Book review: Faces in the crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli’s first novel published in 2012 (Spanish tittle Los Ingravidos) takes its English title from the poem In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound. The poem is featured in the book and becomes part of the story as the different narrators in the book start to recognise faces in New York’s metro.

Three stories in three different times are delivered in fragmented paragraphs. Each paragraph jumps from one story to the other in a very skilful way.

Story 1: The narrator -a woman who lives in Mexico City with her husband and two children – is writing a book about the time when she lived in New York, before being a wife or a mum.

Story 2: The book the woman is writing becomes part of the narrative and it is about her time in New York working as a literary translator and researcher for a small publishing house, the people she knew and how she became obsessed with the Mexican poet Gilberto Owen who lived in New York between 1928 and 1930.

Story 3: Then we start reading paragraphs were the narrator is the poet Gilberto Owen himself and his time in New York. How he was friend of Federico Garcia Lorca (who lived in New York at that time too).

The three stories are interwoven in such a way that even though each paragraph changes in time, location and narrator you never feel at lost while reading it.

Faces in the crowd is also about the literary scene from the Spanish-speaking diaspora in New York from the time when Gilberto Owen and Garcia Lorca lived there. At least the literary scene imagined by the author Valeria Luiselli as there is no real account of the two poets meeting at the time in New York.

(When I started reading it I couldn’t stop so finished it in one sitting)!

 

 

Against literary machismo in Latin America

Silvia Rothlisberger

A manifesto signed by hundreds of Latin American female and male writers from the region raises awareness of the gender disparity in most of the cultural and literary events in Latin America and of the machismo culture that reigns in the industry.

The most recent example and the one that encouraged this manifesto was The III Mario Vargas Llosa Novel Biennale, which took place on the last week of May in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Biennale awards a Latin American author with US $100,000 and is named after the most recent Nobel Prize winner from the region Mario Vargas Llosa who stirred things up on March 2018 after writing in the Spanish-language newspaper El País that nowadays feminism is the biggest enemy of literature as “it pretends to decontaminate it from misogyny, prejudice and immorality”.

The scarce female presence on this year’s Mario Vargas Llosa Biennale couldn’t be ignored: from the 16 panellists only three were women, from the five shortlisted authors of the literary award only one was a woman. And from the five judges of the prize only one was a woman.

“This year is not different from past years”, states the manifesto. “In 2014 the panellists were 25 men and only six women; in 2015: 22 men and eight women,” it continues. “And in both editions, the panel of judges and the shortlisted authors for the award were equally disproportionate. Also, on both occasions the winners were male. We can guess what gender will be this year’s winner.” As if predicting the near future the winner of the III Mario Vargas Llosa Novel Biennale Award was a male writer.

The Manifesto also raises awareness of the machismo culture in the literary industry. After a scandal that broke on Mexico at the end of March when a journalist denounced on Twitter that a male writer had physically harmed many women and they were afraid to speak up. This unveiled a wave of testimonies of harassment via Twitter from personal accounts under the hashtag #MetooEscritoresMexicanos (#MetooMexicanWriters) and there is now a Twitter account called @MeTooEscritores where women can send their testimonies and they are published on this account. If they want to remain anonymous they can.

#metooescritoresmexicanos (also known as #MujeresjuntasMarabunta) is now a movement and their manifesto states: “In the last couple of weeks, more and more women working in publishing have joined in a collective and subversive action against violence that has been normalized in our workspaces: publishing houses, book fairs, conferences, congresses, universities, workshops, etc. This is not new. We have kept harassment, humiliation, segregation and sexual assault to ourselves far too long, in fear that our accusations would be dismissed and our work excluded.” The manifesto also states how their “mission is to underscore impunity, which in Mexico stands at an alarming rate of 95% -an absolute imbalance of power that benefits perpetrators”.

The movement has ten demands as an initial stage to stop the harassment and gender imparity. To highlight a few: That the development of public policy guarantee gender parity in the different levels of cultural institutions, as well as in juries and selection committees for all state and national contests. That all publicly funded magazines and publications include at least 50% of female authors in their catalogue. That there be an alternation between men and women in decision-making positions.

This movement in Mexico is the latest of an increasing number of feminist movements in the literary sphere throughout Latin America that wants to change the industry into a more balanced and fair environment for women.

Comando Plath is a collective from Peru of women writers, artists and intellectuals who are tired of being “stereotyped, ignored, treated violently and being ridiculed”. The collective Comando Plath created a successful petition on Change.org asking the president of Peru to withdraw the National poetry award given to the poet Reynaldo Naranjo. This petition came after an award winning investigation by journalists Gabriella Wiener and Diego Salazar exposed the laureate poet of sexually abusing his daughter and stepdaughter in the 70s.

#EscribimosPublicamosExistimos | #Colombiatieneescritoras

 

Photo: Katherine Hanlon

Podcast: Alia Trabucco Zeran & Yara Rodrigues Fowler at Rich Mix London #FLAWAfestival

This month’s episode was recorded in Rich Mix London in front of an audience as part of FLAWA festival where Silvia talks to the authors Alia Trabucco Zerán and Yara Rodrigues Fowler about their novels The Remainder and Stubborn Archivist.

Photo: FLAWA Festival/Ingrid Guyon

Author interview: The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán

Silvia Rothlisberger

The Remainder is Alia Trabucco Zerán’s first novel and nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2019, it places Trabucco alongside writers Hang Kang, Philip Roth and Alice Munro.

“I had part of the story with me since my early twenties and only felt I was able to write the voices when I was 27 or 28,” Trabucco tells me, sitting across the table in a café in London’s Bloomsbury. The project had to mature inside her before she was able to express it the way she wanted. “When I started writing this novel, I started crafting the voice of Iquela, the woman protagonist, which came naturally to me,” she explains. “Then the more I wrote that voice the more I needed a second voice. Something that would break the linear narrative and so I started trying out Felipe’s voice over and over until all of a sudden I had it. The moment I had it, I had the novel. And then it came really easily it was kind of writing a rhythm.”

Sophie Hughes superbly translates the rhythm and lyricism of The Remainder into English. During the translation process writer and translator would meet and read The Remainder to each other. “I would read out loud how I felt the rhythm of the characters’ voices were like. Sophie not only translated the book, she also translated the rhythm of the book,” Trabucco marvels.

Set in Chile, The Remainder is the story of Iquela, Felipe and Paloma whose parents were anti-Pinochet militants and pay the consequences as political prisoners, in exile, and worse: killed by the regime. These consequences run in the veins of the next generation, an obstacle they find difficult to move on from. Having been born in 1983 (Pinochet’s dictatorship ended in 1990) Trabucco says, “there is this question of how my generation deals with the pain and violence of my country’s past. How knowing that people were tortured, disappeared or forced to leave the country, impacts you and your imagination.”

In the novel Iquela and Felipe live with their parents’ past. “Iquela is more introverted. She is trapped by her mother’s memories,” Trabucco explains. “Felipe is a very damaged person. He has a lot of pain and he deals with this pain through a very violent imaginary,” she continues. “Paloma is the outsider who breaks the fragile balance between Iquela and Felipe.”

Iquela and Felipe are the narrators; the chapters alternate between the two. Instead of numbers Iquela’s chapters are marked by empty parentheses. “The empty parentheses are her search for her own words. She inherited her mother’s words but deep down she wants her own voice,” Trabucco says. Felipe’s chapters are numbered starting at eleven and counting down to zero. It is a reflection of “Felipe’s numerical obsession of subtracting dead bodies that he imagines on every corner of the city to match the number of dead with the number of graves in Chile.”

After Paloma’s mother dies in exile in Germany, Paloma decides to repatriate her mother and bury her in Chile. A rain of ashes falls over Santiago de Chile and the airplane carrying the dead body is redirected to Argentina. The three main characters rent a hearse and drive to Argentina. “Doing a road trip to find a body is their own story. It is about reclaiming a future,” Trabucco explains.

The three characters have sexual encounters with same sex partners. When I ask about this she replies: “I’m glad you mention the queerness of the characters because that is something that is not very commented on in Chile, especially because it’s something that is still taboo. The three characters have a queer relationship with their bodies and with the others because it gave them the desire to transgress and for me that made them a lot more complex and different than their parents’ generation.”

Chile’s history also had an impact on Alia Trabucco Zerán as she studied law because of her country’s past “I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, and I decided this very early own, and that decision, if you can call it a decision —I was seven or eight years old— was deeply influenced by the context,” she says. “I remember watching TV when I was seven and the news would be images of bodies and bodies that they would find,” she reflects. “So I had a fantasy of becoming a human rights lawyer who would make justice.” But after two years in law school she realised it wasn’t meant for her. Parallel to her studies she attended literary workshops and run a literary magazine. After graduating as a lawyer she moved to New York and studied a Masters in creative writing at NYU. “I was like ‘this is it. This [law] is not what I want’. I just wanted to submerge myself in language and in writing,” she adds.

Trabucco then moved to London to do a PhD at University College London, to “research real women who committed violent crimes throughout the 20th century and how society and how culture portrays their crimes.” This research became Las Homicidas, her latest book in Spanish which she was due to launch in Chile after this interview. “The core of the book is ideas, about what happened with society when women break not only criminal law by committing these crimes but the laws of gender and femininity,” she says.

 

*Alia Trabucco Zerán will be at Rich Mix London on the 15th of May at 7pm talking about her writing with Literary South as part of FLAWA Festival

https://richmix.org.uk/events/flawa-presents-authors-qa-alia-trabucco-zeran-and-yara-rodrigues-fowler/?fbclid=IwAR0hMkDPCKGI6RCE-cAuHWC-b9F1RGX5dO7ZrZYA1FurH2xa4fYXZs4I3Bk

Ariana Harwicz on her first novel Die, My Love, nominated for the Man Booker International Prize

Silvia Rothlisberger

When the Argentinian writer Ariana Harwicz wrote her first novel five years ago she didn’t expect the attention it would get from the English-speaking world. Die, My Love is Harwicz’s debut novel long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize 2018. “For a book that has been catalogued as avant-garde and experimental,” she says, “being in the same list with bestseller writers, Nobel Prize writers, Man Booker writers means bravery from them and a great achievement for us.”

Set in rural France, the novel explores being marginalised through its foreign main character. An unnamed woman on the verge of madness, living with her husband and unwanted baby, her nationality or native language are never revealed. “She is unnamed because she only has that role that society gives her: she is a mother, a wife, a lover,” Harwicz explains. “So not giving her a name is a way of irony, it’s a way of laughing at those conventional roles.”

Though there are parallels between the main character and Harwicz’ own life (she wrote this novel after having a baby and moving to the countryside in France) the novel was born from a vision. “A stag appears in the middle of the forest and stares at her as no one has ever done it. Not her husband, not her child, no one,” she says. A foreign woman living in the countryside near a forest, in the midst of that loneliness, with a stag that stares at her, and a baby crying. ”From this alchemy emerges the prose and the music of my first novel”.

Die, My Love is written in an intense and fragmented prose. “The fragmented prose might be related to the way the nights are cut by the baby’s crying. These cries that cut the dream, hence the night, like in One Thousand and one nights or like poetry. And also from an intensity that has to be cut so that it is bearable.”

The imagery of the prose is also influenced by Harwicz’s background as she studied screenwriting and drama in her home country Argentina. “My writing comes from the theatrical concepts of composition and from the techniques in film,” she says, “I always see the scenes as if they were being filmed with a camera”.

The short sentences and violent pace are perfectly captured by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff’s translation from its Spanish original. “The process of translating the novel was fascinating to me,” Harwicz says. “I had a close relationship with the translators, answering all their doubts. I could rethink the text with them and it was like rewriting the book all over again”. Die, My love has also been translated into Hebrew and the Man Booker nomination is opening new doors. “Thanks to the novel’s growth it will be translated into more languages.”

Die, My Love was also nominated for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018. In its second year now this prize celebrates small presses for taking risks in niche literature. Die, My Love is published by Charco Press, a new indie press based in Edinburgh dedicated to contemporary Latin American writers in translation.“[Both nominations] are also a great achievement for the press house,” she says.

Harwicz has two more novels published in her native Spanish that form an “involuntary” trilogy starting with Die, My Love. “It wasn’t conceived as a trilogy. It was more a literary longing which extended through three novels.” The three novels have mothers as their main characters and in all of them these women are marginalised. “The feminine character of each novel is desperately searching for who she is,” she says. “I wanted to explore how motherhood affects the characters psychically and how it touches their desires.”

In the last two years of the Man Booker International Prize the two writers nominated from Latin America are both women and from Argentina. Samanta Schweblin with Fever Dream in 2017 and this year, Harwicz. “I think this speaks about a moment of greater visibility of Latin American literature and specially about a greater visibility for women writers.” For Harwicz it is a consequence of women’s movements, which are impacting the literary world.

 

#33 Chile! Author Gonzalo C. Garcia and poet & singer-songwriter Violeta Parra

Sound engineer: Oscar Perez

On the first half of this episode we interviewed the Chilean author Gonzalo C. Garcia about his debut novel, shortlisted for the Edinburgh First Book Award, We are the end.

We Are The End, is a book heavily influenced by Gonzalo C. Garcia’s marked interest in Santiago de Chile, the relationship between video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative.

In the interview, Gonzalo C. Garcia talks about how music triggered his interest in writing, the music scene in Santiago de Chile, the process of writing his first novel, being a lecturer in creative writing; while sharing some tunes from his We-are-the-end-playlist.

Gonzalo C. Garcia currently teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick. We Are the End is his debut novel.

On the second half of the episode and celebrating the 100 birthday of the poet and singer-songwriter Violeta Parra, we invited the academic, poet and author Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes to talk about the remarkable woman that Violeta Parra was.

Mentioned in this episode:

Indy publisher: Galley Beggar Press

Music band: Miss Garrison

Author: Sherman Alexie

Gonzalo C. Garcia’s playlist 

Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist Violeta Parra

Décimas

Academic, writer, poet and publisher Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes was featured on episode 9!

Songs of Violeta Parra shared in this episode:

Gracias a la vida

Volver a los 17

 

#32 Author Fernando Sdrigotti + music from Gabriel Moreno & The Quivering Poets

September’s book is Dysfunctional Males by Argentinian author Fernando Sdrigotti who answered questions from readers and from an invited audience in London’s Calder Bookshop and Theatre.

Fernando Sdrigotti is from Argentina and has been living in London since the early noughties. Fernando is editor of the online magazine Minor Literature[s].  Dysfunctional Males is his third published book but the first one he wrote directly in English. In this interview he talks about switching languages,  exploring London as a writer, what is expected of Latin American writers and how he is crossing that barrier by not falling to those expectations.

About Dysfunctional Males:

Dysfunctional Males is a book of five short stories, all set in London, with a strong urban element, that deal with masculinity, loneliness, friendship, alienation, addictions; through the misadventures of its characters.

Gabriel Moreno & The Quivering Poets is a folk group lead by poet & singer-songwriter Gabriel Moreno. They are launching their new album Farewell Belief in October. In this episode there is a song from this album called Joselin, and two songs from Gabriel Moreno’s previews album Love and Decadence: No one can reach us here and We are what we are.

album launch gabriel moreno & the quivering poets

 

Mentioned in this episode:

Photos from the event with Sdrigotti

We interviewed Fernando Sdrigotti on Saturday 23 September at Calder Bookshop & theatre.

 

Poet & singer-songwriter Gabriel Moreno was featured on episode #4…

Joselin

News: Literary South is now a radio show on Resonance 104.4 FM

So exciting to share this!

After 18 months of running as a podcast, we are happy to announce that from September Literary South is a radio show on Resonance 104.4, a radio station I’ve followed and listened to for years. As a podcast there is freedom with how long the episodes are or how frequently you publish them. Yet, to really fulfil our aim of connecting readers from Latin America and Spain with English-speaking readers I believe that being on Resonance 104.4 is going to increase our audience and get more people interested in literature from the region.

Our show is going to be on Resonance 104.4 every fourth Wednesday of the month (repeated the next Thursday) and one hour long.

We have many ideas for future episodes, authors, books that we want to share with you… our listener. So, thank you Resonance 104.4, for celebrating diversity and creativity in your programming.

And by all means, keep listening!

Silvia Rothlisberger