martes, 22 de julio de 2014

La gallina degollada

"La gallina degollada"
by Horacio Quiroga
Argentina, 1917

One of the cooler things about the gory tale of terror "La gallina degollada" ["The Decapitated Chicken"]--aside from the fact that I found a link to the story in translation for those unable to read the work in its, ahem, colorful and vivid and bloodbath Spanish--is that it allows the important early 20th century short story stylist Horacio Quiroga to finally make his Spanish Lit Month debut in front of our huge international audience of confirmed genre fans.  As the bullet points on his vita all sadly attest, the Uruguayan Quiroga (1878-1937, photographed with one of his wives above), sometimes referred to as the Poe of South America and not just for his troubled biography, is practically a poster boy for the Argentinean and Uruguayan literatures of doom: as a toddler, he was present when his father accidentally killed himself with a gunshot blast to the face; while still a teen, Quiroga lost his stepfather to suicide; he had two brothers die young a few years later and--as if things couldn't get any worse--a couple of years after that, he accidentally killed his best friend in another firearm accident; fast forward a decade or so, and Quiroga's first wife checks out of their marriage by suicide; eventually, mortally ill and depressed, the writer finally takes his own life.  Somewhere in between all that death and misfortune, Quiroga found the time to write some of the most no-frills and aesthetically satisfying short stories in the South American canon.  "La gallina degollada," while not my favorite Quiroga by a long shot, still has plenty to recommend it in matters of style.  I'll limit myself to just a few quick observations here since the short story itself is just a click away. From the outset, the narrator is ruthlessly direct and even blunt in the telling of his tale: "Todo el día, sentados en el patio, en un banco estaban los cuatros hijos idiotas del matrimonio Mazzini-Ferraz.  Tenían la lengua entre los labios, los ojos estúpidos, y volvían la cabeza con toda la boca abierta" ["All day long the four idiot sons of the couple Mazzini-Ferraz sat on a bench in the patio.  Their tongues protruded from between their lips; their eyes were dull; their mouths hung open as they turned their heads"] (49 in the Spanish original, 57 in the translation by Margaret Sayers Peden).  Although the "idiot sons," variously described as "las cuatro bestias" ["the four animals"] (52, 60 in the translation), "los cuatro engendros" ["the four misbegotten sons"] (53, 62 in the translation), and even "los monstruos" ["the monsters"] (55, 64 in the translation), certainly don't get cut any slack in their non-PC portrayal as drooling, brain-damaged bumps on a log (on that note, I'd argue that "freaks" or even "abortions" would make for vastly superior translation choices for the Spanish word "engendros" than what Sayers Peden waters down as "misbegotten sons" in the middle quote above), Quiroga turns the table on his uncomfortable readers by asking who is more monstrous: the four meningitis victims "mirando el sol con alegría bestial, como si fuera comida" ["staring at the sun with bestial joy, as if it were something to eat"] (49, 57 in the translation) or the loving parents who fight over who's to blame for having passed on "la aterradora descendencia" ["the terrifying line of descent"] to their progeny (51, 60 in the translation)?  The parents, blessed at last by the birth of a beautiful daughter who makes it to the grand old age of four without showing any signs of having inherited the "idiot" gene of her brothers, then promptly ignore their four firstborn children to shower all their attention and affection on the sane one.  The ending, while telegraphed in advance early on ("Rojo...  Rojo..." ["Red....  Red...."] [55, 63 in the translation]), seems like just about the only one that Quiroga could have settled on, but why take my word for it when--SPOILER ALERT--you could just as easily check out the last two panels of the comic book version of "La gallina degollada" below?  Messed fucking up!

Quiroga's "La gallina degollada," with a short overview of the author's life and works, appears on pp. 45-57 of the anthology, El terror argentino: cuentos [Argentinean Terror: Short Stories], as presented by Elvio E. Gandolfo and Eduardo Hojman (Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 2002).  The English translation I used above appears on pp. 55-66 of The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga as translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Austin & London: University of Texas Press, 1976).  Finally, the comic book version of Quiroga's "La gallina degollada," with drawings by Alberto Breccia, an adaptation by Carlos Trillo, and an introduction by Ricardo Piglia, can be found on pp. 64-76 of Piglia's La Argentina en pedazos [Argentina in Pieces] alongside similar adaptations of Arlt's Los siete locos, Echeverría's "El matadero," and Puig's Boquitas pintadas (Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Urraca, 1993).  More on La Argentina en pedazos, "una historia de la violencia argentina a través de la ficción" ["a history of Argentinean violence through fiction"] (8), hopefully before too long.
The line-up from El terror argentino: cuentos:
Esteban Echeverría, "El Matadero"
Horacio Quiroga, "La gallina degollada"
Roberto Arlt, "La luna roja"
Manuel Mujica Lainez, "El hambre"
Julio Cortázar, "Verano"
Bernardo Kordon, "Hotel Comercio"
Antonio Di Benedetto, "En rojo de culpa"
Rodolfo Walsh, "Los ojos del traidor"
Abelardo Castillo, "Mis vecinos golpean"
Germán Rozenmacher, "Cabecita negra"
Amalia Jamilis, "Después del cine"
Lázaro Covadlo, "Llovían cuerpos desnudos"
Osvaldo Lamborghini, "El niño proletario"
Carlos Chernov, "Plaisir d'amour"
Guillermo Martínez, "Infierno grande"
Ana María Shua, "Como una buena madre"
Anna Kazumi Stahl, "Evidencia circunstancial"
Gustavo Nielsen, "En la ruta"

domingo, 20 de julio de 2014

Spanish Lit Month 2014: 7/13-7/19 Links

Liliana Heker

It's a measure of how swimmingly Spanish Language Literature Month is going that I've yet to read/comment on about half of last week's posts for the event.  OK, so that's also partly due to my erratic time management skills, but you get the picture: people are reading a lot of Spanish lit with us these days.  Hope you're enjoying the mutiny on the bounty!

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Emma, Book Around the Corner
Guilty of Dancing the ChaChaCha by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman
Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo

Himadri, The Argumentative Old Git
Tormento by Benito Pérez Galdós

JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas

Miguel, St. Orberose
El amigo de la Muerte by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
"La música de los domingos" by Liliana Heker
El burlador de Sevilla by/attributed to Tirso de Molina

Scott, seraillon
Bomarzo by Manuel Mujica Láinez

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell by Carlos Rojas

Tom, Wuthering Expectations
The House of Ulloa [1] by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The House of Ulloa [2] by Emilia Pardo Bazán

Tony, Tony's Reading List
Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente

viernes, 18 de julio de 2014

El burlador de Sevilla

El burlador de Sevilla (Cátedra, 2010)
attributed to Tirso de Molina
Spain, c. 1630

With apologies to Amanda and Tom, who read and reread all three acts of El burlador de Sevilla [The Trickster of Seville] w/me for June's Caravana de recuerdos group read while I was out picking up the beer and munchies on the "Latino time" that's now dragged into late July, I've been putting off writing about this Siglo de Oro classic because I don't really have all that much to say about the play.  Didn't love it.  Didn't hate it.  Don't quite understand its accumulation of four centuries of hype.  On second thought, that last part isn't entirely true because one of the most understandably appealing things about the play is that it boasts the memorably unappealing title character in the form of the original Don Juan.  "Unappealing," as I've just used it, is of course a value judgement about the character's womanizing ways.  What's appealing about him as a character, though, is the way he's so dedicated to his craft!  In the first scene alone, for example, he has to flee Naples after having impersonated a duke and falsely wedded the Duchess Isabela just to enjoy the duchess' favors.  Early in the second act, in the midst of leaving a trail of seduced and deceived women in his wake upon his return to Spain, he brags about how he came about his nickname: "Sevilla a voces me llama/el Burlador, y el mayor/gusto que en mí puede haber/es burlar una mujer/y dejarla sin honor" ["Seville sometimes refers to me as the Trickster, and for me there is no greater pleasure than to deceive a woman and to leave her without honor"] (verses 1395-1399).  In the third act, the incorrigible Don Juan gleefully chides yet another "false bride" of his in an aside: "¡Qué mal conoces/al burlador de Sevilla!" ["How poorly you understand the Trickster of Seville!"] (2229-2230).  In short, the character is a singularly compelling villain in that he never seems repentant for his behavior no matter what harm it causes--and this in a play in which a friend of his can casually joke about a woman who survived a bout of "el mal francés/por un río de sudores" ["syphillis sweated out in a river of fever"] (1308-1309) and in which another woman spurned by Don Juan asks for him to be killed for having been the "homicida de mi honor" ["murderer of my honor"] (1657).  The undeniable negative charisma of Don Juan and the earthy realism of that VD reference aside, another couple of reasons I might/probably will revisit the play in the future are that it's mischievously "poetic"--loved the description of "la espumosa orilla/del mar de Italia" ["the foamy shores of the Italian sea"] as the site of Don Juan's "cárcel" ["prison"], in reference to the cad's initial expulsion from Castile to Naples (117-121); ditto the description of Isabela as a "fea" ["ugly woman"], even though she must be an "ángel" ["angel"], when compared to the daughter of the Commander of Calatrava, whose beauty moves the King of Castile to astronomically rhapsodize her as "el Sol de las estrellas de Sevilla" ["the Sun of all the stars of Seville"] (1190-1199)--and goofily entertaining w/r/t the way the poor skirt-chasing Trickster eventually receives his supernatural comeuppance at the hands of a guest of stone from beyond the grave: I mean, I understand that revenge is a dish best served cold and all, but nobody ever told me that it could be jazzed up by scorpions, fingernails, and snakes!

In his introduction to the Cátedra edition of El burlador de Sevilla, Alfredo Rodríguez López-Vázquez does a pretty convincing job of casting doubt on Tirso de Molina as the author of the work.  The arguments are too complicated to go into here, but I'll try to follow up on this in a later post if anyone's interested.  Until then, thanks again to Amanda and Tom for reading this along with me.

miércoles, 16 de julio de 2014

La música de los domingos

"La música de los domingos"
by Liliana Heker
Argentina, 1997

Now that it's safe to avoid jinxing my adopted home team from achieving their best World Cup finish in the last 25 years (¡Vamos Argentina!  ¡Vamos Carajo!), I thought I'd share a futból/soccer/football piece or two during the second half of Spanish Lit Month to help chase away the World Cup hangovers that all but the Deutschland fans and/or the Messi haters must be feeling at this point in time.  First up: Liliana Heker's "La música de los domingos" ["The Sunday Music"], a very satisfying short story barely seven pages in length which manages to do a great job of simultaneously paying tribute to and poking fun at the rabidity which "the beautiful game" inspires in its fans all while touching on the ways fútbol fandom can unite and divide families.  As fate would have it, the #10 of this story is the cranky unnamed grandfather of the narrator who's only referred to as "el viejo" ["the old man"] throughout: a diehard fan of Boca who insists on gathering his entire family around him every Sunday to watch various matches from the early afternoon until after midnight and whose favorite pastime, aside from the sport itself, is looking out into the street and lamenting, "Lástima la música" ["What a shame about the music"].  One day, Uncle Antonito, a River Plate supporter who becomes fed up after enduring one too many mocking serenades from his Boca Juniors fanatic of a relative, asks the viejo what music could he possibly be complaining about since the only music to be heard in the house is his; the old man, interrupting, authoritatively and dismissively but somewhat enigmatically replies: "No hablo de la música que se escucha, Antonito; hablo de la que falta" ["I'm not talking about the music that can be heard, Antonito; I'm talking about the music that's missing"] (114).  The narrator, self-described as "una mujer casadera" ["a woman of a marriageable age"] who would prefer not to waste her weekends "vociferando los goles como una desgraciada" ["screaming at goals like a miserable wretch"] just to keep her crochety old grandfather company (114-115), says that she would have been more than willing to leave things at that.  However, her twin cousins, not so easily defeated, pester the grandfather until he finally explains to them what he means by "the music that's missing."  The answer: "la música de los domingos" or "the Sunday music" (115).  In the remainder of the story, Heker displays a light touch and a warm, sentimental streak in the manner in which her narrator seems to gradually become aware of how her grandfather's passion for futból is tinged with nostalgia for the Buenos Aires of days gone by.  "Parece que poco a poco fueron entendiendo qué quería decir el viejo con 'música de los domingos'" ["It seems that, little by little, the twins were beginning to understand what the old man meant by 'Sunday music'"], she writes.  "Algo que en otros tiempos había estado en todas partes, dijo, y que se podía escuchar desde que uno se levantaba.  Como una comunión o una sinfonía, parece que dijo" ["Something that in former times was everywhere, he said, and that could be heard from the moment one woke up.  It was like a communion or a symphony, it seems he said"] (115).  When the twins decide to give their grandfather the gift of  what he refers to as "Sunday music" for his birthday (it falls, appropriately enough on a Sunday), he gets dragged to their quasi-tenement house near Paternal, in a foul mood promptly insults the barrio, and then gets rejuvenated when treated to an unexpected, staged show of "Sunday music" in which the whole neighborhood seems to be in on the joke: radios blare different football matches from behind apartment windows, two or three boys in a doorway sing the grandfather's favorite football chants, little kids behind a wall yell as they star in their own matches with each other: "decían pasámela a mí, decían dale, morfón" ["they were saying pass it to me; they were saying come on, ballhog"] (117).  Although it'd make little sense for me to belabor this summary any further given the fact that I don't think "La música de los domingos" is even available in English, suffice it to say that Heker's attention to detail--and in particular to the spoken language of her characters--is such that the description of the voices on the radio ("Cabezazo de Gorosito...recibe Moreno con el pecho, la duerme con la zurda, gira y..." ["What a header from Gorosito...Moreno stops the ball with his chest, controls it with his left foot and..."]) and the reactions of the "fans" on the street ("¡Goool!, gritaron los muchachos del portón" ["'Goalll!,' shouted the kids in the doorway"]) is handled in such a way that it makes it easy to picture the grandfather's astonishment as he's confronted with the rousing, Argentinean fan chants of "Oléee, olé-olé-olá" and "esta barra quilombera no te deja de alentar" coming from the hallways, the patios and the terraces which have seemingly transformed themselves, fútbol fairy tale like, into the "tribunas" or "stands" of his memory or imagination (118-119).  A lovely story winningly told.

"La música de los domingos" appears on pp. 111-119 of the Roberto Fontanarrosa-edited Cuentos de Fútbol Argentino [Argentinean Football Stories] (Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 1997).
Other short stories in the collection:
Adolfo Bioy Casares/Jorge Luis Borges, "Esse est percipi"
Marcelo Cohen, "Fantasía española"
Humberto Costantini, "Insai izquierdo"
Alejandro Dolina, "Apuntes del fútbol en Flores"
José Pablo Feinmann, "Dieguito"
Inés Fernández Moreno, "Milagro en Parque Chas"
Roberto Fontanarrosa, "Escenas de la vida deportiva"
Rodrigo Fresán, "Final"
Elvio E. Gandolfo, "El visitante"
Héctor Libertella, "La cifra redonda"
Diego Lucero, "Hoy comienza el campeonato y habrá fiesta para rato"
Marcos Mayer, "Ver o jugar"
Pacho O'Donnell, "Falucho"
Guillermo Saccomanno, "Tránsito"
Juan Sasturain, "Campitos"
Osvaldo Soriano, "Gallardo Pérez, referí"
Luisa Valenzuela, "El mundo es de los inocentes"
Diego Alejandro Majluff has posted an audio version of Heker's story at his blog Escribiendo con lápiz, which I strongly recommend for those able to follow along in Spanish.

domingo, 13 de julio de 2014

Spanish Lit Month 2014: 7/6-7/12 Links

Amanda, Simpler Pastimes
El burlador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Barcelona Shadows by Marc Pastor

Caroline, Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat

JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
Nada by Carmen Laforet

Miguel, St. Orberose
Las islas extraordinarias by Gonzalo Torrente Ballester

Obooki, Obooki's Obloquy
Fiesta in November by Eduardo Mallea

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
La asesina ilustrada by Enrique Vila-Matas

Scott, seraillon
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Tom, Wuthering Expectations
The Trickster of Seville by Tirso de Molina
Miguel Hernández by Miguel Hernández

Tony, Tony's Reading List
Paradises by Iosi Havilio

Tony Messenger, Messengers Booker (and more)
Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutierrez

Violet, Still Life with Books
Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli

sábado, 12 de julio de 2014

La asesina ilustrada

La asesina ilustrada (Tusquets Editor, 1977)
by Enrique Vila-Matas
Spain, 1977

I have good news and bad news for you Spanish Lit Month yobbos tonight.  The good news is that the previous Vila-Matas that I read, 1985's devilishly entertaining Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil, is finally going to be translated into English next year just in time for its 30th anniversary.  The bad news is that the most recent Vila-Matas that I read, 1977's disappointing La asesina ilustrada, well, let's just say that it really isn't all that entertaining at all.  Now a book about a manuscript that kills is a killer idea to be sure--especially one blessed with such an inspired title as La asesina ilustrada, which can be rendered as either The Illustrated Assassin or The Well Read Killer or even The Killer Made Famous,* three descriptions which fit the villainous title text to a t--but unfortunately this sophomore effort from the young Vila-Matas is rather plodding in its attempts to cobble together a death-by-writing spin on the locked room mystery and entirely lacking in all the biting wit and genre-bending storytelling savoir-faire to be found in later works by the author.  As proof of the 88-page novella's soporific qualities, I have absolutely zero quotes from La asesina ilustrada to share for which I apologize in the timeless words of an actual memorable villain from non-Spanish Lit Month days gone by: "Youths!  I invoke your sympathy.  Maidens!  I claim your tears."

*[Edit: Thanks to JacquiWine and Stu for informing me that La asesina ilustrada has been rendered into English as The Lettered Assassin in the translation of EV-M's Never Any End to Paris: a much better choice than any of the "creative" ones I submitted above!]

Enrique Vila-Matas

lunes, 7 de julio de 2014

La ciudad de las ratas

La ciudad de las ratas [La Cité des rats] (El cuenco de plata, 2009)
by Copi [translated from the French by Guadalupe Marando, Eduardo Muslip & María Silva]
France, 1979

As far as rodent/human epistolary novels set in the City of Light go, La ciudad de las ratas [original title: La Cité des rats; English approximation: City of Rats] is probably in a league of its own.  Probably?  Literally!  Prologuist and co-translator Eduardo Muslip conveniently enough for me describes the work as "una mezcla de relato de aventuras, fábula rabelaisiana y novela experimental" ["a mix of adventure tale, Rabelaisian fable and experimental novel"] (5), to which I'd only add that its gross out humor and sheer wrongness are comparable in sicko comedic verve and scale to the night I saw Pink Flamingos at a midnight screening in the early '80s only to find entire rows of people walking out on the flick at staggered intervals.  Quite an impression!  Quite a parallel!  Narrated by the likeable sewer rat Gouri in conjunction with his human friend and the purported translator of the tale Copi, La ciudad de las ratas spins a wild, orgiastic tale--again, literally!--in which the struggle for the rat nation to survive amid a cosmic struggle involving the Dios de los Hombres [God of Mankind] and the Diablo de las Ratas [Devil of the Rats] leads to an all too human situation in which the Île de la Cité with Notre-Dame de Paris intact splits off from its European moorings and drifts to the New World with the U.S. and Russian navies in hot pursuit.  A foundational tale of a sort.  Although things end on a somewhat apocalyptic note beyond the mere smashing of the stained glass windows at the Sainte-Chapelle and the destruction by fire of the Académie française and the Louvre as you might imagine if you're at all familiar with Copi's earlier Enrique Vila-Matas translated "El uruguayo"/"L'Uruguayen," I won't say anything more about the vachement violent ending since I don't want Fnac to lose any sales over a careless abuse of the spoiler alert function on my keyboard.  That being said, here are three things I thought were really cool about the novel even though I probably could have done without occasional provocations like the "comedic" necrophilia scene near the end: 1) In a novel in which absurdism and realism reign side by side in monarchical harmony (or something) and in a novel in which some of the star sidekicks of Gouri and his rat friend Rakä so to speak include characters known as la Reina de las Ratas [the Queen of Rats] and el Emir de los Loros [the Emir of the Parrots], I for some reason couldn't stop laughing at two strategically placed words from the otherwise nondescript line "Todos los demás, hámsters incluidos, me gritaban '¡coraje, coraje!" encaramados a las ramas del sauce" ["Everybody else, hamsters included, were shouting 'Be brave!  Be brave!' to me while perched atop the branches of the willow tree"] having to do with the occasion when Gouri suddenly finds himself under attack from a human child (39).  "Hamsters included."  A nice touch!  2) The intrusive translator trick.  "Nunca supe cuál es la parte real y cuál la imaginaria en este relato, tal vez por falta de curiosidad" ["I never learned what was the real and what was the imaginary part of this story--perhaps out of a lack of curiosity"], the translator admits at one point.  Later, in the translator's afterword, he amusingly adds that "Creí útil cortar algunas de mis notas, cuya erudición sobrepasa y anula la imaginación, por respeto al estilo fluido y fresco del autor, que quise conservar" ["I thought it a good idea to cut out some of my footnotes, whose erudition surpasses and annuls the imagination, out of respect for the fresh and fluid style of the author which I wanted to preserve"] (139).  3) Somewhat incredibly given a story in which a bat serves as a form of aircraft for the Queen of Rats and her court, some verses from Jorge Manrique's 1476 "Coplas que fizo por la muerte de su padre" ["Verses Written on the Death of His Father"] manage to get worked into a scene in which the translator Copi tells how, during a particularly lonely period in his life in Paris in the late '70s, he first met the rat Gouri on the sidewalk of the rue Dauphine, took him home, and "ebrio a morir, le recitaba a Gouri el más bello poema que conozco, con mi execrable acento español" ["dead drunk, with my horrible Spanish accent, recited to him the most beautiful poem that I know"] (114).  Why would Manrique's Coplas show up in a work as envelope-pushing in its sensibilities as La ciudad de las ratas? I sure would love to ask its author!  However, my guess, that the poem had some strong personal significance for the flesh and blood Copi can't entirely be confirmed by the fictional Copi who in the translator's afterword merely notes that the poem excerpt comes from the first and the beginning of the second coplas of the Castilian soldier Jorge Manrique (1440-1479), is blessed with a rhyme that's "cerca de la perfección" ["close to perfection"], and relates "los últimos momentos del padre del soldado; el poeta cita este acontecimiento como ejemplo para conducir al lector a reflexionar sobre la brevedad de nuestras vidas, comparándolas con los 'ríos que van a dar a la mar", que es 'el morir'" ["the last moments of the soldier's father; the poet cites this event as an example for the reader to reflect on the brevity of our lives, comparing them with the 'rivers that flow out to the sea,' which is 'our dying'"] (139).

Copi, a/k/a Raúl Damonte Botana
(Buenos Aires, 1939-Paris, 1987)

I read La ciudad de las ratas/La Cité des rats for the Paris in July 2014 fête hosted by Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza and her co-hosts Adria of Adria in Paris, Karen of A Wondering Life and Tamara of Thyme for Tea and for the year-long Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge hosted by Emma of Words and Peace.
As luck would have it, almost all of the Manrique lines cited by Copi in this novel appear in this post here with an accompanying English translation from Edith Grossman.