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Archive for the ‘Latin American Literature’ Category

One of my favourite discoveries which happened last year was when I read Asja Bakić’sMars‘. I discovered that Bakić’s book was published by The Feminist Press. I was excited when I discovered that and went and checked their catalogue. It was amazing! I asked myself why I hadn’t heard of this beautiful publisher before. Of course, I just wanted to buy everything which was there in their catalogue. I resisted temptation and decided to get a few. ‘The Iliac Crest‘ by Cristina Rivera Garza was one of the books I got.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator is sitting in his home reading a book when he hears a knock at his door. He opens it and he sees an unknown, beautiful woman outside. She just walks into his house, without saying anything. The narrator is puzzled. After a while, there is a second knock, and the narrator’s ex-girlfriend walks in. She is wet because of the rain and she seems to be unwell. The stranger who came in before takes care of the ex-girlfriend and these two women settle down in the house, as if it is their own. The narrator is not able to say anything. He is gripped with fear. Before long, one day, the two women approach him and tell him that they know his deepest secret. The narrator wonders what that is. The strange woman says that they know that he is actually a woman! The narrator is stunned!

What happens after this – who is this strange woman, why is she here, is the secret about the narrator true, what happens after that – all these are told in the rest of the story.

Though the above is part of the story, this book is not about the plot. It raises important questions on the fluidity of gender, on the fluidity of national borders, on the fluid boundaries between madness and sanity. Who is a man and who is a woman, who is mad and who is sane – the book asks these questions and makes us think. This is not a book to be read once and enjoyed for the plot. It is a book to be read multiple times with close readings, a book to be lingered on, to be contemplated upon, to be discussed with fellow readers. I think I’ll read it again closely, one of these days.

Cristina Rivera Garza is one of Mexico’s great contemporary writers. I noticed that just three of her books are available in English translation. I hope to read the other two sometime.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Iliac Crest‘. It wasn’t a straightforward book and it was always challenging, and there was a surreal atmosphere throughout the book, but Cristina Rivera Garza’s prose was beautiful, her sentences sizzled with beautiful depth in many places which made me pause and linger on them, the dark humour in some places made me smile, and though I am not sure what happened in the end, I’m glad I read the book.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“I had imagined a dwelling more crowded with things, more populated with history, more marked by time. But I don’t believe I was disappointed to see the apartment only had the furniture necessary for an austere existence, and that within the property, bordered by walls in neutral colors and lacking any kind of ornamentation, what was truly noteworthy were the currents of light and air. There was a sensation of impasse, of something held, not within time but somewhere outside of it, far from its shore, foreign to its imperial power. There, at her side, in her home, I felt as if I were inside a parenthesis in a sentence written in an unknown language.”

“My instincts advised me to do so without any hesitation, but in those days I acted fundamentally against myself. Contradiction drove me. Paradox gave me courage.”

“As soon as I looked inside, I was forced to accept that my absence had doubtlessly been longer than I had suspected. There was, in the space whose familiarity had once rendered it transparent, a mild untidiness, a faint but notable change in the way it reflected my inhabitance. The way it felt distanced from me. The furniture was in the same place, as was the opening of the fireplace that had helped me combat the coastal cold so many times, and also the curtainless windows that allowed all of the ocean’s potential to enter. The decorations were the same. There wasn’t a single change in the number or size of the lamps, paintings, or bookcases. I mean to say there was nothing physical that could explain the transformation I was experiencing. The change wasn’t there, outside of myself, but in the relationship I was establishing with the space. In other words, I did not recognize my own home. If I were talking about its structure, the sensation I felt could be described, perhaps, as discord. It made me feel out of place.”

Have you read ‘The Iliac Crest‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Andrea Jeftanovic’sTheatre of War‘ recently and decided to read it today.

When the story starts, the narrator Tamara describes a play which is being staged in which she is one of the performers. Soon we realize that the play might be the story of her life, as the narrator describes her childhood, her life with her siblings and her parents, how her dad moved from his war-torn country to a new one, but still has nightmares about it, how her mom is nearly always unhappy, how her brother and sister look different compared to her and the secret behind that. The story starts with this and continues as it charts Tamara’s life as she grows up, goes to college, falls in love and has interesting and challenging life experiences.The story starts with a war and it ends with a war and its aftermath. In between, it is the story of a family which navigates these troubled waters called life.

The descriptions in the book on how Tamara’s family goes through hard times because of financial circumstances is very moving. Reading about how they frequently get evicted from their house because they couldn’t pay the bills and how their personal possessions are all auctioned off (once the TV is plugged off and taken away while they are watching a programme) before they are evicted is heartbreaking to read. Being poor and being an immigrant is always hard and the book depicts that movingly. How Tamara’s dad continues to be a nine year old boy who has nightmares of war and how Tamara’s mom loves her family but hates responsibility and yearns to be a free spirit is beautifully depicted in the book.

Andrea Jeftanovic’s prose is beautiful and a pleasure to read. In some places she decides to be playful and toys with the reader. I remember reading one passage at the end of which I felt something strange – there was a dissonance there and it didn’t make sense overall. I felt the passage was hiding a secret and it refused to reveal it to me, because I wasn’t giving it the attention and love it deserved. I decided to read it again more slowly pausing after every sentence and taking it in, and this time, the passage opened its heart and spoke to me and revealed its secret to me. Every sentence in the passage changed the point of view – the first sentence was about Tamara and the second sentence was about her dad and it continued like this. When I discovered this, the whole passage glowed with its beauty and music. In music, there is a form called contrapuntal, in which two are more independent melodic parts are connected together by a common harmony. This passage was like that. It was brilliant and beautiful.

When we reach the end of the book, an interesting question arises. Is the whole book the narrator Tamara’s story? Or is the book just the story told in the play in which Tamara plays one of the parts? Or is it both? It is a fascinating thought to ponder on. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you get to read this book.

I loved ‘Theatre of War‘. Andrea Jeftanovic is clearly a talented writer and this is a brilliant debut. This book was first published around twenty years back (so it has been around for a while), though it has been translated into English only recently (it was originally written in Spanish. Andrea Jeftanovic is from Chile.) She has published more books since then – I spotted atleast one more novel, three collections of short stories and one collection of essays. I hope they get translated into English soon.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Mum prepares breakfast for two kids every morning. She kisses Adela and Davor on the forehead as they leave the house. She makes two beds, fills the tub two times. She hugs one child with each arm. From the balcony her eyes follow two shapes as they walk away. She holds out one hand to cross the street, then the other. I’m left at the end of the line, clutching at my sister. She whispers a little secret to the right, another to the left. Her two legs guide two paths. Two tears roll down her face as she watches her children sleeping. She doesn’t know the little girl who lies beside her and follows her around the house, snatching at her dress and repeating her name. She is incapable of including me in her twofold affection.
      I don’t want to hear her ask again : Who’s that girl lying there naked with her hair all tangled? Mum never reaches my centre, just brushes around my edges, grazes my surface. I spread out before her like an incomprehensible atlas. A pair of steaming bowls are waiting for us when we get home from school. My brother and sister don’t say anything, just silently serve a third portion on the bread plate. I have lunch at the corner of the table. And for a moment I want to drive it into my abdomen.
      Another day my sister and brother and I all come home together and I stop to tie my shoes. As I reach the door, mere steps behind them, it slams in my face and I’m locked outside. I watch Mum, her welcoming smile, her wrist turning the key in the lock. Her world is a perfect triangle, not an awkward square. I’m the edge that doesn’t fit into that geometric shape. For Mum I’m nothing more than an empty space in her brain, a black hole that swallows up all memory of me.”

Have you read Andrea Jeftanovic’sTheatre of War‘? What do you think about it?

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