of values and the moral degradation that we talked about. It represents the fall to the lowest point of Cuban music, which is a universal reference. The state tries to stop and to stigmatize this no-music. But the concerts of Cuban reggaeton artists, by the way promoted through social networks, fill up. It sucks, but the truth is that reggaeton has become the soundtrack of the Cuban present. […]

And then there will be Raul’s succession. I believe there will be continuity. What one doesn’t know is how long it will last.

[The Cuban president, Raul Castro, announced that he will step down on April 19, 2018.; cf. e.g. this ABC News piece (text and video).]

Padura also mentioned that it is not easy for Cuban readers to find his books there. There is a lack of paper, and probably a lack of interest by the official spheres…

There are two previous posts on Leonardo Padura from June and November 2015.

Among the authors mentioned above, Wendy Guerra is also a well-known and social media savvy commentarist from inside on the daily life in Cuba (Wikipedia article).

SOURCE: Sexto Piso (publisher La tribu); Debate (Penguin Random House, publisher Guerriero); Tusquets (Planeta, publisher Padura); “Babelia,” El País, Feb. 3, 2018, pp. 5 + 7 [printed edition]; Fernando García interviewing Leonardo Padura, La Vanguardia, Feb. 3, 2018, pp. 30-31 [printed edition].

Snippet: Rebón’s “In the liquid city” (non-fiction)

megustaleer - En la ciudad líquida (Caballo de Troya 2017, 6) - Marta Rebón

Marta Rebón, En la ciudad líquida [In the liquid city], 2017, 250 p.

publisher’s summary:

En la ciudad líquida is a lot more than a city, a lot more than a journey, a lot more than a book. It means following Dostoievski on his first periplus through Europe, visit Brodsky’s one and a half rooms in Saint Petersburg, the dacha where Pasternak composed his Doctor Zhivago or Nabokov’s family farms. Through narrative essays and personal chronicles, the author traces a fascinating amp of lives and literary works and of their impact onto our most intimate geographies.

The liquid cities are those whose outlines are reflected by the waters of a river or of the sea. For the authors, they are also a metaphor for the internal space into which one dips when, in a state of suspension, one reads, translates or writes. But that which is inside this book can’t be explained.

Marta Rebón, one of this country’s most important translators of Russian, takes an intimate and profound route of the literature, the landscapes and the languages that have determined her life. This work is a tribute to authors such as Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Pasternak or Nabokov, among many others, and it is a tribute to the word and its double edge, like liquid city that also exists [?]. Marta Rebón’s wonderful writing now offers a new perspetive to us: her own view of the world, her elegant voice, her wisdom.

from a review by Antonio Lozano:

Marta Rebón (Barcelona, 1976), translator of masterly writers (V. Grossman, Nabokov, Pasternak, Bulgakov…) has written a masterly book …

A very rich work that functions in different simultaneous strata, all of them profound and well-executed –essay on rootlessness and melancholy, biographical-literary analysis, meditation on identity, traveling impressions, questions on the translator’s “craft”– …

W.G. Sebald could be her spiritual father…

 

Spanish state TV’s Pàgina 2 book show offers the video of an interview with Marta Rebón on her book (in Spanish with Spanish subtitles).

 

All of this sounds very attractive to this blogger who will put the book on his reading-list…

SOURCE: Caballo de Troya (Penguin Random House, publisher); “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Jan. 27, 2018, p. 7 [printed edition]

Snippet: Antonio Ungar’s “Look at me”

Antonio Ungar, Mírame [Look at me], 2018, 192 p.

publisher’s summary:

“On the other side of the yard, on the fifth floor of no. 21, Rue C street, there is now a family. They arrived on Monday. They are dark. Hindus, Arabs or Gipsies. They have brought a daughter.” This is the first note of this novel’s protagonist, a solitary, obsessive character who medicates himself, lives stuck to the memory of his dead sister and resides in a neighborhood where everytime there are more immigrants. A character who writes it all down meticulously into his diary.

Through its pages the reader will be a witness of how he observes his new neighbors whom he suspects to deal with drugs. The readers also will discover how the protagonists becomes obsessed with the daughter, who he ends up spying on with hidden cameras that permit him to see her naked in the bathroom, watching from the balcony, lying in bed, being attacked by one of her brothers. From this moment on, the character turns from observation to action, while he leds himself become entangled in the spider web of the girl that he contemplates, believing to know everything about her, though maybe the things are not as he thinks them to be, and maybe somebody is watching him.

And while the –erotic and violent– tension increases, the narrator starts to feel persecuted, he models some enigmatic sculptures of angels into plaster, and he prepares to do something that will change everything… Antonio Ungar has written an absorbing, unsettling and disturbing novel. A reflection on immigration and xenophobia. The portentous portrait of a character dragged by a sick obsession that through an unstoppable crescendo leads into the grounds charateristic of the most somber thriller.

 

Anagrama’s author information (in English), where you can also find a summary of (and a lot of praise for) his previous book Three white coffins, translated into various languages but not English.

SOURCE: Anagrama (publisher)

Snippet: Ramon Llull prize 2018 to Martí Gironell

In theory, the Ramon Llull prize is the most prestigious literary prize for a work written in Catalan, though in the past editions it has hardly gone to serious writers but rather to best-selling journalists (cf. older posts linked below; Wikipedia article in Catalan).

The 2018 edition (the 38th) has been no exception to this trend, and the prize was awarded to Martí Gironell for the novel La força d’un destí [The strength of a destiny].

“[T]he recreation of the life of Ceferino Carrión, born in Santander [Cantabria] and a Catalan by adoption, who managed to construct an identity for himself as Jean Leon and to turn into a popular person in Hollywood as an intimate friend of, among others, James Dean and Frank Sinatra. The book will go on sale on Feb. 28 and will be published in Catalan (Columna), Spanish (Planeta) and French (Belfond). […]

The real history of Ceferino Carrión was that of a young man who fled from grey and suffocating Franco Spain in search of fresh air. He embarks in Le Havre to the destination United States. In New York he changes his identity and becomes Jean Leon, the man who will become the confidant of big Hollywood stars. ‘With James Dean they had a project to open a restaurant, but Dean died the day before signing the contract.’ Jean Leon decides to continue alone and opens La Scala, a reference site where all the Hollywood characters of the 1950s and 60s would go. […]

[For the documentation Gironell talked to the people who knew his protagonist well.]

‘It’s the story of a desire. Of a man who leaves Barcelona at age 21 in search of the American dream and who is successful…,’ details Gironell who considers this book the work of his life. […]”

 

You can find a lot of biographical information on Jean Leon in English on the website of the spectacular wine cellar he founded in the Penedes region. The Wikipedia article is only available in Spanish or Catalan.

This blogger considers Gironell, whose main journalistic work on TV has been telling the viewers where to expect traffic problems, one of the worst authors he has ever read; maybe this book is really better than his previous ones. It will no doubt sell very well due to the Ramon Llull prize label.

There are posts on the previous editions of the Ramon Llull for 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2013.

SOURCE: article by Núria Escur in La Vanguardia, Jan. 27, 2018, p. 37 [printed edition]

Snippet: Writers on other writers (non-fiction)

José Manuel Caballero Bonald, Examen de ingenios [Exam of wits/witty people], 2017, 464 p.

publisher’s summary:

Examen de ingenios is a book of portrayals of Spanish writers and artists whom the author got to know, a marvelous compendium of anecdotes and reflections on some of the most relevant figures of 20th century culture.

A hundred literary portraits of artists, sorted according to a chronological order that looks to the epoch when he got to know them, unique moments, personal experiences of the author with writers and artists of five generational groups: those of the years 1898, 1914, 1927, 1936 and 1950. Among them Azorín, Borges, Pío Baroja, Max Aub, Neruda, Joan Miró, Cortázar, Torrente Ballester, Delibes, Rulfo, Jorge Oteiza, Antonio López, Mario Vargas Llosa or Paco de Lucía.

The Wikipedia in English offers some biographical information on Caballero Bonald; the full bibliography is available in the Spanish article.

9788494697692

J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip, Dos décadas de narrativa en castellano [Two decades of Spanish narrative], 2017, 506 p.

publisher’s summary:

The author J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip was born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 18, 1945. He moves to Spain in 1970, making his regular home since then in the city of Barcelona. In 1973, he starts his activities as a literary critic in the magazines Triunfo [Triumph] and Cuadernos para el diálogo [Notebooks for dialogue]. In 1978 he becomes a staff member at the magazine El Viejo Topo [The old mole] and he starts ocasional contributions to El País‘ book supplement. In 1991 he became a regular contributor to the sections Babelia, Cultura and Opinión [culture supplement, culture, and opinion]. During that year he also starts as a regular critic in the supplement Territorios de la Cultura [Territories of culture], of the newspaper El Correo, of the autonomous region of the Basque Country. He works as a literary critic for publications such as Revista de Libros [Book journal], Quimera [Chimera] and Qué leer [What to read]. He was a member of different juries for literary prizes, among which stand out the Dulce Chacón de Narrativa [D.C. narrative], the Premio Iberoamericano de Narrativa [Ibero-American narrative], awarded by the Junta de Extremadura [regional government], the Premios nacionales de Ensayo [national essay prizes], the Premio de la Crítica [Critics’ prize]. His articles have been published in several studies on Latin-American and Spanish literature, among which stand out those dedicated to Mario Vargas Llosa, Enrique Vila-Matas and Juan Marsé.

DOS DÉCADAS DE NARRATIVA EN CASTELLANO. Literary critique is a speculative activity. Its solidity is based on the good government of its uncertainties. Its laws don’t have the demonstrative consistency of the sciences, but they exist; and even though being approximative, they are protected by the rigour of literary tradition and by classicity (including the contemporary). Concepts such as coherence and internal balances, sense, narrative plausibility and artistic truth, among others, are operative. Maybe there are some who think it convenient that these concepts lean on psychology, others on sociology, or on philosophy, or on history.

Álvaro Colomer wrote in his short review:

… Ayala-Dip [is] without a doubt one of the most constant and conscientious critics of all that swarm around us, and in addition one of the few reviewers who doesn’t see the job as a platform for his own launch as a writer, but as a profession with enough entity to be considered an art on its own. … The volume contains only reviews written for El País. …

In my opinion the real value of this book is to be found in its prologue, where the author explains the way in which he prepared to exercise his task. It is here where Ayala-Dip teaches an authentic lesson on the craft of literary critic. …

This blogger plans to read Ayala-Dip’s book, and if not all of the 150 reviews, at least the prologue…

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta, publisher Caballero Bonald); Huerga & Fierro (publisher Ayala-Dip); review by A. Colomer in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Aug. 26, 2017, p. 8