Tag Archives: spanish

77 by Guillermo Saccomanno. Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

77 by Guillermo Saccomanno Title: 77
Author: Guillermo Saccomanno
Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger
Publisher: Open Letter
ISBN: 978-1940953892
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Books written to defy, to present various points of view, and above all to show us that we can and should raise voices against powers are books that I love to read. It makes me feel stronger, it makes me want to protest, and more than anything else it makes me feel that I have companions and not alone in the world when it comes to issues close to my heart. 77 is one such book that held me by my throat and being and I just had to finish it in almost three sittings or so. The book still lingers in my memory, and I know that it will for a long time to come.

 So, what is the book about?

 The book is set in Buenos Aires, 1977. A time that is considered to be a part of the darkest days of the Videla dictatorship, from the time he seized power in 1976. At the heart of the book is Gómez, a gay high-school literature teacher, trying very hard to keep a low profile as his friends and students begin to disappear. This is the time when questioning is forbidden, and people aren’t allowed to live the way they wish to.

 Things also start spiralling when he gives shelter to two dissidents in his house, and to make things worst he is having an affair with a homophobic cop who is loyal to the government and no one else. The book is told in flashbacks – from 2007 to 1977 – jumping back and forth.

 I was stunned reading this novel. I didn’t know what to feel for some time and then I realized that I was scared. Scared of such a regime being thrust upon us (though it seems that day isn’t very far) and how we would react or live in that case. Living under a dictatorship isn’t easy. At the same time, it isn’t very hard for people to get used to it, which is most fearful.

Saccomanno’s writing is fluid and clear. In most parts, I thought of it to be autobiographical and I don’t think I was far from the truth. The moral, social, and intellectual dilemmas that present themselves make the book so haunting and real. Is literature dead? Is sexual preference dead? Is raising your voice dead? What is alive anymore?

 77 is a book not just about a year – about people, their opinions, the regime that wants a mental shutdown of its people, a state that will have nothing but totalitarianism at the helm of things. 77, to me was more than just a book. It is about a literary soul that is trapped and is the story of one man trying to make sense in a world of madness and inhumanity, lurking in almost every corner. It is a book that shows you what shouldn’t be repeated. We can only hope and pray.

 

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Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of Birds Title: Mouthful of Birds
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786074560
Genre:
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The world of Samanta Schweblin’s stories is intriguing. There is aplenty and then there is nothing. You begin to wonder as a reader, in-between being stumped by the prose and the sheer magnitude of the story being read, whether or not you are worthy of it. The stories are nightmarish for sure, but then Schweblin also prepares you for them right at the beginning. The context and the tone are set immaculately, the translation by Megan McDowell precise to the last word and emotion, and more than anything else the diversity of the collection, only makes you want to turn the pages sooner, even if the collection seems too long at twenty stories.

Mouthful of Birds is strange. But that’s what makes it so delicious a read. The title story is that of a teenaged girl, who to the fascination (at some point) and repulsion of her divorced parents resorts to only eating live birds. It just happens, one fine day without any reason. So what does one feel after reading such a story? Pity? Empathy (can you, really)? Disgust? Schweblin gives you enough and more room to feel, get in touch with your emotions at the end of the every story, only to be met with another story, with another set of emotions all over again.

The devastating realities of fairy tales creep up in The Merman. You cannot help but go back to your childhood and be alarmed at what you read. This is just Schweblin’s perspective when she has a story to tell and it shines. Or you have a story such as “Butterflies” whose end will leave your stomach churning and wanting more. The imagery of no two stories is remotely similar. Schweblin draws every story and every framework from different places and varied emotions, which makes it even more interesting.

That’s the thing about Samanta’s stories. They make you wonder, you are awed, fascinated even, repulsed, revolted, and yet you cannot help but turn the page to the next one. It is the feeling of a roller-coaster ride, knowing you are going to fall, plunge headlong and yet there is this excitement – the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of a feeling. If anything and more, this collection is ferocious.

You can also tell that the stories have matured and come to the author over a period of time. These have not been written all at once, and it shows. The translation by Megan McDowell is on-point. She also translated Fever Dream by Schweblin, which was written after this collection but translated and published in English before. But that’s just a technicality in the sense of publishing timeline.

What is truly astounding is how McDowell makes the original voice hers, thereby giving us a culminated effort. The multiple stories breathe and live multiple lives. It is as though you can see the author mature and an underlined theme runs throughout – that of intense dysfunctional of family and the self. Headlights, the opening story is strange – Schweblin has got the emotion pat-down and you can see the misogyny of men. In another story titled Preserves, an unborn baby is spat out (perhaps unwanted as well). Each story shines and has its own unique element. Some leave the reader satisfied, while others don’t.

Mouthful of Birds breaks ground in storytelling and so many times also sticks to the traditional format of showing more and telling less. It challenges readers every step of the way, and never lets you imagine what will happen next. Samanta Schweblin’s reality is the one we inhabit and also the one we are way far-off from. That to me is the beauty and core of this fantastic short-story collection, that deserves to be read by almost everyone.

Vampire in Love: Stories by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas Title: Vampire in Love: Stories
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated by Margarey Jull Costa
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338822
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love long-winding stories, so much to the point that if the author rambles sometimes, I am okay with that as well. Maybe that is also because of the style of the writer. There is something to it which doesn’t let go of the reader. Enrique Vila-Matas is one such writer whose works have always eluded me – left me hanging for more and made me not want to make sense of them as well – because the stories and books he has written are enough. He is one of those authors who should just keep writing. Nothing else really matters. Maybe I am praising him too highly, but don’t go by what I am saying. Read him. No matter place to start than his short stories and this collection titled, “Vampire in Love” is just what the doctor prescribed.

“Vampire in Love” is a collection of stories that are mostly absurd but also fantastical and profound. It takes a lot of time to get into this collection, but once you do, it will have you by your throat and not let go. Vila-Matas creates a world within each story that can be books in itself but it is best when it isn’t. When the stories leave you wanting more and you don’t get it.

The stories are a ​matter of fact and to the point, so don’t be alarmed if your imagination isn’t soaring boundless. The thing to remember is the craft and the emotion each story will generate (because that it will). From empathizing with an effeminate barber who falls in love with an innocent choirboy to a lonely ophthalmologist, Vila-Matas’ characters are regular people and yet they aren’t. “Vampire in Love” is a collection which isn’t for all and yet I would urge you to read it, only to test your boundaries as a reader.

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

Love in Small Letters by Francesc Miralles

Love in Small Letters by Francesc Miralles Title: Love in Small Letters
Author: Francesc Miralles
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781846883354
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 281
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Love in Small Letters” by Francesc Miralles was the second translated book I read this year and it came to me just by sheer chance, as most of the incidents take place – by chance. This book will make you believe in love and everyday magic. It will make you a hopeful person if you are not and a more hopeful person if you are. The book spoke to me like all the other books I have loved immensely. I picked it up because it had been lying around for a week and I really wanted to read it, so there you have it: A book that made me smile, think and also cry at the end.

“Love in Small Letters” is about an ordinary man, named Samuel. It is about a New Year’s Day and how it changes everything for Samuel and the life that he has known is about to go elsewhere, in another direction – in a more serendipitous direction. It all begins with a cat that came unannounced on his doorstep and he fed it some milk; a neighbour who he has never met makes an appearance and he starts caring about him, another stranger at a bar with a manuscript under his arm at all times and how he gets to know and help him, and a girl he loved when he was a child and when he sees her unexpectedly at a traffic signal.

All of the action takes place in a span of week. Everything is surreal and sometimes it is good for us to know as humans to let it leave it to faith or a higher power. More than anything else, the story is set in Barcelona, which gives it its own charm.

Miralles’s writing is simple and profound. It does not get preachy at any point. He makes it too easy and so emotional at the same time, without it being too sentimental and boring. The translation by Julie Wark is as simple and enriching. The essence of the book is in its title which comes from this passage in the book, and happens to be my favourite:

“Love in small letters?”

“It’s when some small act of kindness sets off a chain of events that comes around again in the form of multiplied love. Then, even if you want to return to where you started, it’s too late, because this love in small letters has wiped away all traces of the path back to where you were before.”

This is the essence of this wondrous book. Maybe no one has heard of it. Maybe very few people will. But all I can say is that you have to read this book to feel good about the world and life, about love and friendship, about chances in life and sometimes things we do because they must be done. “Love in Small Letters” is a book that will make you sing. It is a book that will make you believe in the moon, the stars and everything beyond our imagination. It is also a book that will make you see things and people, differently. Read it.

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