Tag Archives: Argentine literature

Attractions of Barbarity: New/Forthcoming Publications and an Award

Old Palermo, Buenos Aires, 2015

Old Palermo, Buenos Aires, 2005

Update: the new issue of JewishFiction.net is up! (9/2/15, 3:00 Central)

When Roderick Clark phoned me up this afternoon, he told me that he had some good news and some bad news. Rod is the editor of Rosebud (“The Biggest Little Magazine in the World”), and while we have developed a warm professional relationship over the years, we had previously only spoken by phone when he wanted to publish one of my translations. So I suspected that the news couldn’t be so bad; and almost certainly had something to do with the essay I had sent in a while back for the X. J. Kennedy Award for Non-Fiction.

And indeed, the bad news was that I didn’t win the top prize, but on the other hand (good news!) it might have been a really close call: it was, if not “the winner,” one of five finalists (out of hundreds of submissions) and as such still worthy of a modest cash award and publication. It will appear, with the other runners-up and winner, in issue #60 which is due out by the end of the year.

Naturally, I felt rather satisfied with that mixed report, which was essentially music to my ears. Sure, to win the top prize and the extra cash would have been fabulous, but what are the odds of that? When I put the essay in the mail I did believe that, at the least, it was not un-deserving of an award, perhaps even the first. But such competitions are inevitably tough, extremely tough, so I can only be immensely pleased with this result. And to think I almost hadn’t entered!

Lucio V. Mansilla as a young man

Lucio V. Mansilla as a young man

“Attractions of Barbarity” is the essay’s title, anyway. It relates the central narrative of my yet unpublished book-length memoir Journeys and Digressions and is based on my 2005 return trip to Argentina. I was invited, specifically, to read from the Spanish-language translation of my historical/literary novella A Bride Called Freedom (2003) at a conference on the historical figures of Eduarda and her brother Lucio Mansilla. Lucio is a character in my novella, and at the time I was also working on the translation of a novel by María Rosa Lojo (Passionate Nomads, 2011) in which – escaped from a questionable Paradise and transported to 1990s-era Buenos Aires – he is the star. Readers of Rosebud may remember Mansilla as “The Gentleman in the Willow” (issue #51), a short excerpt from that novel.

Mansilla’s primary claim to fame is having written a seminal account of his 1870 excursion into the lands of the Ranquel Indians, with the ostensible purpose of achieving a treaty between those Indians and the Argentine government. But the book became much more than a frontier military commander’s report and travelogue. Its lasting value, aside from the writing itself, lies in the remarkably comprehensive and comprehending view he brought us of those people, whom nearly everyone else dismissed as savages. Mansilla, instead, turns the whole concept of civilization and barbarity on its head, revealing to us the humanity of a people who, like our own Indians up here in the North, were being hounded into near extinction.

images[6]The immediate impetus for this long-contemplated essay, the turn of fate that compelled me at last to get to it, was a chance mass mailing from editor Clark reminding contributors and subscribers like me of the contest deadline and encouraging further submissions. What I had to do, then, was extract from the larger memoir the parts that spoke most directly to the particular literary journey at center and re-mold them into a more compressed format. Then trim it down to size; and while doing so preserve the most significant and memorable evidences of the original’s deceptively simple, leisurely, digressive style – which deliberately reflects Mansilla’s own epistolary style.

I owe some thanks to my friends from the Southern Indiana Writers – I am a recent new member of the group – for helpful criticism and suggestions after a read-through of the first draft.

A reminder, too, for those who may be interested: excerpts from both A Bride Called Freedom and Passionate Nomads can be found on this Website under Publishing History.


In other news, a couple of recent publications and one forthcoming:

1) In the Spring 2015 edition of the Cosumnes River Journal (Vol. 9), a single prose poem/mini-fiction from María Rosa’s Stories from Heaven, as yet unpublished in English translation. This modest but attractive journal from Cosumnes River College (part of the Los Rios Community College District) in Sacramento, California offers a nice range of writing and art from the undergraduate level to professional work by the likes of American Book Award winner Maria Espinosa.

2) A set of poems from that same collection in The Cincinnati Review’s incredible Summer 2015 edition. Thanks to an NEA grant, the editors have been able to concentrate on longer forms of fiction and poetry as well as additional translation. In this case that translates to more than 300 pages of remarkable fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Regular features include a selection of work (in color) by an artist, a short music feature (a previous contributor’s poetry set to music), and book reviews. In an original twist, one book (This Is the Water, by Yannick Murphy) is reviewed, from different angles, by three separate reviewers.

Tenement house, or conventillo, in early 20th century Buenos Aires

Tenement house, or conventillo, in early 20th century Buenos Aires

3) And finally, forthcoming at almost any moment online at JewishFiction.net, a somewhat abbreviated version of my translation of María Gabriela Mizraje’s rich, multi-layered story “Land of Promise.” Set primarily in the years between the two world wars, it is the generally upbeat story of a Turkish-immigrant family in a poor working-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires. In particular it chronicles the relationship between the charming and hardworking patriarch, Narciso, a shoemender by trade and a champion swimmer in the Old World, and his son, Elías, who works in his father’s shop, plays the piano, and loves to swim through the air (as a parachutist) more than water. As abridged, we do have Elías dreaming of flight, while his father introduces him to the river, but we lose the longer stream-of-consciousness account of his actual jump from a plane. The primary story is there, however, and well worth the read. If you are up for a beautifully nuanced tale, as universal as any of our own American immigration stories, I urge you to visit the site. (I’ll plan to add an update when it’s up.)

Fabula Press’s premiere anthology and the power of imagination

Front-Cover-final-231x300[1]A few months ago I announced that I would be a judge for the Aestas 2014 literary competition (aestas is Latin for summer), hosted by what once was the e-zine Quill & Ink and now is reborn in the guise of Fabula Press. The judging of the summer contest has been complete for some time and the print anthology is finally available for purchase at amazon.com. It contains the ten long-listed submissions and a “bonus story” by yours truly. The beautiful art by Anisha Bhaduri and design by lead editor Anirban Ray Choudhury make it a pleasure just to hold in your hands, though undoubtedly you will want to look inside at the varied content.

The stories were selected by the editors and then evaluated, according to criteria stated in the guidelines, by the four judges, who did not know the identity of the writers while reading. Each of these stories brings something unique to the table and merits inclusion, though naturally each reader will have particular favorites. I was personally blown away by Arizonian writer Wilson Engel III’s “The Wasps,” which to my mind is a perfectly-crafted tale with rich human and environmental implications, and by the young Australian Oliver Snelgrove’s sad, evocative tale of adolescent angst called “The Picture on the News”; I also particularly admire British writer Alison Miller’s “The Reckoning,” with its carefully crafted narrative of a troubled but probably salvageable marriage, and feel especially fond of the understated characterization of the immediately likable female protagonist in Floridian Katie Avagliano’s “The Pied-Pipers’ Song.”

This anthology is an international effort, which to me makes it all the more appealing. Directed from India and Hong Kong, as is stated on the book’s back cover, it assembles a cast of writers from Canada, Sweden, England, Greece, the U.S., France, Australia, and Ireland. This internationalism, representative of what some of us like to think of as a global village, is one thing that I particularly enjoyed about the Quill & Ink. For this project, which continues now with the winter-themed anthology Nivalis 2015 (the Latin nivalis evokes snow in all its various contexts, literal and metaphorical), I hope to see an even broader cast of writers and protagonists with scenes and narratives from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, not to mention a more varied racial mix from the United States and Europe.

As for my story, “Tribunal,” I am grateful to editor Anirban Choudhury, who published it online in the Quill & Ink in 2006 and now brings it to a wider audience in print. His enthusiasm for this story is encouraging and validating in a profession of literature which is otherwise mostly filled with rejection. I have lost track of how many drafts this one went through to reach its present state, with which I am finally well pleased. An earlier draft was read by my son, almost (or recently) graduated from high school at the time, and without my knowledge by a friend of his who found it convincing in its portrayal of the secretive and often cruel world that children inhabit. In that context I must warn the reader that, while the story involves grade-school children, it is most definitely not a story for young children to read. Be warned, likewise, that if your reading tastes are especially delicate it might not be for you, either. Otherwise, I hope you will have a chance to interact with it. I would certainly welcome your responses.

For official rules for the Nivalis contest, go to the Fabula Press website at this address: http://www.fabulapress.com/the-contest/. You may purchase the book, for yourself or for literary-minded family or friends, at http://www.amazon.com/Aestas-2014-Miscellaneous-authors/dp/1503233790/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418429933&sr=1-1&keywords=Aestas+2014. The deadline for the current contest is February 28, and anyone at least 18 years old is eligible to enter; authors’ identities will again be hidden from the judges, so there should be no conflict of interests. In any case, please share this information with anyone you think might be interested in entering: the more entries, the merrier.


On the subject of internationalism (and multiculturalism), I can’t help thinking that the single human quality most absent in today’s resurgence of racial conflict in the United States – not to mention countless other conflicts worldwide – is a sad lack of imagination, which is surely a crucial element of what enables us to imagine the world from others’ viewpoints and thus check our most dangerous assumptions.

Hence one facet of the importance of literature and the other rhetorical and fine arts, including music and dance.

This is one thing that terrifies me about the general thrust of educational reform these days, so narrowly focused as it has been on the hard sciences, mathematics, and most apparent and immediate needs of industry. Not that I have anything against those things, but I do object to the sidelining of the “softer” subjects without which we lose the most essential tools for evaluating, for instance, the ethics of business practice, economic and social policy, and the uses of science.

In a Mother Jones investigative report of the Common Core movement, journalist Tim Murphy engages the efforts of a couple of men you may never have heard of to make it official policy: David Coleman and Jason Zimba. Murphy writes:

“‘The standards must be made significantly fewer in number, significantly clearer in their meaning and relevance for college and work, and significantly higher in terms of mastery,’ they wrote. In reading, for example, they said schools should deemphasize literature and rely more on ‘informational texts’ – speeches, magazine articles, government reports. As Coleman would later put it, ‘It is rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market anylysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood”’” (September/October, p. 38).

I am not necessarily opposed to the imposition of a well-conceived and perhaps limited national common core; nor do I object to using the sort of texts Coleman and Zimba mention as an important part of students’ broad education; certainly that is better than the stereotypical first-day assignment of “How I Spent My Summer.” But I do object to the truncation, the cutting-off and narrowing, of the curriculum suggested by Coleman’s glib and uncomprehending dismissal of anything literary. I would venture to say that market analysis will not have much to say about how to live peacefully with people who are (or appear to be) substantially different from us.

Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentine literary stylist of the past century, liked to think of himself as a citizen of the world, not just of Argentina. Which is not to say that his literature was not profoundly Argentine. His nation’s history and the nuances of the different streets and neighborhoods of Buenos Aires run through all of his prose and poetry, but no more so than did the literatures and philosophical traditions of England and Germany, as well as of Sheherezade’s Arabian Nights and what we used to call the Orient. Likewise, while my own writing is infused with Argentina and Cervantes’s Spain, among other influences, it is ultimately grounded in these United States where I was born and grew up – and in my own state of Indiana.

I have been blessed, to a greater extent than some and a lesser extent than others, to visit other places and rub shoulders with different people. But how many people have traveled just as richly, through literature and the other arts, without ever moving from the soil where they were born? This is a supremely practical value whose place in local or national curricula we eliminate or reduce at our own peril.

Saint Paul, in the first book of Corinthians, I believe it is, speaks of the various gifts of the spirit, one of which is charity, which is of course closely linked to empathy, to human sympathy, to imagination sufficient to walk the proverbial mile in another’s shoes. And as represented by Jesus in his parable about the culturally despised and hated Samaritan – who nonetheless had greater sympathy for his supposed enemy than the “righteous” man or priest who passed by on the other side of the street – even those we have been taught to fear and hate.

Some ground has been made recently, in this respect, in our society’s general acceptance of gays and lesbians, among other to-some-still-scary folk. But we seem to be slipping backward (not just here but in Europe and other places) in our tolerance of racial or national strangers among us: the marginal, the alien, the “illegal.” Granted, there is such a thing as an incorrigible terrorist or murderer, but we have them among ourselves and we should perhaps make as great an effort to understand them as to destroy or irradicate them. We can’t do that without an honest discussion of our own national misdeeds, a conversation that is neither treasonous nor unpatriotic in any true sense.

If our object is to protect American lives, including soldiers’, then we owe it to ourselves and those soldiers to not continue down the same paths that have fed our enemies’ hatred. We like to think of ourselves as an exceptional and an inherently good people, but in fact our exceptionality is contingent on our goodness and we are, otherwise, just human like all other peoples: an unstable hodgepodge of good and bad impulses. We don’t like to think of ourselves as a bloodthirsty and vengeful people, for example, but if such we are, it would be useful information.

15332407623_d711d2d97c[1]I have been struggling with this theme since before I wrote my last essay-blog in September. Since then I have been reading Taylor Branch’s magisterial three-volume history of America in the Martin Luther King years, and I remain deeply troubled by certain parallels between then and now: from the now more veiled efforts to prevent scary black and brown folk from voting, to some white folks’ defensiveness in the face of almost daily police or vigilante shootings of African American males.

Granted that white police officers are people just like all of us, white and brown and black, and we must try to understand their motivations and their humanity. Granted, also, that we are all partly responsible for these incidents by the ease with which politicians and demagogues have consistently managed to stir us up, from time to time, to an irrational and excessive thirst for law, order, and vengeance – human and Constitutional rights be damned. I suspect that, to some extent, the present crisis has as much to do with power as with prejudice, though at the same time we must every one of us examine the conscious and unconscious assumptions that feed the prejudices, also conscious and unconscious, that to varying degrees we all possess.

Imagination, human sympathy, tolerance: these are all human qualities that can be cultivated if we open ourselves up to them. Not all of us will, there are always the hard cases who will refuse to be moved, but surely a working majority of us could pull it off if we really wanted to. It could do us a great good, individually and collectively, if we would consciously give ourselves over to the stories, the narratives, the songs and artistic expression, of the people we most fear in the wide world and at home. But with an open heart instead of an ideological checklist of why to not be “taken in” by them.

But we have an immediate problem of evident police brutality that, along with our unresolved issues with “race” (a concept that biologists will tell us has no real validity), threaten to tear us further apart and to set us against each other.

Some ten years ago, on a short journey back to Argentina which I first visited about a quarter of a century earlier, I spoke with María Rosa Lojo, the author of a couple of books that I have translated. She commented on movie and TV police dramas in which police are the good guys. In Argentina, she said, with their history of corrupt and militarized policing, and the generals’ not-so-distant “dirty war” against the country’s own people (more than 10,000 “disappeared” in the late 1970s and 80s, some of their bodies dropped from planes into the ocean), no such drama would sell for the simple reason that no one would believe it. Their antipathy is also rooted in 19th-century Argentine literature, in particular to a literary gaucho, one Martín Fierro, and other renegades whom the people would give shelter on the assumption that bad and oppressive governance had driven them to their transgressions.

I fear that we may be heading for such a fate in the United States. In some African American communities, perhaps we are already there or already arriving. I have seen enough outrageous videos lately to make me seriously question, at the very least, if all of my countrymen and women can really expect justice from their local police force. Can we act for substantive change while it’s not too late to reverse things? Both reality and perception?

I’m not sure, but we must hope. And both our hope and our knowledge must inform our actions.

On happiness and other matters; or, “Something good in the state of Denmark”

Last week I was on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington – where more than two decades ago I did my undergraduate work in Spanish and English and took my first and only formal course in the art of translation – for the annual conference of the American Literary Translators Association. This was my first ALTA conference and I hope not the last. It was good to be surrounded for a few days by a group of people who are passionate about the same things – in this case: words, languages, literature, cultures – and to make some new friends and establish new connections.

Willis Barnstone

Willis Barnstone

One of the personal highlights, among many, was running into a former professor, the renowned poet and translator Willis Barnstone. We were at an event at the Lily Library, where in my youth I worked as a page and made boxes for some of its rare books. Professor Barnstone was about to walk past me when he was struck by something in my appearance and took a double take. I took advantage of the moment to stretch out my hand, lean toward him, and re-introduce myself.

“You won’t remember me,” I said, “but I had a class with you many years ago.”

He commented, with his characteristically warm and radiant smile, that there was something about my “persona.” I was wearing my wide-brimmed black hat at the time, my beard just a bit on the bushy side. He thought I resembled Walt Whitman. It occurred to him, he said, that I had the persona of someone whose portrait should be hanging from one of those walls.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Later, in a less crowded space, we talked some more. He asked me if he had been a good teacher. “Fantastic,” I said with complete sincerity. I told him that what I most remembered from that class (on the Spanish poets of the Generation of 1927, as I recall) was hanging on his every syllable as he read to us the verse of Federico García Lorca. I had already loved those poems before properly understanding them, I said. He became all the more radiant, if that is possible, and exclaimed that he still loved Garcia Lorca’s poetry.

The author and Januk Pyalski after Declamación

The author and Janek Pytalski after Declamación

He thanked me for what I had said about his teaching and said I’d made his day. What he might not know is that I went out of there that evening feeling considerably uplifted just for the pleasure of conversing with him again. I am sure that it would have been so even if he hadn’t said what he did about my persona.

That was on Friday evening. A couple of hours later a good number of us were gathered for an event called Declamación. This is a relatively new tradition that has become immensely popular since its inception a few years ago. It is not a reading but a declaiming, a series of performances strictly by memory, of bits of poetry or prose or song in the original language and / or in English translation – ranging from the comic to the profoundly serious and moving. While I did read earlier that day (from La pasión de los nómades / Passionate Nomads), I was content that evening to be a spectator while others achieved marvelous heights of memory and entertainment.

The acts included an amazing rap performance, entirely in the ancient Greek, of the opening sequence of Homer’s Iliad; the plaintive minor chords of a traditional Vietnamese song; a recitation, in Middle English, of part of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and a great deal of poetry in various languages.

One performance that I particularly enjoyed was Michael Goldman’s singing of a lyric by the Danish sensation Benny Andersen, whose CDs and poetry have both sold phenomenally in Denmark. Michael, a carpenter and musician from Florence, Massachussetts, who just happens to have married a Danish woman, has made it his life’s loving labor to bring Andersen’s work to an English-language audience. And as far as he knows this is the first time that one of Andersen’s songs has been performed in English.

Michael Goldman

Michael Goldman

The thing that most struck me about the funny, sweet, and strangely moving song that Michael sang is how deceptively simple and under-stated it was. That, Michael assured me, is the Danish way. I am glad I took him up on his invitation to attend his reading, the next day, of several of Andersen’s poems which again he presented in both the Danish and the English.

The translation I’m sharing with you now, which at my request Michael was kind enough to send me, is not one of those that he read but bears the same subtle wit and folksy wisdom. It was published recently in The Cincinnati Review.


There’s something special about happiness

you can be really glad

when you feel it

but also anxious

you freeze for a second

then slowly step forward cautiously

like in a minefield

and every time you put a foot down

without being blown up

you either forget to enjoy your happiness

or you’re upset over not knowing

how long it will last

so when adversity finally appears

it’s a relief

like you’ve made it to safety again

it’s a shame

because there’s something special about happiness

that you don’t otherwise come across

maybe that’s the problem

we don’t know it well enough

should learn more about it

I think it’s a matter of training.

By Benny Andersen ©1964 “Lykken”

Translated by Michael Goldman

In retrospect, I am reminded of the subtle wit and wisdom of certain lyrics by Paul Simon, in this particular case the song called “Something So Right” (he can’t get used to it; it’s likely to lose him, to confuse him; whereas, if something goes wrong, well he’s the first to own it …)


Four literary friends

María Gabriela Mizraje, 2nd from left, with author and friends in Córdoba, Argentina in July 2005

A couple of good things of a literary nature have happened to me this summer:

First, my translation of María Gabriela Mizraje’s short story “Vía libre” (“Open Road”) was published in the summer edition of The Antigonish Review, a Canadian journal (from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia) which has been very kind to me in the past. Previously it has published my translations of work by María Rosa Lojo, first some prose poetry (from Awaiting the Green Morning) and, then, an excerpt (with my accompanying essay) from what would become Passionate Nomads, a novel of historical fantasy. This is the first of María Gabriela’s work to appear in English.

Second, I completed the full draft of a Young Adult novel called Original Sins. I am particularly grateful to my daughter Stephanie for her early reading of the first chapters and her advice that helped me get off on a more solid footing than I might have otherwise. So far the reviews on the finished draft have been good, but I am awaiting further feedback before doing a final revision (I hope) at the beginning of the next calendar year. Then I will most likely be looking for an agent who might like to represent it.

Passionate Nomads and its Environmental Theme

Passionate Nomads

“The ancient powers have already fallen: the power of gods and elves, of secret forest dwellers and goblins. The glory of haughty animals has fallen: the magnificent masters of woods and mountains, the slippery lunar fishes of river and sea, all constituting just one bit of evidence that likewise the kingdom of man, victim and tyrant of the world, is about to pass away.”

So narrates the fictional but visionary Rosaura dos Carballos in the opening lines of Passionate Nomads (Aliform Publications, 2011: www.aliformgroup.com), my translation of Buenos Aires master wordsmith María Rosa Lojo’s award-winning historical fantasy La pasión de los nómades (Atlántida, 1994). Rosaura, though present in the novel principally in her human form, is a water fairy, daughter of the famous Morgan Le Fay and “a plebeian Galician goblin of no standing whatsoever, one of those vagabonds (trasnos to my Galician compatriots) who like to roam about playing practical jokes on people.” The Galicia she speaks of is Spanish Galicia, which lies in Spain’s green northwestern Celtic country where Rosaura was to be raised by her political uncle Merlin the Magician. Merlin, you see, after the ultimate fiasco of the Knights of the Round Table, has retired in privacy to a rural estate in this land so reminiscent of the Irish countryside. Until, found out by tourists who afflict his solitude and litter up the surroundings, he and Rosaura end up emigrating (via Switzerland) to Buenos Aires.

It is there, on the Argentine pampas, that the færie world of Western Europe meets that of indigenous Argentina, where Rosaura confronts her own destiny on those rolling pampas. She travels in the company of an old military man, writer, globetrotter and dandy named Lucio V. Mansilla who has escaped from Paradise and now, restored with Rosaura’s and Merlin’s help to the physical form of his youthful glory, returns to the land of his most famous adventure among the Ranquel Indians – whom he immortalized in a book that has never fallen out of print in the Spanish language – to face the judgment of History.

The poet / novelist in Buenos Aires

María Rosa in Buenos Aires, 2005

The novel is narrated, alternately, by Rosaura and Mansilla. Lojo re-creates Mansilla’s voice with remarkable fidelity to the historical voice set down in his writings, but Rosaura’s voice with which the novel begins is pure invention and among the greatest imaginative achievements of a prolific and well-regarded literary career. Rosaura’s charming account of the circumstances of her birth and approximately 200 years of youth is by itself almost worth the price of the book. But that is not what I would focus on at the moment. I am more interested, immediately, in the environmental theme suggested in the above-cited warning about the demise of the ancient powers and “the kingdom of man, victim and tyrant of the world, [which] is about to pass away.”

I have had this topic in mind for some time, but it is made even more pertinent by New York Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of Barack Obama last week for environmental reasons. I understand that this comes too late to much influence this coming Tuesday’s election, but it has long seemed particularly terrifying to contemplate the possibility of a President Romney who has aligned himself with the global-warming deniers and made fun of President Obama’s efforts to promote alternative forms of energy. Granted, the President has not gone far enough in this direction, and has indulged with nearly everyone else in touting the benefits of a “clean” coal that does not really exist, but he has been moving in the right direction. There is at least reason to hope that he might accomplish bolder strides in a second administration.

But my interest, as is often the case in these essays, is in the rhetorical power of literature to direct the reader’s attention, to persuade toward attitude which is the necessary prelude to action.  I would not say that Passionate Nomads is an environmental treatise – for one thing, it is not a didactic work; what “message” there may be is sublimated to the detail of image and story – but the convergence of Old World and indigenous American mythologies paints a picture that the thoughtful reader will pick up on.

Spanish editions of La pasión de los nómades

Spanish editions

Below I will excerpt, from later in this first chapter, a serious-humorous interview between Rosaura and Merlin on the subject of that environmental theme. For another excerpt, see my earlier blog of October 8, 2011. And if this one and that other seem compelling – if you haven’t already done so – I hope you’ll consider supporting the literary arts (not to mention the career of this struggling literary artist! :) by purchasing a copy of the translation from the publisher’s website (www.aliformgroup.com). If not for yourself, perhaps as a gift (during the upcoming holiday season) for someone you love.

Pardon the crass appeal to self-interest, but this website does exist in the first place to promote my literary work. Though in my defense, I have spent more time promoting others’ work. The interest in the literary arts, in any case, is (I hope) mutual. If I were just in it for the money I would have long ago given up in despair.

But enough of that. I hope you will enjoy the following excerpt. Pleasant and profitable reading!


One fine day Merlin called me to his office-laboratory. He had lit his pipe of aromatic herbs and the air was a deep blue.

“My dear niece,” he began, “things are getting worse. I didn’t feel so worried even at the time of Spain’s civil war or this century’s second European war, which after all were human matters: crazy, foolish, unjust, and cruel, like all of men’s struggles for power. But now they’re destroying the world for us, our world, in an even more serious way.”

He took hold of a thick book of archives crammed with jumbled newspaper clippings.

“Look: the North Sea polluted, the Mediterranean going the same way, crystalline German rivers turned into drainage ditches, the beaches of Galicia adorned with corks, broken bottles, and beer cans. Thousands of factories dirtying mother waters and eternal forests everywhere. Surely you’re not going to tell me you don’t know.” And he planted an accusing finger almost on my nose. “To top it all off,” he continued, giving me no time to respond, “just take a look at these idiots who come here day after day, invading the grounds with cookie wrappers and plastic baggies, trampling like hogs on the new pansy blossoms. All because a reckless fellow had the blasted idea of divulging that this is Merlin’s residence. The truth is they couldn’t care less about me. They would come just the same if someone told them Jack the Ripper or Spiderman lived here. Probably even more. They’re only interested in taking a few bad photos, filling a little bottle with dirt, and when they get home saying that the mansion was very curious (a mixture of Galician manor and Scottish castle, with Gothic touches) but that the owner was an old lunatic and eccentric who refused to perform a single magic show of any sort despite the fact they had unfailingly paid their tour fares to the last cent.”

My uncle sat down and flung all of the embers from his pipe at a tender little plant that adorned the corner of his great sculpted desk, which was a sign of the most severe, uncontrollable indignation.

“Well, aren’t you going to answer me?”

“But uncle, you won’t let me get a word in edgewise.”

Merlin’s gray eyes grew calm. He smiled with an expression of slight annoyance.

“That’s true, lass. But it’s been almost fifty years since I’ve been so upset. Can’t I allow myself the luxury twice a century of getting worked up?”

I stood, attempting a courtly reverence.

“Milord, you are the master, you are in your own house. I kiss your archiepiscopal hand and your foot shod with silver buckle.”

“Clearly, niece, you’ll always be the same impudent mocker! And unobservant besides. I replaced the silver buckles and cork soles years ago with these very stylish suede boots.”

By now my godfather’s brow had relaxed, and the fleeting interest in fashion had erased from his mind, for a moment, his obsession with the Destiny of the World. He had returned to being the usual Merlin: that jovial and good-humored gentleman who governed his house with silken hands and steely lucidity.

“Come on, uncle, tell the truth. Don’t you already have a solution for this mess?”

“Not the broad solution, far from it. We ceased having dominion over men many years ago, too many. In Europe especially, whom would we convince? At most we’re objects of curiosity or derision, but not respect. Besides, since the law of the human world is – as I have repeatedly told you – governed by gold, you know very well I don’t have enough to be really powerful. And you also know we’re forbidden from making it.”

That left me pondering. I was sure my uncle was lying about the size of his fortune. It is extremely unlikely that a Scot (or a Galician) will proclaim that he’s rich. Rather, he will shed tears over the very place where his possessions (generally coins or ingots of the purest gold) lie buried, and foreswear himself to say that in so many years of work and/or enterprising speculation he has only been able to accumulate a modest little income, barely enough to live on. But I thought that if Merlin was lying, he was only lying a little. Unfortunately for us he was neither Onassis nor Getty nor Rockefeller. Just a well-to-do gentleman (an ordinary millionaire with only a few zeros) who had made some appreciable investments in Switzerland. This last thought was confirmed by his next words:

“I’ve been thinking, and I take your approval for granted, that it’s in our interest to sell this property, now visited by so many unpleasant people (which will no doubt increase its value in the ridiculous hotel market), and move for the time being to a peaceful country like Switzerland, where we’ll certainly have enough to eat.”

The reference to eating is not a metaphor. We do eat. We don’t need to but have become accustomed to it. It’s one of the pleasures of life. And as I have said already, we finally did leave. We installed ourselves comfortably in a little town in the Alps, located at such an altitude that it was not reached by atmospheric or any other sort of pollution. We might have remained there for several years, for Merlin was tired and had become very sedentary.

1st Spanish edition

Rosaura on cover of 1st Spanish edition

Chicago Amplified: Recording of Book Event at Instituto Cervantes

Here is the link to the audio recording that was done by a local public radio station of the November 17 book event at the Instituto Cervantes in Chicago. It begins with introductory remarks by the director of the Argentine Consulate in Chicago, the translation’s publisher Jay Miskowiec, and Professor Rosa Tezanos-Pinto of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI); followed by my own remarks about the history of my involvement with the text that became Passionate Nomads; Maria Rosa Lojo’s presentation about her personal history and that of the original novel; and concludes, finally, with my brief reading from the translated text.


The presentation is entirely in English, so Spanish-language proficiency not required. Pleasant listening!

Notes from My Journal: the Chicago-Indianapolis Book Tour (Part 2: María Rosa Lojo and the Revelation of the Hidden)

Bolivians at Indianapolis

Los Bolivianos, Lilly Auditorium, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis

Saturday, November 19

Passionate Nomads The event yesterday evening in Indianapolis was better attended, it’s being on a campus with lots of students to be brought in. And it went well. The time was shared by a Bolivian writer, María Cristina Botelho, resident now in Indy with her daughter Paola and [Paola’s] husband and child. I don’t  have my copies of her books with me right now in the University Place Hotel where I am writing, but in the trunk of the car which awaits us in the underground parking garage. One is a slim collection of short fiction and the other, even thinner, a collection of poems. She presented first, we after her. It was just María Rosa and I at the table; María Rosa spoke briefly to introduce the subject, I followed with a brief talk (perfectly informal) about how I came to translate this work. She followed with a slide-show presentation tracing her personal history of coming to Mansilla as a subject, etc., then I with a brief reading – the passage toward novel’s end containing the Ranquel chief Mariano Rosas’ eloquent speech to his ghostly compatriots. Much as Thursday night except that Jay introduced us then and Professor Rosa Tezanos-Pinto sat with us at the table and read a rather lengthy background-bio about María Rosa and her work. (After the session last night she gave me a signed copy of the book of essays she and two other editors compiled in relation to María Rosa and her literary ouvre.)

María Cristina Botelho, María Rosa Lojo, Rosa Tezanos-Pinto

María Cristina Botelho, María Rosa Lojo, Rosa Tezanos-Pinto

My father attended last night. While Thursday’s session was conducted in English, last night’s was in Spanish. Dad listened intently, understanding parts; and told Anita later that he was proud of me. Anita, for her part, had a hard time staying awake for this one, except when I read in English; the previous night I was delighted to look out and see her wide smile from the front row.


Table Talk at Indianapolis Bar

Table Talk: José Luis, Rosa, María Cristina, Paola, Anita, María Rosa, Brett

At home now, 10:00 pm Central time, after partially settling in this evening after supper at Fiesta Grande, where Anita and my former ESL student Mercedes Mendez conspired to have an over-sized ceremonial Pancho Villa hat placed on my head while they presented me with a complimentary sopapilla con helado, and sang me a happy birthday two days early. It was a pleasant enough way to cap off my three-day mini book tour. Today, technically, was post-book tour, but a few hours of it spent with friendships both renewed and newly formed. My day’s earlier writing, in fact,  was sandwiched between 9:00 Eastern (Indianapolis) breakfast in our hotel room and 11:00 check-out, when I put our bags in the car and we headed out with María Rosa, our hostess Rosa, and her charming and solicitous husband and fellow professor José Luis. Departing to where? After a side excursion to their home where José picked up an old GPS  – “to give to Braulio,” he sweetly said to his wife, in his soft, delicate voice – to help me get around in and about big cities. [Braulio is a nickname acquired in Argentina, and Anita’s pet name for me.] The previous night, after the presentation at the IUPUI university library, Lilly Auditorium, we had gone with them and with María Cristina and María Paola to an upscale restaurant-bar where we had drinks and a variety of snacks that we shared all around the crowded corner table. It was a social gathering, full of laughter and conversation, that had all the feel of a South American gathering of family and friends. A gathering at which José Luis seemed to take me under his wings, coaching me on which drink to try (a combination of wine and champagne, very good) and how to properly eat an oyster – a first for me. I feel deeply touched by his and Rosa’s generosity in particular. Of course, the visit with María Rosa, the reunion, to be clear, was wonderful even moreso for the bonding with Anita who now has her own connection into my international social world and even wants now to visit Argentina.

But where to this morning and early afternoon? I asked in the previous paragraph, and the sentence got away from me before I could answer it. We went to the Eiteljorg Museum which features the Native American experience in Indiana as well as further afield in our American West. María Rosa, so intent on the lives of those who the official histories have disappeared, written off, erased from the record to the extent possible, was enthralled with it. From there, before their dropping Anita and me at the hotel where we retrieved our rental car for the journey south, then whisked María Rosa away to the airport in time for her flight out of Indy – next stop, Virginia – from there, as I was saying, from that remarkable museum, to what I think was called the Barcelona Tapas Café where we shared some Spanish foods.

María Rosa's daughter Leonor's childhood art as backdrop to Brett's reading from Passionate Nomads

María Rosa's daughter Leonor's childhood art as backdrop to Brett's reading from Passionate Nomads

Leonor Beuter, artist

Leonor Beuter Lojo, artist

About María Rosa and her devotion to the recovery of the histories of indigenous American Others, a couple of notes from her presentation complete with computer-aided slide show: one, there was a darling picture of her at perhaps four years old, on “the greatest day of her life,” sitting at the wooden writer’s desk that she had wanted after her maternal grandmother had taught her to read and write, absolutely beaming with joy, sitting at the desk with which she felt herself now to be officially a writer, the desk which had been placed on her shoes outside on the patio by the Three Magi after the camels had eaten their grass. Secondly, an equally charming “portrait of the teenage girl as a young artist,” when she had commenced her career as a poet. In the first picture, hair cropped short; in the second, beautifully long. (On this visit, by the way, her hair is long again, though styled differently and not quite as long – perhaps for husband Oscar.) Combine those with her introduction to what [Argentine filmmaker] Atilio Perin called “the singularity” of Lucio Victorio Mansilla, who she read at about the time of that second photo, and which revealed to her a world that what she had learned in school totally hid from view. That was the commencement of her passion to reveal the hidden. Besides that, as she explained it, alluding to her “Minimal Autobiography” – recently published in Marjorie Agosín’s anthology, “which was also translated by Brett Alan Sanders” – it was by these means that she established herself, “the exiled daughter,” with roots in this American soil so distant from the mythic Galicia to which the father’s longing required her to “return” without having ever been there. But returning now not as a homeless girl but as a young woman with roots on both sides of the Atlantic, in different and even multiple worlds. Leonor had helped her put the visual aid together, and did a wonderful job. The last image was a briefly and elaborately crayoned picture of Leonor’s when she was a precocious child with vocation not unlike her mother who already wanted to be a writer – and the desk, which the child María Rosa had asked for with exactly that intention.

New Publications: “The Gentleman of the Willow” and “Minimal Autobiography of an ‘Exiled Daughter'”

You’ve heard, I’m sure, the expression “when it rains it pours,” by which usually we mean misfortune fast upon misfortune. But sometimes, too, it pours good fortune; in this instance, publication upon publication. Fast upon the June release of Passionate Nomads (see previous blog), in October both an excerpt from that novel and my translation of an autobiographical essay by its author appeared in print!

Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the AmericasMaría Rosa Lojo’s “Minimal Autobiography of an ‘Exiled Daughter’” appears in Chilean exile, poet, and human rights champion Marjorie Agosín’s anthology Inhabiting Memory: Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the Americas, published by Wings Press of San Antonio, Texas. This project, initially set for publication three or four years ago, was delayed indefinitely by the ravages of the global economic downturn and the literary publishing industry’s consequent agonies. But the final product is well worth the wait, and not just for María Rosa’s essay. The contributions range, geographically, from the United States and its border with Mexico, to Guatemala and El Salvador, and to Chile and Argentina and Uruguay, during and after the “dirty wars” that killed and “disappeared” tens of thousands of those countries’ populations.

But these essays are not all or even mostly about horror but about the creative acts of memory that allow a people to witness of those crimes and then shape them into an improved if not utopian future. A particular bonus for me is the fabulous Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s little essay (written at the time of Argentina’s rejection of military dictatorship and embrace of democracy) “A New Praise of Folly,” which updates Erasmus of Rotterdam’s original Praise of Folly which so influenced Miguel de Cervantes in his creation of the character and novel of his “mad” knight and ours, Don Quixote of La Mancha – who, in Walter Starkie’s translation, “had the fortune in his age / to live a fool and die a sage.”

Cortázar  witnesses of the heroic folly of the “mothers and dear grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” who almost single-handedly, by the persistence of their protests over untold disappearances of children and grandchildren, brought an illegitimate military regime to its knees; and to unnamed “people of the pen and of the word, exiles from within and from without,” who have subsequently helped broaden the campaign for greater accountability and revelation of the secrets of State terrorism. “Argentines,” he writes, “let’s continue in our folly: there is no other way to put an end to that reason that vociferates its slogans of order, discipline and patriotism. Let’s continue hurling the doves of the true country into the skies of our motherland and into those of the whole world.”

María Rosa’s essay, touching tangentially on that saga of los desaparecidos of the late 70s and early 80s, focuses more particularly on the legacy of memory bestowed in particular by her father, self-exile from Spain after having fought on the Republican side against the victorious fascist regime of the Generallisimo Francisco Franco. She writes of his memorializing of the now-mythic land of his Spanish Galicia, which it was the duty of the exiled daughter to carry within her being until the time of return. Her parents, by the time of the dictator’s death, were too old and ill to make any such journey, so it was left to her, who eventually did make the symbolic return to that land she had only inhabited in imagination. By then, comfortable within the particularities of a life now rooted on American soil, she only “returned to pay homage to memory, not to stay.” She writes: “I did not renounce any of my lands, any of my histories. I have fully accepted my dual identity, just as I have my dual citizenship. The initial schism, the ambivalence, have been transformed into intricate riches. I can look at Spain from Argentina and at Argentina from Brett with RosebudSpain.”

The past month’s other publication, “The Gentleman of the Willow,” appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Rosebud: The Magazine for People Who Enjoy Good Writing, and is excerpted from Passionate Nomads, my translation of María Rosa’s 1994 novel La pasión de los nómades. This excerpt from her unique and charming historical fantasy contains the unlikely meeting of the water fairy Rosaura dos Carballos, emigrant from Spanish Galicia, and Lucio V. Mansilla, recent escapee from Paradise, 19th-century Argentine jack-of-all-trades and author of a book about his nation’s Ranquel Indians. For a different excerpt from the novel, see last month’s blog.

As for this new publication, let me briefly sing the praises of Rosebud, that distinctive little magazine that could, edited and co-founded by Rod Clark, jewel among literary magazines. Rosebud, no respecter of genres but publisher of lively stories, essays, and poetry from science fiction and fantasy to strictly literary works, all of it richly elegant and accessible, has published poetry from the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Stephen King, and in the present issue a rare piece by General George S. Patton; as well as prose by known entities like Ray Bradbury and a vast array of writers whose names are not well known but perhaps should be. The present issue contains, among its numerous worthy pieces, a second translation, by Thomas Feeny, of a comic story by Italian writer Alfredo Panzini; poetry editor and speculative fiction writer John E. Smelcer’s “The Girl Who Killed Custer”; and a deeply moving, melancholy story with a Spanish title by Margaret Benbow.

It also contains Appendix I and Appendix II from Clark’s science fiction “micro-novel” Redshift: Greenstreem, originally published in 2000 and just re-issued by the Cambridge (WI) Book Review Press. (It is available from the publisher and from amazon.com.) The book is being touted as “a minor cult classic,” and having just purchased and read a copy I can see why. It has much to say about the present economic crisis (about which it is highly prescient) and about the need for something like the Occupy Wall Street movement that is currently sweeping the nation. Say what you will about the merits of these occupations, the need for concern that they highlight – over the wildly increasing gap between rich and poor both at home and abroad – seems hard to seriously question. Maybe, by some creative mix of rhetoric and protest, we can still save our children and grandchildren from the ill fate prophesied in Clark’s dystopian narrative.