Colm Toibin is one of my favorite Irish authors writing today. Among his books that I've read to date ("The South", "The Heather Blazing", "The Blackw...moreColm Toibin is one of my favorite Irish authors writing today. Among his books that I've read to date ("The South", "The Heather Blazing", "The Blackwater Lightship", "Mothers and Sons" and this one - I haven't read "The Master" yet), "The Story of the Night" is my favorite.
Set in Buenos Aires during the Falklands war and its aftermath, the novel tracks the development of Richard Garay, a gay schoolteacher, the son of an Argentine father and English mother. At the novel's opening, the generals are still in power, and Garay is closeted and emotionally stunted. Toibin, who covered the trial of General Gualtieri as a reporter, is extraordinarily effective in conveying the sense of menace that prevails, and the way people are forced to hold their emotions in check in order to survive.
The Falklands are lost, the generals lose their hold on power, and the story traces Richard’s gradual emotional development in parallel with the opening of Argentine society. The aspect of Toibin’s writing that I like best is his extraordinary emotional intelligence, which he deploys here to full effect, in a sensitive and moving account of Richard’s story. Richard is a complex, and not entirely sympathetic, character, but Toibin draws us in to his story, and makes us care deeply about his fate.
An evocative and moving story, which I highly recommend. (less)
Luis Sepulveda's stunning "Patagonia Express" moved me to pick up a Spanish copy of this classic by Chatwin. About 50 pages in, the translation is jus...moreLuis Sepulveda's stunning "Patagonia Express" moved me to pick up a Spanish copy of this classic by Chatwin. About 50 pages in, the translation is just as wonderful as I remember the original having been when I first read it, probably about 25 years ago now.(less)
Upon hearing that I might be going to Buenos Aires in the new year, a friend sent me this wonderful book. I'm about half-way through. Full review to f...moreUpon hearing that I might be going to Buenos Aires in the new year, a friend sent me this wonderful book. I'm about half-way through. Full review to follow.(less)
Sometimes I'm ashamed at just how little it takes to bring me hours of delirious fun. This slim paperback volume, which I came across while looking fo...moreSometimes I'm ashamed at just how little it takes to bring me hours of delirious fun. This slim paperback volume, which I came across while looking for a city guide here in Buenos Aires earlier in the week, is a case in point. A "mataburros" (literally, 'donkeykiller' or 'duncekiller'), or dictionary, of Lunfardo, the local Buenos Aires patois, it promises to bring me hours of geekish pleasure.
Lunfardo has its origins in prisoners' argot, and the language of the tango, as well as incorporating some elements similar to those of pig-Latin, or the French Verlan. Thus, for instance, "tordo" means "doctor", by an inversion of the syllables of the latter, and elision of the c, a process known as "vesre", by inversion of the syllables of "revés".
Some of my favorite words thus far include:
raviol: a small packet of cocaine (I'll never think of eating ravioli in quite the same way again)
manyapapeles: a lawyer (obviously derived as 'someone who eats documents')
Of course, as in any dictionary, there are hazards. For example, the sheer multiplicity of the listed meanings. For instance, this entry:
papa: cancer, a hole in one's sock, something beautiful, a young beautiful woman, drugs
A word for foreigners to avoid, I'd have to say. Or how about
pamela: a flat woman's hat, a prostitute. morcilla: a d*ck, an actor's adlib when he has forgotten his lines.
OK, those are probably guessable from the context.
Another major plus is the amusement provided by the dictionary's occasional earnestly hilarious mistranslations.
plata: money, fortune, shine, green, duckets, dead presidents, skrilla. (You gotta love that perfectly placed "duckets").
But my favorite so far has to be this expression, and its priceless translation:
darle(s) margaritas a los chanchos: You or I might reasonably think that this means "to cast pearls (margaritas) before swine". But no. The dictionary earnestly informs us that the meaning is "to waste something on someone" - literally - "to feed margaritas to the pigs".
If that indelible image of inebriated, tequila-swilling porkers doesn't make you crack a smile, I'm not sure what will.
So far, this is an extraordinary book. It seems unimaginable that someone could write about their experience of being tortured for their political bel...moreSo far, this is an extraordinary book. It seems unimaginable that someone could write about their experience of being tortured for their political beliefs during the Pinochet regime in a way that is side-splittingly funny, but Sepulveda pulls it off.(less)
Two adulterous affairs and a bunch of shopworn tango cliches don't add up to very much in this fairly pedestrian, slightly incoherent, story. Aimless....moreTwo adulterous affairs and a bunch of shopworn tango cliches don't add up to very much in this fairly pedestrian, slightly incoherent, story. Aimless.
Also, I think there needs to be a moratorium on the deployment of lazy tango metaphors by non-Argentine writers. (less)
Charming land of the tango and the gaucho. With bewitching Buenos Aires as its capital. Sixty years after the end of WWII, it can safe...more ARGENTINA !!!
Charming land of the tango and the gaucho. With bewitching Buenos Aires as its capital. Sixty years after the end of WWII, it can safely be assumed that all those fugitive Nazis have expired. And, following the economic collapse of 2001, the exchange rate is distinctly favorable vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar. So, perhaps you're thinking of paying a visit.
If so, you will certainly want to have read Professor Ambrosetti's definitive guide to Argentine superstitions and legends before your departure. First published to great acclaim in 1917, it remains the definitive book on this vitally important subject. No traveller to Argentina will want to be without this Baedeker of bogeymen and bizarre beliefs of the natives. Your sojourn in the land of the gaucho will be immeasurably the richer by knowing:
* that the owl Buo magellanicus has the ability to magnetize cats and other domestic animals * that the black crow is an augur of rain and should never be shot, because the rifle will stay damp for ever after * that rubbing your thumbs with a magnet brings good luck at cards (presumably if you don't have a magnet to hand you might try rubbing your thumbs with a cat or other domestic animal that has been magnetized by an owl) * that the seventh of seven consecutive sons is doomed to be a lobisón, or werewolf. On the distaff side, the seventh consecutive daughter would, of course, be a witch.
Now, you might think that the life of a werewolf is fun, involving the kind of bad-boy glamour that the ladies find irresistible, and regular binges on raw human flesh. You would be in error. Not in Argentina. To paraphrase the good Professor Ambrosetti:
El lobisón metamorphoses into a cross between a pig and a wild dog, (as there are no wolves in Argentina); the transformation occurs every Friday at midnight, independently of the phase of the moon. Favorite diet is "excrementos" of every type, spiced up occasionally with the flesh of an unbaptized infant. As noted previously, being a lobisón is the fate of any seventh consecutive male child*. Physically, the untransformed lobisón is thin, subject to digestive ailments, with a propensity for staying in bed on Saturdays. Not terribly surprising, given his nocturnal activities on Fridays.
During his nocturnal rambles, the lobisón is harassed by packs of local dogs, who cannot, however, harm him, due to being terrorized by the eerie noise produced by the flapping of the creature's abnormally large, deformed ears. Should the lobisón be injured by a stranger who crosses his path and doesn't recognize him for what he is, the spell is lifted. Unfortunately for the stranger, the creature expresses his gratitude by making every effort to kill his benefactor; for this reason, it is advised that the optimal course of action when meeting such a suspicious creature late on a Friday night is to kill first, ask questions afterwards.
Appropriate behavior when confronting a lobisón is just one of the invaluable pieces of advice the traveller will glean from this book. Other highlights include:
* how to make yourself invisible at will * how to ensure that the object of your infatuation returns your affections * survival tips when dealing with the Aho-Aho, the Yasi-Yatere, and other cryptozoological denizens of the region.
I'd include these secrets in this review, but then (obviously) I would have to track you down and kill you. Buy your own damned copy!
(You won't be sorry)
*For extra credit: Juan and Begoña are a Patagonian couple with five strapping sons (and no daughters). Given that they are devout practising Catholics and have two further children, what is the probability that their seventh child is a lobisón?(less)
The first story of Cortazar's that I ever read was "La Noche Boca Arriba", roughly translatable as "The Night Turned Upside Down". It creeped me out t...moreThe first story of Cortazar's that I ever read was "La Noche Boca Arriba", roughly translatable as "The Night Turned Upside Down". It creeped me out then, and it still creeps me out. As in many of Cortazar's stories, it revolves around the idea that the protagonist simultaneously inhabits two parallel realities, that beyond the "normal events" being described lies a far more terrible world ready to engulf the protagonist (for instance, the obsidian knife of the Aztec executioner-priest).
Or there's the opening paragraph of "axolotl": There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl.
Time and again in this collection of brilliantly original short stories, Cortazar pulls the rug out from under the reader. Isabel spends her summer vacation in a country house stalked by a tiger, a situation which she ultimately exploits to get revenge, and a measure of justice. A man sits in his study, reading a murder mystery in which he himself is the victim.
This collection, first published in 1967, contains translations of 14 of Cortazar's early short stories, as well as "The Pursuer", an exploration of a jazz musician's creative demons which the author dedicated to Charlie Parker. Though the translation is not particularly impressive, this volume does convey the energy, dislocation, and menace that is characteristic of Cortazar's stories.
These stories were simultaneously fun and disturbing to read. I highly recommend them.(less)
The pantheon of 20th century Argentine literature lists strongly towards the beginning of the alphabet - Roberto Arlt ("el juguete rabioso"), Adolfo B...moreThe pantheon of 20th century Argentine literature lists strongly towards the beginning of the alphabet - Roberto Arlt ("el juguete rabioso"), Adolfo Bioy Casares (whose "Invention of Morel" got a recent boost among fans of the TV series "Lost"), Julio Cortazar ("Hopscotch", and several short story collections), with the blind master himself, Borges, as its undisputed star.
Interestingly, it is Cortazar who takes top place in the hearts of modern Argentines. They will tell you that it is he, not Borges, who writes about the regular 'man on the street', that he was the more politically engaged (the fact that Borges was born, and died, in Switzerland will be mentioned, with the implication that Borges did not concern himself with Argentina's domestic political turmoil), and that Cortazar's writing is infinitely more accessible than the cerebral musings of Borges.
These are strongly held beliefs (I've had the experience of being chastised by the friendly local waiter at my local Italian restaurant in Buenos Aires for reading Borges - in his view I would have done much better with Cortazar) which have almost no basis in fact. Much of Cortazar's writing has a slanginess about it that makes it far less accessible than the relatively straightforward language of Borges. Furthermore, it is Cortazar, not Borges, who spent the great majority of his writing life living outside of Argentina (in France). And the preoccupation with parallel (often magical) universes that is the hallmark of Cortazar's short fiction surely makes the descriptor "cerebral" as appropriate to his writing as to that of Borges. The only explanation I have for the emotional preference Argentines profess for Cortazar is that he doesn't keep himself at quite the same distance from his protagonists as Borges does.
But the whole comparison is insidious to begin with. It's not a question of 'should I read Borges or Cortazar'? The answer is - you should read both. Each is rewarding in his own way.
This collection, the first of three volumes of Cortazar's complete short stories, is an excellent introduction. It contains many of his best-known stories: "Axolotl", "La noche boca arriba", "Casa tomada", "Continuidad de los parques", "Las babas del diablo" (Blow-up). Most of these stories tread the line between the "normal" world and a darker universe of Cortazar's imagination -- there is a signature twist which leaves the reader uneasy.
I was pleased to be able to read these stories in the original Spanish. Many of them (including the five mentioned above) are available in translation in "Blow-up and Other Stories"; this review is continued under my review of that book: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/.... (less)
Addendum to original review below (big fat-assed addendum);
Gosh, it's been so long. I've been away for several months, studying Spa...moreAddendum to original review below (big fat-assed addendum);
Gosh, it's been so long. I've been away for several months, studying Spanish like a maniac, in preparation for the Cervantes Institute's advanced proficiency test. I certainly can't complain - it's given me the excuse to spend time in Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, and Madrid (where I took the test, yesterday and today).
But now the test, he is done, and I can get back to some serious reading and reviewing. Though it's only been three months, it feels as if I've been gone for ever. Can I recover all those lost places in the goodreads reviewer ranking scale? Am I really a reincarnation of Ginny Jones? These are weighty questions that only you, gentle goodreader, can decide. But it's good to be back.
Why have I chosen to blabber on here, about this book? I mean, Borges, for crying out loud! Well, because one of the essays in the book gives me a chance to talk to you about one of my all-time favorite discoveries of the past year. and that essay alone makes this book well worth the price of entry. Even for any Borges-haters out there. i'm talking to you, DK!
Pull up a chair, why dontcha? I want to talk to you about kenning .
Kenning: a stock phrase of the kind used in Old Norse and Old English verse as a poetic circumlocution in place of a more familiar word. Examples are banhus (bonehouse) for ˜body", and saewudu (sea-wood) for ˜ship". Similar metaphoric compounds appear in colloquial speech, e.g. fire-water for whisky (aka "usquebaugh', from the Gaelic 'uisce beatha', or 'water of life', another kenning).. A famous Shakespearean example is the "beast with two backs" for copulation.
I *love* kenning. So I will always be eternally grateful to old Jorge Luis (you know that wizened Argentine gentleman sitting in the middle of that old labyrnthine library of his; the blind guy who should have gotten out more). Seems to me kenning is the source of more free fun with language than should legally be allowed. Let's consider some examples to figure out why, shall we?
Here's a fine Icelandic example:
árr þrimu minnis benstara (servant of noise of the toast of the wound-starling)
Einarr Gilsson (Icelandic, 14th century): A poem about bishop Guðmundr Arason, stanza 23:5-8
What could this possibly mean? Let's break it down:
benstari = wound-starling (raven) minni benstara = toast of raven (blood) þrima minnis benstara = noise of blood (battle) árr þrimu minnis benstara = servant of battle (warrior)
Heck, it's just a fancy way of saying "warrior". As yarb has commented elsewhere, "no wonder their economy went tits-up".
But this is an example of compound kenning, where many individual kennings are nested, like so many Icelandic Matryoshka (?) dolls. Maybe it would be better to start with some of the relatively simple common single kennings:
road of the gods: the sky whale-road: the sea squirrel-road: a tree branch belly-timber: food heaven's candle: the sun oil of the sword: blood
etc etc etc
With a few basic kennings in hand, it's a relatively simple matter to build things up. For instance:
hungrdeyfir dynsæðinga dýrbliks Heita (hunger-diminisher of din-seagulls of animal-gleam of Heiti)
Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld (Icelandic, late 10th century): Ólafsdrápa (1001), stanza 20:1-4:
Veitkat hitt, hvárt Heita hungrdeyfi skalk leyfa dynsæðinga dauðan dýrbliks eða þó kvikvan
(I know not whether I should praise the hunger-diminisher of din-seagulls of animal-gleam of Heiti as dead or alive.)
Let's break it down, step by step:
dýr Heita = animal of Heiti (ship) dýrblik Heita = gleam of ship (shield) dynr dýrbliks Heita = din of shield (battle) dynsæðingr dýrbliks Heita = seagull of battle (raven) hungrdeyfir dynsæðinga dýrbliks Heita = feeder of ravens (warrior)
That was pretty fun, wasn't it? But wait, there's more fun to be had. Kenning is not just for dead Icelandic poets. Even us non-skalds can play this game. And we do, all the time. Consider:
Iron horse, necktie party, skyscraper, wallflower, couch potato, rug rats, road hog, ship of the desert, stinking rose, wooden overcoat, desk jocky, tonsil hockey, trouser snake, or Jessica's bane, the chicken of the sea. Yes, gentle reader, you've been kenning all your life, and you never knew it until now.
But one of the things I enjoy most about the kenning game is that there is always room for a little creativity. Here are some of my own efforts - why not add yours?
tuna of the yard; chicken fish of the sofa: kittens (based on PETA's ludicrous campaign to rename fish as 'kittens of the sea', so that kids wouldn't want to eat fish) pink land clouds; pigs candy-floss of the sky: clouds
I could go on, but you get the picture. Hours of geekish fun. Gracias, señor Borges!
Oh, I know you're thinking 'not Borges again!'. And with such a Borgesian title, who the hell could blame you? But me, I LOVE this book, with big slobbery LOVE. But, truth in reviewing, that's just on the basis of the only two its seven essays that I've read so far. These are the 1933 essay on kenning and the 1935 essay on "Translators of 1001 Nights". Because I'm a complete sucker for any kind of comparative analysis of translations of anything - one of my all time favorite books is Douglas Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot". And while some might resent Borges's "here are the graven tablets of stone I'm handing you - pay attention and be careful not to drop them" tone, I find it kind of endearing, if only because he has the chops - this is a man who does his research before formulating his opinions, so I think he's entitled to his sense of omniscient entitlement, if that makes sense.
Also, ever since I discovered kennings about a year ago, I've had a secret weakness for them. And Borges's disquisition is masterful (again, a man who does his research - no half-assed analysis here).
I don't know if these particular essays are in the anthology of non-fiction by Borges that appeared a few years back, which is what is most likely to be accessible to English-speaking readers. But they have already made this book, which I picked up for the ludicrously low sum of 10 pesos (about $2.70) here in Buenos aires, worth the price of admission.