Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

sábado, junio 30, 2007

"The Real Thing And The Rarest"

Roberto Bolano

The title, "the real thing and the rarest" is what Susan Sontag said about the writer and poet Roberto Bolano (the n has a tilde). Bolano was born in 1953 in Chile. He died at age 50 in 2003. He wrote nine novels, short stories, and poetry. And he lived in the Chilean diaspora of Mexico and Europe before returning to Chile. Unfortunately, like me, you may never have heard of him during his life. What a tremendous loss not reading him would be.

How did I come to hear about him? I'm not sure how I found this April, 2007 article in the Nation. But after reading it, I decided to order a book. My local library system, the Mid-Hudson Library System, to my amazement has actually heard of Bolano and has four of his books in its catalog, but I am impatient when I think I'm on the brink of discovery, so I ordered a copy of Distant Star from my favorite used book resource Abe Books for fast delivery. And wow, what a "discovery" it was! I devoured the book and loved it, so I went ravenously and gluttonously on to By Night In Chile and Last Evenings On Earth.

Bolano's writing is spare, coruscating, smart, simply wonderful. A review by Wayne Koestenbaum in Bookforum speaks of his "addict[ion] to the haze that floats above Bollano's fiction". Francisco Goldman labels it "the high-voltage first-person braininess of a Saul Bellow". Whatever. It fills me with enormous envy. The kind of envy and jealousy that makes it hard to work on my own novel in progress. The kind of envy that makes me wonder about the adequacy and effectiveness of my own prose.

A very brief example. One of the short stories in Last Evenings, "Mauricio ("The Eye") Silva" begins
Mauricio Silva, also known as "The Eye", always tried to avoid violence, even at the risk of being considered a coward, but violence, real violence, is unavoidable, at least for those of us who were born in Latin America during the fifties and were about twenty years old at the time of Salvador Allende's death. That's just the way it goes.

You might give one of your first as yet unborn children or one of your less important extremities for such a beginning.

The story "Last Evenings On Earth" takes place during a vacation trip the narrator, like Bolano, a poet, takes with his father, a former Chilean boxing champion, from Mexico City to Acapulco in 1975, is brilliant, riveting, surprising and my favorite. Something menacing and dark lurks beneath the narration, simmering, but when it finally erupts the story is over. At the conclusion did I say, "Yes!" aloud, or did I just think it loudly?

It's summer and beach reading season in the Northern Hemisphere. In addition to The Dream Antilles, which I always recommend for this purpose, any of Bolano's books would be a just perfect.

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sábado, junio 23, 2007

Support The Iraq War Moratorium!!

Please support the Iraq War Moratorium! All the details are in this Nation article and this daily Kos diary by Meteor Blades.

Getting involved will take just a moment now, some thought and planning later on, and then acting on September 21, 2007.

Please click on this link and sign the pledge to participate. Then please write the date 9/21/07 in your Palm Pilots and calendars and date books. Then please forward an email (forwarding this post might do nicely) to your friends and relatives and ask them to sign the pledge, mark the date, and pass it on.

Let's organize this Moratorium from the grassroots on up in every city, town and village in America and end this awful war!

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jueves, junio 21, 2007

Sir Salman Rushdie and Extreme Forms of Criticism

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cross postsed at dailyKos

This is Sir Salman Rushdie. I've been thinking about him a lot today.

You'll recall that after he published his novel, Satanic Verses, Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa condemning him to death. It seems that Satanic Verses appropriated the prophet Muhammad as a character and attributed what some thought were insulting things to him. Later, the writer VS Naipaul, one of my heroes, described the fatwah as "an extreme form of literary criticism."

It may be difficult to tell what will insult readers and even make them throw rocks. As Rushdie himself wrote in The Ground Beneath Her Feet,
"Insults are mysteries. What seems to the bystander to be the cruelest, most destructive sledgehammer of an assault, whore! slut! tart!, can leave its target undamaged, while an apparently lesser gibe, thank god you're not my child, can fatally penetrate the finest suits of armour, you're nothing to me, you're less than the dirt on the soles of my shoes, and strike directly at the heart."

Which brings me ever so cautiously to the literary and rock throwing news. This February 6, 2006, New York Times' story is as frightening as it is hard to fathom:
Demonstrations against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by newspapers in Europe spread across Asia and the Middle East today, turning violent in Afghanistan, where at least four protesters were killed and over a dozen police officers and protesters injured.

The protests gained momentum all over the Muslim world, a day after attacks on the Danish consulate in Lebanon and the Danish and Norwegian Embassies in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday. Muslim clerics led demonstrations in half a dozen cities in Afghanistan, and protesters turned out in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Iran, and even in New Zealand, where local newspapers recently reprinted the offending cartoons.

A teenager died in Somalia in East Africa today when police fired in the air to disperse stone-throwing protesters and set off a stampede. A crowd of about 200 people stoned and broke the windows of the Austrian Embassy in the Iranian capital, Teheran, and tried to hurl gasoline bombs inside, Reuters reported. Police with riot shields prevented further damage and the crowd dissipated after an hour, the agency reported.

And the threats of death as the result of Rushdie's Saturday knighthood. Take, as a small example, this literary criticism by Pakistan's religious affairs minister, quoted in the New York Times:
The religious affairs minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, said in Parliament, “If someone exploded a bomb on his body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the ‘sir’ title.”

Alas, I have worried that not enough people would read my 2005 book, The Dream Antilles. After all, Amazon has it ranked in the 400,000's today. But that seeming problem, a mix of ego, marketing and personal finance, pales compared with the idea that a few people would read my book and then thousands and thousands around the world would run into the streets trying to maim and kill people because of the affronts they perceived in it. Or that they would react in this way to some cartoons. Or the conferral of a knighthood on an author whose best work in my view was Midnight's Children, a remarkable magical realism novel paralleling the birth of India as a nation which won the 1981 Booker Prize and was later awarded the 'Booker of Bookers' Prize in 1993 as the best novel to be awarded the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. People here who know or have heard of only Satanic Verses should treat themselves to Midnight's Children. I just don't get it.

I will admit that I did smile when Mario Vargas Llosa had crowds attack the radio station in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter because of insults to Argentinians. I thought that was a riot, and I laughed aloud. But I am not laughing at today's news of reaction to Salman Rushdie's knighthood.

I guess I didn't realize that writing could be so dangerous. Or that criticism could be so extreme.

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