Showing posts with label argentinean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label argentinean. Show all posts

Friday, August 25, 2017

WITMonth Day 25 | The Days of the Deer by Liliana Bodoc

You know what's always fun? Fantasy that isn't based on European medieval conventions!

This is a personal pet peeve of mine: I loathe the way almost all modern fantasy is not only English-language (including out in other countries, where it's predominantly translated from English) and rooted in British/European mythology and cultural norms. Often, the foreigners will be dark-skinned or have almond-eyes, will be either savage or vaguely wiser than the protagonists (depending on whether the book was written more than twenty years ago, or whether it's recent and progressive). The mythology will vaguely resemble Greek or maybe Norse or maybe even Celtic mythology. It's all very similar.

So whenever I encounter a book - whether Anglo in origin or not - that comes from a culture that is not European, I cheer. I am automatically in love with the book, just a little. And oh boy, does The Days of the Deer by Liliana Bodoc (translated by Nick Caistor, with Lucia Caistor Arendar) fulfill that wish, even if it doesn't always rise to its own ambitions.

Let me start by saying that I liked The Days of the Deer a lot, but I'm not sure that it always lives up to its own promise. Here is a fantasy novel that reimagines a land that is very clearly meant to be the Americas, before the European invasion. From the first moment, Bodoc reimagines the Americas and its diverse peoples as a variety of mostly separate tribes or creatures. In the far south, we have our protagonists, the Husihuilkes of the Ends of the Earth. We have the descendents of the Northmen, who have lighter skin and red hair (...Vikings. They're descendents of Vikings.). We have loud, jangling, bright culture in the center of the continent (Mexico?). And these exist alongside more magical creatures, like the Lukus and the Owl Clan.

A fleet of foreigners are crossing the sea. Are they invaders? Are they the Northmen, returned to reunite with their people? Are they the representation of pure evil that this fantasy world has? The book isn't especially subtle in framing this fleet as the European invasion of the Americas. Except in Bodoc's world, things play out a little differently. Here, a group of magical Astronomers are aware that the fleet is coming and have time to prepare - or at least, to figure out what to do. And this is where The Days of the Deer begins, with Dulkancellin of the Husihuilkes summoned to represent his people in figuring out what's going to happen.

Curiously, The Days of the Deer follows a very different story from what I was expecting. Its opening suggests a longer type of quest than what plays out, as well as a predictable climax that didn't end up happening. Instead, The Days of the Deer contains some genuine plot twists and unusual stylistic conventions. Bodoc never seems to go for the easy route, and indeed there are plot threads that open and close at all points of the novel. It's so different from most fantasy books, that while it might seem a bit jarring, it's also remarkably refreshing. It's not always perfect pacing, but it somehow works nicely to create a solid flow. It just doesn't always seem to take advantage of the world that it's built. Bodoc's focus is so strongly on plot developments, that she doesn't stop to enjoy the surprisingly rich treasure chest of culture, history, and myth that is available to her.

I have one main critique of the book: the writing. I always struggle to critique writing in translation, since I hate to pin blame on translators. Yet with The Days of the Deer, there was always a sense of aloofness in the writing that didn't quite vibe with the genre. Different genres have very different writing conventions for what is aloof, casual, or appropriate, and The Days of the Deer felt like it wasn't quite aware of these conventions within English. This, I imagine, is something that can stumble in translation, particularly if the translators are more used to strictly literary (or Literary) texts, as appears to be the case. This means that the story always felt like it was just slightly out of sync, though this is not so severe that it hinders the story altogether.

The second main problem I had is one unrelated to the book itself, but rather to the publishers... While The Days of the Deer has an internally closed ending (no cliffhangers, thank goodness!), it does leave quite a few loose threads that are, I imagine, meant to be picked up in the sequels. However... while The Days of the Deer was translated in 2013, there does not appear to be any intention of translating and publishing its sequels in English. Alas.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

WITMonth Day 22 - Spotlight on Argentina

After a few days of illness... I'm back(ish)! This time with some of Argentina's excellent women writers. Of whom, I should note, there are many!
  • Alicia Steimberg
  • Angélica Gorodischer
  • Cecilia Pavón 
  • Silvina Ocampo
  • Alejandra Pizarnik
  • Liliana Bodoc
  • Alicia Borinsky
  • Silvina Bullrich
  • Manuela Fingueret
  • Juana Manuela Gorriti
  • Liliana Heker
  • Sylvia Iparraguirre
  • Alicia Kozameh
  • Tununa Mercado
  • Claudia Piñeiro
  • Ana Gloria Moya
  • María Negroni
  • Olga Orozco
  • Lucía Puenzo
  • Beatriz Sarlo
  • Luisa Valenzuela
  • Alfonsina Storni
  • Ana María Shua
Furthermore, there are dozens of writers I've encountered in my research who despite clearly playing an important role in Argentine literature have not been translated. Though I have not done this for other languages, the gap appears significantly more wide with South American literature and so below is a distinctly abridged list of untranslated Argentinean women writers, many of whom are award-winners and critically acclaimed.
  • Agustina Andrade
  • Ariana Harwycz
  • Margarita Abella Caprile
  • César Duáyen/Emma de la Barra
  • Emma Barrandeguy
  • Elsa Bornemann
  • Susana Calandrelli
  • Sara Gallardo
  • Betina Gonzalez
  • Norah Lange
  • Marta Lynch
  • Eduarda Mansilla
  • Martha Mercader
  • Liliana Díaz Mindurry
  • Elvira Orphée
  • Luisa Peluffo
  • Samanta Schweblin
  • María Dhialma Tiberti
  • Aurora Venturini
  • María Elena Walsh

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The greatest empire, period | Kalpa Imperial

Once or twice a year, I'll read a book that is so amazing, so wonderful, so utterly entrancing that I will devour it eagerly and also hold myself back for fear of losing it too soon. Months ago, I came very close to that feeling with Angélica Gorodischer's unique Trafalgar. I was very impressed by Trafalgar, but I had to admit that I did not fall for it quite in the same way that I had in the past for other favorites. It was good enough, however, to ensure that I would read Gorodischer's earlier Kalpa Imperial, a book that Trafalgar even casually referenced.

And then, lo and behold, Kalpa Imperial is that book: beautifully written, wonderfully translated, magical, unique, imaginative, entrancing, enticing, absorbing, amazing and just... brilliant.

Really. I'm understating here.

Kalpa Imperial (subtitled The Greatest Empire That Never Was) is exactly the sort of book I've often imagined writing myself. It creates a fictional empire and tells stories about it. That's it. There's an order, sure, but I was never really certain that the story was being told entirely chronologically. There are references to previously mentioned stories, but these are calm connections that - despite being located in what is officially the same empire - could be taking place in entirely different worlds.

One of the incredible aspects of Kalpa Imperial is its ability to take full advantage of its short story style, while still making the book feel overall like a coherent, balanced whole. There are no duds in Kalpa Imperial, no stories that seem out place. It's clearly not a novel, but unlike most short story collections, Kalpa Imperial has no moment in which the standard slips even a smidgen - the stories flow seamlessly into each other, painting an ever growing portrait of this entirely fictional empire. And these stories are absolutely amazing.

Kalpa Imperial falls into the category I've decided to call "imaginative fiction". This is the genre that Borges, and Calvino, and Michal Ajvaz and a whole host of other authors belong to. I think by this point it's safe to say that I really, really like these types of books - the crossover between the believable and the imaginary, the gentle overlapping of fantasy with reality. Each of the above authors takes it to a different level and uses different techniques to tell their story, but there's no doubt that Gorodischer's imaginary kingdom (and also the lovely techniques used in Trafalgar) place her directly in this category.

Kalpa Imperial is fantasy unlike any other - there's no hero's quest, references to magic are far and few between (and even then may just be myths that have been twisted along the way), the society hardly seems based on medieval Europe (I kept imagining various Middle Eastern kingdoms, to be honest), there are vague references to modern technology such as cars and buses, the time frame is huge (thousands of years!), there are no warring gods... and yet it's all clearly fantasy. It doesn't merely build a world; it builds an entire history, legacy, culture and, indeed, empire. I wish I could describe the perfection of these stories (among which one ranks as the greatest 30-odd pages of literature I have ever read) but I can't. It has to be read, it has to be experienced.

As for the writing: clear, beautiful - a perfect storytelling technique. But there's another tone here, one that I often felt creeping into Gorodischer's style: that of Ursula K. Le Guin, the grand mistress of fantasy and sci-fi herself, who translated Kalpa Imperial. Small witticisms and offhand remarks rang so clearly as those of Le Guin that - had the translation been any less perfect and the writing even slightly less smooth - they could have jolted me out of the story. This didn't happen. Le Guin, it turns out, is also a master translator, imbibing Kalpa Imperial with just a dash of her own tone while still letting Gorodischer's style reign supreme. It's incredibly done.

I don't know what else I can say to possibly convince a reader who hasn't been convinced yet. Only this, I suppose: Kalpa Imperial is worth it. It's worth taking a day off from work to sit and read. It's worth stepping out of your comfort zone if this isn't the type of book you'd normally read. It's worth it for fantasy fans, sci-fi fans, fans of Le Guin, fans of unique stories, fans of imaginative fiction, readers who like being challenged, readers who like feeling at home, readers who like stories... It's worth reading, it's worth recommending to your library, it's worth buying. It's worth every minute you may spend on it. My list of perfect books is very, very short, but Kalpa Imperial is on it. And it's near the top.

One final note: Small Beer Press, thank you for publishing two wonderful books by Angélica Gorodischer. Now... please publish the rest.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Magic on other worlds | Trafalgar

There's a hint of "finally" in my discovery of Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer (translated by Amalia Gladhart). Not just because it's one of the better books I've read this year. Not even because I had to wait a few weeks between reading the first chapter in this book and the rest. Mostly, it's a feeling of finally finding what I'm looking for - high quality, well-written, unique fantastic sci-fi from an interestingly non-Anglo perspective. It's almost as though Gorodischer has tailor-made this novel-in-stories for me. Decades before my birth. And continents away. Well played, Angélica Gorodischer, well played.

If you're looking for information on Trafalgar, you'll be hard pressed to find any on its back cover. Rather than giving hints about the stories found within its pages, the blurb instead aims to set a mood. Relax, it says. Open your mind. Take in something new and different and maybe just a bit unexpected. This might be frustrating for some readers (indeed, I personally found it to be an annoying gimmick-like choice), but it does set the mood fairly well. Because these aren't whip-fast, neck-breaking stories. These aren't swashbuckling sci-fi tales to set your hair on fire. These are coffee-shop stories that happen to take place on other worlds, with other cultures, and other frames of reference.

The first thing of note in Trafalgar is its wonderful clarity. A lot of books (particularly sci-fi) stumble over how to build their world without resorting to bloated, heavy-handed descriptions, but Gorodischer leaps over this hurdle lightly, opting instead for a casually limited scope. Because each story takes place on a different world, and because the stories are being told directly to another character, they remain small and relatively undeveloped. But we don't expect there to be a lot of descriptions of the places, the buildings, the people. That wouldn't be very conversational, would it? By making these actual stories, Gorodischer is able to get away with a crisper, cleaner storytelling style. I loved it.

The stories themselves touch on such a wide array of topics that it's hard to even classify them. Our titular main character, Trafalgar, doesn't seem to find anything wrong with this either. His stories aren't quite adventures, really - he's a businessman, after all. These are just the odd things that sometimes happen on his business trips. We get glimpses of wonders through this very particular filter.

There were two things I kept finding myself comparing Trafalgar to: one with a bemused excitement and one with a fair share of annoyance. The first was related to the way certain phrases and philosophies of the book resembled Star Trek (with a particular resemblance to TNG, which would not exist for another decade as of this book's original publication). In more than one story, Gorodischer touches on themes that often crop up in Star Trek, such as various cultural distinctions and even ideas resembling the Prime Directive. The stories were just light enough to keep me from getting too bogged down in them, but also thoughtful enough to keep me thinking throughout them. Also afterwards.

The third comparison is both the strongest, and the most frustrating. Because, though a much better book, Trafalgar very strongly reminds me of Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad, a book I've been struggling with for many, many months. Both are novels in stories, surrounding the somewhat bizarre travels of seemingly ordinary people in outer space (engineers in The Cyberiad, a businessman in Trafalgar), to odd, yet often very human, societies. Superficially, this makes these books extremely similar. Except whereas The Cyberiad is utterly absurd - and seems perfectly aware of this - Trafalgar is subtly whimsical. The Cyberiad drags on and on, while Trafalgar ends quickly and as lightly as it opened. The Cyberiad piles on more and more details; Trafalgar focuses purely on its storytelling.

This, of course, is Trafalgar's major flaw. A book that is so slim and so heavily tilted towards a storytelling form cannot dig quite so deep in other areas. World building is obviously low on Gorodischer's list of priorities in this book, but so is character development. The characters are just that - characters - but they move through their stories comfortably. They didn't feel out-of-place or particularly stiff. They don't necessarily leap from the page, but... it works. Within the context of Trafalgar's storytelling style, it makes sense.

I enjoyed Trafalgar. If it had just a bit more of a firmer impact on me, I might have even said that it was brilliant. But it falls just shy of that claim. Instead it will stand as a wonderful book with a lot of interesting ideas and vividly imagined stories. Easily recommendable.