Category Archives: Fiction

Happy birthday, Julio Cortázar!

Julio CortázarJulio Cortázar was born Aug. 26, 1916 in Belgium and died in 1984 in Paris. But he was raised in Argentina and, with his inventive novels and short stories, he’s considered one of Latino literature’s finest writers.

Cortázar was one of the leaders of the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s, along with Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. His best known novel, Hopscotch, celebrates is 50th anniversary this year. The novel may be as well known for its structure — readers can choose to read the chapters in whatever order they want — as much for its plot — about a man dealing with the strange turn of events in his life. (Here’s a great article about the book from the LA Review of Books and here’s an interesting look from The New York Times at the cover design process for the newly designed book jacket.)

Cortázar also wrote the short story “Las babas del diablo” (“The Devil’s Drivel”), which inspired the 1966 movie Blowup and is part of the collection Blow-Up: And Other Stories.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Amazon.com

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Happy Independence Day, Uruguay!

Uruguay declared its independence from Brazil on Aug. 25, 1825. The South American country is one of the most progressive nations in the continent, recently passing laws legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage. Its writers are just as progressive:

felisberto+hernandezFelisberto Hernandez (1902-1964) is considered one of the fathers of magic realism, paving the way for other Latin American novelists such as Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez, who said, “If I hadn’t read the stories of Felisberto Hernández in 1950, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.” His short stories — including his most famous, “The Daisy Dolls” — are collected in the book Lands of Memory.

OnettiJuan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994) won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to Spanish language novelists. His novels, including La vida breve (A Brief Life) and El astillero (The Shipyard), feature characters struggling with the meaning of their lives.

cristina-peri-rossiCristina Peri Rossi has added a feminist viewpoint to Latin American literature in her poetry, short stories and novels, including The Ship of Fools. She now lives in Spain, where she works as a journalist.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Village Voice, Amazon.com

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Classic book review: Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

100 Years of SolitudeGabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial) has been named frequently on literature’s all-time greatest book lists. It also ranks high on Good Reads’ “didn’t finished” list. I can see how it made both lists.

Solitude defeated me once before. I attempted to read it when Oprah Winfrey put it in her book club, but I quit when I couldn’t keep up with all the characters. (I was able to complete and enjoy Love in the Time of Cholera.)

This time, I was prepared, ready to take notes and absorb this greatly loved story.

The book has an aura about it. It was released in 1968 during the Latin American boom in literature in the 1960s. The novel helped García Márquez win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. The book has numerous fans — including former President Bill Clinton — and it even makes an appearance in the Tom Hanks movie Turner and Hooch.

The novel covers the Buendía family over four generations in the town of Macando, founded by José Arcadio Buendia. García Márquez is an innovator of magic realism, so the villagers experience insomnia together and its rains endlessly for years. But the characters also experience real life — love, heartache, work, illness, death.

“It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.”

García Márquez writes in long sentences and paragraphs that makes the book seems longer than its 421 pages. The book, translated by Gregory Rabassa, demands intense concentration as García Márquez gives long descriptions and plenty of action, but little dialogue. Fortunately, the book had a family tree that I frequently referred to since so many characters share similar names.

Readers are rewarded with beautiful language — rich in description, humor and theme. And the stories are wonderfully crazy. One character, a colonel in the the military, insists no one come more than 10 feet of him. One woman kills men with her beauty. And, near the end, one shocking incident happens that uses both magic realism and hard core reality.

Solitude can be a challenge, but it’s a terrific challenge.

Gabriel Garcia MarquezMore about Gabriel García Márquez:

Born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1928, García Márquez is one of the best beloved writers in the world. His other books include News of a Kidnapping and Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

 Source: I purchased this book.

Note: This review is part of my series of classic Latino novels. Up next: Oscar Hijuelos’ The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

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Book review: Javier Marías’ “The Infatuations”

The Infatuations Javier Marías’ The Infatuations (Knopf) begins with an intriguing premise.

A young woman, María Dolz, eats breakfast every morning at a café in Madrid that is frequented by an attractive couple, Luisa and Miguel.

“The nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company. At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the every first time.”

One day, she discovers Miguel is murdered. She becomes friends with Luisa as well as with Javier, a friend of the couple who helps the widow out after her husband’s death. María becomes entranced by the mystery of Miguel’s death — and Javier may have played a role in the part.

The Infatuations sounds like a great thriller, but it’s more intellectual. Whether you’ll like it depends on your tastes in literature.

The characters often talk in long monologues than can go on for paragraphs or even pages. Who talks like that? At times, I wanted the story to hurry up and get to some action. The book — which ran about 50 pages too long — is best read in small doses.

But those long pages of conversations also had elegant writing (translated by the great Margaret Jull Costa, who also translated José Saramago’s Cain and Paulo Coelho’s Aleph). Marías has some great observations about the human condition.

On memory:

“We gradually learn that what seems really important now will one day seem a mere fact, a neutral piece of information. We learn that there will come a time when we don’t even give a thought to the person we once couldn’t live without and over whom we spent sleepless nights, without whom life seemed impossible, on whose words and presence we depended day after day, and if we ever do, very occasionally give that person a thought, it will merely be to shrug and think at most: ‘I wonder what became of her?’ without a flicker of concern or curiosity.”

On fate:

“The bad thing about terrible misfortunes, the kind that tear us apart and appears to be unendurable, is that those who suffer them believe or almost demand that the world should end right there, and yet the world pays no heed and carries on regardless and even tugs at the sleeve of the person who suffered the misfortune, I mean, it won’t just let them depart this world the way a disgruntled spectator might leave the theatre, unless the unfortunate person kills him or herself.”

On relationships:

“We think men will change their mind or their beliefs, that they will gradually discover that they can’t do without us, that we will be the exception in their lives or the visitors who end up staying, that they will eventually grow tired of those other invisible women whose existence we begin to doubt or whom we prefer to think do not exist, the more we see of the men and the more we love them despite ourselves; that we will be the chosen ones if only we have the necessary staying power to remain by their side, uncomplaining and uninsistent.”

Patient readers will be rewarded with an interesting twist about the murder. The ending also makes you think about the significance of the title and how people can get caught up in each other’s lives. Think of The Infatuations as literary fiction with a wicked side.

Javier_MaríasMore about Javier Marías:

Marías, who was born in Madrid, is considered one of Spain’s top contemporary novelists. He has written thirteen novels, including the award-winning The Man of Feeling, All Souls and A Heart So White.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy birthday, Jorge Amado!

Jorge AmadoJorge Amado was born on Aug. 10, 1912 in Brazil and died Aug. 6, 2001. His 32 books won international acclaim for reflecting his homeland’s culture and people, including blacks and working people.

His best known novels are 1958’s Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, about a migrant worker who changes life in a village with the help of a beautiful cook, and 1966’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, about a widow who finds a new love — and then her first husband shows up. Actress Sonia Braga appeared in the TV version of Gabriela and the 1976 movie of Dona Flor.

His politics were controversial. He was a Communist, and lived in exile in Europe when the Brazilian government banned the party, although he eventually left the party.

But his books were well-loved and were translated in 49 languages. His 100th birthday last year was celebrated with many events, including the reissuing of two novels and other celebrations. The BBC ran this great story about his life and work last year. Here is his obituary from 2001 from The Guardian. And check out the website for the Jorge Amado Foundation.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, BBC, Amazon.com, Jorge Amado Foundation

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Happy Independence Day, Bolivia!

Bolivia declared its independence from Spain on Aug. 6, 1825. The South American country, named after Simon Bolivar, is located in the Andean Mountains.

Yolanda_Bedregal• Poet Yolanda Bedregal (1913-1999) has published more than 20 books of poetry and novels, including Bajo el oscuro sol, about a woman’s struggles during a revolution. The government of Bolivia gives out a poetry award in her name.

Edmundo Paz SoldanEdmundo Paz Soldán is considered the country’s best-known contemporary novelist, winning awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His novels, including Turing’s Delirium and The Matter of Desire, frequently cover the politics in Latin America. He currently lives in the United States and has taught at Cornell University.

Giovanna Rivero• Another contemporary novelist, Giovanna Rivero has written several novels and short story collections, including Sangre dulce/Sweet Blood. Visit her blog.

Sources: Washington University in St. Louis, Wikipedia, Good Reads, A Year of Reading the World blog

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Book review: Patricia Engel’s “It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris”

Engle-ItsNotLoveThe title of Patricia Engel’s It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris (Grove Press) suggests a fun, quirky romance in the world’s most glamorous city. But it’s a thoughtful look at the tough choices and emotions humans go through to attain love.

Lita del Cielo is a college student from New Jersey who spends a year living in a house run by a 90-year-old socialite and filled with other young adults. Even though Lita comes from a family that runs a huge Latin American food company, she feels out of place compared to her more sophisticated housemates. Then she meets Cato, a Frenchman. Of course, not everything is perfect — Cato is in fragile health. Lita must decide whether to stay in Paris with the love of her life or return to the United States and be with her family.

Although the book was more serious than I expected, it was an easy read. Engel has some great observations about love, and she shows how Lita’s heritage — her family is from Colombia — affects her in different ways, from racist remarks from her housemates to her emotions as she goes through tough moments:

“Of course I cried. Until my eyes swelled and my face ached. In English the world for crying feels trite, empty. The Spanish llorando is so much better. To say it feels like a cry, the way you have to open up your mouth and throat, concluding on the tip of the tongue, the back of the teeth. The French pleurer sounds too pretty, restrained, a costume of sadness. I wanted to invent a new word for crying without tears. The broken feeling. The disillusion.”

It’s Not Love is a mature, unique take on love — and how wonderful and awful it can be at the same time.

PatriciaEngel-Photo1More about Patricia Engel:

Engel, like her character Lita, is the daughter of Colombian parents who grew up in New Jersey. Her first book, Vida, won numerous literary prizes and her short stories have appeared in numerous publications. She lives in Florida.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: August brings new releases from Vásquez, Engel and Marias

It’s August and it’s still hot. Here are some books to help keep your cool:

Sound of Things Falling Aug. 1: In the novel The Sound of Things Falling, Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez explores the effects of the drug war in his native country.

Aug. 6: A Colombian-American college student finds romance in the world’s most romantic city in Patricia Engel’s It’s Not Love It’s Just Paris.

The Infatuations Aug. 13: In Spanish novelist Javier MariasThe Infatuations, a woman is intrigued by a couple she sees at her local café – and then the man is murdered.

Aug. 29: Tim Z. Hernandez imagines the life of Bea Franco, the farmworker who inspired a character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, in Mañana Means Heaven.

Events:

• The Latino Comics Expo , featuring Lalo Alcaraz and Mario Hernandez, will take place Aug. 17-18 in Long Beach, Calif.

Writing conferences:

Reyna Grande will be the keynote speaker at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference Oct. 5 at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. The event will include panelists and one-on-one sessions with agents and editors.

Writing contests:

• Sept. 1 is the deadline for Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Award, given to an unpublished children’s book written by a writer of color.

Other features:

LoteriaMario Alberto Zambrano talked about his novel, Lotería, to NPR.

Alfredo Corchado discussed his book Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness, to NPR’s Fresh Air and PBS NewsHour.

Nearer HomeJoy Castro talked about her newest book, Nearer Home, to “Words on a Wire.”

• The life of The Alchemist author Paulo Coehlo is being made into a movie, according to the Huffington Post.

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is now available on e-readers, according to the Los Angeles Times. Francisco Goldman read Bolaño’s 2008 short story, “Clara,” on The New Yorker magazine’s fiction podcast.

Junot Díaz made annotations on portions of his award-winning book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for the Poetry Genius website, according to MediaBistro.

• The federal courts have ordered the Tucson, Ariz., school district to make Mexican-American Studies available in its classrooms, reports NPR.

• Each major publishing house now has a Latino author on its roster, reports Latinzine.

• Graphic novels are becoming more popular in Colombia thanks to a lift in tax restrictions, according to Publishing Perspectives. One of the titles is a biography of Gabriel Gárcia Márquez.

Also this month:

• Nobel Prize winner Jacinto Benavente y Martinez was born Aug. 12. The Hispanic Reader turns two years old on Aug. 16.  Jorge Luis Borges, Paulo Coelho and Oscar Hijuelos celebrate birthdays on Aug. 24.

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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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