jueves, 31 de agosto de 2017

Cousin Bazilio

Cousin Bazilio [O Primo Basílio] (Dedalus, 2003)
by Eça de Queiroz [translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa]
Portugal, 1878

Our old friend Eça de Queiroz, last heard from on this blog way back in 2011 when the then nearly 166-year old novelist was fêted with a readalong of his great The Crime of Father Amaro, was recently dragged out of retirement and commissioned to whip up one of his celebrated tragedy-dusted confections as the dessert offering for this year's Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month.  I hope you'll agree that the luscious calorie-rich goods were delivered and then some.  Cousin Bazilio, for those of you too lazy to consult the description on the back of the book, is "a tale of sexual folly and hypocrisy and vividly depicts bourgeois life in nineteenth-century Lisbon."  In other words, a wonderfully springy springboard for the author to commit all sorts of verbal acrobatics & etc. in the name of satire and social commentary.  Somewhat predictable narrative arc aside (let's just say that Eça continues to have a penchant for killing off his most fully fleshed out characters whether their moral comeuppance is truly "deserved" or not), Cousin Bazilio is a delectable morsel less for its adultery + blackmail plot and more on account of its oddball descriptions of both humans ("She was an orphan, and there was always a faint whiff of fever about her small, skinny body" [7]) and human behavior ("'I'll lay siege to her!' he exclaimed gleefully.  'The way Santiago laid siege to the Moors!'" [62]), its earthy sense of humor ("All these agitations were playing havoc with Dona Felicidade's constrained digestion; luckily, as she herself said, she was at least able to bring up some wind.  Yes, blessings upon God and the Virgin Mary, she was at least able to bring up a little wind!") (370-371), hell, even its gleefully malicious dialogue ("Sing, little dumpling, little whore, little slut!" [183]).  "Slander aria"-like singing venom aside, mostly I reveled in the sensory overload of Eça's descriptive excesses.  A suitably decadent example of this attention to detail, tailor-made for Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month dessert debauchees as it happens, can be found underneath the author portrait below.

Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900)

They were standing outside a cakeshop.  On the shelves in the window behind them stood bottles of malmsey wine with brightly coloured labels, transparent red jellies, the sickly egg yolk yellow of doces de ovos, and dark brown fruit cake stuck with pathetic pink and white paper carnations.  Stale, lurid custard tarts grew soft in their puff pastry cases; thick slabs of quince jelly sat melting in the heat; and the dried-up shells of seafood pasties were slowly melding into one.  In the centre, prominently displayed, was a hideous, plump lampreia de ovos, a cake shaped like an eel, with a gaping mouth, a disgustingly yellow belly and a back blotched with arabesques of sugar; in its great head bulged two horrible chocolate eyes, and its almond teeth were sunk into a tangerine; and all around this rearing monster flies flitted.
'Let's go into the café,' said Julião.  'It's too hot to stand around in the street!'

sábado, 26 de agosto de 2017

La muerte baja en el ascensor

La muerte baja en el ascensor (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2013)
por María Angélica Bosco
Argentina, 1955

Cuando uno y al final dos más asesinatos siguen el descubrimiento de la muerte de una hermosa joven rubia en el ascensor de una casa de departamentos en la calle Santa Fe cerca de la plaza de San Martín, todo el infierno se desata en esta novela policial jugosa y entretenida de María Angélica Bosco.  Bosco, una desconocida para mí escritora, proporciona una trama emocionante al mismo tiempo que nos da una galería de sospechosos poblada por varias personas con algo que esconder: entre otros, porteños ricos, chantajistas e inmigrantes sigilosos de la recién vencida Alemania.  ¿Son estos últimos refugiados o ex-nazis, víctimas o verdugos?  Esa es la pregunta del millón dentro de esta whodunit a lo argentino, pero tal vez lo más parecido a una respuesta es el comentario ambiguo del policía Blasi que observa, no sin razón, que "esta gente padece la psicosis del pasado.  Uno lo huele aquí" (128).  En todo caso, una lectura agradable.

María Angélica Bosco (1909-2006)

domingo, 20 de agosto de 2017

Un barrage contre le Pacifique

Un barrage contre le Pacifique (Folio, 2014)
by Marguerite Duras
France, 1950

In a vaguely Faulknerian backwater in French Indochina roiled by oppressive heat, oppressive poverty and just the faintest glimmer of incest as a possible avenue of escape for at least one of the three main characters, the unnamed la mère, her 20-year old son Joseph and her 16-year old daughter Suzanne are all desperately looking for a way out after the mother has lost her life savings on a plot of worthless floodland as the price to pay for her chance to settle in the colony...surely a high water mark of sorts both within Duras' own impressive body of work and within the annals of the postcolonial novel as a whole, the aesthetic brutality of the prose in Un barrage contre le Pacifique [The Sea Wall] is both less elliptical and maybe more punishing than usual with Duras--style taking a backseat to theme if you will...lest the lack of experimentation scare off fans accustomed to later Duras, suffice it to say that in a novel whose narrative tension derives in large part from the train wreck-like spectacle of waiting to see whether the mother or the brother will essentially auction off Suzanne's virginity to the highest bidder, the author doesn't avert her own gaze when it matters--cf. the commodification of the flesh juxtaposition between the native woman who prostitutes herself to put some dried fish on the table for her family and the exploitative tendencies of the French colony characterized as "ce bordel colossal" ["this colossal brothel"] (198) where "Le latex coulait.  Le sang aussi" ["The latex flowed.  The blood did, too"] (169).  Riveting.

Marguerite Duras (1914-1996)

Guy of His Futile Preoccupations recommended The Sea Wall to me a couple of years ago.  His review can be found here.

lunes, 14 de agosto de 2017

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Month 2017: 7/30-8/12 Links

Sorry I didn't get around to posting a link round-up last week.  Here's a bonus week's worth of links for you, now including both Spanish- and Portuguese-language literature for the rest of the month.  Cheers!

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Emma, Book Around the Corner
No Word from Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza
One-Way Journey by Carlos Salem
The Sadness of the Samurai by Víctor del Árbol

Grant, 1streading's Blog
A Broken Mirror by Mercè Rodoreda
The Miracle-Worker by Carmen Boullosa

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
The loose ends of memories - Before by Carmen Boullosa

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
I'm Heroically Free: Água Viva by Clarice Lispector
Being Happy Is for What?: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila
Winter Quarters by Osvaldo Soriano 
Inventing Love by José Ovejero
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Tony, Tony's Reading List
The Children by Carolina Sanín
The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade

sábado, 12 de agosto de 2017

Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Perú

Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Perú (Planeta, 2008)
by Gustavo Gorriti
Peru, 1990 & 2008

A probing, meticulously documented but inordinately typo-ridden account of the decade-plus of violence unleashed by the Maoist Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] insurgent group during "los años de sangre" ["the years of blood"] (146) in '80s and '90s Peru.  While it's perhaps to be regretted that investigative journalist Gorriti never got around to finishing the planned first and third volumes of his history that were meant to bookend this one--his work, available in English as The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru, was interrupted by a coup and his subsequent arrest by the intelligence forces of new president Alberto Fujimori before Gorriti eventually found a safe haven abroad--Sendero's unflinching close-up on the first few years of the rebellion is probably more than enough analysis & horror for a standalone volume dedicated to explaining why some 70,000 Peruvians would wind up dead in the crossfire.  Worth reading for anyone trying to understand how bourgeois classics like Julius Caesar and Macbeth could be used as part of far left terrorist indoctrination, well worth reading for anyone trying to make some sense out of half-remembered reports of Sendero atrocities such as the one involving the dozens of dead dogs that were left hanging from lampposts in downtown Lima and maybe not worth reading at all for anybody wanting to feel better about his/her fellow man.

Gustavo Gorriti

martes, 1 de agosto de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/23-7/29 Links

Carlos Velázquez

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi
No-one Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi

Grant, 1streading's Blog
The Cowboy Bible and Other Stories by Carlos Velázquez

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
Into the Redheaded Night: From the Observatory by Julio Cortázar

Tony, Tony's Reading List
The Man of Feeling by Javier Marías