The Continental Library

Books and Writers Across the Americas

I have been talking a lot, here and there, about the need of a political, commercial, and military union of the Americas. I wrote books; I had a blog, The Continental Blog; then an office at Zoetrope, The Continental Room. Nothing has happened yet that gives me hope that the old project of the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas will be relaunched, less prolonged in a political union. In the meantime, a cultural union may be achieved. This is what this section is about.

Established American writers and artists don’t need to be introduced to Latin American readers and colleague writers. Their publishing houses, movies, cable news, and news agencies do the work, and Latin America knows, reads, enjoy, admires, and envies the power of American culture and literature. This section only wants to balance the cultural weight. If we are going to be a cultural unity sometime along the century, American writers should know better what they are going to get as their new added cultural baggage of books and writers.  I will try to introduce translated and not translated Latin American authors and will also include ignored, forgotten, or neglected American authors, old and new.  I apologize in advance for my English mistakes, but old dogs are hard to learning new tricks: I started too late to make this language my own. I am happy though to be able to communicate with American readers and writers and make my point: the Americas are a cultural unity. And guess what: our combined markets, the biggest in the world!

Note: the image on the header is an oil on canvas by Juan Seoane Cabral. 

Marcelo di Marco: Mentor and Writer

July 1, 2011 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

One of the best writer’s coaches in Buenos Aires is Marcelo di Marco. As the author of three best-selling books on the art of writing and editing, and the mentor, trainer, and editor of two generations of writers he has given his best to make sure young and not that young writers understand the importance of a polished, refined, and well-thought language. As the editor of several literary magazines mostly dedicated to horror and fantasy, he has promoted a Gothic revival.

A poet, a great storyteller, and a novelist himself, his writing shows his mastery of language as well as his poetic view on the world. He has just published at Editorial Sudamericana (the traditional Argentine publishing house, now a branch of Random)a remarkable novel, Victoria entre las sombras, a classic thriller which turns into an unforgettable portrait of Argentine society. The novel web page at:

Victoria entre las sombras

Mario Vargas Llosa

October 8, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

 He not only built a perfect career as a Latin American writer but was also a presidential candidate in Peru, his country.  His work has been a work of excellence in every field: novels, such as The Green House, Conversation in the Cathedral and the endearing Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, short stories such as the early and dazzling Los Jefes, essays such as the wonderful La verdad de las mentiras and plays, the most famous of them La Señorita de Tacna. He was honored this week with the Nobel Prize and he has done everything, and more, to deserve it.

A major writer and a fighter for freedom, he has been translated but is not as widely acknowledged as the other giant of Latin American literature, his former friend and later his political enemy, besides other domestic quarrels, Gabriel García Márquez. The Nobel Prize in Literature will certainly draw attention to his work and allow those readers who have missed hi to discover and enjoy his work.

Posted in Peru | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

Manuel Puig

July 30, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Twenty years ago, on July 22nd 1990, Manuel Puig died in Mexico, leaving behind a literary work which has obtained a world recognition for its originality and honesty.

His proverbial integrity can be observed and pondered in one of the few recorded available interviews where he also recalls his childhood in his native Argentina, the years spent later in Europe trying to master  a language – filmmaking – that he finally discovered was not his, and how he came to write his first and celebrated novel La traición de Rita Hayworth during his exile  in New York.

My preferred Puig’s novel is Cae la noche tropical, set in Rio de Janeiro, a  lesser known work from his last years, where his craft as a writer peaks and his wisdom as a human being permeates every page with love.

Interview at Radiotelevisión Española (in Spanish) in 5 parts at You Tube:

1- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VUCTtTI2nw

2http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrG53oDgIps&feature=related

3-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1lSvMYdSA&feature=related

4-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebERoCGb74g&feature=related

5-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1gX4Tj6lmo&feature=related

More excellent material and a bibliography can be found at: http://manuelpuig.blogspot.com/2007/12/contenido-y-bibliografa-del-cd-rom.html

Posted in Argentina | Leave a Comment »

Far from the legendary Sur, the magazine directed by Victoria Ocampo in the 30′s, 40′s, and 50′s which introduced more than one Argentine writer to local and foreign audiences and allowed the local audience to become  global reading every new foreign writer with some worth,  and not even close to the audacity of literary magazines in the 60′s, Argentine readers have to rely now mostly on the literary supplements of the two main newspapers.  Every Saturday, La Nación publishes ADN and Clarín the magazine Ñ.  The first one claims, from its title on, to revel on the Argentine cultural identity, and the second one makes a plea for the Hispanic letter Ñ as an identity opposed to the always envied Anglo-Saxon,  which has also shown some reluctance  to adding the letter to keyboards and Internet domains. Politics meddles with culture and, unfortunately, not enough culture or art meddles with politics, at least at the bottom of the Americas.

While a new literary renaissance makes its difficult path within the disorganized and improperly led Argentine community and while worthy writers, scattered now all over the world or  unseen by their own fellow citizens, make their way toward public recognition, this is where local and foreign readers can resort to know what’s going on in the literary Argentina:

ADN Cultura: http://www.lanacion.com.ar/diario-de-hoy/suplementos/adn-cultura/index.asp

 Revista Ñ:   http://www.revistaenie.clarin.com 

Posted in Argentina | Leave a Comment »

Delmira Agustini

May 21, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

She is the most famous Uruguayan woman poet. Born in Montevideo in 1886, she left a remarkable body of work. Her poetry explores woman’s sexuality, and most of her poems  use  with ease an erotic language. Ahead of her time, firmly aligned with Modernism, Delmira’s best collection is Los cálices vacíos (The Empty Calyces) published in 1913.  Because of this book, inspired in Eros and sexual pleasure, she was considered a member of the Latin America avant-garde.

She married in August  1913, abandoned a month later her husband and divorced him before a year had passed,  in June 1914. Her ending was tragic: in July 1914, one month after their divorce, his ex-husband murdered her and then committed suicide.

Delmira’s poetry and her conflicted life in a very conservative milieu remain as a powerful testimony of women’s condition in Latin America by the beginning of the 20th century and beyond.

Posted in Uruguay | Leave a Comment »

Rodrigo Fresán

May 15, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

One of the most talented Argentine writers, a journalist and a translator of American authors, he was born in Buenos Aires in 1963. He lives now in Barcelona, Spain.

A great admirer of John Cheever, he has translated part of his work. Fresán’s first book, Historia argentina, published in Buenos Aires in 1991, was an absolute best seller.

This work was followed by Vida de santos, Esperanto, Trabajos manualesLa fuerza del fuego, Jardines de Kensington (Kensington Gardens, translated into English) and a novel widely translated La velocidad de las cosas (1998.)

His last novel, El fondo del cielo (2009,) mix of science fiction and romance, where boy meets girl but also love meets galaxy, reminds us of the odd literary marriage of Borges and Cheever celebrated within Fresán’s style, as in a fantasctic church imagined by Bioy.

Some of his contemporary Argentine colleagues find him too American, though, as influenced by his translator work. He might have rather recovered that old track in Argentine literature nurtured by the English and early American literatures– of which Borges was the best and most noticeable follower– and which was abandoned at the times of the Latin American boom.

Posted in Argentina | Leave a Comment »

Dawn Powell

May 10, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Gore Vidal published in 1987, in The New York Review of Books, his essay “Dawn Powell; Queen of the Golden Age” in which he championed this great satirist and novelist. Because of Vidal and Tim Page’s efforts, Dawn Powell (1897-1965) was brought again into the American literary landscape and her works reprinted.

Witty and a literary savvy, Dawn’s most famous quote is: ” ‘Realism’ is the only completely vague word. ‘Satire’ is the technical word for writing people as they are: ‘romantic’ the other extreme of people as they are to themselves –but both of these are the truth. The ability to put in motive is called satire; the ability to put in vision is romanticism.” 

Among her best novels. The Golden Spur and The Wicked Pavillion.

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Buenos Aires Book Fair

April 21, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

 The Buenos Aires Book Fair, the biggest book show in Latin America, starts tomorrow, April 22nd. It will be open until May 10th and will feature hundreds of conferences, professional meetings, and book and authors presentations.

Probably the most important cultural event in Argentina, this fair has been running for 36 years, always during the austral fall. International authors as well as Argentines visit the fair every year to meet with more than a million enthusiastic readers, many of them buying more books at the fair than they do the rest of the year. A great place for foreign writers to be introduced into the local market and get a feeling of what their potential audience likes.

Details and info about the fair at:
FERIA DEL LIBRO

Posted in Argentina | Leave a Comment »

Alejo Carpentier

April 15, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

One of the great names in Latin American literature, and probably the top name of Cuban Literature with José Lezama Lima and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Alejo Carpentier was born in Switzerland in 1904 and died in France in 1980.

A stylist, a deep observer of Caribbean culture, history and myths, and a musicologist, Carpentier has left some remarkable novels such as El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of This World) and Los pasos perdidos (The Lost Steps), both translated and available in English. He was maybe the first Latin American writer to perceive the links with the magical world  that were hidden in the Americas soul, as a particularly mix of Spanish Catholic beliefs in wonders intertwined with African  and Native indians inheritance. His mixed French and Cuban culture helped him to create  an extremely refined version of Spanish language and confirmed Cubans as the unquestionable best born writers in Latin America because of the mastery and richness of language. As an expert in music, Carpentier was also particularly connected to the sound and rhythm of a language which in Cuba cannot be but part of the music embedded in people. I need to mention here also Nicolás Guillén, the Cuban poet who represents the supreme connection between Cuban sounds and words.  As part of the large treasure of Cuban literature,  Carpentier’s work is worth reading.

My favorite Carpentier novel is El Siglo de las Luces (The Century of Lights) a masterpiece and a must read for all interested in Latin America’s profound history and soul.

A great link to his bio and works, at Cuba Literaria:
http://www.cubaliteraria.com/autor/alejo_carpentier/

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Victoria Ocampo

Once upon a time, Argentina had an aristocratic society made out of the cattle barons of the pampa, the very rich estancieros, who were brought up by English nannies and Mademoiselles and who lived in wonderful houses in the Barrio Norte in Buenos Aires which tried very hard in a few blocks to becoming a Paris replica. In one of those families, two sisters were born, both inclined to the belles-lettres, Victoria Ocampo and Silvina Ocampo.

Victoria was the founder of Sur, a literary magazine that acquired a world prestige, because of Victoria’s taste to spot the best of European, American, and Latin American contemporary literature. She was a great friend of Waldo Frank, among others, and she was one the first to discover Borges talent. Victoria was born in 1890 and died in 1979. An essayist, she never dared to write fiction. Her Autobiography, a wonderful piece of fine writing in five volumes, describes not only her own life and her literary friends, famous lovers, and endeavours, but will remain as the witness of women’s struggles to overcome their fate. Victoria should have been one of those rich baron cattle wives –what she was for a brief time– but decided instead to spend her time and fortune in literature. Argentina owes a great part of its literary prestige in the world to her work.

Silvina Ocampo

 While Victoria was imposing and commanding, unbearable most of the time, Silvina was shy and rather quiet. She married Adolfo Bioy Casares, and she was both a witness and a participant in Borges-Bioy literary friendship. An excellent short story writer, full of wicked wit, poetical irony, and a refined style, Silvina Ocampo is probably the best woman writer in Argentina. For a long time minimized, always in the shadow of her famous sister, husband and friend, she had no children of her own and dedicated her life to literature, in a time when literary vocations were considered, according to the French tradition, in great respect. Born in 1903, she died in 1994. Her best works are: Autobiografía de Irene, La furia and  Los días de la noche.

Silvina Bullrich

Born in a different family but equally belonging to the same high society milieu and with a local famous last name, Silvina Bullrich was a novelist, a prolific one, who cared more about her characters and plots  than about her style. She didn’t have any money of her own and struggled all her life to make a  living as a journalist and writer. She tried to complete a new novel every year that would be ready for Christmas and the great holidays that in Argentina happen in January. Focused on women and love, she was probably the most professional novelist in the 60′s. During summer holidays, every woman at the beaches in Argentina and Uruguay  seemed to be reading her last novel. The best of them is considered Los Burgueses. Personally, I love her Mis Memorias, an autobiography. Silvina was born in Buenos Aires in 1915 and, like Borges, she died in Switzerland in 1990.

Posted in Argentina | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

Leopoldo Marechal

March 31, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Argentine literature in the 20th century had two geniuses who competed for glory and fame. One was Borges, rewarded in Argentina and the world with a late but fair justice to his extraordinary work, even if he could never accede to the Nobel Prize, which was denied to him for his conservative point of view. The other one, who has been sparingly translated and whose name is hardly recognized in the United States beyond the boundaries of some Hispanic departments in college, is the marvelous Leopoldo Marechal, an open and mystic Catholic, a Nationalist and a Peronist at a moment in which Peronism was committing the sin of raising the poor to the middle class level they deserved. His work was despised for a long time in Argentina and unknown in the world, in that very typical way Latin America often crucifixes the best artists on the name of politics. Borges and Marechal were never friends and didn’t like each other, being on opposite political sides, but they were both victims of politics, though in different times and different ways.

Marechal’s masterpiece is Adan Buenosayres, a long, poetical, surreal description of a poet in Buenos Aires, meddling with people and ghosts, with culture and history. Often compared to Joyce’s Ulysses, this novel represents Argentina’s soul.

An extraordinary poet, Marechal is the author of two other novels rooted in universal myths reinterpreted through Argentine culture: El banquete de Severo Arcángelo, Severo Arcángelo’s Banquet, and Megafón o la guerra, Megafón or the War. He was acknowledged in Argentina as the great author he is during the 70′s but didn’t live to enjoy his fame. Born in 1900, he died in 1970.

A major name in the world’s literature, still to be discovered by non-Argentines.

Posted in Argentina | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

At Literatura Argentina Contemporánea, www.literatura.org , a thorough inventory of contemporary famous Argentine writers. Each writer has a page, excerpts from his/her work  and links to his/her personal web pages and blogs. Below, the writer’s index:

  Luis Gusmán
Liliana Heker
Sylvia Iparraguirre
Noé Jitrik
Vlady Kociancich
Alicia Kozameh
Alberto Laiseca
Leónidas Lamborghini
Osvaldo Lamborghini
Leopoldo Marechal
Juan Martini
Guillermo Martínez
Tomás Eloy Martínez
Manuel Mujica Láinez
Gustavo Nielsen
Silvina Ocampo
Alicia Partnoy
Alan Pauls
Néstor Perlongher
Ricardo Piglia
Alejandra Pizarnik
Abel Posse
Manuel Puig
Rodolfo Rabanal
Andrés Rivera
Reina Roffé
Germán Rozenmacher
Ernesto Sábato
Guillermo Saccomanno
Juan José Saer
Beatriz Sarlo
Ana María Shua
Osvaldo Soriano
Alicia Steimberg
Héctor Tizón
Pablo Urbanyi
Paco Urondo
Luisa Valenzuela
David Viñas
María Elena Walsh
Rodolfo Walsh
Marcelo Zamboni

Posted in Argentina | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

Reinaldo Arenas

January 11, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Born in Cuba in 1943, Reinaldo Arenas committed suicide  in New York in 1990. The most talented contemporary Cuban writer, he was imprisoned in the revolutionary Cuba because of being a dissident and gay. Exiled in the United States, he remained tenderly attached to his land and people, and his work is one of the most poignant testimonies of the dark side of the Cuban revolution. His autobiography, Antes que anochezca, Before Night Falls, is a must read for all the writers in the continent. His powerful voice,  impregnated with the Cuban sensuousness and beauty, will haunt American and Latin American readers along the century. He lived in both sides of the Americas and experienced both sides of the mirror with his eyes wide open and all the joy and tragedy of the world in his heart.

The Colombian writer Jaime Manrique reads an excerpt of his essay “A Sadness as Deep as the Sea” on the last days of Reinaldo Arena:

http://www.actupny.org/diva/CBmanrique.html

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Gabriel García Márquez

January 11, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Gabo doesn’t need an introduction, because every writer in the world knows and loves him. But a continental library would be incomplete without his smile and his joy.

My prefered García Márquez work has never been the world-famous Cien años de soledad, that One Hundred Years of Solitude which won him the Nobel Prize, but an earlier brief, modest story El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba, (No One Writes to the Colonel) which showed from start all his greatness and heart.

Born in Colombia, in 1927, he has been widely translated and published.

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Clarice Lispector

January 11, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Brazil has a rich literature which can be compared in its variety, freedom, and excellence to its better known music and lyrics. Clarice Lispector(1920-1977) was an innovative writer, often compared to Virginia Wolf and James Joyce, but who has nevertheless a style of her own, bending sometimes language to access that surreal territory which is a trademark in Brazilian culture.

Some of her best work has been translated: Perto do Coração Selvagem (Near to the Wild Heart ) and  A paixão segundo G.H. (The Passion According to G.H.). A novelist and a short story writer, Clarice has been rediscovered by the new generation of Latin American women writers.

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Miguel Brascó

January 11, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Born in the Argentine province of Santa Fé in 1926, Miguel Brascó spent his first twelve years of life in Patagonia. Many of his extraordinary poems and his novel Querido Huacho have the Patagonian imprint of spiritual sensuousness. A prestigious journalist, the starter of too many to count refined magazines, Brascó is one of the most endearing characters in Buenos Aires, and an icon of good taste in wine, food and literature. Above all, a poet, who has introduced a couple of generations of journalists into the art of good writing and, by now,  several generations of Argentines into the art of good living.

Posted in Argentina | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

Alan Pauls

January 11, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

A great journalist and a superb poet, Miguel Brascó, who can be seen sometimes on TV as a wine expert, invented in the early 80’s a magazine, Quark, which was to be written only by the most talented young writers. They had to be truly talented and not older than 25. He chose an experienced director, another wonderful writer who had been a sensation when young and an open-minded and kind professional, Diego Baracchini, who chose yours truly to organize this blooming bunch of young talents. Among them, one excelled. He was 18 or so, just out from the French High School in Buenos Aires, and quickly showed he would become someone in the literary world. He was not only extremely talented, but also very good-looking and with a nice way to relate to everyone. Alan Pauls is today the most renowned still “young” Argentine author, in the same country that didn’t realize who Borges was until he was way beyond his 50′s.

His novel, The Past, won the Herralde award for novels, one of the most coveted recognitions in Spanish language, and has been translated into English. Pauls  has recently published a new novel, Historia del Llanto, the moving memory of a child in the 70’s  Argentina. In this interview, he explains his point of view on how memory works and why he chose this theme for his novel. 

Interview to Alan Pauls (In French) at: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8wylk_alan-pauls-creation

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Carlos Monsiváis

January 4, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

 Mexico has great essayists, bright intellectuals concerned with the eternal Latin American theme of national identities. If Octavio Paz is the undeniable front-runner of this lineage of writers,  Carlos Monsiváis (Mexico, 1938)represents the contemporary continuity of his thought.

In his essay “Aires de familia, ” which won the Spanish award Premio Anagrama de Ensayo, he explores the common traits of Latin American societies and describes the visible and deep cultural unity  that lies under them.

Its chapters,  About the versions of pop, South of the Border, Down Mexico’s Way (sic), But, were there actually a thousand heroes?, and Prophets of a new world, among others, cover a variety of themes that go from soap operas to great writers, such as the Cuban Guillermo Cabrera Infante, from history to politics.

Monsiváis, the current best known Mexican cultural critic remains untranslated, as many or most of the authors  quoted in this informal library, showing a gap to fill if we are actually going fully continental.

Posted in Mexico | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

Borges and Bioy Casares

January 3, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Of course, there is Jorge Luis Borges, probably the best known Argentine author and the only one to be acknowledged as part of the universal literary canon. His best friend  Adolfo Bioy Casares, an equally talented writer, kept a diary in which his almost daily meetings with Borges can be read as the most intimate report ever given on Borges or as a critical essay on literature through both friends’ endless comments about books and writers.

It’s only after Bioy Casares died that this diary could be published. Before Bioy (as we Argentines refer to him, shortening his last name) only Estela Canto, a former Borges girl friend and a writer herself, dared to unveil the secret Borges. While she rather centered on Borges’ love behavior, Bioy delivers his friend’s words and deeds without any previous interest or artifice, simply reporting their hours together. Bioy was married to an extraordinary writer, Silvina Ocampo, and one of the most frequent entries in the diary is “Borges comes for dinner.”  When  Borges, at the end of his life, married María Kodama, their friendship withered and there are still talks in town about how and why Bioy disapproved this union. Does this post sound gossipy? It reflects Bioy’s book, the biggest gossip collection about Borges, besides being an exemplary literary journal in Spanish language.

Posted in Argentina | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

Sarmiento

January 2, 2010 by Diana Ferraro | Edit

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was the best 19th century Argentine writer, the President of Argentines and the first public Argentine man who discovered the potential of the United States as an inspiration for a less developed Argentina, at a moment in which Argentina was divided in those who were still culturally attached to Spain and those who saw the example to follow in Great Britain or France. He had that stroke of genius, as the Aquarian he was, to understand what the United States would mean for the Americas. He even started a magazine called Ambas AmericasBoth Americas, with the intention to link them culturally and politically. 

 Vastly discussed for his theories against the nationalist ruler of Argentina, Juan Manuel de Rosas, and the poorest and “savage” lower classes who loved him,  Sarmiento  has  nevertheless been the unquestionable creator of public education in Argentina, which he started with the help of several American teachers who traveled to Buenos Aires. A friend of Horace Mann and, later, of his widow, Mary Mann, he visited them in Concord, Massachusetts, where he also met Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

A prolific writer, he was mostly a journalist and an essayist. His masterpiece Facundo, Civilization and Barbary, an essay on Facundo Quiroga, a provincial gaucho leader, who Sarmiento considered his enemy and the most achieved  example of barbary, represents the best metaphor on Argentine civil wars, that have opposed centralized power against local powers, local barbaric American identity against civilized European culture or the rural Argentina against the almighty Buenos Aires city.

A must read for all those interested in Argentine literature and culture.

Posted in Argentina | Tagged | Leave a Comment »

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