Category Archives: Fiction

Book review: Patricio Pron’s “My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain”

myfathersghostMy Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain (Knopf) by Partricio Pron has a premise as intriguing as its title.

The first part begins somewhat mysteriously, with the narrator, returning to his native Argentina from Germany, remembering scraps of his and his family’s past — drug abuse, a car accident, his father’s illness. (“My father was lying beneath a tangle of cord like a fly in a spiderweb.”) The sections are not numbered in correct order (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10).

The second part deals with the disappearance with a father’s friend, Alberto José Burdisso, in 2008. The son finds a collection of articles and pictures saved by his father, who only knew the man briefly in primary school.  This leads to several questions, such as:

“Who would want to kill some sort of Faulknerian fool, poorer than a church mouse, in a town where his disappearance would be noticed immediately, a town, where, moreover, many people would know who Burdisso was, what he had done and who was with him in his final hours?”

And why does his father, a journalist, take such an interest in this poor man’s death?

Pron builds up an compelling storyline — and the answers lies in Argentina’s haunted past and the father’s role in politics, even though the man’s death occurred decades after the Dirty War.

“I noticed it had started to rain again, and I told myself I would write that story because what my parents and their comrades had done didn’t deserve to be forgotten, and because I was the product of what they had done, and because what they’d done was worthy of being told because their ghost — not the right or wrong decisions my parents and their comrades had made their spirit itself — was going to keep climbing in the rain until it took the heavens by storm.”

Pron is a great writer. The 212-page book, which was translated by Mara Faye Lethem, is simply written with evocative language and a plot that kept me reading. My Father’s Ghost shows the effects of the Dirty War though generations and years.

patriciopronMore about Patricio Pron:

Pron, an Argentine native who lives in Madrid, has written three short story collections and four novels. He has won the Juan Rulfo Short Story Prize and the Jaén Novel Prize.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Book review: Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s “The Sound of Things Falling”

Sound of Things Falling After a game of billards with his friend Ricardo, Antonio Yammara walks out into the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, and gunfire rings out. Antonio is injured and Ricardo dies. The incident haunts Antonio for years until he decides to find out why Ricardo was killed.

The Sound of Things Falling (Riverhead) by Juan Gabriel Vásquez shows how the drug war affected the lives of the people in Colombia. Two of the characters recall how they learned of the fatal shootings of government officials and politicians just as Americans remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy or civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. were shot.

Antonio’s investigation into Ricardo’s death draws him closer to Ricardo’s family and his country’s history. Antonio even makes a visit to the abandoned home of drug lord Pablo Escobar, where a rhino still roams the land. Throughout the novel, he uses the imagery of flight — I won’t reveal anymore than that — to symbolize the characters’ emotions.

It’s these vivid details, along with some beautifully written passages, that make Sound a terrific read. His work reminded me of Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, And The Mountains Echoed). Like Hosseini, Vásquez is able to convey his country’s trials on a personal basis with a compelling plot and simple, accessible language so I was drawn to the story without feeling lost or confused. (Translator Anne McLean deserves a great deal of credit.) Vasquez also eloquently conveys the tragedy and puzzle of life, as demonstrated by this passage:

“Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps evens depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has. When it arrives we receive it without too much surprise, for no one who lives long enough can be surprises to find their biography has been molded by distant events, by other people’s will, with little or no participation from our own decisions. These long processes that end up running into our life — sometimes to give it the shove it needed, sometimes to blow to smithereens our most splendid plans — tend to be hidden like subterranean currents, like tiny shifts of tectonic plates, and when the earthquake finally comes we invoke the words we’ve learned to calm ourselves, accident, fluke, and sometimes fate.”

The Sound of Falling Things is an unforgettable read.

juan-gabriel-vasquezMore about Juan Gabriel Vásquez:

Vásquez was born in Bogotá and has lived in France, Belgium and Spain. His first two books were The Informers and The Secret History of Costaguana.

Source: I purchased this book.

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In the News: Fall brings new releases from Piñeiro, Suarez and Brown

September is here. Here’s a look at the latest books and news in Latino lit:

a-crack-in-the-wall• Already out: In A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Piñeiro, a young woman asks about the whereabouts for a missing person. Piñeiro talked to Publishers Weekly, who called her “Argentina’s top crime writer.”

• A penguin starts school in the children’s book Tony Baloney School Rules by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Latino Americans • Sept. 3 – Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation by Ray Suarez is the companion book to the PBS series that will air this month.

Sept. 15: In Monica Brown’s children’s book, Marisol Mcdonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol Mcdonald Y La Fiesta Sin Igual, the sequel to the award-winning Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina, the 8-year-old Peruvian-Scottish-American title character throws a birthday party.

41kDAwynZ3L._SY300_Sept 17: Musician Linda Ronstadt writes about her life in Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir. She talked to The New York Times about the book and her recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, which has prevented her from singing.

Sept. 24: The family of baseball great Roberto Clemente remember him in  Clemente: The True Legacy of an Undying Hero.

NakedSingularityAwards:

Sergio de la Pava won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut writers for his novel, A Naked Singularity. Publishers Weekly profiled the author who is a public defender, like the character in his book, and self-published the book.

CristinaGarciaBook Festivals:

Sept. 21-22: The National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. will include Marie Arana, Monica Brown, Alfredo Corchado, Cristina García (right), Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez and Linda Ronstadt.

• Sept. 22: The Brooklyn Book Festival will feature Cristina García, Manuel Gonzales, Tim Z. Hernandez, Patricio Pron, Linda Rodriguez, Justin Torres and Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

ReynaGrandeWriter’s workshops:

Oct. 5: Reyna Grande (left) will be the keynote speaker at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn, N.Y. The event will include panelists , such as Raquel Cepeda and Carlos Andrés Gómez, and one-on-one sessions with agents and editors.

Other features:

carmen_tafollaThe Texas Observer had a great article about three Latina poet laureates – Gwendolyn Zepeda of Houston, Olga Valle-Herr of McAllen and Carmen Tafolla (right) of San Antonio. The state of Arizona named Alberto Álvaro Ríos as its first Poet Laureate. NBC Latino profiled Ríos.

JunotDiazJunot Díaz (left) revealed his writing process to The Daily Beast. He also was profiled in Playboy, an article that received this response from The Atlantic Wire, which compared him to Hugh Hefner but “with less hair and more imagination.” This Is How You Lose Her will come out in paperback Sept. 3, with a deluxe edition featuring illustrations by Jaime Hernandez Oct. 31.

juan-gabriel-vasquezJuan Gabriel Vásquez (right), author of The Sound of Things Falling, picked his favorite Latino literature picks for The Daily Beast. He also talked to NPR about his book. The Atlantic Wire featured him in an article about contemporary Latin American literature.

ZambranoMario Alberto Zambrano (left) talked about the inspiration of his book Lotería to Kirkus Reviews. Zambrano also appeared on “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR.

• Fans of Jorge Luis Borges can listen to him discuss his books thanks to some audio recordings he left behind, reports Héctor Tobar of The Los Angeles Times.

• PBS profiled Rueben Martinez, who turned his San Diego barbershop into a bookstore.

• NBC Latino talked to David Tomas Martinez about his transformation from gang member to poet.

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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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