Gustavo Faverón Patriau: Vivir abajo [Living in the Basement]

The latest addition to my website is Gustavo Faverón Patriau‘s Vivir abajo [Living in the Basement]. This novel, already declared a key novel of twenty-first century Latin American literature by some critics, is a brilliant and complex novel about the politics and violence of Latin America and the United States but also of their culture. We follow around a dozen stories, with all of the key characters having a dark past, sometimes more than one past, and invariably very dark, which we gradually learn about during the course of the book. The stories all eventually link up, directly or indirectly, with characters from one story appearing in unexpected ways in another story. All are involved with violence in one way or another, though they also get involved in culture, particularly literature and cinema, though also art and music. The main point is to show the violence in Latin America, with particular reference to Peru, Paraguay and Chile, and US involvement in this violence but also to show the cultural background to the region. It is a brilliant book and it is to be hoped that some publisher will be brave enough to publish it in English.

Mario Vargas Llosa: Tiempos recios [Hard Times]

The latest addition to my website is Mario Vargas Llosa‘s Tiempos recios [Hard Times]. The novel deals with the overthrow of the democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, by Guatemalan forces, supported by the CIA and the US Ambassador to Guatemala. He was primarily overthrown because he had wanted to tax the United Fruit Company, which orchestrated a successful campaign in the US, “proving” he was communist (he was not). We follow various key characters, some real, some fictitious, some good, some definitely not. Vargas Llosa makes no bones about his views, which are that the United States illegally subverted a democratic country and that its actions have had profoundly negative effects on Guatemala and on other Latin American countries as a result.

José María Arguedas: Todas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]

The latest addition to my website is José María ArguedasTodas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]. This is José María Arguedas’ longest book and goes into great detail about a story of oppressed Indians, ruthless Peruvians and a US mining company. Fermín and Bruno Aragón de Peralta are rich brothers who hate each other. Their father kills himself at the beginning of the book. Bruno wants to be a feudal landlord, controlling (and brutalising) his Indians, while Fermín wants to run a modern business, particularly though not only a silver mine. He has managed to buy up much of the land from his fellow Peruvians and they are now broke and bitter. However, Fermín will be outmanoeuvred by Wisther-Bozart, the US mining company, whose deep pockets and ability to buy political favours means that they will get the mine. However, it is the Indians who suffer, paid less by Wisther-Bozart, exploited by all the whites and repressed whenever they object. Arguedas makes no bones about where his sympathies lie.

José María Arguedas: Los ríos profundos (Deep Waters)

The latest addition to my website is José María Arguedas‘s Los ríos profundos (Deep Waters). This novel, praised by Mario Vargas Llosa as one of the great Peruvian novels, is a semi-autobiographical novel. Arguedas’ mother died when he was two and a half. When his father remarried, his stepmother already had three children. He was left to the Indian servants, so he ended up with a lifelong love for the native culture and spoke fluent Quechua. In this novel, the fourteen-year old Ernesto follows his father, a travelling lawyer, around Peru, till they stop at Abancay where the father moves on, while Ernesto is sent to school. We follow his lively school days at a religious school, lyrically described by Arguedas, including a salt revolt by the local women, with which he is very sympathetic, fights, girls, and struggling to fit in, ending with an epidemic

Miguel Ildefonso: Hotel Lima [Hotel Lima]

The latest addition to my website is Miguel Ildefonso‘s Hotel Lima [Hotel Lima]. Our hero/narrator is called Dante and we follow him in his journey underground, though his underground is merely the seedier parts of Lima, where he meets prostitutes, drug addicts, strange women and, in particular, poètes maudits. He comes in contact with an underground organisation called the Not-Poets, who detonate bombs around Lima and leave poetry rather than political slogans. He meets one member, Rosa, who, he says is the ugliest woman he has ever met, though he does have sex with her. She offers him free board and lodging to work on his latest novel – he has written two successful novels but, partially because of alcoholism, had not written anything recently. He declines. He also follows the lives of famous (in Peru) artists and poètes maudits. Ultimately, it is a poetical novel about a Peruvian writer who has lost his way and cannot seem to find it. It has not been translated into any other language.

Alfredo Bryce Echenique: Las obras infames de Pancho Marambio [The Infamous Works of Pancho Marambio]

The latest addition to my website is Alfredo Bryce Echenique‘s Las obras infames de Pancho Marambio [The Infamous Works of Pancho Marambio]. Bienvenido Salvador Buenaventura is a fifty-four year old successful lawyer in Lima. He has never been married. His parents and two brother are both dead, the men from alcoholism. The two others were never married either. He has decided to retire, leave Lima and go and live in Barcelona. He stays with an old friend and when he finds a suitable flat, at the recommendation of the friend, he takes along Pancho Marambio. Pancho offers to do the necessary work on the flat, while Bienvenido goes off travelling around Europe. He pays Pancho in advance. Pancho, however, has something of a reputation as a cowboy and, when Bienvenido returns, disaster awaits. He castigates Pancho and sets off again but, this time, the family curse appears and he spends much of his time in bars. When he again returns, things are somewhat better but the colour scheme is diabolical, things do not work and the design is poor. Bienvenido quickly slips into alcoholism and, despite the efforts of friends, gets worse and worse, as we follow his downfall. This is a not a bad book but not of the calibre of his earlier work.

Miguel Gutiérrez dies

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Peruvian novelist Miguel Gutiérrez died yesterday, shortly before his seventy-sixth birthday. I can find no reports in English but it has been in announced in Spanish here and here. He is best-known for his novel about incest El mundo sin Xóchitl [The World Without Xochitl], which I thought was an excellent novel. Neither this novel nor any of his others works has been translated into English or, as far as I can determine, any other language. Though well-known as a novelist, he also wrote extensively on literature, Peruvian as well as literature from elsewhere.

Mario Vargas Llosa: Cinco Esquinas [Five Corners]

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The latest addition to my website is Mario Vargas Llosa‘s Cinco Esquinas [Five Corners]. Sadly this book confirms what we have known for a while, namely that Vargas Llosa’s talents have waned as he has got older. As you can see from the cover at left, soft-core porn features in the book (the newspaper headline reads Curfew throughout the country, which occurred during the period of terrorism under the presidency of Alberto Fujimori), though it is not particularly relevant to the story and seems mainly gratuitous. However, if lesbian soft-core porn is your thing, I am sure that you can find better examples elsewhere. The basic plot concerns a scurrilous journalist who tries to blackmail a rich and successful businessman (husband of one of the two women in the picture having a lesbian romp) as he has photos of the man with naked prostitutes. The businessman refuses to pay and the journalist publishes the photos. Much of the book is about the fall-out from this, which reaches to the heights of the Peruvian government and has devastating effects on several of the characters. The plot is fairly interesting and with one or two twists but far from being Nobel Prize calibre. Frankly, it is time for Vargas Llosa to retire.

Jorge Eduardo Eielson: El cuerpo de Giulia-no [The Body of Julia-n]

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The latest addition to my website is Jorge Eduardo Eielson‘s El cuerpo de Giulia-no [The Body of Julia-n]. Eielson was best known as an artist and poet and this clearly shows in this book. Though there is a sort of a plot – how the narrator grew up on a farm, did not like it, except for the exotic birds, and then turns up in Italy. More particularly, we are concerned with his somewhat ambiguous relationship with the ethereal Giulia, a model (according to the narrator) or a prostitute (according to the Venice police) whose body, at the beginning of the book, has been hauled out of a canal, apparently having committed suicide. We also follow the Giulia/Giuliano dichotomy. Giuliano is a man the narrator knew as a child (and even had a brief homosexual relationship with) but who is now a rich, fat and vulgar playboy. Clearly Giulia is the antithesis of Giuliano. However, as an artist, Eielson is just as much concerned with painting a picture for us – of the seamy side of Lima, of an Irish prostitute, of the exotic birds and of Giulia’s white body on the white slab of marble of the morgue. The book is long since out of print in Spanish and is highly unlikely ever to appear in English but if you can read Spanish and can find it, it is an enjoyable little gem – as long you are not expecting plot and character development.

Augusto Higa Oshiro: La iluminación de Katzuo Nakamatsu [The Illumination of Katzuo Nakamatsu]

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The latest addition to my website is Augusto Higa Oshiro‘s La iluminación de Katzuo Nakamatsu [The Illumination of Katzuo Nakamatsu]. The hero of the novel, Katzuo Nakamatsu, is a fifty-eight year old Peruvian widower, of Japanese origin. He has feelings of imminent death and a terrible feeling of not belonging. He has always felt different, because of his Japanese origins. However, since his wife died, twenty five years previously, he has had little contact with people in the Peruvian-Japanese community. During the course of this book, he is told that he has to retire from his post as a university lecturer and he is devastated. His tenuous hold on reality slips even further as he looks to two models – his father’s old friend, Etsuko Unten, a fierce Japanese nationalist who also immigrated into Peru but who very much retained his Japanese ways and even committed suicide, Japanese style, and the Peruvian poet, Martín Adán, who was an alcoholic and ended up in an asylum. Gradually, he slips into a state of illumination, Kenshō, as Higa describes it, before being admitted to an asylum. Higa tells his story very well, as we follow Katzuo’s gradual descent into insanity/illumination. Sadly, neither this nor any of his others books have been translated into English and this book is quite hard to find in Spanish.