Nota Bene: January 2017

Mariana Enriquez: Las cosas que perdimos en el fuego

There is no reason why we should accept the world of Mariana Enriquez as our own, and yet it emerges as such. In these eleven stories the reader is obligated to forget about him or herself in order to follow the incidents and investigations of disappearing bodies – bodies that have a tendency to reappear in the least expected moments. Whether they be a social worker, a policewoman or a tour guide, the protagonists fight to protect those who are socially invisible, inquiring after weighty guilt, compassion and cruelty, the difficulties of coexistence, and into vast and plausible terror.

 

Camila Gutiérrez: No te ama

Improvised romance either forces us to make decisions or leads us to unexpected places. That is precisely what happens to Camila Gutiérrez in this autobiographical novel. After a three-year relationship with a woman, she meets a man and becomes involved in a story of intense, confused and unfaithful love.

No te ama is an intimate and courageous novel. In a sort of sentimental exercise, the protagonist searches with desperation and humor for an explanation that lends credence to her peculiar way of existing in the world.

 

Ricardo Piglia: Los diarios de Emilio Renzi (Años de formación)

The readers of Ricardo Piglia are without a doubt acquainted with Emilio Renzi, the author and alter-ego that appears and reappears in his novels, sometimes fleetingly and sometimes as a protagonist. From whence does Renzi hail? He arises from a game of mirrors that takes root in the full name of the author: Ricardo Emilio Piglia Renzi. Now, he takes the game one step further with these diaries published by Piglia – and signed by Renzi.

This monumental project will be published in three volumes: Años de formación, Los años felices y Un día en la vida. The first covers the period from 1957 to 1967, beginning with an author barely eighteen years of age. “How does someone become a writer – or are they converted? It is not a vocation, to whomever the idea may occur, nor is it a decision. It seems to be a mania, a habit, an addiction; if one stops doing it they feel worse, but having to do it is ridiculous. Finally, it becomes a lifestyle (like any other).”

 

Roberto Bolaño: El espíritu de la ciencia ficción

El espíritu de la ciencia ficción takes place in the Mexican capital during the seventies. It narrates the lives of two young writers trying to live off of literature. While Remo Morán searches indefatigably for a way to subsist without abandoning his dream, Jan Schrella lives confined to the tiny loft that both men share, from which he sends delirious letters to his favorite writers of science fiction. In the city as well as in their lives, everything important seems to transpire in that magical, fleeting moment that separates night and day, on that thinnest of blades upon which any love can become indifference and every obsession can become the germ of a successful future.

 

Santiago Gamboa: Volver al oscuro valle

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Manuela Beltrán, a woman persecuted for her disgraceful childhood, from which she attempts to escape by means of poetry and books; Tertuliano, an Argentine preacher that claims to be the son of the Pope and that, in order to create a harmonious society, is willing to employ the most extreme methods; Ferdinand Palacios, a Colombian priest with a dark paramilitary past that makes a test of his offences; Rimbaud, the precocious and jovial poet whose life was nothing more than an unceasing investigation, and Juana and the consul, who drag one another along and need each other, united by an undefined sentiment: these are the protagonists of this rich and polyphonic novel. It is a portrait of a hostile, seizing world in which the only possible rest seems to be the search, the round-trip, and unrelenting exploration.

 

Mario Vargas Llosa: Cinco esquinas

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"The idea of this novel began with an image of two ladies that, quite suddenly one evening, have an unthinkable erotic experience. Over time, it became a story of detectives, almost a thriller; the thriller transformed into a sort of mural of Peruvian society in the final months or weeks of the dictatorship of Fujimori and Montesinos. I liked the idea that the story be named Cinco esquinas, like a neighborhood that, somehow, in emblematic of Lima, of Peru and of the time in which the story takes place…"

"If any one topic permeates the entirety of the story, it is journalism… it can be something vile and dirty, or it can convert itself into an instrument of liberation."

 

Alfredo Molano: A lomo de mula (Viajes al corazón de las FARC)

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In May of 1964, a military operation was undertaken to recover the territory that was then called “The Independent Republic of Marquetalia.” It would develop into the long and bloody war between the FARC and the Colombian state, whose social and political consequences still resound. On the fiftieth anniversary of the oldest guerilla conflict on the continent, writer and sociologist Alfredo Molano reconstructed the origins of the FARC through the lenses of history and journalism. These twelve texts are based on different journeys made to the remote regions of Colombia… and from various interviews of the author with the founders of the armed group. “A lomo de mula” constitutes a rigorous and necessary examination of the topic, from the pen of one of those most familiar with the Colombian conflict.

 

Paulina Flores: Qué vergüenza

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In the twelve stories that make up her first book, Paulina Flores delivers a deprived vision, tinged by crushing sincerity, of real urban life: women that live in crowded buildings; men that, upon losing their employment, reveal the fragile foundations supporting their families; youth that work in libraries or in fast food restaurants, that remember the first day that they committed a small act of thievery, and the reasons that brought them to separate from - or the moment in which they definitively lost - their innocence. These are characters that, upon passing through the sieve of Paulina Flores, through her strange mix of crudity and tenderness, we feel that we have always known. Their stories expand and accumulate, sticking to our skin.

 

Mario Arregui: Tres libros de cuentos

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Though it appears to be merely descriptive, the title Tres libros de cuentos, by the Uruguayan Mario Arregui, includes something conceptual. It is not simply the product of three earlier books – Noche de San Juan (1956), Hombres y caballos (1960) and La sed y el agua (1964). Upon removing and adding thematic elements, including new variables, and the addition of prologues to each book, Tres libros de cuentos became the central title of a frank new product.

Uruguayan, a man of the countryside, a leftist, the son of Basques, annoyed by the big city… his quality as a great reader is as much of a characteristic in his stories as is his extensive experience with rural chores. The mix of both virtues is noticeable in a style that is as precise as it is rugged. In this ample selection of the best of Arregui, the most memorable stories are those of action and tension.

 

Pedro Mairal: La uruguaya

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Lucas Pereyra travels to Uruguay by day in search of dollars. They are times of restricted monetary exchange. He already has a secret meeting set up in Montevideo, but his plans could fail. Dazzled by a memory of the previous summer and weighed down by a marriage that undermines itself, he dreams of escaping and never returning. With whom will he find himself? Montevideo, that city idealized by distance, with become unpredictable. La uruguaya is an unsettling and ferociously entertaining novel. With a masterful pulse, Pedro Mairal sustains the intrigue on each page.

 

Marco Avilés: De dónde venimos los cholos

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De dónde venimos los cholos is a book about immigrants, written in a time in which many politicians find reasons to expulse from their countries the foreigners, the Latinos; the “other.” Will being white once again become a banner of supposed prestige? In Peru, cities have waged a territorial and ideological war for centuries against “los cholos,” that mixed-race multitude that descends from the mountains, fleeing poverty and threatening the purity of official culture. Marco Avilés is a cholo writer and immigrant who decides to return along the path to that banned sector of his country – to the place where the cholos come from. Sometimes, he will arrive in towns and villages with fixed coordinates. At other times, however, he will become lost in his own story.

 

Valeria Luiselli: Los niños perdidos

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Los niños perdidos (Un ensayo en cuarenta preguntas) is a brutally intimate testimonio, written in brilliant, lucid and frank prose. It observes the reality of migrant children from a perspective situated somewhere between the desire to remedy the existential neglect in which they find themselves caught up, and the impotence that marks the inability to do so. As Luiselli herself asks with all honesty: “How does one explain that inspiration is never what moves one to write a story, but rather a combination of anger and clarity?”

 

Rafael Cadenas: Contestaciones

In this book, Rafael Cadenas ventures into an expressive method that adjoins others present in various parts of his poetic work: aphorism and annotation. On this occasion, however, the focus is upon texts that he categorizes as “answers” and that he considers to be found “in no man’s land, somewhere between subgenres.” For the production thereof, according to his own confession, he was “excited by the idea that they could tempt others to do the same, establish dialogue with authors, and respond to them in an open format: endorsing their opinions, criticizing them, ridiculing them.” They have a further function that is no less important; he himself affirms: “they can also induce one to write, which during times of drought helps to support the autor or poet”.

 

Edited and translated by Michael Redzich

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LALT Vol. 1 No. 1
Number 1

The first issue of Latin American Literature Today features a dossier of Argentine writer Ricardo Piglia, who passed away in January of 2017, and short stories by the outstanding young Mexican author Nadia Villafuerte.