Terminó el encuentro de escritores Bogotá39. Nos volvimos cada uno a su país con los libros de los demás, con la voz ronca por la juerga, la cabeza llena de historias, pasos de baile, charlas, carcajadas y zonas borrosas del recuerdo. En una de las fiestas, según la dueña de casa, se bebieron (uso el se impersonal) 30 botellas de Red Label o sello rojo como dicen en Colombia. Nos conocimos en persona. Ahora hay que conocerse en libro. Hay que leerse, meterse en la sintaxis de los otros, descubrir qué hacen, cómo escriben sobre el mundo que nos toca. Iremos comentando las lecturas. Le quiero agradecer a Bogotá Capital Mundial del Libro 2007, a los organizadores del Hay Festival, a Izara García y a Cristina Fuentes La Roche, a los bogotanos, y al jurado: Piedad Bonnett, Oscar Collazos y Héctor Abad Faciolince.(clikear la imagen para agrandarla (y éstos son sólo la mitad de los libros…))
BOOKS & IDEAS
Times Staff Writer
An online adventurer himself, Mairal operates his own blog and adopts various online personas, including women. He enjoys testing out virtual identities as a way of conceiving new fictional characters, some of whom end up in his novels.
“It’s very liberating, for the fact that one has a name, a social condition, a sex, an epoch. One is born very limited,” says Mairal, nursing a beer at the Opera Bar on Corrientes Avenue in the downtown heart of this city’s bookstore- and cafelined literary haunts.
Serious fiction in this country used to revolve around brain-teasing plots filled with jazz-like philosophical riffs. Today it’s more likely to revolve around porn stars, Renaissance-era sexual intrigue and the emotional infidelities of married men. But don’t get the wrong idea: Argentine fiction is still serious stuff, but it reflects changing times and values in a country that has long regarded itself as South America’s most urbane, bookish and “European.”
Ask a typical North American reader to name an Argentine writer and they may cough up Borges and, after a beat or two, Cortázar.Which is fine, except that Jorge Luis Borges, the baroque fabulist, died in 1986, and Julio Cortázar, the stream-of-consciousness Surrealist, transitioned into Paris’ Montparnasse cemetery in 1984.
In the years since, Argentina has morphed from a military dictatorship into a functional, if flawed, democracy, and survived a disastrous 2001 peso crash that almost bankrupted the country. It also has experienced a cultural upheaval that has yielded a number of accomplished young fiction writers now in their late 30s and early 40s, complementing such older established writers as Tomás Eloy Martínez and César Aira.
Yet few of their works can be found in translation in the U.S. Unlike the literary coterie behind the so-called “Latin American boom” of the 1950s and ’60s (Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Cortázar et al.), the new generation of Argentine writers still hasn’t penetrated popular awareness outside the Cono Sur.
Although one or two contemporary South American writers, such as the late Chilean Roberto Bolaño lately have gained a wider following among Anglophone readers, the new generation of Southern Cone authors so far hasn’t matched its elders’ global influence.
That may be about to change a bit. At last, a handful of works by young and middle-age Argentine authors are finding their way into English-language editions.
Mairal says that a French publisher initially rejected “Sabrina Love” because “it lacked magic realism and politics.”
But the novel struck a chord with younger Argentine readers who came of age in a more open, permissive society than their parents and who view the dictatorship that ruled from 1976 to 1983 and the disastrous Falklands War as ancient history.
Mairal’s follow-up work also has grappled with Argentina’s most au courant anxieties. The apocalyptic “El Año del Desierto” (The Year of the Desert), published in 2005, was inspired by the panic triggered by the 2001 peso crash.
It envisions a wasteland in which electricity has stopped working, potable water is in short supply and Buenos Aires is overrun with desperate rural refugees.
One thing that unites many of Buenos Aires’ young writers is their preoccupation with the city itself. Unlike the previous generation of Latin American writers that was forced into European exile by political turmoil and repression, many of today’s writers are staying put in their homelands. Like their predecessor Borges, an inveterate traipser of the city’s streets, young Argentine authors draw creative sustenance from their debonair, melancholy capital.
“I never felt I was a Latin American [writer]. I share the language of Latin America, but I’m a porteño [Buenos Aires dweller],” says Marcelo Birmajer, 41, who keeps a writing studio in the vibrant, ethnically diverse El Once neighborhood where he was born and raised.
Practically a city-within-a-city, El Once is Buenos Aires’ historic Jewish quarter, now increasingly populated by Koreans and other recently arrived immigrants. Like Buenos Aires as a whole, the barrio sports an international flavor offset by a defiantly provincial attitude. “It’s a magic barrio. It maintains its spirit, but while receiving all type of immigration, of modification,” says Birmajer.
Birmajer, the descendant of Polish, Romanian, Syrian and Lithuanian immigrants, and author of the screenplay for the 2004 film “El abrazo partido,” has set many of his 20-odd books in the neighborhood, which he pays tribute to in his beautifully written memoir, “El Once — Un recorrido personal” (2006). His stories are richly embroidered with the daily fabric of Argentine-Jewish life in a way that recalls Isaac Bashevis Singer — “my greatest master,” Birmajer says. Many deal with the spiritual and sexual tribulations of Jewish married men, and their perpetual tug of war between duty and desire. “They believe in God but they protest against God,” says Birmajer. Other mature yet still-blossoming Argentine writers are speaking to the country’s present day aspirations and neuroses, even if they are setting their fiction in faraway lands in distant times. They’re also bringing their storytelling gifts to wider audiences via other media. Federico Andahazi’s breakout novel “The Anatomist,” about a 16th century Italian surgeon whose lust for a high-priced courtesan leads him to “discover” the clitoris, is being adapted by Los Angeles-based Stone Village Pictures.
“The Anatomist,” which is published in English by Doubleday and has earned comparisons with “The Name of the Rose” and “Perfume,” became a succés de scandale after its 1997 publication in Argentina. It was awarded a top literary prize whose high-society benefactor, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, denounced the book for not “exalting the highest values of the human spirit.”
“The people reacted with great indignation,” says Andahazi, 45, a dapper former practicing psychoanalyst whose office walls are lined with volumes of Freud and Kafka. “It appeared to them to be much like an act of censorship.”
It didn’t escape attention in Argentina that the novel’s period setting — with its decadent ambience, Inquisitorial potentates and ego-driven arts patrons — bore more than a passing resemblance to Buenos Aires. Some even drew comparisons between the Medici dynasty and Lacroze de Fortabat, one of Argentina’s wealthiest, most politically well-connected women.
“It was like seeing my grandfather sacrifice himself,” Andahazi says. “And unto this very day, whenever I finish a book, I have the illusion that I am restoring a volume from this lost library.”
Andahazi regrets that some of today’s young Latin American writers have shied away from dealing with the region’s dark political past. During the dictatorship, a generation of Argentine writers, such as Rodolfo Walsh and Haroldo Conti, was murdered or “disappeared,” he says. Their legacy, he believes, must be reclaimed. “Everything in this continent was massacred by military dictators. And in these massacres, always one of the greatest victims was literature.”
Andahazi, who also grew up in El Once, says that only one of his novels, the 2004 “Errante en la sombra” (Wandering in the Shade), a kind of film-noir musical whose protagonist is the chauffeur of legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel, could be considered a porteño novel. However, he acknowledges that several other of his works use different countries and eras as body doubles for modern Buenos Aires.
His novel “The Secret of the Flamencos” takes place during the Renaissance. “The Pious,” published in 1998, is set in 18th century Geneva. Andahazi describes the setting for another of his novels, “The Prince” (2000), as “a place that seems pretty much like Argentina, but not exactly.” Borges, Ricardo Piglia and others similarly have rendered the capital in disguise, or abstracted it into a multifarious city of the mind.
Yet the old, bookish Buenos Aires that inspired those imaginative flights is changing. Although the country has largely rebounded from the peso crash, a widening income gap, globalization and suburban sprawl are altering the city’s cultural identity.
“It’s not as strong as when I was 18,” Birmajer says of the city’s literary culture. “When democracy returned, you could find this until 12:30 at night. In the ’60s and ’70s they were open all night long, the bookstores. And they were full.”
Andahazi believes it will take longer for the country’s writerly class to repair the ruptures that occurred during the dictatorship. At present, he says, porteño literary culture presents “a more insular panorama” than in the past. “Each writer is like an island,” he says.
En Buenos Aires
la Mancha, Corrientes 1888
Hernández, Corrientes 1436
del Ávila, Alsina 500
Libros, Carlos Calvo 578
Libre, Bolívar 646
del Fondo, Santa Fe 1685
Las Heras 2225,
Purr, Av. Santa Fe 2729, Local 21
Libros, Paraguay 4399
Crack Up, Costa Rica 4767
del Pasaje, Thames 1762
Cadencia, Honduras 5574
Arcos, Puán 481, 1º Piso
de Alfil, José Bonifacio 1402 (esq. Puán)
Por P. Mairal
En el 2001 hubo una crisis en la Argentina, que para la gente de más de 45 años habrá sido una más, pero para mi generación fue la primera…” [TEXTO COMPLETO]
When I was dropping out from University, I didn’t dare to tell my parents (I was 18 and I thought I wanted to be a doctor), so I pretended I went to my classes, but went to the cafeteria all morning instead. I read a lot and started writing my own stuff. I remember reading for the first time in a different way, reading short stories like when a kid opens a toy to see how it is made. I read Cortázar, Borges, Salinger, trying to find the hidden tricks. Before that I was more of a poetry reader. So my other influence comes from poets like Neruda, Vallejo, Dylan Thomas.
About my working habits: At the beginning I was able to write poems on notepads on the bus, but then I needed a computer and complete silence to write prose. Nowadays I need deadlines to deliver my work: columns for newspapers, articles, short stories for magazines, and scripts… I only write when I’m about to lose one of my many jobs.
You are said to invent and develop some of your characters online by using them in social networks and forums! Is that true? If so, how do you do that exactly?
I invented a character who wrote porn-sonnets. And, also under a false name, I used to write in a blog as a woman. It was a very interesting exercise because nobody knew it was me, so I had to maintain the illusion, or the deceit. Some guys wanted to meet me. I never answered. My character even published a short story in an anthology of Argentine women writers. But writers have been this since Euripides. I think the last chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Molly Bloom’s monologue, is the best example of this cross-dressing literature.
Can you imagine someday leaving the novel behind and writing completely in a digital form?
In a way, I’m already doing that now. My next book is called “The novel I’m not writing”. But I don’t have that need to burn down the house. May be I will go back to the novel soon.
In August, your second novel in Germany will be published, almost 10 years have passed between the releases. What has changed? In your life and your literature?
The world has changed a lot in ten years. Today writers write on-line, getting high with broadband injected into their veins. I’m writing a lot on blogs and websites, thinking about the concept of literature in a different way. Since 2005 I’ve been publishing almost everything on-line, except my novels: short stories, poems, articles… And I’ve been mixing all that with videos and pictures, and collages, and even music sometimes. Words are always the most important way of communicating for me, but I realize that with internet literature atomizes in many directions, it becomes a little more anonymous, and faster, shorter. For me, the best part is that people don’t think that writing online is making literature, so they generally write in a much less structured way, more fluently and naturally. I hope that doesn’t change.
Your first Novel “One night with Sabrina Love” won a “Best novel” prize and got turned into a movie. How is your feeling about the novel now and what sparked the idea of that novel?
The novel was adapted for the screen, and translated into six languages. I like “One night with Sabrina Love”. Its one of those stories that have their own life, their own strength. I feel it almost doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s a short novel or a nouvelle, as they call it, about a teenager who wins one night with a porn star. The idea came to me when I was watching a TV show about a beautiful hostess doing one of those raffles or ballots, where you could win two tickets to the Caribbean. My hormonal thought was: she should raffle one night with her. Then I thought that would only be possible if she were one of those porn stars who have cable TV programs. After some time I realized there was a story there if the winner of one night with the porn star was a virgin teenager who lived far away in a small town. That was the story: a teenager seeing the TV program where he wins the raffle, then the road-movie trip hitch-hiking to the capital, then meeting Sabrina Love and the big city. When I saw that in my mind, I knew I had something to write about. It’s a bildungsroman.
Reading your novels, one thing that really stands out is your ability to leave blank spaces to be filled by the reader. How important are the things that you don’t say for your novels and your writing process?
I believe in leaving an empty chair for the reader. I don’t like to explain everything. I think the reader finishes the story, makes it up in his or her head. There is a drawing by Picasso where he shows a flower-vase. But only one of the flowers is fully depicted, the rest are just doodles or scratches. As a viewer you make it complete in your head, you see all the flowers, the flower vase happens in your head. You are in a way the author of it. But in order to do that, you have to trust the reader. If you patronize him or her, showing him or her where the deep parts are, or the meaningful stuff is, you push him or her aside.
Argentina will be the Special Guest of this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. What do you think about this? How is this invitation received in Argentina? And will you be visiting Germany for the fair?
There has been some controversy about the Argentine organization that put Evita, Maradona, Gardel and Che Guevara as the national cultural icons for Frankfurt Book Fair. After receiving criticism and pressure, they added Borges and Cortázar. Apart from that, it is a good opportunity for many Argentine writers to show their work and for Argentine publishers to take authors who are not yet well known outside Latin America. I hope to be visiting Frankfurt.
What do you think is the typical stereotype of an Argentinian in Europe today? How does it differ from Buenos Aires in the 2000`s?
I’m not sure what the typical stereotype of an Argentinian in Europe today is. But I’m sure it’s quite accurate.
Where do you see yourself in the context of Argentine literature?
I see myself as part of a generation that has no manifesto in common, no fear in messing around with technology. I see the new writers appearing and I start feeling kicked out of the “young writer” spot where I used to belong. I like and I need to read people my age and younger, to see what they are doing. Borges said that no one wants to owe anything to his contemporary fellows, but I do, I owe them a lot. I have a strong influence from other writers my age because I have always been a bit old fashioned, from another era, or at least that’s how I felt. Reading contemporary poets and novelists keeps me awake. I want to see how they write about these times we are living.
We at wilde-leser.de discuss the novels of Roberto Bolaño in much detail. What do you think about him? Is he of any importance for your writing?
I consider Bolaño not as a fatherly literature figure, but rather as an uncle. A literary uncle. I like the way he thought of Latin-American literature. I particularly like El gaucho insufrible and Los detectives salvajes. He was one of the first writers to write about a literary generation in Los detectives salvajes. I’m interested in the way he writes about Mexico, and the way in which he saw the obscure forces that acted in Chilean culture.
In your novel “Salvatierra” that will be published in Germany soon, you write about a very romantic type of artist. A painter who paints his life on kilometers of canvases, without getting recognition for it. Reading the novel one could find many parallels to existing artists (especially Bolaño in many details of the novel) Was there a real life role model for the character of Salvatierra? Or perhaps several?
Juan Salvatierra is someone I would like to be, an artist who doesn’t need recognition at all, he can paint his whole life just for the fun of it and the joy of doing it. His endless painting is in a way an autobiography where he himself is not present. But I’m not like that. I need feedback, and I am glad when recognition comes along once in a while. With a group of poet friends of mine, we are working to bring to light the complete work of a poet called Cesar Mermet, who didn’t want to be published during his lifetime but never stopped writing. He was a genius. Maybe some of his attitude towards the public life of an artist is in my character Salvatierra. At least I hope it is.
Ahora ya el invierno de nuestra mala suerte
Se convirtió en verano por este sol de York;
Y toda la tormenta que amenazó la casa
Se hundió en la entraña oscura del océano.
Estamos coronados de victoria
Mostrando nuestras armas abolladas;
Ahora las alertas son reuniones de risas,
El canto de batalla se hizo dulces compases.
El guerrero sombrío ya relajó la frente
Y -en vez de montar potros espinosos
Para espantarle el alma al enemigo-
Ahora da saltitos con su amada
Al ritmo lujurioso del laúd.
Y sin embargo yo que no fui hecho
Para esas travesuras deportivas… [SIGUE ACÁ]
Una impresión luminosa
Foto mínima (de 2 x 4 cm) que Viel incluyó en la última página de la edición de Crawl, 1982.
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