The Roar of Morning by Tip Muragg takes us for a ride through the island of Curaçao. It’s a sleepless night, and a man drinking both Dutch beer and whisky looks back at his life, and tumultuous events in the South American Continent.
I was so surprised to find a novel written in Dutch, about a former Dutch colony to be so Latin-American in flavor. It really felt like something written during the Latin American boom. Is it because the author is of Venezuelan descent, a Spanish speaker and lived in Venezuela for a while? Or is this due to the island’s mix heritage? I can’t say. But, If you love Garcia Marquez, you’d love this.
I LOVED Mexican Gothic more than I thought I would. And it’s not that it was over-hyped (was it?), or any of the negative comments circulating about it. It’s just that horror and romance are not my genres. But I did love it. I loved how it was slow paced, building up the excitement until past mid-book. I loved how authentic it felt, all those references to Mexican culture that made me nostalgic for my grandpa, and the deep side of it: the exploration of colonialism and eugenics. But most of it, it’s just an easy, addictive read. And some readers thought it should have content warnings, but I thought it was not too explicit or full of gore. It was pretty mild, in my opinion.
August is Women in Translation Month, and a good opportunity to explore some new territory. I am one who shies away from reading Latinx authors translated into English, but it’s so hard to get affordable copies in original version in Dallas that I threw the towel and got “Fish Soup” by Margarita García Robayo from my local library. This is actually a collection of two novellas and some short stories.
While reading, the question: “are you plot or character driven” kept coming up on my mind. Her characters are so unlikable, but I read in an interview that that’s on purpose. She wanted her characters to be flawed and real, with common passions and frustrations. And I think she managed that pretty well. I was definitely hooked on the plot, and liked how she set the environment, but these novellas and stories are still not action packed. You get the feeling that everything is left in the air, unresolved. Pretty much like real life.
I could relate to that feeling of frustration and stagnation that comes from being born middle class in Latin America. Nothing seems to happen in the middle, yet we all feel that social climbing is a possibility. Through trapped in a society where your family name and distance to power is the only way to ascend the social ladder, middle classes are still under the spell of meritocracy. If I go to the right schools maybe I’ll meet someone with connections that’ll take me somewhere. If I set up my small corner shop selling trinkets or get a taxi concession, a few years of hard work will reap great results. But in reality, we just barely make ends meet most months, get in debt those when we can’t, and generation after generation fight the same problems, carry the same burden.
Fans of American Dirt will say that this collection is not “Latinx enough”. There’s no drug violence, soap opera stars or migrants on top of trains. Just cabin-crew members with dreams of Miami, widows fighting cancer, fishermen struggling with the effects of climate change and catholic school girls sick of misogynistic messages shoved up their throats. So it might not be the Latin America that lives in the minds of some Americans, but it’s definitely the Latin America I lived in for over 20 years.
Borges and I is classified as a memoir or non-fiction. I thought it was a book of non-fiction, a memoir or travel diary of sorts. So throughout the book I felt puzzled by Borges as a character, by Jay Parini’s own depiction of himself but mostly how did so many of Borges’ stories were woven into the text. The way that the plot advanced, seemed too tidy to be true. The author explains in his foreword, this is a work of auto-fiction. Now it all adds up. I must confess, had I known I would have never picked it up. What troubles we about this über-white depiction of a trip with Borges through the Scottish Highlands is:
(1) Borges feels very much like a character, and one drawn upon stereotypes of artistic geniuses. He is quirky, extravagant and self-centered. Childlike but wise in a way that only artists are meant to be.
(2) Borges is exoticized in a typical way that Latinxs tend to be portrayed, but made “acceptable” by being racially white, of Nordic or European origins. As a Latinx, this felt familiar and very troublesome.
(3) The author proudly shrouds himself with white privilege. He has never read Borges, all authors mentioned are white, the ideal feminine beauty is very Nordic, and he goes on to say that slavery would have disappeared by itself even if the Civil War had never happened. Worse, that the reconstruction was even worse than slavery. Poison usually uttered by white people who had no idea what slavery really is or means. It made me cringe, to be honest.
(4) Though he tries to give its women characters a feminist, independent twists, they are still only sexual-props and his attitude towards them is terribly condescending. He marvels that they know history, read poems or have heard about Borges. Terrible and uncomfortable.
But don’t let me disuade you. It’s not all bad. It is a very entertaining book, though pedantic as Jay Parini is himself as a character. Borges is a very fun character. Borges’ genius and influence does shine through the book and it does serve as a good introduction to Borges’ Ficciones. Finally, the idea of the book is a creative rework of Borges’ short story “Borges and I”, published in his collection “The Maker” (“El Hacedor”). The title, The Maker derives from the Scots word “makar”, which I think it’s pretty clever given that Borges is a character and Scotland is the background. I would recommend it if you plan on reading Borges and would like a little background on his stories. But never loose sight of the truth: this is not Borges but a character by a white author, with all that cultural baggage that it brings.
This review includes spoilers. I don’t usually mind them since I feel that they allow me to understand the book better from the start, but if you do, please do not read any further. A spoiler-free review has been posted to my Instagram page (@literaryinfatuation).
If I could sum up this short and captivating novel in one word I’d say: Resurrection. José, husband of Laura and father to a one year-old girl named Antonia, lives in a small town in Argentina. On arriving to work one morning, he discovers that the factory where we worked was burned to the ground. Consequently, his wife decides to go back to work early and takes a position as a proofreader at the same company, rather than her old job as editor. José, on the other hand, becomes a full-time dad and housekeeper. Laura works long hours, has a very long commute and feels very frustrated due to her demotion. Her spirits are down, and if you couple that with José’s own frustration at his new situation, marital problems are unavoidable. José is bored, frustrated and feeling utterly at loss, how will he fill in the long hours? He quickly devotes his whole energy and time to fixing things around the house and being the perfect dad, husband and housekeeper. He discovers that he is actually pretty good at it, even if Laura seems to mind everything he does or does not do. One day he even decides to start composting and growing vegetables in his garden and heads over to his next door neighbor to ask for a spade. What follows is a crazy journey, full of murder, obsession and paranoia. The novel takes this crazy twist pretty early on, and José’s narration full of frustration becomes even muddier. His marriage gets worse. He loses control of his life and starts losing faith on his dream to become a writer, which he had left long behind to be able to provide for his family. What we will discover along with José in his journey, is the resurrection of lives lost, resurrection of his marriage, and resurrection of his dreams.
If you are a fan of Tolstoy or Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel, I feel pretty confident that you’ll love this short novel, packing a lot of action and intrigue in less than 200 pages. If you love authors who “show rather than tell”, you’ll find this story right up your alley.
The only reason why it is a 4 star rather than a 5 star read for me has nothing to do with the author himself. Though I have not had a chance to get a hold of an original version in Spanish, I feel that the translator made sentences shorter to make the narration sound more similar to what it would have if it were written in English. That is not necessarily bad, but being that it is supposed to be the rambling of a very disturbed and confused person, it makes it feel at times unnatural. Plus, as a native speaker of Spanish, such short sentences do not seem possible or natural in the speech of an Argentinian, much less a very frustrated and upset one. I think that the translator should have given the reader a bit more credit. If the reader can figure out dialogues without any punctuation or spacing, then she/he can handle a few long sentences. Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough.