“Silvio Salvático” — Roberto Bolaño

“Silvio Salvático”

by

Roberto Bolaño

translated by Chris Andrews

from Nazi Literature in the Americas


SILVIO SALVÁTICO

Buenos Aires, 1901–Buenos Aires, 1994

As a young man Salvático advocated, among other things, the re-establishment of the Inquisition; corporal punishment in public; a permanent war against the Chileans, the Paraguayans, or the Bolivians as a kind of gymnastics for the nation; polygamy; the extermination of the Indians to prevent further contamination of the Argentinean race; curtailing the rights of any citizen with Jewish blood; a massive influx of migrants from the Scandinavian countries in order to effect a progressive lightening of the national skin color, darkened by years of promiscuity with the indigenous population; life-long writer’s grants; the abolition of tax on artists’ incomes; the creation of the largest air force in South America; the colonization of Antarctica; and the building of new cities in Patagonia.

He was a soccer player and a Futurist.

From 1920 to 1929, in addition to frequenting the literary salons and fashionable cafes, he wrote and published more than twelve collections of poems, some of which won municipal and provincial prizes. From 1930 on, burdened by a disastrous marriage and numerous offspring, he worked as a gossip columnist and copy-editor for various newspapers in the capital, hung out in dives, and practised the art of the novel, which stubbornly declined to yield its secrets to him. Three titles resulted: Fields of Honor (1936), about semi-secret challenges and duels in a spectral Buenos Aires; The French Lady (1949), a story of prostitutes with hearts of gold, tango singers and detectives; and The Eyes of the Assassin (1962), a curious precursor to the psycho-killer movies of the seventies and eighties.

He died in an old-age home in Villa Luro, his worldly possessions consisting of a single suitcase full of books and unpublished manuscripts.

His books were never republished. His manuscripts were probably thrown out with the trash or burned by the orderlies.

Pushkin’s Peter the Great’s African (Book acquired, sometime in the last week of March 2022)

NYRB has a new collection of Alexander Pushkin stories called Peter the Great’s African out later this month. The long short stories are translated by by Robert Chandler (who also provides the afterword), Elizabeth Chandler, and Boris Dralyuk. NYRB’s blurb:

Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s foundational writer, was constantly experimenting with new genres, and this fresh selection ushers readers into his creative laboratory. Politics and history weighed heavily on Pushkin’s imagination, and in “Peter the Great’s African” he depicts the Tsar through the eyes of one of his closest confidantes, Ibrahim, a former slave, modeled on Pushkin’s maternal great-grandfather. At once outsider and insider, Ibrahim offers a sympathetic yet questioning view of Peter’s attempt to integrate his vast, archaic empire into Europe. In the witty “History of the Village of Goriukhino” Pushkin employs parody and self-parody to explore problems of writing history, while “Dubrovsky” is both a gripping adventure story and a vivid picture of provincial Russia in the late eighteenth century, with its class conflicts ready to boil over in violence. “The Egyptian Nights,” an effervescent mixture of prose and poetry, reflects on the nature of artistic inspiration and the problem of the poet’s place in a rapidly changing and ever more commercialized society.

 

Between parentheses | On Julio Cortázar’s “Letters from Mom”

Julio Cortázar’s story “Letters from Mom” is available in English for the first time thanks to translator Magdalena Edwards and the good folks at Sublunary Editions. First published in Cortázar’s 1959 collection Las armas secretas, “Letters from Mom” centers on Luis and his wife Laura, Argentinian expatriates living in Paris, where Luis works as a designer for an advertising agency.

The story begins with Luis receiving a letter from his mother. The event underscores one of Cortázar’s main themes: writing itself. Luis’s mother’s letters arrive from Buenos Aires as “an alteration of time, a harmless little scandal within the order of things that Luis had wanted and designed and achieved” for himself. Luis’s designed “order” is a self-exile which relies on his and Laura’s refusal to speak a certain name. His mother’s latest letter evokes the name, stirring emotions that Luis has sought to repress.

Indeed, Luis’s entire life is rooted in repression. His time in Paris is “a heap of probation, the ridicule of living like a word between parentheses, divorced from the main sentence which nevertheless always supports and explains.” The simile “like a word between parentheses” (which appears in the very first paragraph of the story) teaches us to read the tale that unfolds. It’s between parentheses that we learn the emotional and psychological truth at the root of Luis’s repression. And as the story reaches its climax, Cortázar’s free indirect style paradoxically finds its freest expression within parenthetical boundaries.

Like so many self-exiles, Luis wants to escape the past. His desires again invoke similes of writing: “If the past could be torn up and thrown away like the draft of a letter or a book. But it’s always there, staining the clean copy, and I think that’s the real future.” The stain arrives again and again through his mother’s letters, which repeatedly invoke — and look, I don’t want to spoil the story, so maybe stop reading this now, hey — Continue reading “Between parentheses | On Julio Cortázar’s “Letters from Mom””

Nastassja Martin’s In the Eye of the Wild (Book acquired, late Oct. 2021)

Nastassja Martin’s In the Eye of the Wild is out in a few weeks from NYRB in a translation by Sophie R. Lewis. I dove in this morning and it’s engrossing stuff. Any book that begins with a bear mauling the author is off to a weird start. Here’s NYRB’s blurb:

In the Eye of the Wild begins with an account of the French anthropologist Nastassja Martin’s near fatal run-in with a Kamchatka bear in the mountains of Siberia. Martin’s professional interest is animism; she addresses philosophical questions about the relation of humankind to nature, and in her work she seeks to partake as fully as she can in the lives of the indigenous peoples she studies. Her violent encounter with the bear, however, brings her face-to-face with something entirely beyond her ken—the untamed, the nonhuman, the animal, the wild. In the course of that encounter something in the balance of her world shifts. A change takes place that she must somehow reckon with.

Left severely mutilated, dazed with pain, Martin undergoes multiple operations in a provincial Russian hospital, while also being grilled by the secret police. Back in France, she finds herself back on the operating table, a source of new trauma. She realizes that the only thing for her to do is to return to Kamchatka. She must discover what it means to have become, as the Even people call it, medka, a person who is half human, half bear.

In the Eye of the Wild is a fascinating, mind-altering book about terror, pain, endurance, and self-transformation, comparable in its intensity of perception and originality of style to J. A. Baker’s classic The Peregrine. Here Nastassja Martin takes us to the farthest limits of human being.

Abe/Melchor/Schwartz (Books acquired, 13 Aug. 2021)

Got some books today.

Last month I wrote a little bit about slowly converting hundreds of my grandmother’s books into store credit. I still have a closet full of boxed books. In the post I linked to above, I wrote about picking up Kobo Abe’s Secret Rendezvous, which I still haven’t read, which didn’t stop me from picking up two more today.

I ordered a copy of his most famous novel, The Woman in the Dunes (translation by E. Dale Saunders), on the recommendation of the bookseller who rang up Secret Rendezvous for me. (We chatted about Ballard and a few other writers and I recommended Martin Bax’s overlooked novel The Hospital Ship.) I picked it up today. The Vintage International edition I got includes wonderful illustrations by Machi Abe, like the one below (unfortunately the art director did not choose to adapt one for the cover):

I also got Beasts Head for Home (translation by Richard F. Calichman), an earlier less-celebrated novel.

I’d been wanting to read Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season (translation by Sophie Hughes), so I ordered it as well. It’s been compared to both 2666 and Faulkner, so I have high expectations. (Flicking through it recalls Krasznahorkai or Sebald or Bernhard—big long paragraphless chunks.)

I also picked up Francie Schwartz’s memoir Body Count, somewhat at random, based on the title and the spine. It was shelved incorrectly (or maybe correctly?) in “General Fiction.” I opened it to see that it was a first edition, 1972, dedicated to Norman Mailer. Unless I’m wrong, it’s one of only two editions, the other being a British hardback copy. Flicking through it, the chapter titles, the mostly-written-in dialogue prose, and the general themes of sex drugs rocknroll interested me enough to look it up while I was in the store. The first google hit was for an Amazon listing pricing the book at over a thousand dollars, so I left with it. The main attraction for this book seems to be a brief affair Schwartz had with Paul McCartney. I read through some of those bits, and they seem juicy enough I guess.

I’ll read either the Melchor or Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes next. (I finished Carol Emshwiller’s novel Mister Boots this morning and loved it. Not sure if I’ll ever get my shit together enough to write a real review again though. Peace.)