Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bolano's Vagabonds

A very well written and understanding insight into Roberto Bolano's The savage detectives, by Daniel Zalewski in the New Yorker. This critique highlights the essential elements of this novel and the various exigencies that are central to Bolano's writing style and the raison de etre of his oeuvre. Besides offering biographical details, it shows Bolano's mistrust of magic realism and the reasons why and allows us to understand his restored relationship and respect for Borges and Hopscotch (For Bolaño, Cortázar’s moody novel “Hopscotch” was the Beginning and the End, precisely because it has neither a beginning nor an end.) Of course, some calculation lay behind his position. There was one living Latin-American novelist whose avid bookishness and formal cleverness made him the obvious heir to the modernist tradition: Roberto Bolaño.

Titled Vagabonds, this article is one of the best I have read about Bolano so far, as it traces his own life and its various key points and offers a parallel into the key areas of his fiction. Most of his short and long stories deal with Literature, which he he declared, “is the product of a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen, and tears.” When asked by the Mexican edition of Playboy to name his favorite things, he cited “the literature of Borges” and “making love.” He said that the Nobel Prize was typically won by “jerks.” Bolaño played up his hippie past, claiming to have lived for years on “a diet of rice.” Despite the diaspora evoked in “The Savage Detectives,” he rejected the idea that his work was a “literature of exile.” He wrote, “For a true writer, his only homeland is the bookstore.” He still considered himself primarily a poet: “I blush less when I reread my poems.

This issue of the New Yorker has a short story by Bolano called The insufferable gaucho. There is an interesting comparison between Sebald and Bolano here, along with a few very interesting reviews and critiques about his work in English so far.

I will endeavour to write the second part of my own homage to the Savage detectives soon.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

If I Had Asked

When we met last
near those familiar stone steps,
you apologetic somehow and me somewhat
I did not turn back and look again
to see the sad poetry of that moment.
words seemed needless then, even though
the need was great.

And now, years later,
I think of that moment and wonder
why I must carry the solitude of those hours
till I can carry on.
I wish I had turned back and disturbed
the sad poetry of that moment,
and asked you, why?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

To Be Read In the Interrogative

A great poem by Julio Cortazar.

Have you seen
Have you truly seen
the snow the stars the felt steps of the breeze
Have you touched
really have you touched
the plate the bread the face of that woman you love
so much
Have you lived
like a blow to the head
the flash the gasp the fall the flight
Have you known
known in every pore of your skin
how your eyes your hands your sex your soft heart
must be thrown away
must be wept away
must be invented all over again

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Visceral Realism

Finally, having overcome my hesitant hesitation in writing about The Savage Detectives, I am writing this first of three posts about this great novel.
Published as Los detectives salvages in 1998 and translated into English by Natasha Wimmer and only available in 2007, this novel is what one must read before all world happens, after everything else has happened. For each page, each nuance and every turn in this long novel is a step towards poetry.

It is divided into three sections, the first one called Mexicans lost in Mexico. This is how it begins......

November 2
I have been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way.

November 3
I am not really sure what visceral realism is........................

Thus begins one great narration, delivered by a 17 year old aspiring poet called Juan Garcia Madero. It ends on the 31st of December, as Garcia Madero jumps into a car with the visceral realists, as they are being shot at, looking at shadows.
all the sadness of the world was concentrated in that shadow, he tells us.

The diary is straight forward, revealing the extreme pain of being a gawky young poet, in Mexico city as our Madero jumps into visceral realism. At his poetic workshop, he gets bored till he runs into Ulises Lima and Belano ( bolano's alter ego), founders of this realism. He decides that leaving school is better, and joins the fraternity of unemployed, hopeful, hesitant, energetic poets who follow the moon rather than the sun. Madero falls in love many times, till he finally falls in love with maria, perhaps an ex visceral realist herself. This ends in failure, and Madero starts living with a bar maid till he leaves her for maria again, which ends in Madero fleeing with Lima and Belano into the Mexican desert.

But is that all? No. Let us see what visceral realism is.
Madero, whilst in a bar hears a singer and then tells us........the song sounded to me like a bolero, about a desperate love, a love that could never heal, although with the passage of the years it became more humiliating, more pathetic, more terrible. With these sensibilities, Madero reveals an undying love for sadness in beauty, which I think is the true definition of beauty. This beauty can only be found in poetry and writing, in associating with this underground movement, called visceral realism, for it is an alternative answer to the established voice of literature, which Madero calls pet it-bourgeoisie, as all visceral realists must be basically proletarians.

Madero spends all his time in poetry, for the world outside poetry is outside realism. He follows Lima and Belano, borrowing books from them, even at times stealing them. Madero feels a physical need to hear one of her poems from her own lips. Madero, who has left his family, drifts from place to place like a piece of flotsam. This drift is not a physical drift but a poetic drift. At a book shop, Madero hears the owner saying that realism is never visceral, visceral belongs to the oneiric world, which he finds disconcerting. the underprivileged youth were left with no alternative but the literary avant-garde. the problem with literature, like life, goes he is that in the end people always turn into bastards.

Visceral realism is always in madero's mind, even after frenetic love making with his barmaid. In one sense, madero says, the name of the group is a joke. at the same time, it is completely in earnest. according to Belano, the visceral realists vanished in the Sonora desert. the visceral realists walked backward. backward, gazing at a point in the distance, but moving away from it, walking straight toward the unknown.

Madero never discusses visceral realism with Lima or Belano directly. There is a deliberate mystery about the group, which Madero finds intriguing. However, he does rebel occasionally at the concept of this realism but is loath to distance himself from Belano and Lima. In between marijuana and endless tequila's, Madero the lover is actually Madero the poet. His affiliation to the literary world is very solid, which makes him accept the friendly overtures of Lima and Belano, who until the first section ends, are like ghosts on the fringe, like some dictators who own or direct this group, in the drone and darkness of Mexico City nights, purging the group of faulty poets and then denying this purge altogether.

However, they seem like men of action, revelaed on the last page of section 1, as they help Maria's father, whose house is under siege by criminals, as both Lima and Belano jump into a white impala, along with Lupe, maria's friend ( who is escaping a fiendish pimp). Our young poet Madero, unafraid, jumps into this impala too. It seems that Lima and Belano's real mission is to track down Cesarea Tinajero, an obscure Mexican poet of the thirties who disappeared into the desert, taking with her the great unpublished gems of Mexican poetry. Thus, Lima and Belano, literary detectives, travel on this savage mission, themselves hunted, destined for violence, poetry and exile.

This is Bolano's persistent theme, especially passionately written in last evenings on earth and in amulet. Madero, who reads at a frenetic pace, throws writers and poets at you on each and every page. This section is like a catalogue of Latin American poetry and literature. The necessary theme, the real action in this section is expressed by Madero, a young poet who leaves his family and lives like a nomad in Mexico city, drifting, sighing, drinking, loving but always, always in poetry. His flight into the desert is his answer and his response against the night of his city.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rita And The Rifle

A beautiful poem by Mahmoud Darwish. A few poems of Darwish here, and interview with the poet here.

Between Rita and my eyes
There is a rifle
And whoever knows Rita
Kneels and plays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes
And I kissed Rita
When she was young
And I remember how she approached
And how my arm covered the loveliest of braids
And I remember Rita
The way a sparrow remembers its stream
Ah, Rita
Between us there are a million sparrows and images
And many a rendezvous
Fired at by a rifle

Rita's name was a feast in my mouth
Rita's body was a wedding in my blood
And I was lost in Rita for two years
And for two years she slept on my arm
And we made promises
Over the most beautiful of cups
And we burned in the wine of our lips
And we were born again

Ah, Rita!
What before this rifle could have turned my eyes from yours
Except a nap or two or honey-colored clouds?
Once upon a time
Oh, the silence of dusk
In the morning my moon migrated to a far place
Towards those honey-colored eyes
And the city swept away all the singers
And Rita

Between Rita and my eyes—
A rifle

Sunday, September 23, 2007

An Extract From The Savage Detectives

Here follows this delightful extract from Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives, narrated by one of the numerous narrators in this great novel. I will write about this savage novel soon.


All literature could be classified as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Novels, in general, were heterosexual, whereas poetry was completely homosexual; I guess short stories were bisexual, although he didn't say so.

Within the vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents: faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs and philenes. But the two major currents were faggots and queers. Walt Whitman, for example, was a faggot poet. Pablo Neruda, a queer. William Blake was definitely a faggot. Octavio Paz was a queer. Borges was a philene, or in other words he might be a faggot one minute and simply asexual the next. Ruben Dario was a freak, in fact, the queen freak, the prototypical freak.

Freaks were closer to madhouse flamboyance and naked hallucination, while faggots and queers wandered in stagger-steps from ethics to aesthetics and back again.Cernuda, dear Cernuda, was a nymph, and at moments of great bitterness, a faggot, whereas Guillen, Alexaindre and Alberti could be considered a sissy, butch, and a queer respectively. As a general love, poets like Carlos Pellicer were butches, while poets like Tablada, Novo, and Renato Leduc were sissies. In fact, there was a dearth of faggots in Mexican poetry, although some optimists might point to Lopez Velarde or Efrain Huerta.

Anyway, the poetry scene was essentially an underground battle, the result of the struggle between faggot poets and queer poets to seize control of the word. Sissies, were faggot poets by birth, but who out of weakness or for comfort's sake lived within and accepted - most of the time- the aesthetic and personal parameters of the queers. In Spain, France and Italy, queer poets have always been legion, he said, although a superficial reader might never guess. What happens is that a faggot poet like Leopardi, for example, somehow reconstructs queers like Ungaretti, Montale , and Quasimodo, the deadly trio.

In the same way, Pasolini redraws contemporary Italian queerdom. take the case of poor Sanguinetti. Not to mention France, great country of devouring mouths, from Villon to our beloved Sophie Podolski, have nurtured, still nurture, and will nurture with the blood of their tits ten thousand queer poets with their entourage of philenes, nymphs, butches, and sissies, lofty editors of literary magazines, great translators, petty bureaucrats, and grand diplomats of the kingdom of letters. and the less said the better of the faggotry of the Russian revolution, which if we are to be honest, gave us just one faggot poet, a single one.

Mayakovsky? No
Esenin? No
Pasternak? Blok? Mandelstam? Akhmatova?
There was only one but he was the real thing, a steppes-and -snow-faggot, a faggot from head to toe: Khlebnikov.

And in Latin America how many true faggots do we find? Vallejo and Martin Adan. period. New paragraph. Macedonio Fernandez, maybe? The rest are queers like Huidobrio, fairies like Alfonso Cortes, butches like Leon De Greiff, butch nymphs like Pablo De Rokha, sissies like Lezama Lima, a misguided reader of Gongora, and along with Lezama, all the poets of the Cuban revolution. In Nicaragua most poets are fairies like Coronel Urtecho or queers who wish they were philenes, like Ernesto Cardenal.

Gorostiza's death without end, alongwith the poetry of Paz, is the Marseillase of highly nervous and sedentary Mexican Poetry. More names: Gelman, nymph; Benedetti, queer; Nicanor Parra, fairy with a hint of faggot; Westphalen, freak; Enrique Lihn, sissy; Girondo, fairy; Nuno, fairy butch; Sabines, butchy butch; and back to Spain, back to the beginning, faggots. End of story. And now, some differences beween queers and faggots.............................

Friday, September 21, 2007

Book Tags

In response to a tag from flowerville.......

Total number of books owned

Well....Never done this before. I am poor at deciding about hates and loves generally. But I am participating with some relish. I will only consider the last 2 years, since they have been kind in allowing some freedom to read much more than before. In the last 2 years, I have bought 270 plus books. These include novels, poems and essays, and some philosophy. I don't borrow from my local library as it is not worth the trouble. If I consider the books that I actually own, then the number is greater. Some books have been borrowed by friends over the years and not returned.

Last book bought

The day before.........The Obscene Bird Of Night, Donoso. I have not started reading it yet. I am attracted to the cover. I am a cover fetishist but not literally. I buy books in sprees. It is a kind of sad mania. Whenever I am in a bookshop, I lose concentration and get restless. I throw my love at books. My favourite bookshop is Borders, but I generally buy online.

Last book read

Amulet, by Roberto Bolano. I wrote a post about it yesterday. I don't generally write about any book I read until weeks or months later. I let it simmer and seethe inside. Amulet is an exception. I had to do something to do something about it. I do not know why I had ignored it till now. I don't know why things and books ignore us sometimes. I read it at the suggestion of atenea, whose blog I admire without knowing how to read it.

I have this strange habit of reading a few books at the same time. They exist in parallel worlds and do not generally meet. I am reading Landscapes of war by Juan Goytisolo, Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, Querelle Of Brest by Jean Genet, Dancing Arabs by Sayed Kashua.......... I must pick up The obscene bird now.

Five books that mean a lot to you

Like Alok, I will not include the Russians or books read more than 2 years ago.

The book of disquiet by Fernando Pessoa: I have named my blog after this book. It needs no praises from myself. Suffice to say that it is a wonderfully disconcerting experience to read it. It is the love of the morbid and a simultaneous running away from it. It is truly great. Everyone should read it more than once and then many times afterwards.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar: I have read the first two pages many, many times. It reminds me of my own circle that is now scattered, seperated by the Atlantic. It also makes me jealous, considering the bohemian, love struck, star struck eyes and the sad sad jazz all over its pages. I think it is a sad novel despite the hyper, experimental text.

The savage detectives by Roberto Bolano: I have not written about this book here because I feel unable to. I completed it this July, after my own departure lounges had saturated my eyes. No body writes like Bolano, honestly. He grows upon you. It is LSD for the soul and the crash. All those who love writing and writers and books and the folklore of this love must read it. And the politics is the blade behind the words. I love Latin American fiction, not just the usual tame magic realism type.

the loser by Thomas Bernhard: This book is better than one thinks it is. It gave me the expression I thought I should have known before, namely deterioration process. I have actually not been fazed by my own deterioration process since reading it, as one East Anglian friend must know.

I saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti: I am a bit biased against the Arab novel sometimes for it lacks the formal structure of the novel in the western sense. I think the novel is a western European invention. That aside, this novel is pure elegy, calm one however. It tells you of the pain of not returning to what was once home. Barghouti is a great poet and this novel is a tribute to Palestinian pain and all freedom lovers generally. Insomniacs must avoid this book.

I must mention that I have not listed the Russians or Joyce, Melville or Jean Genet or Nabokov or Sebald. This summer I discovered Juan Goytisolo but the trilogy is partly unread. Goytisolo, is the writer's writer, the poets poet. I have also not mentioned poetry, for then I would talk about Federico Garcia Lorca or Borges or Darwish.

One book that I did not like that I read this year is war and war by Krasznahorkai.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Roberto Bolano's Amulet

If the beginning sentences of By night in chile are legion by now, this is how amulet begins............This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection and horror. But it won't appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won't seem like that. I am a friend to all Mexicans. I could say I am the mother of Mexican poetry, but I better not. I know all the poets and all poets know me. so I could say it. I could say one mother of a zephyr is blowing down the centuries, but I better not.

What are the ways or means with which one can say that this writer or novel is nearly enough? how can one measure the heartache of words, phantasms that words conjure, endless stealth in poetry, drama, emotion and the reality of life? One of the possible answers lies in reading Roberto Bolano. Such is the magic of his writing, stupendous poetry, reams of palpitations, dizzy heartaches. Bolano grows on you till other writers seem pale, even insignificant. I cannot make this outlandish claim that only some can like Bolano or that you must be in exile yourself or know what heartache is or that some sunsets have been witnessed and rehearsed now in memory alone.

No, I will not say that one should be a poet oneself or understand the music of words or be of a certain romantic temperament to get addicted to Bolano. I will not write here that Bolano must be read at midnight near the window, with a burning cigarette in ones hands. Obviously these things are desirable but not essential. To like Bolano one must have a love of all poets and writers, of displaced poets and forgotten writers, a soft corner for despair, a tender love for forgotten poems, a seething search for mildewed, thumbed memories.

I read Amulet recently at the suggestion of atenea, having not read this novel so far, strangely. I have felt deeply saddened and tranced, so to say, with the seething sadness of this novel. Calling herself the mother of Mexican poets, Auxilio hunts and seeks exiled poets, living with them, reading them, moving on, forgetting some, moving on in the mysteries of this night, this journey, having hidden in the bathroom of a Mexican university while students and teachers are being hounded and killed by the forces that launched the coup in Mexico in 1968. The refrain to this event is constant, for Auxilio reminds us again and again, of Latin America's violent and sad political events. Bolano gives us his alter ego again, called Belano, an autobiographical creation, who having returned from the terrors of Chile, has now changed.

Sometimes, not often, I found paid work; a professor would pay me out of his salary to be a kind of personal assistant, or the department heads or the faculty would put me on a contract for two weeks, a month, or sometimes month and a half, with vague, ambiguous and mostly non-existent duties, or the secretaries—who were so nice, I made friends with them all; they confided in me, told me about their heartaches and their hopes—made sure that their bosses kept finding me odd jobs so that I could earn a few pesos. That was during the day. At night I led what you might call a bohemian life with the poets of Mexico City, which I found deeply rewarding and convenient too, since money was scarce at the time and I didn’t always have enough to pay for lodgings. But most of the time I did. I shouldn’t exaggerate. I had enough money to get by and the poets educated me in Mexican literature by lending me books, their own books of poems for a start (you know what poets are like), the essentials and the classics, so my expenses were minimal…I was happy. The Mexican poets were generous and I was happy.

That is how Auxilio describes her activities. The changes that happen when Auxilio manages to survive are then reflected from her numerous perceptions about Latin america, literature, poetry, war, peace and the events that led to such disasters in latin america.

something is happening as time passes says Auxilio, something that has happened before, although in a sense every time time is the first time so experience counts for nothing, which is better in the end, because experience is generally a hoax.

The time that Auxilio spends in hiding, more than two weeks in the bathroom, while students are being killed, reading poems, writing poems on toilet paper is the moving theme behind her monologue. In essence, Auxilio does not want even to exorcise the ghosts of that time. In effect, she feels guilty for having survived, having seen that violent historical convulsion. From time to time, she reminds the reader of this violent history. There, in the night of this sad revolution, Auxilio moves with young, unknown poets, amongst them Belano himself. There are countless references to poets and writers, in one particular hallucinatory passage, Auxilio predicts the fate of more famous writers. I quote

Metempsychosis. Poetry shall not disappear. Its non-power shall manifest itself in a different form. Cesare Pavese shall become the patron saint of seers and lookers in the year 2034. Pier Paolo Pasolini shall become the patron saint of escapees in the year 2010. And so on.....

As in his other works, Bolano does not mince words. This book is a more open and direct example of what is achieved in other shorter works. I am not referring to his savage detectives, which must be discussed separately. I think that amulet is a far better book than by night in Chile, for it is more poetic, better written, more openly political and more mesmerisingly haunting. It is an example of perfection in form, and lucidity in content. This novel ( a good review here) is thus an example of Bola
no's honesty as a writer and as a political activist.

I think I can only struggle in describing this book, for it is a fantastic novel, an addiction. Parts of Amulet can be read aloud, which is not achieved by many books. I quote this passage from the last page, for in the last few pages, this book soars and hits and ravages like a malignant monster, filled with pain and poetry. The passage below could be written for all those people who have died or are still dying unjustly under the eyes of a blind world.

So the ghost children marched down the valley and fell into the abyss. Their passage was brief. And their ghost song or its echo, which is almost to say the echo of nothingness, went on marching, I could hear it marching on at the same pace, the pace of courage and generosity. A barely audible song, a song of war and love, because although the children were clearl
y marching to war, the way they marched recalled the superb, theatrical attitudes of love. But what kind of love could they have known, I wondered when they were gone from the valley, leaving only their song resonating in my ears. And although the song that I heard was about war, about the heroic deeds of a whole generation of Latin Americans led to sacrifice, I knew that above and beyond all, it was about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure. And that song is our amulet.

A good review here, an an American perspective on Bolano here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ibn Arabi : Seal Of Mystics

The medieval Spanish Muslim mystic, Ibn Arabi is generally regarded as the shaikh- ul -Akbar or the greatest mystic in Sufi terms and in the Western world as Doctor Maximus. His influence, his vast teachings, erudition, writings, many of which have survived to the present day have exerted lasting influence on Sufi mystical thought in addition to re framing the way Sufism can be interpreted in present times for those who do not either understand it or find it too eclectic, too abstract and difficult to come to terms with.

Born in Murcia in Spain, and moving to Seville later, Ibn Arabi moved east wards towards the Arab world, where he achieved fame and some opposition before settling down in Syria, where he lies buried. Thus Ibn Arabi is a Spanish mystic, and his work should be seen in the context of Western Muslim mysticism.It is believed that he had epiphanies and near divine experiences as a young man. He travelled east wards towards the Arab world, visited many places, performed pilgrimages to the holy lands before settling in present day Syria, where he is buried. Ibn Arabi's thoughts and writings have been controversial, at least within conservative Muslim circles, where he has been denounced more than once as heretical and his philosophies and religious approach as outrageously beyond legal Muslim parlance. However, no one can ignore his metaphysics, his self absorbed and fresh attitude towards Sufi practices and his nuanced new eclecticism, which continues to surprise and interest the neutral observer.

One of his most original and daring philosophy is his concept of oneness of creation, also called Wahdat ul Wajud ( pantheism) in Arabic. My own understanding of this is that contrary to monotheistic teachings especially Islamic, Ibn Arabi invites the uninitiated to seek God within every created thing in the universe, allowing each person to re frame monotheism within the arc of created things. In other words, one can seek signs from the natural world, in stones, rivers or flowers and feel these to be peripheral or worldly emanations of the one being. This would allow the person to seek within the limits of his or her temporal experience, a sighting of the divine, the miraculous. This is in contrast to the bare monotheism of Islam, wherein any representation of the divine is heretical. This concept is akin to the one found in the Upanishads, that is of pantheism, but Ibn Arabi is generally considered to have originated this concept in the Muslim world. See here.

I have read with interest and some amazement about Ibn Arabi's life and the biography i refer to, called Quest for the Red sulphur is a well researched attempt to construct his life. written by Claude Addas, the writer allows the reader to glean from Ibn Arabi's experiences what nowadays would be considered impossible happenings. We understand all natural or other phenomena with scientific tools and rightly so and if we use psychological or other tools to understand mystical experiences, we findIbn Arabis life a vast enterprise in epiphany itself.
It is not possible to understand mystical experiences, in a world devoid of miracles and saints. It is beguiling to ask why sainthood has disappeared if at all and how outside canonical religion, one can make sense of this life, literature apart. It is all the more difficult to understand Ibn Arabi and his experiences, for most of these are in the realms of a unique mystic experience. However, another aspect of this experience is the flowering of it in Spain, the western fringe of Islam, a coming together in a non Arab climate of shattering, path breaking Sufi mysticism. Here Ibn Arabi is not alone, for Spain has produced great mystics, not just Muslim mystics, and Spain could be called the land of mystics. Ibn Arabi's work, partly conservative as all Sufi experiences must be, allows the sacred to be understood by the secular, the divine with the ephemeral, thoughts with words, such as had never happened before.

Ibn Arabi was a prolific writer and his greatest works are well preserved and now available in English. his seminal works, Revelations in Mecca, which Ibn Arabi is said to have been revealed to him in a vision and Bezels of Wisdom, difficult to read are cornerstones in Sufi thought. Almost all Sufis have expressed their gratitude and debt to Ibn Arabi, no matter what language they spoke. A profile of Ibn Arabi by William Chittick, famous scholar here. And a link to Ibn Arabi society here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Elias Khoury's Gate Of The Sun

Elias Khoury is often compared with Tolstoy for the range and depth of his works. His most famous novel, Bab El Shams or Gate Of The Sun in English has been translated into a few languages including Hebrew. Khoury is Lebanese and Christian but importantly an Arab and is generally considered to be an important Arab writer. This novel is an ambitious plan to convey the stories of dispossession, of displacement of Palestinians after Israel was created.

Khoury visited the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon for stories from a previous era for he had not witnessed those himself. To write is to act, to transcribe on paper is to prevent an oblivion of these stories, stories of loss, disgrace, pain, exile, heartbreak and the loss of identity and one's home. Susan Sontag describes in an essay how true Literature must reflect the past, the memory of the lost past and not dwell on the immediate present. That gives Literature not charm but grace, not topicality but breadth, humanity and not bravado. On these scales, Khoury excels, and does so remarkably, passionately.

This is not a polemical Palestinian novel, this is not rhetoric, this is not blame but a remembrance of the nakba, the disaster, the catastrophe that Palestine suffered. Because these stories might be forgotten, ordinary stories of ordinary people, Khoury writes them down in a prose of such hesitant beauty, such melodious music and profound melancholy. The novel revolves around stories told by the narrator to an aged Palestinian fighter lying comatose in a hospital. It is a reversal of the Arabian nights for here, the narrator wants to save the dying man's life. The stories reveal the heart wrenching stories of loss and separation, of love and disaster. The fighter is reminded of his wife, whom he used to meet outside a cave called Bab El Shams.

We are told of their courting, their romance, love making and so on, for as important as politics is here, which is there for granted, Khoury takes the task of story telling. Stories of normal people not of myths for the myths are different and are not considered here.

This novel won the Palestine prize and is regarded generally as an epic, brilliant, monumental and groundbreaking. Khoury has been associated with An-nahar, a cultural edition of a Lebanese daily, besides being directly involved with Palestinian politics. This is narration on a grand scale, beauty and pain, joy and despair on the same page. This novel must be read to be felt, for these stories of loss transcend nations and cultures. This novel is unlike anything that Handke might ever write, even though the comparison is wrong. The final lessons, if there are any, is to recognize and feel the awfulness of violated memories, of not being allowed to even voice the pain of pain, of suffering. For the general experience of displaced people worldwide, their voices get drowned amongst the cacophony of fraud messiahs. It is only poets and writers who can save them from fanaa, from total annihilation.

A link to a movie based on this novel here, and and an article by Jeremy Harding here.
An excerpt from words without borders.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Since Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives has already won Latin America's highest literary award, it seems that 2666, his posthumous masterpiece is not eligible for the same. It is mentioned here that the masterpiece that the savage detectives is, is mere juvenilia in comparison to 2666!

Never before have I waited expectantly to read any novel. I understand from the Internet that it will be available in English next year. 2666 is already a masterpiece and has achieved classic status in the Spanish world. The Anglophone world has been raving about Bolano, as his lyricism is being recognised. His savage detectives has been compared to one hundred years of solitude, and at the cost of not sounding extravagant, I think one hundred years, even though it is a great novel, pales in comparison, having read both. Some are talking of a reader antipathy towards Bolano in the English speaking world because of him being constantly praised, as if that matters!

Some interesting reflections on Bolano here. I think my stuttering post does not make obvious the agitation and restlessness that Bolano's writing creates, the haunting night of his prose, the chaining lyricism of his words. I hope that 2666 is translated as brilliantly as his other works so far.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cronopios and Famas : Julio Cortazar

Beneath the apparent, calm calmness that the world presents us with, beneath the general air of restrained music, before sunrise and after sunset, even beneath the music of jazz, between the lines on a sheet of paper, there is violence. We do not know the hidden dangers lurking in each shadow, behind each smile. Storms are easy to behold, sometimes run away from. Thunder, lightning, the brazen act of treachery, the unrequited passion, the false love, the useless poem, the boring novel, the hidden malignancy and disappointing jobs and smokeless days, with all these one can live with and later die of; but it is the false veneer of civilized serenity, the lack of control over external shadows, the lurking danger at each step in this fading world that is grotesque.

Macabre and bizarre, well this is a way of describing this collection of short stories, improvisations and at best prose fragments by Julio Cortazar that defy description, that baffle imagination for they are really what I have seen no writer attempt before. Published as Historias de cronopios y de famas, I came across this 2 years ago in Borges' the library of Babel list. I have read it intermittently, when I want to remind myself of how poetry can still break and create melancholy, how imagination and creativity can save a dull and boring hour, of how bereft of everything life would be without literature, of how well Cortazar wrote. And it is this similar sense of dread and foreboding that I experienced while reading these stories or fragments that I mentioned in the beginning, that grotesque sense of humour, a black art.

Divided into 4 sections, the book starts with the Instruction manual, followed by unusual occupations, unstable stuff and ending in Cronopios and Famas. The instruction manual instructs on how to cry, how to sing, how to be afraid, how to comb the hair, how to kill a witch and wind a watch amongst others. Unusual occupations are short prose pieces including a hilarious piece called the loss and recovery of the hair. Unstable stuff has some fantastic passages and literary rarities like the the behaviour of mirrors on Easter island and this fantastically named story On tending to illustrate the uncertainty of the stability within which we like to believe we exist, or laws could give ground to the exceptions, unforeseen disasters, or improbabilities, and i still want to see you there. The book ends with Cronopios and famas, what a name, what writing, what imagination!

Cortazar claimed to have written this book for fun, and it is considered less important than his other works. However, I think these short and occasionally longer prose writings allow the uninitiated reader into this amazingly rich and imaginary world of Cortazar. There is humour, often dry and black, reflecting in an unglorified way the absurdities of everyday life but with such a heightened sense of invention and literary charm that one finds the game worth more than fun prose. I sense that the other way of describing this work is bizarre, out of ordinary, incomparably rich in a fantastic imagination that this very exaggerated dreamy imagination lifts this work into the heights of sublime literature. This is not just surrealistic prose but also a way, a pose, a smile, a cry and poetic license turned upside down.

The book begins thus, giving a taste of what to expect.......

The job of having to soften up the brick everyday, the job of cleaving a passage through the glutinous mass that declares itself to be the world, to collide every morning with the same narrow rectangular space, the same taste of the same toothpaste, the same sad houses across the street...............
tighten your fingers around a teaspoon, feel its metal pulse, its mistrustful warning. how it hurts to refuse a spoon, to say no to a door, to deny everything that habit has licked to a suitable smoothness. how much simpler to accept the easy request of the spoon, to use it, to stir the coffee.

In his on how to be afraid, Cortazar writes......

opening the door of the wardrobe to take out a shirt, an old almanac falls out which comes apart immediately, pages falling out and crumbling, and covers the white linen with millions of dirty paper butterflies.

Cronopios and famas ( a good link here) are imaginary creations of Cortazar, along with Esperanzas, first used in this book. he avoids giving them definite characteristics apart from describing them as indolent, naive, sensitive and idealistic in contrast to fa mas who are opposite and Esperanzas who are dull. In fact, the great novel 62: A Model Kit is dedicated to Cronopio Paul Blackburn, translator of Cortazar's few works. It is an amazing feat of imagination, for this is literary daring at its best. It also suggests something bizarre, outre, fantastical, out of the ordinary. Herein are described the behaviour of these fantastic creatures, their habits, dances, moods. how they travel, how they preserve memory ( here) and their songs.

One should never commit this sin of asking the point of these stories. That is a facile, puerile task. This book or collection showcases the talents of a literary giant, a bohemian poet, an artist, a great humorist, a lover of music, a tragedian and a master of sad music. The unimportant or academic question is....Is he Latin America's greatest writer?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Maybe The Most Beloved

I like this Julio Cortazar poem a lot, especially the last two lines. It is in his poem collection called Save Twilight. ( Salvo el Crepusculo) A good guide to Save Twilight here.

You gave me stormy weather
with just the shadow of your hand
across my face.
You gave me the cold, the distance,
the bitter midnight coffee
among empty tables.

It always started raining
in the middle of the movie,
and waiting amid the petals
of the flower I brought you: a spider.

I think you knew it was there
and enjoyed the awkward moment.
I always forgot the umbrella
when I went to pick you up,
the restaurant was always crowded
and on the corners they were hawking war.

I was a tango lyric
to your indifferent tune.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Melancholy Folklore Of Exile : Roberto Bolano

A poet writes Roberto Bolano in the short story Enrique Martin can endure anything. Which amounts to saying that a human being can endure anything. But that is not true. There are obviously limits to what a human being can endure. Really endure. A poet, on the other hand, can endure anything. But, that way lie ruin, madness and death. Thus Bolano sets the tone for the exiled, distressed poet or writer, giving the poet the role that is his or her right, and also setting no limits for this trade. Art for arts sake does not matter here, this is a difficult path, ending in ruin and madness and death.

I think that after Manuel Puig, the writings of Bolano have always excited me. Well, I mean that Bolano gives me a heartache. It sounds quite puerile, almost dilettantish twitter. Bolano gives words to the night of emotions, to a sunset he will add more fire, to parting more pain. Since he is also a poet, he writes his prose like a poet, thus becoming a prose poet. And since he writes about the past, in the past tense and gives it that favourite music of sadness, my favourite music, Bolano enters the pantheon of greatness as a writer. I have been remiss in not writing about him earlier but I am amending that mistake now.

I will write about his Savage Detectives or By Night In Chile some other time. For now, I want to share my thoughts on the collection of his short stories called Last evenings on earth. ( A good review here) .These 14 stories are generally linked together by a theme..........the theme of failure, in this case as a writer in permanent exile. Most of the characters, there stories narrated to us by another writer called B, are living away from Chile, sometimes in Spain, in Mexico or elsewhere. The common link is this desire or unfulfilled desire to write, to publish and to be known. But in one way or the other, their desires have melted into the sands of time, along with the currents of their own youth. He talks about failed writers, barely scraping a living. Bolano makes one understand their incessant attempts from their point of view, without the narrator moralising or trying to pass judgement on their work. Most of the time, B is sympathetic to the exiles and he recognizes their point of view.

Each story has its niche in this collection, though some are outstanding. My personal favourites are Sensini, Gomez Palacio, Vagabond in France and Belgium, Dentist and Dance card. Some others are sketches, equally good. B is himself a vagabond, a drifter, an artist, a writer, an activist, exiled, on the run, witness, poet, martyr, sufferer. He collects suffering, he looks for faded poets, failed writers. This is acutely visible in the vagabond story. Why..........because nobody else is. In Sensini, the older writer whose son has disappeared in Chile encourages B to send his stories to literary competitions, for the obscured writer, that is salvage. In this story there is an acute sense of loss but no sentimental melodrama.

Bolano is a literary stylist. But this seems quite natural. It seems to come without effort. The prose has menace, tightness, economy of expression and a spare beauty. The sentences are sometimes short, tight lipped, as if a detective story is being narrated. Then there is lyricism, poetry, wit, biting wit, self censure, sarcasm, irony but no sentimentalism. This is very evident in last evenings on earth and the dentist. The protagonist is always wary of something, something is bound to go wrong. This adds to the atmospheric chill and danger of his landscapes which are bare, coarse, tacky and sad. Consider this marvellous passage, when B's friend invites him to read a young Mexican Indian's stories somewhere in the middle of the night.........

from somewhere deep inside i was watching our movements, which seemed to be orchestrated with an almost supernatural precision, and although i knew that those movements were not leading us toward any physical risk, i was also aware that in another sense we were venturing into dangerous territory, from which we would not be allowed to return without having paid a toll of pain or estrangement, a toll that would eventually come to regret.

Something deep lurks in the shadows. One thinks that some secret police or informer is out to nab our poets for he has escaped, for he is exiled. This merges with supernatural descriptions, questions, doubts, like in Gomez Palacio........what color is the desert at night? a stupid rhetorical question, yet somehow i felt it held the key to my future, or perhaps not so much my future as my capacity for suffering.

In Dance Card, which is hauntingly eloquent, B ponders about Hitler, Neruda and women tortured in Mexico by fanatical regimes, saying that they eventually died of sadness, after being tortured. Is it possible to die of sadness? yes it is. it is possible to die of hunger. it is even possible to die of spleen, of morbus melancholicus.
I think of the poets who died under torture, who died of AIDS, or overdosed, all those who believed in a Latin American paradise and died in a Latin American hell. i think of their works, which may, perhaps, show the left a way out of the pit of shame and futility.

Bolano the writer is Bolano the activist. He takes sides, suffers. The true path of literature lies in taking sides, in allowing the artist, the sad but committed artist, the path for an affirmation. In this quest, Bolano has succeeded. This is realism, not magic realism. Roberto Bolano is easily the best Latin American writer of the last 25 years.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Last Year In Marienbad

I walk on, once again, down these corridors, through these halls, these galleries, in this structure of another century, this enormous, luxurious, baroque, lugubrious hotel, where corridors succeed endless corridors--silent deserted corridors overloaded with a dim, cold ornamentation of woodwork, stucco, moldings, marble, black mirrors, dark paintings, columns, heavy hangings, sculptured door frames, series of doorways, galleries, transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls ........

This is how the narrator starts to take his grip on us as he begins speaking in slightly hushed and later more raspy tones. The movie Last Year In Marienbad begins with a melodious, long tracking shot of this hotel described above, and we are seemingly at a loss as to what is going to be shown. Released in 1961, made by Alain Resnais, this movie was released to critical acclaim. It has created a raging debate since then. The new wave of French cinema was going hand in hand with nouveau roman, in the literary world. To this debate was added this fascinating, timeless movie. I read a review of this movie in Sontag's essays and that encouraged me to watch it.This movie is based on a novel written by Alain Grillet, who seems to have been inspired by another Latin American novel. This movie is profusely reviewed on the Internet. My post is just a homage.

As the movie progresses, we see the same corridors again, the hotel in all its somber majesty, its faded but charmed brilliance and the voice..............

Between these walls covered with woodwork, stucco, moldings, pictures, framed prints, among which I was walking--among which I was already waiting for you, very far away from this setting where I now stand, in front of you, still waiting for the man who will no longer come, who no longer threatens to come to separate us again, to tear you away from me. Are you coming?

As we progress through this maze, we get to understand a bit of the story. A man, called X, is trying to make the beautiful Delphine Seyrig, A, remember their affair at Marienbad last year. It seems that A is married to M, though it is not clear. A refuses to believe X or any reference he makes to their affair. She denies ever seeing him, telling him it might have been Frederiksbad and not Marienbad where they might have met. X spends the whole of the movie trying to persuade A to remember and A seems genuinely distressed with his approach at times. M spends time in playing numerous card games, including the matchsticks one, which he always wins. The movie ends with A accompanying X but it is not clear whether they are going together. I am still reeling, after nearly 24 hours of having watched this movie, from the hypnotic effect of what I saw. The first shot, long tracking, slow melodious with X speaking in the background is simply mesmerizing.

The incessant repetition of what I have quoted above adds to this trance, aided superbly by the haunting ambiance of this hotel, captured majestically. Some scenes are wonderful paintings, and I paused many times to just look and take in the effect. The most famous scene is in the gardens, long shot from a distance, actors just standing, shadows looming ahead, like statues, merging with the trees, fern and foliage. I think the acting is stilted, cardboard like, with actors just like cardboard like figures, like statues, but that is exactly what is required. I do not think it is a very difficult movie to follow but was amazed at the different interpretations this movie has inspired. One, which seemed quite far fetched is that this movie expresses the anxieties of the nuclear age. I personally think that this is a meditation on time, on memory, on loss of time and the unbelievable effects it has. It is perhaps also a deconstruction of memory and an attempt to piece together events that happen, from external aid, from another person as to the actuality of what happens. In other words, multiple perspectives about a single situation, or a past event, re-examined after some time do not seem the same.

It seems there is something that did happen in Marienbad last year, and the female character is afraid of thinking about it. In other words, she is trying to repress something, and one cannot be actually sure what it is. Critics have talked of rape, sexual aggression and so. The role of M, possibly her husband is intriguing, for in the end, he thinks the two of them cannot live together.

Even if I am totally offtrack here, I think I will not hesitate to watch this movie again for it draws you in, which movies seldom do.It does not matter what this movie means. What matters is the fantastic, almost eerie meditation on time, memory, love and loss that it deals with. To the psychologically dark, restless corners of the mind, to a seething mind, to a wandering mind, to a restless heart, this movie is an ode.

You want to wander yourself through the labyrinths of Marienbad, through this baroque hotel, you want to be a part of that furniture, just stand there, just get lost in the freezing, solid statues and the crumbling sands of time.
You want to be left behind in that hotel, in Marienbad, and not wonder about meaning and psychology, just stand next to A, look at M playing his games and listen to X as he says.....

I walk on, once again, down these corridors, through these halls, these galleries, in this structure of another century, this enormous, luxurious, baroque, lugubrious hotel, where corridors succeed endless corridors--silent deserted corridors overloaded with a dim, cold ornamentation of woodwork, stucco, moldings, marble, black mirrors, dark paintings, columns, heavy hangings, sculptured door frames, series of doorways, galleries, transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls .................

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Goytisolo : Makbara

This short extract is for Alok, from Dispatches.

This is the beginning of Makbara ( cemetery in Arabic) and I wanted to share the music of this opening. I have tried Eliot's technique of Auditory imagination, reading it aloud without concentrating, without trying to know what is being said but how.

in the beginning was the cry : alarm, anguish, terror, chemically pure pain? : prolonged, sustained, piercing, to the limits of the tolerable: phantom, specter, monster from the nether world: a disturbing intrusion at any event: disruption of the urban rhythm, of the harmonious chorus of sounds and voices of supernumearies and beautifully dressed actors and actresses: an oneiric apparition: an insolent brutish defiance: a strange, transgressive presence: a radical negation of the existing order: an index finger pointed accusedly at the happy, self confident Euricraticonsuming city: with no need to raise his eyes, strain his voice, extend his beggar's hand with a black gesture of Luciferan pride: absorbed in the obverse side of the spectacle he is creating:indifferent to the horror he inspires as he passes by: a virus contaminating the collective body of the city in the Wake of his delirious journey through it: dusky, bare feet, insensitive to the rigors of the season: ragged, threadbare pants with improvised skylight's at the knees: a scarecrow's overcoat with the collar raised to conceal a double absence: walking, lost in sel-contemplation. down the sidewalk of the boulevard teeming with humanity: past the tobacco store, the haberdasher;s shop, the terrace of the cafe restaurant, the slot machine parlour:

Monday, September 03, 2007

Delirium : Laura Restrepo

Laura Restrepo is a South American writer who is not yet as famous as her other contemporaries, at least not in the Anglophone world. She has won numerous prizes, some quite major and her novels have been translated into various languages. From Colombia originally, she lives at present in Mexico. I came across Restrepo's work on the Internet a few weeks ago and decided to read Delirium, a novel described by no less than Jose Saramago as one of the finest in recent memory.

Writing a great novel in the form of a detective story or a mystery is not a new concept. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, Sultry Moon by Giardenelli, the master Borges himself and numerous others have attempted so. My particular impartiality towards Latin American literature apart, I find that this merging of literary anxiety in a detective story achieves all that real writing can and should.

The story is told through multiple narrations, each from the perspective of different characters, each narration mingling with and preceding the other, enhancing the meaning of the previous one. It involves an ex- university professor's wife Agustina going mad, losing her memory and turning insane quite suddenly, after her husband Aguilar returns from a business trip. Aguilar is told to pick his wife up from a hotel room and he begins his investigations as to his wife's breakdown. The other narrations involve Midas , Agustina's ex- lover, now a drug dealer, linked directly to the real Colombian drug baron Pepo Escobar.

The recent events of Colombian history, its political, social, economic and cultural events are a background against which the story unfolds. Agustina is described by her husband and from her own perspective as having visions, with the ability to foresee events in the future. This adds another dimension to the story, for we are left in the realms of speculation as to the reality of her symptoms. Being a rationalist himself, Aguilar never believes in his wife's supposed powers but tries to construct her persona through various narrations and after building her story up from the accounts of other's too. Agustina's Aunt, who drops in at their home suddenly to help adds another dimension for she claims to understand her neice and her illness. The stories are also narrated of Agustina's upper class parents, her Grandfather also who it seems had some form of mental illness too.

The style and prose is lyrical, taut, full of suspense and narrated in a complex and at the same time in a cyclical manner. Midas , for instance speaks in a street smart, sing song, waxy and musical manner. I found those sections very engrossing indeed. With Aguilar, we have sympathies for we want to unravel the mystery of Agustina's sudden illness, her Delirium. When you read Restrepo, you find a certain familiar tone here and then you realize that this prose, this narration and the actual style is profoundly influenced by Saramago. The sentence constructions, the small speeches are interpersed with the narration, without warning, and we have sentences ending in small wistful sad speeches or words.

This is a tale of terror, an inner terror told without hurry for the reader, along with Aguilar knows that something more than Delirium is affecting Agustina but what? And because of the other narratives, a kind of meta-narration adds to the air of mystery that Restrepo weaves with such mastery, for we have to go back in time incessantly, to Agustina's grandfather, her Mother, her Aunt Rosa, her Aunt's affair with her Dad and the threatening shadow of Midas himself, which hangs like the shadow of political uncertainty around Colombia itself. This is how Aguilar describes his wife Agustina.........

since the dark episode my wife had succumbed to slovenliness in matters of appearance, everything yielding to the pure centripetal force of her introspection.......Madness is navel-gazing, my wife spends days and night in pajamas, or at most a sweatshirt, forgetting to eat, to listen, to look, as if her entire horizon of events is contained within herself. i am trying to reach into the quagmire of madness to rescue Agustina from the depths, because only my arm can pull her out and save her from drowning.
Agustina, my beautiful Agustina, is shrouded in a cold brilliance that signals distance, behind the barred door of the delirium that won't let her out or me in.

I was amazed to find a review of Delirium here. Immediately after reading this novel, dated September 1, while there was nothing much I could find before I bought this book. As symbols go, Agustina's story can be read at multiple levels, with its obvious political and social elements that have affected Colombian history recently, with her Delirium the country's Delirium too. Here I admire Restrepo for her attitude, style, sympathies and politics is revealing and understanding. Within the remit of a detective story, she has made it possible to narrate a difficult chapter in recent Colombian history. As to its style, fans of Saramago will admire its subtle poetry, incessant air of loss, of an upheaval, of an extra sensory air of perception that hangs around the whole story. While the influence of Saramago is clear to me, we must say that this is a new voice, clear, candid, poetic and wistful. I will not mind reading more Restrepo and would encourage the lovers of Latin American literature to add one more voice, if they haven't already, to the list of this great literary tradition.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Shoe Tester Of Frankfurt

It is usually my habit to write about a novel or any book I read days, weeks or sometimes months afterwards, but on this occasion, I am making an exception, for this novella is an exceptional one, having bought it alongside 9 others recently in a fit of melancholic mania, which is an oxymoronic state of mind. I think I have just invented a new mental state, one which is neither recognizable nor describable.

Wilhelm Genazino is a German writer and as far as I am aware, this is the only novel of his that is available in English, translated wonderfully by Philip Boehm, and published by New Directions, a publishing house that has given us Krasznahorkai and other great new writings. Genazino has written quite a few novels and has won the Georg-Buchner-Preis, Germany's highest literary prize, in addition to numerous other literary accolades.

The story, told to us by the narrator is simply this: a man in his forties is employed by a high-end shoe manufacturer to test their new products, that is shoes. And our narrator, who discloses his profession by page 40 or something tests his shoes by walking the streets of Frankfurt, submitting his reports to his employers and earning his wage. During the course of his travels, he describes the things he sees on the streets, recollecting events from his past life, childhood with an uncanny sense of observation. He does not pass judgement on what he sees but describes the events that unfold with the burden of a man who fails to understand the purpose of his life.

During his travels, he describes not only the city but his own state of mind, and then weaves them together and paints a picture of existential frustration and helplessness but not rage. His resigned attitude towards not understanding his life, his reflection on his failures is attached to the impossibility of his coming to terms with the purpose of life in general, to what he calls his unauthorized life, a life that he is living without his being asked to. He also describes his relations with the women he has known, whom he meets quite frequently on his travels, and his unrequited emotions are not a source of rhetoric against them. In particular, he talks of his loneliness after one Lisa has left him, knowing that she won't come back. In the end, forced to resign from his shoe testing, he reverts back to his previous occupation of breezy writing, for he no longer desires to scrutinize myself, waiting for the outside world to finally fit my inner texts.

This short novella is written with such subtle beauty, economy of emotion and dignity of space that I finished it in two stints, forced by the brilliance of its atmosphere. And what a novel idea.......shoe tester! I have never heard of any profession like this one before. The prose is charming, witty, ironic but not self consciously so. What makes this novel different from other existential rants is the melancholia that pervades each page. This is a melancholic existential triumph, for unlike such other novels, the protagonist actually achieves a compromise, a kind of peace in the end.

A striking thing about Genazino's novel is its striking resemblance to the art of Thomas Bernhard and particularly his the loser. At one time, I thought I was reading Bernhard, for at times the narrator lets go of himself. The difference between this narrator from a Wertheimer or Roitheimer is that he does not go on long rants but immediately rushes into a melancholic apology. Yes, that is quite crucial for he is more conscious of his fragility. And like in Bernhard, there is another character, an estranged friend, who is not or does not appear as sane as our narrator. However, the women here have more substance and more wit.Some of the expressions that Bernhard has coined are matched by Genazino. I will give a few examples here......

liar's asylum, silence schedule, private craziness, unauthorized life, play- craziness, crying threshold, and experience proletarians, are among a few of the numerous inventions in this novel. Another striking resemblance with Bernhard is repetition, though it is not as forceful or as incessant in the former, for when it is about to achieve its hammering effect, he mellows down, slows and becomes sad. For instance.....

I recently came up with the idea of sending a silence schedule to everyone i know- or, to be precise, everyone who knows me. anyone who refuses to comply with the silence schedule would no longer be able to speak with me at all. Monday and Tuesday are/ would be listed as non-stop silence. Wednesdays and Thursdays non-stop silence only in the morning; the afternoons would be considered relaxed silence-.........Sundays would consist of total silence.

Another passage......a little wrapper sails onto the street where it makes a nice soft noise as i pass. i would like to stop and listen to the crinkle of the candy wrapper for a few more seconds. i would like to name the collective peculiarity of all life crinkle. And this..... a little gloomy melancholy flies up to me, i carry it with me across the bridge. an equally small pain clowns around inside me saying: you need to look for what you stand to gain, and accept the offer. i can cope with the pain, but i have to do something about the melancholy.

I could quote more but suffice to say here that this is not just a great novel but a readable one unlike other great novels that are not always readable. Originally published in 2001, the English translation came out in 2006. Unfortunately, no other work of Genazino is available in English. This is a new voice, soft, sound, melancholic and harsh. It is important too for it tackles the important question of the futility of life if there is no afterlife. I say to the few readers of this blog.......acquaint yourself with the shoe tester of Frankfurt.