Juan Pablo Villalobos: No voy a pedirle a nadie que me crea (I Don’t Expect Anyone To Believe Me)

The latest addition to my website is Juan Pablo Villalobos‘s No voy a pedirle a nadie que me crea (I Don’t Expect Anyone To Believe Me). This is a brilliant novel about corruption and humour, about racism and academia. The main character is Juan Pablo Villalobos, a Mexican doctoral student who goes to Barcelona to study and gets caught up with a bunch of nasty gangsters who require him to change his life for their devious ends, with distinctly unpleasant consequences. Some of it is clearly tongue-in-cheek but much of it is serious, as Juan Pablo (the character) gets dragged more and more into the plot,at the expense of his studies and of his girlfriend, Valentina. It manages to combine much humour with a serious intent and accordingly works very well.

Fernanda Melchor: Temporada de huracanes (Hurricane Season)

The latest addition to my website is Fernanda Melchor‘s emporada de huracanes (Hurricane Season). The novel tells the story of a small Mexican town, La Matosa. At the beginning, the body of a woman known locally as The Witch, is found dead in a stream. The novel tells her story and that of her mother, also called The Witch as well as the story of the people associated with her death. Her mother had married a man with fields that brought in rent. He died in mysterious circumstances and his sons by a previous marriage were killed in a car accident when they came to claim what they considered their inheritance. The daughter appeared some years later. No-one knows who her father was. After a huge hurricane destroyed much of the town, the daughter survived and continued her mother’s work, adding sex and drugs to her repertoire. However, the main theme of the novel is how these women and, indeed, all the other women in the book are badly treated by the men: violence and sexual abuse, as we follow the stories of those associated with the death of the Witch. The book is a superb indictment of the violence committed every day to women in Mexico and, of course, everywhere.

Latin American female writers

Just a brief post to refer you to this article in today’s Guardian. It is about rediscovered women writers in Latin America, particularly Mexico. I was familiar with Luisa Josefina Hernández and have a copy of her Nostalgia de Troya. Several other of her works are available but only in Spanish. Sadly they they have not been translated into English, though I was curious to see that one has been translated into Estonian and another into Polish. I was not familiar with the other ones mentioned in the Guardian article. They are readily and very cheaply available in Spanish in Kindle format. (You do not need a Kindle to read Kindle books. You can read them on your desktop computer with the Kindle Cloud Reader or with an app on Android/OSX/IOS/IPadOs/Windows). I hope to get round to one or two later in the year. Perhaps some enterprising publisher might publish one or two in English.

Rodrigo Márquez Tizano: Yakarta (Jakarta)

The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Márquez Tizano‘s Yakarta (Jakarta). This is a dystopian novel from Mexico, describing a country called Atlantika, where a horrible epidemic, with the virus vector carried by rats, strikes the country regularly. The latest one – the Ź-Bug – has been brought under control but everyone knows another one will be back. The people have their bread and circuses in the form of a jai-alai type game, called Vakapý, played by robots, where statistics are very important and where a lot of people spend a lot of time and money on betting on it. Our unnamed narrator is part of a clean-up team and bets on Vakapý. He also has a girlfriend, Clara, who has found a strange stone which gives her and, later, him visions, possibly of a different future. But above all the novel is unremittingly bleak.

Chloe Aridjis: Sea Monsters

The latest addition to my website is Chloe AridjisSea Monsters. It tells the story of Luisa, a seventeen year old Mexican girl in 1988. She has no siblings and few friends. She is not close to her parents, who have their own preoccupations. She is not particularly interested in her school work or her future. She comes across Tomás, who has dropped out of school, and gradually they become closer. She reads about a troupe of Ukrainian dwarves who have defected from a Soviet circus troupe in Oaxaca and persuades Tomás that they should run away and go looking for the dwarves, so they head off to Zipolite. The second part of the book tells of her time there – she and Tomas drift apart – as she meets the mysterious Merman, thinks she sees the dwarves and has fantasies about the sea and about the dwarves. It is all about a young woman trying to find who she is and where she is going and what life holds for her.

David Toscana: El ejército iluminado (The Enlightened Army)

The latest addition to my website is David Toscana‘s El ejército iluminado (The Enlightened Army). This Mexican novel tells the story of Ignacio Matus who has two bugbears, both concerned with his hatred for the United States. The first concerns the 1924 Olympics marathon at which, he claims, he won the bronze medal in front of the US runner Clarence DeMar. The only slight problem is that DeMar and the other athletes ran the race in Paris where the Olympics were being held, while Matus ran it in Monterrey, Mexico. Nevertheless, he had a better time than DeMar and theretofore should have the bronze medal. His other issue concerns the Mexican territories annexed by the United States in the mid nineteenth century which, he claims, rightfully belong to Mexico. When he is fired for teaching this view at school, he sets out with a ragged army to Texas and captures the Alamo. It is a very enjoyable book, even though things do not go quite right for DeMar but he is certainly one of the obsessive fools of literature, whom we cannot help having a grudging admiration for in his foolishness.

Emiliano Monge: Las tierras arrasadas (Among the Lost)

The latest addition to my website is Emiliano Monge‘s Las tierras arrasadas (Among the Lost), an unremittingly grim Mexican novel about migration. We follow a day in the life of people traffickers in Southern Mexico, who capture migrants and use them as slave labour. The two main characters – Epitafio and Estela (Spanish for grave stone) – are very much in love as the narrator and the couple themselves frequently tell us. On this day they are carrying sixty-four migrants to deliver to purchasers. Some of the women are used as bribes for the local military. They have a harrowing journey, with much going wrong but not, of course, as harrowing as the poor migrants who are beaten, brutalised, raped and, in some cases, randomly killed. The migrants, with one exception, come out as shadowy figures whom we do not really see as individuals, but the various people involved in the trafficking all come out as irredeemably vicious, cruel and savage. There is no saving grace in this novel, except perhaps that some of the guilty parties end up dead.

Emiliano Monge: El cielo árido (The Arid Sky)

The latest addition to my website is Emiliano Monge‘s El cielo árido (The Arid Sky). This novels tells the story of Germán Alcántara Carnero, known as El Gringo, from conception in 1901 to death in 1981. El Gringo is a local boss and is happy to use whatever violence he needs to keep the local indigenous population and priests under control. Torture, brutal murders and horrible deaths are all part of his modus operandi, as we follow his rise to the top. Then, aged fifty-five, he decides to retire. However, he does not know what to do with himself nor how to control his anger, till he meets Dolores. However, as the narrator comments, a man may escape his life but never his shadow.. Monge shows a violence-filled life, from his violent conception to his violent death and lots in-between, an indication of what life has been and is in Mexico.

Sergio Pitol: El tañido de una flauta [The Tune of a Flute]

The latest addition to my website is Sergio Pitol‘s El tañido de una flauta [The Tune of a Flute]. The basic plot concerns an unnamed Mexican film director/producer who, in his younger days, had made a film about Carlos Ibarra, his friend and a budding novelist. Ibarra has drifted around the world, never finishing his novel, slowly going downhill and eventually dying, with the two friends having fallen out. However, the Mexican producer sees a Japanese film at the Venice Film Festival, which seems to be about Ibarra and, indeed, about his last days. Much of the book is about Ibarra, the producer and a painter, Ángel Rodríguez, and how they link up, and their stories, with the book more or less culminating with the how and why of the Japanese film and Ibarra’s last days. It is a somewhat rambling first novel but still makes fascinating reading. Like, Pitol’s other novels, it has not been translated into English.