Posts filed under 'Chile'

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

A trip around the literary world, from USA to Latin America to the Czech Republic.

The weekend is upon us—here’s a detailed look at the week that was by our editors-at-large. In the United States, Madeline Jones reports directly from the trenches of the Book Expo in New York City. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors, the event is the largest of its kind in North America. We also have Sarah Moses filling us in with tidings from Colombia and Argentina, and updates on the Bogotá39, a group of thirty-nine Latin American writers considered to be the finest of their generation. Finally, Julia Sherwood brings us some hot off the press literary news from the Czech Republic. Settle in and get reading.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reports from the United States:

Last week in New York City, Book Expo (formerly Book Expo America) set up shop at the famously-disliked Javits Center on western edge of Midtown Manhattan. Publishers, literary agencies, scouts, booksellers, and readers gathered for discussions about the future of publishing, meetings about foreign rights deals, publicity and media “speed-dating” sessions, and more. Authors and editors spoke about their latest books for audiences of industry insiders, and lines trailed from various publisher booths for galley signings.

Though the floor was noticeably quieter than previous years, and certainly nothing compared to the busy hub of foreign rights negotiations that the London and Frankfurt book fairs are, Asymptote readers will be pleased to hear that multiple panel discussions and presentations were dedicated to foreign publishers, the viability of selling translations in the U.S., and indie books (which more often tend to be translations than major trade publishers’ books). READ MORE…

Close All Tabs But This One—Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents” in Review

If you read the review all the way to the end, you'll win a prize (I'm serious). But I don't need to cajole you into finishing the book.

Alejandro Zambra deserves his very own sentence (so here it is).

I’ve come across far too many breathy, overeager reviews that are downright giddy to liken Zambra—Chilean writer, very of-the-moment—with someone entirely different. Predictably, Zambra’s equally hip literary/national compatriot Roberto Bolaño is at the tip of everyone’s tongue. And then there are other authors, nearly all of them translated—Karl Ove Knausgaard, Daniel Kehlmann, Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner—who are inevitably mentioned in the same breathless swoop. It’s true that these writers are at-least-obliquely occupied with Zambra’s brand of hyper-real, genre-eliding, syntactically all-too-acute, auto-fictive and/or meta-fictive literary fiction, but there’s something decidedly pungent—and utterly unique—about Alejandro Zambra’s particular kind of fiction.

Did you count the hyphenations I needed to describe Zambra’s writing? There were eight of them. They’re intentional—as Zambra’s work, too, doubles, triples, even quadruples multiple intensities at once, though without the agglutinative slog that sentence carried (I am so sorry, dear reader). Zambra’s fiction occasions a rather hefty sleight of hand.

This is true, even with his latest publication—My Documents, translated by (Asymptote’s own former team member!) Megan McDowell and published by McSweeney’s this month. It’s his longest in English to date, and still a mere 240 pages long. I read it in a single sitting, but like I mentioned in this month’s What We’re Reading, I’ve kept chewing for weeks to follow.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Obituario (El estudiante)”

"His last words—how to explain without telling her the rest?—had not come out of his mouth."

When it was all over, the mother knocked on the door to my office. She sat down in the only chair that faced mine from the other side of the desk, in the same place where the student had been a few minutes before he fell to the floor. To mask my discomfort, I offered her a box of tissues and she wiped her eyes. I had been the last person to see him the way she would have wanted to remember him. Now it would be impossible after the legal process, the photos, the morgue, and the many stories in the newspapers. She told me about his last few months, avoiding all uncomfortable commentary. Suddenly she paused. She wanted to know what his last words had been. I inhaled deeply: his last words—how to explain without telling her the rest—had not come out of his mouth.

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Translation Tuesday: “A Brief Life” by Carlos Labbé

A young man's decidedly uncanny encounter at the beach

One summer I was at a beach in Mar del Plata with a group of young Argentine friends, around ten men and women, the majority attractive, at an age with more than enough time to spend hours arguing about unimportant matters as if they were the most profound things in the world. I remember that I was fresh out of University and had traveled to Argentina for the summer. My principal interlocutor, strangely, seemed older than I, although in reality he was quite young. He was bolder in the discussion, he seemed to know the names of many more books and authors, his hair was long, his voice husky, his face angular, his body athletic. He was drinking maté and his name was Julio. Everyone else was lying around on towels with dark sunglasses, bikinis, beers, CDs, and cigarettes. Every now and then one of them would enliven the discussion with a favorable comment for Julio or for me, with objections or laughter.

– No, loco, you’re wrong. Or, are telling me you want to write like Oliverio Girondo? Man, you’re bitter.

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Interview with Roberto Rivera Vicencio

“Without a doubt, I demand a lot of my readers, perhaps even too much for the banality and superficiality of the times in which we live.”

In 1994, twenty-one years after General Pinochet seized power in Chile, and just four years after his leaving office, Roberto Rivera published A fuego eterno condenados (literally Condemned to Eternal Flames). Partly grotesque political satire, partly social realism, the novel follows two parallel narrative strands: the first chronicles the rise and fall of a minotaur in the dark corridors of political power; the second captures the inertia of a group of disenfranchised young people living out their lives on the fringes of Chile’s rapidly changing society. Taken together, they present a vivid portrait of the absurdity and corruption in the political sphere and the tragic human cost visited at the hands of its cruelty.

Despite having been largely ignored in Chile, the novel represents a serious literary attempt to address the legacy of the dictatorship at a time when wounds were still very much open. Arguably ahead of its time in many aspects, it is notable for a political outlook that constitutes a rare attempt to transcend the partisan fighting between right and left and address the larger issue of the political process as a whole.

In this interview, I discuss with the author some of the inspirations behind the novel and the challenges of writing in such a complex political dynamic.

READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Dead Stars by Álvaro Bisama

"The past is that: a photo taken in a hotel we wish was our home—false photographs, proof of the life we never had."

Forthcoming from Ox and Pigeon Press is Megan McDowell’s English translation of Álvaro Bisama’s Dead Stars, which won the 2011 Santiago Municipal Prize for Literature and the 2011 Premio Academia, given out by the Chilean Academy of Language for the best book of 2010.

Álvaro Bisama’s award-winning novel Dead Stars is a story-within-a-story set against the backdrop of Chile’s transition to democracy after decades under the Pinochet dictatorship, filled with characters desperately searching for a way to escape their past, their present, their future: a small-town metalhead; left-wing revolutionaries without a new cause; a brotherhood of cough syrup addicts; punks, prostitutes, and thieves. Through them, Bisama’s tragic novel explores how our choices, the people we know, the places we pass through, and the events of our lives exert an unsuspected influence long after their light has gone out and they have faded from our memory (Ox and Pigeon).

 ***

Javiera failed almost all of her classes. We always used to put her name on our assignments. That way she’d come closer to passing her courses. I made that gesture, same as Donoso, and Luisa, our classmate who was going out with Charly Alberti, the drummer from Soda Stereo.

You’re fucking with me, I said.

Seriously, that’s what she said, that she was Charly Alberti’s girlfriend, that he was crazy about her and sometimes he’d sneak away to Chile in secret to see her. Donoso and I knew about it. No one else. Not even Javiera, unless Donoso told her. But I don’t think he did. Donoso was very discreet. But that’s what Luisa told us. She confessed one time when she was drunk, and it was all downhill from there. She was always telling us the gory details about her and Alberti. She told us they’d spent the weekend in Reñaca, because he’d flown in on his private jet to show her his new album. She told us her parents knew about it. That it had been hard to convince her father, who was a cop and an evangelical, but Alberti had done it. That he was serious about their relationship. That he had been respectful of her. That she was still almost a virgin. I don’t know what she meant by that almost, but Donoso would hug her and sometimes she’d open her backpack and take out a giant album full of photos of Charly Alberti, a heavy book full of concert memorabilia, posters from TV Grama and VEA, and newspaper clippings. There was only one photo of them together, Alberti and Luisa, taken in the hallway of a hotel.

**

Her: Aside from many other things, the past is that: a photo taken in a hotel we wish was our home—false photographs, proof of the life we never had.

**

She said: But it doesn’t matter. The photo isn’t important. What’s important is Luisa’s role in all this, because I was with her when I saw Javiera and Donoso’s relationship start to go to shit. Because, even though she was a facha right-wing conservative, she went with me to a party thrown by the Youth League in a typographical union off Calle Colón. I don’t know why we went. Maybe we just wanted to relax. Or maybe it was easier to go there than home after classes. I don’t know. The fact is, we went. We killed time browsing thrift stores, and then we made ourselves up in the bathroom of a diner. Javiera and Donoso were at the party. We hadn’t seen much of them that semester. Javiera was in the middle of an appeal, trying to get them to let her take a class for the third time, and Donoso was busy at the restaurant. So, I went with Luisa to the party. She complained because they weren’t playing “Luna Roja,” and she insisted that Alberti was coming to see her that weekend. That she wasn’t going to drink too much because Alberti hated it when she drank, he detested drugs and alcohol. Of course, the party was full. I was drinking beer. I didn’t see Javiera anywhere. In the throng of people, I saw Donoso with a bottle of pisco in his hand. There were a few bands that played Andean music, and a couple Pablo Milanés clones. In between the bands, people danced. The party was fun, if you like that kind of thing. I didn’t really like it, but it wasn’t terrible. This was just before the mayoral election in Valparaíso. Back then, before the Spiniak case, that fat guy Pino was way ahead. At the university, someone said Javiera was going to run for council. I don’t know if it was just a rumor. It was probably true. The party would put any university leader up for election; they’d send whoever it was to campaign in villages out in the middle of nowhere, like Catemu or Puchuncaví. To us it seemed like an obvious thing that Javiera would be a candidate. So that’s how things were at that party: Luisa talking about Charly Alberti, Donoso drinking alone, Javiera nowhere to be found. The last thing I saw before disaster struck was this: Donoso sitting in a plastic chair clutching a bottle of straight pisco. That was the cut-off point, maybe. That was the moment when I lost sight of them, because Luisa went to the bathroom and she didn’t come back, and after a while someone told me: Your friend is in the bathroom crying. I went to find her. The bathroom was disgusting, but there was Luisa, sitting on the wet floor, hysterical. She had a piece of paper in her hand. A newspaper page. Luisa was holding a page from a newspaper or a magazine and sobbing hysterically. No, the fucker can’t do this to me, he can’t do this, Luisa said. I hugged her and she repeated it, he can’t fuck me over like this, he can’t do this to me, the motherfucker, she was saying, sniffling. I hugged her and she was pretty drunk and then I saw that page in her hand. There was Charly Alberti with his bride, a model. That’s why Luisa was crying. Because of that page she found on the floor of the bathroom or in the hallway. A social page, a page with the kind of short articles that close every edition of a paper. That loose page, lost at the party, a little bit of trash just like the one you have in your hands now, the newspaper page that shows Javiera with white hair. It’s like someone let these articles loose in the wind, waiting for someone else to see them and break down, just like I’m doing now, man, just like Luisa broke down then.

**

The past is always a newspaper page left behind on the ground, she said.

**

She said: But then something happened. While I was hugging Luisa, we heard noises coming from the men’s bathroom. Shouts. We heard something break. A mirror. A woman’s voice screeching: Let him go, you asshole, let him go! Then more voices. Let him go, man, you’re going to kill him. Let him go. Luisa stopped crying. I got up from the floor. There was a cumbia song playing. We walked out of the women’s bathroom. The door to the men’s room was across the hall. The paper with the photo of Charly Alberti’s wedding stayed behind on the floor. At that moment, several guys shoved Donoso out of the bathroom. He fought back, legs kicking. His shirt was torn. They threw him to the ground in the middle of the dance floor. They kicked him. We watched as they carried him to the door and threw him down the stairs. The cumbia never stopped. And then they finally played Soda Stereo. It all lasted one minute, two minutes, she said. It lasted for half of one song. We couldn’t do anything, say anything. Then, Javiera came running out of the bathroom. She went after Donoso. She didn’t see us. We stood there, paralyzed. Then, the same guys who had kicked Donoso out went back to the bathroom and hauled out a guy, unconscious, his face covered in blood; it seemed like he was someone important. I’d seen him around campus. He was always surrounded by members of the Youth League, and he always sat in front at the events they held in the quad. He never spoke. The others conferred with him in whispers. But now the same people who whispered to him were carrying him like a sack of potatoes. His mouth was destroyed. I think he was missing teeth. I guess those teeth were scattered around the bathroom and covered in urine, dirty water, and blood, she said. And the guy wasn’t responding. I guess they put him in a taxi and took him to the hospital. Luisa didn’t say anything. I remember the two of us just stood there outside that bathroom, staring at the tiles. More than the blood or the guy’s face, I remember those tiles, just that: the dragons drawn in black and white on the floor. Those tiles were worn out, chipped by the passage of time, cracked. The bathroom at my house had similar ones. I dreamed about those dragons for a week. Finally I said: What just happened? I don’t know, Luisa answered.

**

But I know. What happened was that everything went to shit, she said.

I said: It’s a law of nature. When everything goes to shit, someone’s teeth wind up on a bathroom floor. There’s no turning back. No turning back.

***

Álvaro Bisama (Valparaíso, Chile, 1975) is a writer, cultural critic, and professor. In 2007, he was selected as one of thirty-nine best Latin American authors under the age of thirty-nine at the Hay Festival in Bogota. Estrellas muertas (Dead Stars), his third novel, won the 2011 Santiago Municipal Prize for Literature and the 2011 Premio Academia, given out by the Chilean Academy of Language for the best book of 2010. His most recent novel, Ruido (Noise), was published in 2013 and was a finalist for the Premio Altazor.

Megan McDowell, Asymptote managing editor, is a literary translator from Richmond, Kentucky. Her translations have appeared in Words Without Borders, Mandorla, Los Angeles Review of Books, McSweeney’s, Vice, and Granta, among others. She has translated books by Alejandro Zambra, Arturo Fontaine, Carlos Busqued, and Juan Emar. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.