Tag: Mariana Enríquez

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Posted September 27, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel VásquezTitle: The Shape of the Ruins (Goodreads)
Author: Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translator: Anne McLean
Published: MacLehose Press, 2015
Pages: 505
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is quickly becoming a new favourite of mine. Having read The Sound of Things Falling and now The Shape of the Ruins, I cannot help but appreciate his style. I compared him to Roberto Bolaño in my previous review, mainly because they both like to insert themselves into the narrative. Bolaño has his alter ego Arturo Belano show up in a few of his novels. Whereas Juan Gabriel Vásquez just used the same name for his characters. I am positive this are not just a character that shares the same name. His approach to literature is to explore Columbian history in a fictionalised account, but I think that these characters are just a device to tell the reader how the past has affected him.

The Sound of Things Falling looks on the impact the Pablo Escoba had on Colombia. While The Shape of the Ruins is focused on the murders of both Rafael Uribe Uribe in 1914 and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948. Rafael Uribe Uribe’s political ideas lead to the establishment of Guild socialism and trade unions in Colombia, while Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was leader of a populist movement in Colombia. Their political ideology were very different but Vásquez uses the investigations into their deaths as a way to look at Colombia. Particularly how it lead to a ten year civil war known as La Violencia.

Within the novel these two political figures are often referenced in relation to two different facts. Rafael Uribe Uribe was the inspiration for the character General Buendia in Gabriel García Márquez’s in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán is referred two as the Colombian J.F.K. Which to my mind made me automatically look at this novel as a way to explore the cultural significance of these two murders as well as Colombia on the world stage. Particularly the cycle of violence that is constantly putting the country in the news.

I find it difficult to review a novel like The Shape of the Ruins, not because there is not much to say, quite the opposite. In fact, it is because I do not know the history of Colombia well enough to voice any interesting opinions. Books like this are often referred to as autofiction, which is a literary term that refers to a fictionalised autobiography. Most works of fiction have elements of truth within the characters but these books are using the experience and history to build a story around it. I read translations because I want to understand the world a little better, and I appreciate the chance to learn their history in the process. This is why I love authors like Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

To be fair, I have been obsessed with Latin American history for a few months and I have so much to read and learn. I turn to Juan Gabriel Vásquez as a new default recommendation. He will sit next to Roberto Bolaño as some of my favourite authors from South America. There are plenty more authors to explore on this continent but I have to recommend Ariana Harwicz, Mariana Enríquez, Pola Oloixarac and Samanta Schweblin as well. These four have all been recently translated and make up some of the exciting emerging female authors coming out of the continent, although these four are all from Argentina.

Having read Juan Gabriel Vásquez in the past, I would recommend starting with The Sound of Things Falling. There is something about exploring the effects the drug cartels had on the country that appealed to me. The Shape of the Ruins is also a great novel and if you care more about the political landscape then jump straight to this novel. I have a few more novels to read from Juan Gabriel Vásquez, which I probably will not read this year, but they will be coming up soon. Please recommend me a Vásquez to try next, or just recommend me an author that has a similar style.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted April 3, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in March 2018

I live in a city that often does not get much rain. So when we get two weeks of constant rain it is a rare treat. There is nothing better than curling up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book, while thunder and lightning is raging outside. I was able to spend those two glorious weeks reading Frankenstein in Baghdad. Most people know about my obsession with Frankenstein, the book that literally changed my life. Normally I am apprehensive about any take on this classic novel but Ahmed Saadawi was able to deliver something sensational. His take on the classic was able to compare the tale with post-invasion Iraq in a unique way. Since it has been two hundred years since Mary Shelley’s novel, I cannot help but think about revisiting the book once again. Oxford World Classics did send me a beautiful hardback edition, so a reread is in my very near future.

Thinking about Frankenstein got me thinking about other books that have helped shape my life, which obviously leads me to my obsession with Russian literature. The Anna Karenina Fix seemed like the perfect bibliomemoir for me. As someone with a love for Russian lit, I found myself easily drawn to Viv Groskop’s memoir. One day I will write about all those books about books that I love and I have no doubt The Anna Karenina Fix will make that list. It made me want to reread so many of my favourites and then the ones I have missed, then go back to this book and read it again.

I am the type of reader that reads to learn about the world, to experience different cultures and explore new ideas. However there are times when I need to just switch off and read some palette cleansers. For me, this is crime fiction, but I am very particular about what I like. For the most, I will read an entire crime novel even if I was not enjoying it. Luckily there was something about Babylon Berlin that I loved. This is the first book in the Gereon Rath series and what drew me to this book was that it was set in 1929 Berlin. So in the background of this crime investigation we see Berlin as it changes, with the fears of communism and the newly emerging Nazi Party. I cannot help but compare it the Bernie Gunther series. While I have only read March Violets, since Philip Kerr passed way this month, I think I need to return to this detective and read The Pale Criminal. I did also read The Spellman Files at the suggestion of everyone who compared it to Veronica Mars.

The crime fiction I am attracted to the most is the old pulp era, the stuff from the 1920s to the 1940s. There is something about that writing, it is sharp and to the point, but still remains beautiful. Even forgotten classics like The Seven Madmen from Argentina seem to adopt that same style. The Seven Madmen is the kind of book that will remain with me for a long type and I am tempted to reread it, but I will get distracted by other books. After reading this book, I felt like staying with Argentinian literature and I was able to do that with the next book I read, Die, My Love.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced and like many of my fellow book nerds, I was excited to see what would make the list. I had read Frankenstein in Baghdad but it was the only one on the longlist I have actually read. I would love to read the entire longlist but time and availability is always a factor. My library only had four of the thirteen from the longlist but I owned one already. So I thought I would make use of a Kindle Paperwhite to help. I have often struggled to get into ebook reading but the accessibility was my only hope to read the longlist. I will always prefer physical books, but maybe I will be convinced to read more ebooks. My constant distractions with other books and an ereader might be a deadly combination.

Obviously the first book I read was Die, My Love. The fact that it was Argentinian literature, made this an easy choice. This was such an affecting read, I will have to get a physical copy. After completing this novel, all I wanted to do was stay in Argentina forever. I think I could live a happy life only reading Argentinian lit, it has similarities to Russian literature but still feels very unique. I am also pleased to see a strong literary scene of Argentinian women; from Die, My Love, to books like Things We Lost in the Fire, Fever Dream and Savage Theories.

Unfortunately there were a few books that followed that I was not able to connect with, and left me unmotivated to read. Two were Man Booker International Prize longlist picks, The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle, but the third was this month’s bookclub pick. It was a modern take on Don Quixote set in India called Mr Iyer Goes to War and all I could think was about rereading Don Quixote. My problems with The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle were as followed; the first felt too similar to another book, while the later just went overboard with the one topic and that frustrated me.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist left me pondering translations. I love reading from around the world, to the point where I am considering turning it into a podcast. I discovered I do not know as much about translation theory as I would like. Maybe I need to explore some Walter Benjamin or as I discovered, Edith Grossman (who translated Don Quixote) wrote a book called Why Translation Matters. Do I need to know another language to explore translation theory in great detail? I know Umberto Eco also has a book on translations too, it is called Experiences in Translation. This might be another rabbit hole to go down in the new future.

I managed to have a very productive reading month, I finished it off with my second László Krasznahorkai book, which was his short story collection The World Goes On. This made ten books for March, and I am presently surprised, especially since I had three books that were a struggle. The only thing I currently have on the go is The 7th Function of Language, which is another book from the longlist. At this rate, I may be able to read the entire longlist before the prize is announced in May. However the availability of the last seven books is the major factor. I own two and waiting on one from the library, so it is becoming more of a possibility. I am having a hard time guessing what will make the shortlist, so I have delayed a few that I think might be on the list. That way I can still remain in the conversation.

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Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

Posted March 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

Die, My Love by Ariana HarwiczTitle: Die, My Love (Goodreads)
Author: Ariana Harwicz
Translator: Sarah Moses, Carolina Orloff
Published: Charco Press, 2017
Pages: 128
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

Ariana Harwicz’s book Die, My Love is the type of novel that will leave you emotionally drained. Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, this is a powerful portrayal of a woman trapped in motherhood. Having recently given birth to her second child, all she yearns for is freedom. Never have I read a novel that is so raw with emotion.

Whether or not this woman is suffering from postnatal depression or not is not something I wish to debate. I wonder if trying to diagnose her would sell this book short. She is going through so many different emotions and never holds back with her feelings. Die, My Love feels like a gut punch of emotions. A novel that is to be experienced more than analysed.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is an autobiographical novel. I cannot imagine Ariana Harwicz being able to write this without living the experience. There is an intensity in the writing that never feels fake. The conflicting emotions of yearning for freedom mixed with her motherly instincts hold the narrative together. The connection with nature stems from her constant desire to be free but also a reference to a child’s carefree nature.

“I think about how a child is a wild animal, about another person carrying your heart forever.”

The narrative that Ariana Harwicz is able to weave is so affecting; we are able to follow this vivid portrayal of a mother and experience every single emotion and thought, no matter how dark or disturbing it may be. There are many times where I feel like this protagonist is over sharing but that just adds to the raw and intense honesty. I was left in awe and have not been able to get the images from this novel out of my head. It will be a book that I will come back to again and again.

I have been going down a rabbit hole of Argentinian literature and Die, My Love seems to invoke a common style, often found in recent novellas from this great literary scene. It pleases me to see how many Argentinian women writers are getting their moment to shine and I expect to see more in the future. There is something about these books that are able to explore so much in such a short novel. For great Argentinian books by women including Die, My Love, look no further than Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac.


Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez

Posted March 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror, Short Stories / 2 Comments

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana EnríquezTitle: Things We Lost in the Fire (Goodreads)
Author: Mariana Enríquez
Translator: Megan McDowell
Published: Portobello Books, 2017
Pages: 202
Genres: Horror, Short Stories
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It seems that 2017 was my year of reading books from Argentina. From the classic The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares to the beautiful reflection into libraries in Alberto Manguel’s essay collection The Library at Night. In more recent releases there was Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac and of course the much hyped Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. These four books would have been enough to satisfy any reader, but there was one that stood out far more than these, and that was Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez. Translated by Megan McDowell, this collection introduced the English world to a great example of Argentine Gothic; however, this could easily fall into the horror genre.

What made this collection stand out is the way Mariana Enríquez was able to explore issues within Argentina without addressing the history directly. The beauty of using literature instead of journalism was the ability to offer social criticism and personal opinions in a stylised and entertaining way. Here we can read about the gruesome realities that many people live in Buenos Aires. Starting from the opening story “The Dirty Kid” which explores the fear a woman faces living alone in the slums. Not to mention the poverty, drug abuse, gang-related killings and even satanic rituals that surround her every day.  In the translation notes by Megan McDowell she states that “Mariana Enríquez’s stories, Argentina’s particular history combines with an aesthetic many have tied to the gothic horror tradition of the English speaking world”. There are many of the tropes found in the horror genre including abandoned houses, supernatural elements, and body dismemberment or mutilation. However, it is not these, but the everyday situations that often terrify the reader.

For me, “The Inn” appears of one of the unsung heroes within the collection, it combines a real issue with a bizarre story. This story explores adolescent antics as the girls begin to explore their own sexuality. However, there is the lurking terror of the looming presence of the Alfredo Stroessner soldiers. Enríquez was able to explore the horror of unexpected terror in the time of the Paraguayan dictator. Hinting at the constant state of terror and the clandestine torture centres without mentioning them directly.

Mariana Enríquez has an amazing ability to explore so many issues without mentioning them. I am confident with a better understanding of Argentinian history, Things We Lost in the Fire is a completely different book. Exploring many themes from poverty to the corruption facing the country, but the biggest focus is the treatment of woman. You cannot really talk about this short story collection without spending time talking about the title story “Things We Lost in the Fire”, which explores the idea of women taking control of their own beauty in a rather unique way. The story leaves Silvina in the position to either betray her mother and the Burning Women movement or physically mutilating her own body.

This is the final story in the collection that not only sums up the underlying themes throughout the book but it also leaves you with this feeling that women must often be subjected to a choice where all choices are harmful, leaving her to pick the lesser of two evils. This story is the title story for a reason, if you only read one of the stories make sure it “Things We Lost in the Fire”. However, I do recommend the entire collection. It is a socio-political masterpiece, exploring the horrors and struggles of Argentina and women around the world. If you only read one short story collection in your life, make it Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez.

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati


Best Books of 2017

Posted December 15, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in What are you Reading / 4 Comments

As 2017 finally comes to an end, all I can think is ‘Thank God’. While this has not been a bad reading read (over a hundred books), I did not achieve some of my goals. Most importantly I was stuck in a real creative slump for most of the year and I had trouble climbing out. I decided to take a step back from BookTube because I did not feel like it was the right medium for me. I was hoping to focus more on blogging and writing essays but that never happened either.

My goals for 20017 included writing an essay a month and I failed miserably, but now I havae co-founded a literary journal so I have to make sure in 2018 I write more. For my reading goals, I planned to read 50% books in translation which I was able to achieve and I hope to continue with this in future years. I also had a list of about ten books I wanted to read in 2017 and ended up reading only three of them. I guess planning my reading is not for me and with that in mind, I decided to have no reading goals for 2018. I just want to read what I want, when I want. I want to be carefree and enjoy my reading journey. I hope this will help me get back into my creative groove and blog or write more frequently.

Having said that, 2017 was a pretty decent reading year for me and I thought I should cover off some of my favourite books. I probably should make sure I review all these books at some point but here is my list. First, I want to give an honourable mentions to The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa (translated by Howard Curtis), The North Water by Ian McGuire, Belladonna by Daša Drndić (translated by Celia Hawkesworth) and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer).

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