Posts by Dana Khromov

Patria o Muerte by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

“Everything is fiction, even reality"

A striking meditation on the power of affective marketing to infiltrate and manipulate the national and individual psyche delivered in a gripping, suspenseful narrative web, Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s Patria o Muerte, winner of last year’s Tusquets Prize, is among the many novels that are garnering praise among Spanish language readers but have not yet reached American readers. Offering an intimate glimpse into a climactic moment in Venezuela’s sociopolitical trajectory, it resonates eerily with the media’s current stronghold in American politics.

The novel’s intertwined narratives unravel between 2011 and 2013, amidst the secrecy and suspense surrounding Chávez’s cancer diagnosis, treatment in Cuba and eventual death, during a propaganda campaign that sustained his political grip in a country plagued by mass unemployment, a housing crisis, extreme media censorship, unprecedented violence and an astounding fifty-two deaths a day. Chávez’s physical absence through most of the novel paradoxically strengthens his cult of personality and his power over the Venezuelan citizenry as uncertainty about the future imbues the character’s lives with constant, palpable paranoia, insecurity, and fear of the menace of violence. After his diagnosis, catastrophic collapse appears imminent but its approach is excruciatingly slow.

The action centers on Miguel Sanabria, a melancholic retired oncologist suffering from insomnia, who lives in Caracas with his wife, Beatriz, a fervent antichavista, in a building he manages. He attributes his psychic unease to his advancing age until it dawns on him that its real source is Venezuela’s state of suspense—a symptom of the national psyche in the vacuum of information about Chávez health.

At various points throughout the novel, Miguel and his brother Antonio, a fervent Bolivarian, argue about the legitimacy of Chávez’s revolution—the viability of the transition from capitalism to socialism—as the country dissolves into poverty and violence. As Chávez undergoes chemotherapy in Cuba, Vladimir, Antonio’s son and one of the president’s trusted officials, fearing the president’s mounting paranoia, asks Sanabria to keep a cell phone with compromising recordings of the gravely ill Chávez from the operating table, entangling Sanabria, who had always willfully abstained from involvement in politics, in the president’s fiction of immortality.


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.


An Interview with Javier Molea

"Basically, no one knows what great Latin American writers are teaching in New York."

Since beginning at McNally Jackson ten years ago, Javier Molea has stretched his title as bookseller to its absolute limits. In the process, he has positioned himself firmly at the crux of a burgeoning New York Spanish-language literary community. READ MORE…

On Wilma Stockenström’s “Expedition to the Baobab Tree”

On slaveholding and language

In Wilma Stockenström’s novel, Expedition to the Baobab Tree, we meet a woman who has no language of her own. Captured as a young girl and sold into slavery, she can identify neither with the fractured “worker’s language” of her fellow slaves nor the Afrikaans imposed on her by her owners, instead becoming alienated from both groups. Since the languages we speak provide us with internalized values and systems of categorization to understand and locate ourselves within the world, Stockenström’s protagonist’s lack leaves her disoriented and struggling to construct an identity. She discards the constraints of human language, culture, and systems of categorization; unraveling her conditioning as a slave, she improvises a language of her own, a vocabulary masterfully crafted in Stockenström’s prose and expertly preserved in Coetzee’s translation. Yet having internalized her worth as determined by her usefulness to her masters, she finds her solitude in the wilderness unbearable, the maddening isolation finally driving her to suicide. READ MORE…