Tag Archives: One Hundred Years of Solitude

On desire and destiny, love and solitude

Megan Segarra

Megan Segarra

Megan Segarra of Meganda Films, a young Latina and independent filmmaker who has recently finished the revision of a screenplay based on the last chapter of Rosa Martha Villarreal’s novel The Stillness of Love and Exile, is currently raising money to bring the film to fruition. At the following Web address (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1355189502/noche-intempesta) you can read some more about the project as well as watch a trailer and a brief interview between author and screenwriter / director. A contribution of $10 or more, if you are able, would be very deeply appreciated and help in the creation of one more object of sublime beauty in a world so troubled by hate and violent absolutisms.

Rosa Martha Villarreal

Rosa Martha Villarreal

Villarreal was my editor at the former webzine Tertulia Magazine and author, previous to this novel, of a modern version of the Faustian myth (Doctor Magdalena) and a historical novel called Chronicles of Air and Dreams. The Stillness of Love and Exile has been honored with the 2008 PEN Oakland / Josephine Mile Literary Award and the Silver Medal for Best Regional Fiction for the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards. She is also the author, more recently, of a very charming children’s story about a boy, his dogs, and a baby dragon – The Adventures of Wyglaf Wyrm – which is available as an e-book (http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Wiglaf-Wyrm-Martha-Villarreal-ebook/dp/B00E7G044U) for the equally agreeable price of $1.99.

stillness_cover_300_0.book%20large%20teaser[1]I wrote briefly of The Stillness of Love and Exile in my journal of June 7, 2007: “From the outset, it’s quite a read, first the engrossing tale of a young woman – raped and taken away to Ciudad Juarez by a drug lord – and her road to escape and freedom; secondarily, a hopeful tale about her slow awakening to a sense of her own desire and the spiritual liberation that facilitates her movement to the fulfillment of that desire in her chosen destiny. I like this definition of terms in the opening lines of her opening prologue: ‘Fate is what happens upon us, an accident born of impassivity. Destiny is the journey which we choose, an awakening of the deepest desire for self-destruction and rebirth in the love of another.’”

In her personal dedication to my copy of The Stillness of Love and Exile, she invites me to enter “the dreams of desire and the possibilities of destiny.”

The title of her final chapter (and of the short screenplay) is in Spanish, though richly defined and elaborated in the English narrative and script: Noche Intempesta [Night of Stillness]: “In times past,” Villarreal writes, “when silences were part of the daily rhythms of men, the stars would realign themselves on the nights of stillness and the animals that hid themselves in the moon shadows rejoiced at their moment of freedom, and the diviners of the unseen worlds changed themselves into wolves, owls, and jaguars. Even in the Christian lands of Medieval Europe, the stoic monks who counted God’s heartbeats secretly awaited the nights of stillness. Though the constant din of machines has obscured the magic of the nights of stillness, in the small desert towns it is still conceivable to lose one’s self in the heart-spirit of silence.

noche-poster1[1] “When the night of stillness, la noche intempesta, descended upon the desertic lands of Texas-Coahuila, the invisible Natures that had haunted the poet Coleridge suddenly became visible. In the impenetrable stillness, Lilia’s heart became the mirror of a terrible wonder …”

Here’s hoping for the success of this venture in independent cinema. In times as troubled as ours (perhaps they have always been this way), the magic of literary and cinematographic narrative and art is as welcome as water in a parched landscape.

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While Rosa Martha Villarreal’s novel ends up in a happier place than Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), his great novel – the crowning achievement of Latin American magical-realist fiction, at the very least – ends up pointing in the same direction. In its final chapter, unnumbered and untitled, which I finally came to the end of the other night after quitting decades earlier without (it appears) having gotten further than the end of chapter four of twenty, it almost looks like the troubled family dynasty begun by the first José Arcadio Buendía is going to be saved from the dust of oblivion by the son (last of the Aurelianos) of the ecstatic and prodigious love of Amaranta Úrsula and the second-to-last Aureliano:

Image from the Author's Website (www.themodernworld.com/gabo)

Image from main page of the author’s website (www.themodernworld.com/gabo)

“Through her tears [of childbirth],” we read (in my hasty and imperfect translation), “Amaranta Úrsula saw that he was one of the great, strong, willful Buendías like the José Arcadios, with the open and clairvoyant eyes of the Aurelianos, and predisposed to start the lineage over again from the beginning and purify it of its pernicious vices and its solitary vocation, because he was the only one in a century who had been conceived in love.”

But in almost the next breath the child’s mother dies and his father places him in the little basket that she had prepared for him and begins wandering aimlessly around the town, coming to realize that he was “incapable of resisting the overpowering weight upon his soul of so much past.” In the novel’s final words (which I feel it is safe to reveal without giving too much away, should you want to read the book yourself) we are informed that the saga of their lives “was forever and ever unrepeatable because lineages condemned to one hundred years of solitude do not have a second chance on the earth.”

Still, the very illusion of the transformative power of those two lovers’ love, and all the positive magic that occurs in the length of the book to transform plain reality into something as timeless and significant as the sad saga of the Trojan War as narrated in Homer’s Iliad, or the troubled homecoming of Ulysses in the Odyssey, is more than enough to lift the heart even as it cries a little at this last of many misfortunes.

There is so much more to say, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

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On the new Fabula Press and on the fabulist fiction of Gabriel García Márquez and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Fabula Press Homepage

From the Fabula Press Homepage

Anirban Ray Choudhury, my former editor at The Quill & Ink e-zine (where at his invitation a few years ago I published some essay, fiction, and translation), has recently informed me that he is reviving that project under a new name and in a different format. The Quill & Ink is now Fabula Press (www.fabulapress.com) and the plan is, with his partner Rajeev Pareek, to host a quarterly writing contest and, with the results of each one, publish a print anthology that will be available for purchase at a number of online bookstores. By taking a modest $10 entry fee for submissions they will be able initially to pay out between $100 and $150 to the top three stories and offer publication to a number of others: each issue may contain 12-15 stories.

When Anirban approached me about this new venture, he asked if I would volunteer to be one of the four judges. I have accepted and am anxious to see the project succeed. The first competition, the Aestas Short Story Contest 2014, is set to accept online submissions between May 20 and June 20 at 11:59 p.m. (Hong Kong time) on the theme of Summer (aestas being the Latin word for that season). The theme may be interpreted broadly on a range between strictly literal and strictly metaphorical and, after a first round determined by the editors, will be judged according to a 9-point set of criteria and the scores of the four judges taken together. The judges will receive the stories without authors’ names on the manuscripts, so anyone reading this who wants to submit should not worry about a conflict of interest. I encourage all of my fellow writers to check out the complete guidelines at the website and give the competition a shot!

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Spain's leading newspaper report's the death of "a genius of universal literature"

Spain’s leading newspaper reports the death of “a genius of universal literature”

It hasn’t been but two or three weeks since I heard about the death of Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and acknowledged master of the magical realist style of writing which started in Latin America. A rejection of pure journalistic realism and objectivity, in a quest for the deeper significance of human experience, it instead starts from a core of the ordinary, the mundane, and the “real” and wildly exaggerates it, as Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman points out in a remembrance in the issue of The Nation (5/26/14) that just arrived this week in my mailbox.

Since I began reading García Márquez in Spanish some thirty years ago, I have been a deep admirer in particular of his short stories; and have also especially loved his historical novel The General in his Labyrinth, about the South American liberator Simón Bolívar, and the romantic novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Just a couple of months ago I finally polished off The Autumn of the Patriarch, which was recommended to me long ago by fiction-writing professor John McCluskey, Jr. and my former high school English teacher Margaret Meadors; and for most of three decades has been sitting on one of my bookshelves. It is indeed quite a remarkable achievement.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude

But I am embarrassed to admit – and all the more so after reading Dorfman’s account of devouring it in about 24 hours of marathon reading, just before its official release in 1967 – that I still have not made it all the way or even half way through One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is largely considered to be García Márquez’s masterpiece and one of the great literary achievements of the 20th century. I did, while still an undergraduate at Indiana University, read James Joyce’s Ulysses, in an extremely profitable independent study with Professor Brian Caraher (who has since then found his way to Belfast where he is a Chair at Queens University); and just recently I have finished volume two of the new translation of Marcel Proust’s monumental seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time (formerly In Remembrance of Things Past), which I have long intended to read. But I have never been able to get through more than a quarter of García Márquez’s most celebrated novel, which for whatever reason seemed to lose my interest after the initial excitement of it.

In any case, the result of Dorfman’s unintended shaming is that I have pulled it off the shelf and resolved to not put it back until I have conquered it. I had thought that maybe I should try it in Gregory Rabassa’s undoubtedly brilliant translation, but not having it at hand have instead pulled my Spanish copy off the shelf. Perhaps at this moment I am more prepared for it than I was all those years ago.

At some point, of course, there is still Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, that I hope to read before I die – after re-visiting, first, the early and more accessible works (Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and Ulysses. If I can’t get a professor to sit down with me and help me study it, I’ll have to have a good guide book at hand. But I have always enjoyed a good literary challenge. (I don’t have the patience, on the other hand, to do something as simple as thread a needle, which I have always found to be no less frustrating than the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle.)

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Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Speaking of magical realism, I have just this past week finished reading – in the masterful translation of Keith Gessen and Anna Summers – a very accessible collection of Russian stories that might somewhat fit under that classification. The author is Ludmilla Petruvshevskaya and this selection of her stories is called There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales. She also has already published (in Anna Summers’s translations) a couple more collections of short fiction, more strictly realistic in style; and a novel, supposedly her own master work, forthcoming in the fall — which already exists in a reportedly inferior earlier translation, so beware! (my source for that is an article, also, in a recent issue of The Nation).

These selections have a particularly mystical quality, and perhaps to some extent have more in common with the moral folk tales that Tolstoy invented or re-told in his later years than with García Márquez’s (one story in particular, “The Old Monk’s Testament,” brings the best of those Tolstoyan folk tales to mind). Her style is more sharp-edged than Tolstoy’s and more spare than García Márquez’s, but they are always rich in voice and description. Of course all such comparisons are at best approximations.

Petrushevskaya, whose work as a dramatist helped to support her in the years that her other work was banned (though none of it explicitly political), is certainly the most critically renowned living Russian writer after the death of the more internationally famous Alexander Solzhenitsyn; in fact, her first story published in Russia, “The New Robinson Crusoes,” which appears in this volume, was published alongside Solzhenitsyn’s famous account of the Stalinist prison camps called The Gulag Archipelago.

While no longer banned, Petrushevskaya remains controversial since as the translators comment, “Many Russian readers cannot forgive the unremitting bleakness (even if it was always mixed with profound sympathy and hope) of her early work” (perhaps that is also why she was originally banned, since the vision of Russian life she revealed did not reflect so well on that particular Utopia of the Proletariat). I might add, in any case, that the stories in this selection certainly transcend any bleakness as they reflect what, at the risk of falling into a cliché, I will call “the triumph of the human spirit.” I highly recommend them.