29 October 2007


I am thrilled that my copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao arrived safely today (and in under a month)! I am trying to get these exams graded asap so I can begin...

Some great (and lengthy!) conversations with Junot Díaz can be found on YouTube and at the Borders Media site. Also, last week Callie posted about what it was like to attend a reading (and includes a list of online reviews).

One of my biggest disappointments with the Hay Festival in Cartagena last January (aside from Chimamanda Adichie and David Mitchell not appearing at their scheduled discussions) was having to miss Junot Díaz. We just could not get off work early enough to make it when the events started during the week. I'm eagerly awaiting the program for the 2008 festival, which should be available 22 November (our last day of school!). Maybe he loved it so much that he'll want to come back to Colombia? (This time, work be damned!)

24 October 2007

Loving Rilke

Yesterday marked the beginning of Rilke Week at Chekhov's Mistress. In his introductory post, Bud mentions what sparked the idea and remarks, "I don’t suppose Rilke is too controversial – either you love him or don’t know him." Too true.

My own little contribution went up today. Which poems do you love? Why? What is it about Rilke that has inspired and resonated with so many of us? I really look forward to reading imminent posts and all of your own thoughts on his work.

22 October 2007

An embarrassment of riches

On Saturday, I turned 30. Of course, I still feel like a provincial, naïve 19--but there you have it. A. and I celebrated by traveling to Barranquilla (or as Johnny Cash called it, "bear-uhn-KILL-uh") and buying books--so many books! (We also caught Neil Gaiman's Stardust--dubbed, but as it has yet to arrive to Santa Marta, we happily took what we got--and ate at my beloved Crepes & Waffles.)

To wit:

La lengua ladina de García Márquez...Margret S. de Oliveira Castro
Don Quijote de la Mancha en Medellín...Jorge Franco
La vida breve...Juan Carlos Onetti
La invención de Morel...Adolfo Bioy Casares
La suma de los días...Isabel Allende
Canción de cuna y otros poemas...W.H. Auden
Matadero cinco...Kurt Vonnegut
La importancia de llamarse Ernesto y El abanico de Lady Windermere...Oscar Wilde

The Vonnegut was for A. (he's in the middle of the Spanish translation of Powers' Galatea 2.2) and the Wilde for his sister (a lover of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, the Brontës, Dumas, Eco, and even Margaret Mitchell). I nearly bought some translated Auster, but those were quite pricey. (Alas, no Nabokov in sight.) The Auden is a parallel translation, and I read him a couple of my favorites the next day. (All of these books are such beautiful editions!) And the García Márquez dictionary will come in handy when I finally tackle El otoño del partriarca.

In addition to all this, a fellow teacher recently arrived back from a trip to the U.S. and brought back (eagerly requested) copies of Richard Powers' The Echo Maker and Jesse Ball's Samedi the Deafness.

In my few days off, I plowed through Shantaram, Lolita, and recently finished Azar Nafisi's memoir. There are so many things to write about...but I realize that I'm unable to write unless I've flooded my mind with reading. I have to reach that "too full" feeling before I can write anything. And once I've done that, I can only head straight back into the reading again.

There is a post on César Aira's El mago in the works. I need to finish Saramago's childhood memoir so I can pick up Jorge Franco's Paraíso Travel. Pynchon is still patiently waiting (he is very good at it, I've found).

And now, back to the books.

On second thought

As some readers may or may not remember, Fernando Vallejo renounced his Colombian citizenship back in May. This weekend, he announced that he's changed his mind and is initiating the process of regaining what he so bitterly scorned only five months ago.

The interview is highly entertaining (he was quite himself and then some), but I found myself strangely moved by the whole thing. Sure, it could've all just been one big publicity stunt, but I think his strong feelings get the better of him. Many think he's crazy. I just think he's an artist.

A small sample:

Usted también se ha convertido en un defensor de la lengua española. ¿La ve amenazada?

Hoy la lengua española es un adefesio. Un inmenso desastre anglizado. Este idioma perdió su expresividad, su gracia, su riqueza y hoy sólo queda pudriéndose, el cadáver de lo que fue. En cuanto a los escritores, ni siquiera se han dado cuenta de que cada idioma son dos: uno escrito y otro hablado. Uno muy vasto que es el de la literatura; y otro, pobre y limitado, que es de la lengua coloquial.

¿Quiénes serían la excepción?

Hay escritores como Azorín que sí sabían del oficio. Para no alejarnos del presente, un escritor como Fernando del Paso y entre nosotros William Ospina, cuyo libro 'Ursúa', está escrito en el más rico idioma literario. Los demás no saben escribir. Tienen un lenguaje paupérrimo respecto al vocabulario y paupérrimo respecto a la sintaxis. Y lo que es peor: no tienen nada que contar. Son alfeñiques que quieren levantar pesas.

¿Pierdo el tiempo si le pregunto qué le gusta?

(Ríe). Me gusta la música, me gusta Mozart, Debussy, Maller, José Alfredo Jiménez, Chavela Vargas, los tangos, los boleros... Me gusta y me hace inmensamente feliz ver que un perro vaya con su dueño alegremente por las calles y me hace inmensamente infeliz ver un perro abandonado.

Por último, ¿qué opina de Hugo Chávez, el presidente venezolano, ahora mediador del conflicto?

Está muy alzado. Hay que darle una buena paliza en las nalgas.

02 October 2007

Delirium revisited

Insightful commentary into Laura Restrepo's Delirium can be found over at Five Branch Tree:
While social and political commentary towards Latin America exists, as well as perceptions into a person’s psychological vulnerabilities, ultimately this is a work of literary art that explores the torments of insatiable desires and obsessions that stem from the darker side of Eros. Largely sexual, but also inclusive of the many variant forms striving can take to attempt satisfaction, which has the novel take turns into much more disturbing corners than I was expecting, inclusive of both physical and emotional violence. Fortunately, Restrepo is able to infuse the writing with just enough warmth to counterbalance the painful social occurrences which surround the character’s lives. One gets the sense that Restrepo is not interested in providing any optimism towards the delirium of Columbia [sic], but through compassion and care, and new forms of structuring, a much different outcome that can be provided for the individual.
He even discusses which composer would be perfect for a potential film score.

(Here are some more thoughts on this complex novel.)