Monthly Archives: July 2013

Happy Independence Day, Peru!

Peru declared its independence from Spain on July 28, 1821. The South American country is best known for Machu Picchu, and actors Benjamin Bratt and Henry Ian Cusick of Lost and Scandal claim Peruvian heritage. Here’s a look at some of its writers:

foto-de-mario-vargas-llosa-7A leader in the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s, Mario Vargas Llosa has won every major literary honor – the Nobel Prize; the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers; and the Rómulo Gallegos Prize. Many of his books — including 1993’s Death in the Andes and 2000’s The Feast of the Goat — cover political issues, but a popular favorite is the 1982 comic novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

Marie AranaWashington Post writer Marie Arana, who grew up in both Peru and the United States, drew upon on her bicultural heritage for her memoir, American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. Her novels, Lima Nights and Cellophane, take place in Peru. Her most recent book, Bolivar: American Liberator, is a critically acclaimed biography of the South American military leader.

Natalia SylvesterLima-born Daniel Alarcón is the author of several books, including War by Candlelight, Lost City Radio and the upcoming At Night We Walk in Circles. He also runs the Radio Ambulante podcast. Also originally from Lima, Natalia Sylvester, right, will release her first novel, Chasing the Sun, next year. She now lives in Texas. (After I wrote this, I discovered award-winning children’s author Monica Brown is Peruvian-American. Here’s her website.)

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Meet novelist Marta Acosta, author of “The She-Hulk Diaries”

Marta Acosta Marta Acosta brings otherworldly creatures to reality.

The California native is the author of the recently released The She-Hulk Diaries, about the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. Her young adult gothic novel Dark Companion, a homage to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre with a multiracial narrator, is now out in paperback. She also is the author of the Casa Dracula series of books featuring a female vampire.

she-hulk-diariesQ: Tell me about your latest book, The She-Hulk Diaries. How did you become involved in the project?

Hi, Jessica, thanks for having me at The Hispanic Reader! My agent heard about the project for a contemporary romantic comedy featuring Jennifer Walters, a top attorney, and her superhuman alter-ego, She-Hulk, and pitched me to Hyperion, which partnered with Marvel. She knew that I love writing first-person romantic comedy with supernatural elements. I was thrilled to be able to write this character from a woman’s perspective.

Q: Your books, including the Casa Dracula books and the novel Dark Companion, feature plots in which the characters deal with otherworldly characters or themes. What appealed to you about that type of genre?

I wrote Happy Hour at Casa Dracula on impulse, because I’d been watching some science fiction movie and I was ranting, “Why don’t we ever see Latinos in outer space? Why don’t we see Latinos in speculative fiction?” I spoofed the genre stereotypes and used vampires as a metaphor for “other” in society, and my protagonist, the bright irrepressible Milagro De Los Santos, is “other.” She describes herself as a square peg in a round world. When she’s infected with “vampirism,” she must hide out with a pack of high-achieving vampires at their country estate. They think she’s a tacky gold-digger; she thinks they’re terrible snobs. I used the humorous situation to address issues of class, race/ethnicity and gender.

My editor asked me for a series. I added in the supernatural element to Dark Companion, a homage to Jane Eyre and classic gothics, because the supernatural is a gothic trope. I’ve always enjoyed placing characters in a situation where the ordinary rules don’t apply.

Q. What inspired you to become a writer? What Latino/a authors influenced your work?

I just wrote as soon as I learned how. I wrote compulsively and to entertain myself. As a native English speaker, I was influenced by British and American writers, including humorists like Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, Kurt Vonnegut. I love the absurdist comedy in Mario Vargas Llosa’s brilliant Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a book I’ve bought at least a dozen times because I’m always giving it away to friends. While I’ve only published silly poetry in my novels, I’ve written more serious poetry, inspired by Pablo Neruda’s beautiful poetry.

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Happy Independence Day, Colombia!

Colombia declared its independence from Spain on July 20, 1810. The South American country can claim Shakira, Sofia Vergara and Juanes as its residents — as well as some great writers.

Gabriel Garcia MarquezOne of the greatest Latin American writers of all time, Gabriel García Márquez has won the most prestigious award in literature — the Nobel Prize. He is a pioneer of magic realism and the leader in the Latin American boom of the 1960s. His novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera frequently pop up on lists of the best books ever written.

Alvaro MutisPoet and novelist Alvaro Mutis is a winner of the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish language writers, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His books and poetry regularly feature the character of Maqroll el Gaviero as he goes through different journeys – whether it’s a trip along a river or caught up s in a war. His poetry often touch on themes of nature.

Manuel_Mejía_VallejoWinners of the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, one of Latin American literature’s most prestigious awards, include Gárcia Márquez; Manuel Mejía Vallejo (1923-1998), right, for La casa de las dos palmas; Fernando Vallejo for El desbarrancadero; and William Ospina for El País de la Canela.

Jaime ManriqueJaime Manrique, a native of Barranquilla, has written numerous novels about South America, including Our Lives are the Rivers and Colombian Gold: A Novel of Power and Corruption, as well as books of poetry.

PatriciaEngel-Photo1Two writers cover the lives of modern day women of Colombian heritage —Patricia Engel, left, whose parents are Colombian and grew up in New Jersey, is the author of Vida and It’s Not Love It’s Just Paris, and Leila Cobo, who grew up in the Colombian town of Cali, is the author of Tell Me Something True and The Second Time We Met.

Sources: Britannica, Wikipedia

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Classic book review: Carlos Fuentes’ “The Death of Artemio Cruz”

Death of Artemio CruzThe Death of Artemio Cruz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Carlos Fuentes is the elegantly written novel about an enigmatic man.

The book was released in 1962 in the midst of the Latin American boom in literature that brought novels from Gabriel García Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Julio Cortázar. The book is considered the greatest work from the Mexican writer, who passed away last year.

The book begins with 71-year-old Cruz, a businessman and former Congressman, lying in a coma in a hospital. His wife, Catalina, and daughter, Theresa, would like to see him die – for financial and emotional reasons. Cruz drifts in and out of the coma, thinking about the experiences in his life – taking advantage of peasants to add to his fortune; having affairs with numerous women, including his wife’s best friend; fighting for the government, and betraying a friend, in the Mexican Revolution. He recalls these and numerous other incidents without any sense of guilt or remorse.

I was intimidated by Cruz, but the book was fairly easy to read thanks to Alfred Mac Adam’s clear translation. The book requires patience at times. Fuentes writes in long paragraphs that almost seem like they will never end. The situations may take some time to figure out because they often begin in the middle of a scene or conversation.

But in those long paragraphs, Fuentes makes some great observations about the choices people make in life.

“It’s much easier to say: this is good and that is evil. Evil. You could never say, ‘That is evil.’ Perhaps because we are more forsaken, we do not want to lose that intermediate, ambiguous zone between light and shadow, that zone where we can find forgiveness. Where you may be able to find it. Isn’t everyone, in a single moment of his life, capable of embodying – as you do – good and evil at two mysterious, different-colored threads that unwind from the same spool, so that the white thread ascends and the black descends and, despite everything, the two come together again in his very fingers? You won’t want to think about all that. You will detest me for reminding you of it.”

The rights for the movie version were sold last year, and I’d be interested to see how this book translates to film. Artermio Cruz, the character, is not easy to like. But Artemio Cruz, the book, is an intriguing experience.

carlos-fuentesMore about Carlos Fuentes:

One of Mexico’s best known novelists, Fuentes also wrote The Old Gringo, Aura and other novels. He won the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-speaking writers, in 1987. He passed away in May 2012. Here’s his obituary from The New York Times.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

Note: This review is part of my series of classic Latino novels. Up next: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

 

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Meet novelist Cecilia Velástegui, author of “Missing in Machu Picchu”

Cecilia VelasteguiNovelist Cecilia Velástegui’s newest book combines Andean mythology and the lives of contemporary women.

Missing in Machu Picchu follows four women as they hike — and face danger — on the Inca Trail. Her previous books, Traces of Bliss and Gathering the Indigo Maidens, also combine modern and historical themes.

Her books have won honors from the International Latino Book Awards two years in a row. She won first place in 2012 in the Popular Fiction category for Traces of Bliss and she won Honorable Mention in the Popular Fiction category and first place in the Best Novel — Adventure or Drama category in 2013 for Machu Picchu.

Velástegui grew up in Quito, Ecuador, France and California, where she currently resides.

Missing in Macchu PicchuQ: Tell me about your book, Missing in Machu Picchu. 

High in the Andes Mountains on the legendary Inca Trail, four Ivy League educated, professional women embark on an adventure to help them confront their online dating woes — only to find themselves victims to a predator’s ruse, and in a fight for their lives. But, unbeknownst to the hikers, they have been under the vigilant presence of Taki and Koyam, two elderly indigenous women who understand the danger the women are facing. By following the wisdom of their mummified Andean ancestor, Taki and Koyam work to save the women and act with spine-tingling resolve against the sinister forces of Rodrigo and his minions.

Q: What kind of research did you do for your book? Did you go to Machu Picchu and what was it like?

Missing in Machu Picchu was a result of a confluence of events: my fond memories of my indigenous nannies from the Andes, our family’s unusual practice of believing in the present-day proximity of our long-dead great-grandmother, my understanding of the clash between the Inca and the Spanish cultures in early colonial Peru and its aftermath, and my experience hiking the Inca Trail.

I recall foggy memories of the citadel of Machu Picchu when I visited it as a youngster. Then, in 2011, I returned for the festivities surrounding the centennial anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s expedition to Machu Picchu. It was a bittersweet time of appreciating how the travel industry and the popularity of Machu Picchu have greatly improved the local economy — and of reminiscing about all that was lost of the Inca culture.

My lifelong interest and research on Andean mythology and its pantheon made its way to the forefront of Missing in Machu Pichhu. By mixing factual and real historical details, such as including the methodical steps of an Andean shaman’s blessing, I wanted to bring the reader into the Andean world of yesterday and today. For many years, I’ve studied the 16th and 17th century Spanish Colonial chronicles of Cieza de Léon, Juan de Betanzos and Garcilaso de la Vega. Their observations of the ancient Andean practices were both alarming and informative. In Missing in Machu Picchu, I included the 17th century drawings of chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala. I knew of the existence of many of his drawings, but the drawing of the procession of the mallqui, the mummy central to my novel, had me digging in my collection and in libraries for quite some time.

Q: What made you want to become a writer? Were there any Latino writers who influenced you?

I’ve always considered myself a writer, but up until 2011 I was an unpublished writer.

In college I received accolades for my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, but I decided to pursue a graduate degree in psychology rather than an MFA. Throughout the subsequent years, I attended numerous writing workshops, I became a marriage and family therapist, I raised two sons, I’ve had a long and joyful married life, and I’ve travel and lived abroad. The more disparate experiences I gathered in life, the fuller my basket of stories became, so much so that I was compelled to publish my first novel, Gathering the Indigo Maidens, in 2011.

Throughout my life I’ve been a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction in several languages, and I’m certain that all the authors have influenced me in one way or another.

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Happy Independence Day, Argentina!

Argentina declared its independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. Pope Francis and soccer player Lionel Messi call the South American country home. The country boasts a romantic image (the tango) and a tumultuous history (the Dirty War, when thousands of young Argentines disappeared in the 1970s) that makes it perfect fodder for its writers. (Face palm. I somehow forgot about Julio Cortázar when I first wrote this. Here’s his profile.)

Jorge_Luis_BorgesJorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) has become one of the most beloved writers of all time thanks to his short stories, which are collected in the books The Aleph and Ficciones. He won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to Spanish-language writers. Another Cervantes winner, Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999), wrote the science fiction novel, The Invention of Moral, which was called “perfect” by Borges, a frequent collaborator.

Ernesto_Sabato_circa_1972• Other Cervantes honorees include Ernesto Sábato (1911-2011), left, who tackled psychological issues in books such as The Tunnel, and poet Juan Gelman, whose relatives who went missing during the Dirty War, inspiring  his political activism. The Dirty War is the focus of Carolina DeRobertis’ novel Perla.

puigManuel Puig (1932-1990) wrote one of Latino literature’s most famous works – the 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together. The novel became a play, a popular Oscar-winning 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Mempo Giardinelli• Winners of the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, one of Latin America’s most prestigious literary awards, are Abel Posse for Los perros del paraíso; Mempo Giardinelli, left, for Santo oficio de la memoria; and Ricardo Piglia, for Blanco nocturno.

JuliaAmante• Other writers with Argentine roots include Julia Amante, right, author of Say You’ll Be Mine; Annamaria Alfari, whose latest novel, Blood Tango, features Argentina’s most famous political couple, Juan and Eva Peron; quirky novelist César Aira; and Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize winner author of Enrique’s Journey.

Sources: Britannica.com, Wikipedia. Hat tip for Joy Castro for the Borges quote on Casares.

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Book review: Mario Alberto Zambrano’s “Lotería”

LoteriaIn Lotería: A Novel (Harper), Mario Alberto Zambrano uses a piece of Mexican culture to tell a story of human tragedy.

The book’s narrator, 11-year-old Luz Maria Castillo, remembers playing the popular Mexican folk game – similar to bingo – with her friends and family after Mass. After a lifetime of abuse that leads to one dramatic incident, her older sister ends up in the hospital and her father is arrested.

Luz writes in her journal from a youth detention center. For each chapter, Luz uses the image on the lotería card to tell a story from the past. That premise seems like a gimmick, but Zambrano makes it work with his simple prose and a compelling storyline that alternates between the present and the past.

The book is both easy and tough to read. I had to take breaks from it when the situation got too intense. But the writing is easy to understand and it’s written in short chapters, and Zambrano can express raw human emotions that make you ache for Luz.

For example, in the chapter called La Dama, Luz tells God about the mixed feelings she had about her mother, who suffered terrible abuse from her husband – and fought back.

“Sometimes I wondered if she were praying because of something she’d done to Papi. Or something he’d done to her. Or maybe she felt bad for calling him names for hitting him with something she grabbed from the kitchen drawer. I wanted to let her know that I was okay and that You’d understand. I pulled on her dress but she reached out and pinched me without even looking. I didn’t even know what happened, but I remember my skin burning and thinking how much I hated her. I called her names and stuck my tongue when she wasn’t looking even though You were right there between us. But I only hated her for a little while, for as long as I could feel the sting on my arm.”

In El Cantarito, Luz feels guilty when she sees her sister in the intensive care unit.

“Standing there, all of a sudden, I was like a jug of water trying to be taken from one place to another, and little by little, I was spilling.”

In that same chapter, a social worker tries to get Luz to talk:

“It’s like in Lotería, instead of playing the four corners we play the center squares. But midway through the game you find out that you have the corners and you’re missing the center squares. And if you would’ve played the corners you would’ve won already. But that’s how it is, isn’t it?”

Each chapter begins with a gorgeous, full color illustration, done by Jarrod Taylor. The drawings differ from the traditional lotería game, but carry the same spirit.

Lotería turns an ugly subject into a beautiful book.

ZambranoMore about Mario Alberto Zambrano:

Lotería is the first novel for Zambrano, who grew up in Texas and is a former professional ballet dancer. He currently attends the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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