This blogger recently attended book launches in London for two new collections of Latin American writing. The region’s literature is even less well-known in the UK than in the United States, so the publication of these anthologies in English is most welcome.
The first is Bogota 39: New Voices from Latin America containing 39 stories by writers from fifteen different Latin American countries. The writers are more than a generation or two removed from Latin America’s literary boom in the latter half of the 20th century, when authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa brought the region to the attention of English-speaking readers. The introductory essay mentions a kind of literary rebellion in the 1990s heralded by a group of Mexican writers who announced themselves as the “Crack” generation.
“Just because we’re Latin American, they said, doesn’t mean we have to write about levitating priests and blood that travels with a mind of its own. What if we’re interested in Adolph Eichmann, or chess, or Nazi mathematicians? Can’t we help ourselves to those subjects?”
Some of the stories in Bogota 39 have elements of magical realism but others have characters who might be from anywhere in the world. The narrator in one of the stories, Chilean writer Juan Pablo Roncone’s “Children,” is in the habit of attending meetings about things in which he has no particular interest, such as workshops and support groups, just wanting to be near other people. “I’d got the idea from a North American film where a guy visits groups of cancer patients. Desolate people, but when he’s around them the guy feels good, liberated,” he writes. His sister mentions a film in which a teenager and an elderly woman go to the funerals of people they don’t know, “but I never did that, out of respect for the relatives.”
The second anthology is Violeta Walks on Foriegn Lands, a bilingual collection of short stories and essays about Chilean musician, artist, poet and songwriter Violeta Parra. To mark the centenary of her birth last year, Victorina Press held a short story competition in which the entries had to make some reference to Violeta Parra’s life and work. The three winning stories and six special mentions are included in the book, along with commentaries.
In Mabel Encinas-Sanchez’s “September,” a woman buried under rubble during an earthquake tries to keep her sanity by humming Violeta Parra songs to herself and making up her own lyrics to the tunes. Sebastian Eterovic’s “In Search of Their Memory” tells of four young men who gather to celebrate the memory of a teacher they admired. The absent teacher might be poet Nicanor Parra, Violeta’s brother, but before his identity can be revealed, the friends are confronted in the street by an eccentric 55-year old woman who rants to them about injustice and hands each of them a flower from a supermarket bag. Could it be Violeta Parra herself?