Down the Rabbit Hole, El Imperio de los Sueños, Giannina Braschi, Javier Marías, Juan Pablo Villalobos, latino, Puerto Rico, spanish, summer, summer reading, The Infatuations, United States of Banana, Yo-Yo Boing!
by Claudio Iván Remeseira, @HispanicNewYork
Puerto Rican poet, novelist, and essayist Giannina Braschi is a true force of nature. Born in 1953 into an affluent San Juan family, by the age of 14 she was the youngest female tennis champion in Puerto Rico’s history. Before turning 18 she had left home to study literature in Madrid, Rome, London, and Paris. After four years in Europe, she established herself in New York, where she later earned a PhD in Spanish literature from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. An expert in Cervantes, Garcilaso, Lorca, Machado, Vallejo, and Bécquer, she taught for many years at Rutgers, Colgate, and other prestigious universities.
A writer in three languages –Spanish, English, and Spanglish—her own literary work has been considered cutting-edge and revolutionary by the critics, as well as recognized with several awards by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, PEN American Center, Ford Foundation, and the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, among other organizations.
In 1988 she turned out “El Imperio de los Sueños,” widely regarded as a classic of Latin American Postmodernism, which at times, in the words of one critic, sounded uncannily like a female, tropical version of Samuel Beckett. Braschi’s production blends fiction, drama, essays, poetry, philosophy, and performance art. In 1998 she published “Yo-Yo Boing!” a novel written in Spanglish that dramatized the linguistic clash between “Anglos” and Latinos in New York City. Both “Yo-Yo Boing!” and “Empire of Dreams” have been masterfully translated into English by Tess O’Dwyer.
Braschi’s latest book is also the first one that she wrote entirely in English, “United States of Banana.” In a post-9/11 world, she explores the cultural experience of Latinos in the U.S. and the three political alternatives for Puerto Rico: nation, colony, and statehood—or in the author’s words, Wishy, Wishy-Washy, and Washy.
“Revolutionary in subject and form, UNITED STATES OF BANANA [sic] is a beautifully written declaration of personal independence,” declared The Evergreen Review. On September 26, Braschi is scheduled to appear on September 26 at the American Voces series organized by The John Hopkins University, Baltimore, where she will discuss her work with the audience.
Javier Marías’s 12th novel, “The Infatuations,” translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa, is a mesmerizing, disturbing novel. At the center of the story, there is an apparently random murder. All we know about this murder we know from the perspective of a woman of a rather uncontrolled imagination. This woman, Maria, is also the one who tells the story.
This is the first time that the award-winning Marías, born in Madrid in 1951 and considered one of the greatest Spanish-language novelists alive, employs a female narrator. As the storyline progresses, the murder mystery turns into a metaphysical inquiry into love and death, guilt and obsession, chance and coincidence—in sum, on the elusive nature of truth and of our ability to find it.
On the surface, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Juan Pablo Villalobos’s miniature novel, is just another example of “narco-literatura,” the genre inspired by the Mexican drug wars. More deeply, it is a brilliant experiment on perspective and the account of a delirious journey to grant a child’s wish.
Short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award, “Down the Rabbit Hole” is the promising debut of a post-boom generation writer (Villalobos was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1973).
Claudio Iván Remeseira is a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer, and critic. Translator of the Spanish-language on-line section of The Nation and editor of Hispanic New York, an online portal and blog on current events and culture. Editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2010), an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American & Iberian cultural heritage, and winner of the Latino International Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).
Born in San Juan and based in New York, Giannina Braschi is a cutting-edge poet, essayist, and novelist. She was a tennis champion, singer, and fashion model before she discovered writing. She holds a PhD in the Spanish Golden Age and has taught at Rutgers, Colgate, and City University. She has written on Cervantes, Garcilaso, Lorca, Machado, Vallejo, and Bécquer. Author of the euphoric poetry collection Empire of Dreams, the Spanglish novel Yo-Yo Boing! and the philosophical new work of fiction United States of Banana, Braschi has received grants and awards from National Endowment for the Arts, NY Foundation for the Arts, El Diario la prensa, PEN American Center, Ford Foundation, Reed Foundation, Rutgers University, Danforth Scholarship, and Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Her collected poems inaugurated the Yale Library for World Literature in Translation. She writes in three languages—Spanish, Spanglish, and English—to express the enculturation process of millions of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.—and to explore the three political options of Puerto Rico—nation, colony, or state. Braschi dedicates her life’s work to inspiring personal and political liberation.
When the government proclaims war against terrorism—it proclaims war against the awakening of the masses
Monkeybicycle: The United States of Banana is a conversation between yourself, contemporary and historical world figures, as well as literary characters about Puerto Rico’s current political climate. Why did you choose to dialogue with Hamlet and Zarathustra?
Giannina Braschi: Because I always write about my friends. And Hamlet and Zarathustra are my friends. Because we are prophetic, apocalyptic, and revolutionary. What we have in common is our brotherly love—we carry dead bodies on our backs—and we never give birth, although I am in labor most of my life. I knew Hamlet would give me the poetry, Zarathustra would give me the philosophy, Segismundo would give me the plot, and I would handle the politics. Together we would liberate Segismundo from the dungeon beneath the Statue of Liberty and liberate Puerto Rico from the United States of Banana.
Mb: The language used is extraordinary and has a very musical quality to it. This is also your first novel written wholly in English. What is the role of language in your work?
GB: I’ve studied music all my life. I’ve sung songs in foreign languages and learned those languages through those songs. I memorized T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land from tapes before I (mis)spoke English and discovered in Eliot’s dramatic shifts my own music—the anonymity of the voices that come from no where—the Greek chorus that captures the conscience of the people. Zarathustra said poets have not discovered the tones. But I have discovered the tones—I speak in tones—in tongues–and from different cultural registers. I mix languages. I mix genres. I mix myself with eccentrics.
Mb: Philosophy, literature, and politics collide through the monologues and dialogues that make up the book. Can you talk about the confluence of these three in your work. Does one inform the others, or are they, like the characters, in a constant dialogue?
GB: The characters Zarathustra, Hamlet, and Giannina exemplify the unity of philosophy, literature, and politics. They encounter each other in the streets of contemporary New York, recognize each other, and don’t stop walking, talking, and contradicting each other—but all dealing at the same level—no one thinking he is superior to the other. We see how the powers of the world are shifting and we shift with those shifting powers. We watch the collapse of the Twin Towers as the fall of the American Empire, and we rise into a new world of multiple possibilities where we meet prisoners of war, terrorists, ambassadors, kings, queens, and presidents. It’s a world in which philosophers, poets, and lovers are in power.
Mb: This is perhaps the funniest and most enjoyable postcolonial novel I’ve ever read. Though it deals with very serious and heavy events, such as the destruction of the World Trade Center, the immigrant experience, and revolution, it never loses sight of its humor. What does humor do for us in the face of tragedy?
GB: Tragedy is all about losing. And humor is all about gaining perspective. Humor returns our gladness. And with gladness comes generosity. Humor returns us to the light and makes us light—it kills grudges, buries bodies–buries revenge—buries blame and guilt—fear and dread. Laughter, like hiccups and sneezes and farts and burps, relieves us of severity.
Colonize your colonizers–they say–learn from those bloody bastards. Which bastards–I ask. The American bastards–they colonized your colonizers–Spain and England–and look how phony they look–like prairie dogs–following the Bushes in the oil fields of Iraq.
Mb: The novel deals a great deal with the american empire and the future of Puerto Rico. You describe its options as Wishy, Wishy-Washy, and Washy. What do you believe the future holds for Puerto Rico?
GB: Puerto Rico will be Wishy. Some people you will never discover, unless you create them first. Like Cervantes created Don Quixote and now we meet Don Quixotes in the street. Or like Tirso de Molina created Don Juan and now we say that guy over there is a Don Juan. Likewise, some countries you will not discover unless you create them first. I liberated myself from the eternal dilemma of Wishy, Wishy-Washy, or Washy. The United States of Banana is a declaration of independence.
Edward J. Rathke is the author of several books, one of them published [Ash Cinema, KUBOA Press 2012], two more coming out soon, as well as various short stories online and in print. He writes criticism and cultural essays for Manarchy Magazine and regularly contributes to The Lit Pub where he also edits. More of his life and words may be found at edwardjrathke.com.
August 18, 2013
“American Voces” is a new Distinguished Hispanic Writers series at Johns Hopkins University; on the first year’s roster, it presents Hispanic American writers Junot Díaz (Dominican Republic/US), Giannina Braschi (Puerto Rico/US), and Cristina García (Cuba/US).
The John Hopkins University has launched “American Voces”, a new distinguished Hispanic writers series, with two shining stars of the Caribbean: Dominican novelist Junot Diaz (This is How You Lose Her) and the Puerto Rican poet Giannina Braschi (United States of Banana).
The Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz opened the new series in March 2013, and set the casual but politically charged tone for American Voces. Díaz spoke about how genres “that nobody takes seriously” such as horror, science fiction, and fantasy, may be better equipped to narrate the stories of colonialism’s cultural violence than realistic genres.
American Voces will now open its Fall 2013 series with Boricua Giannina Braschi on September 26. Author of the Spanglish classic Yo-Yo Boing!, Braschi’s cutting-edge work bridges drama, fiction, essays, poetry, philosophy, and performance art. She will discuss hot topics such as immigration. On the subject she has noted (in United States of Banana): “There are two movements in the history of colonization: invasion and immigration. Emigration is a reaction to the invasion of a nation. Because they have been invaded — they will emigrate.
This is about changing perspective from the point of view of the colonizer to the point of view of the colonized. The colonizer organizes the invasion but doesn’t prepare for the counter-invasion. The colonized moves from the land of the invaded to the land of his invader with the same adventurous spirit of the conqueror — not to avenge with arms but to reap the spoils of war—to infiltrate that new culture and to conquer it with his own culture.”
Cristina Garcia, author of six novels including The Aguero Sisters and Monkey Hunting, will also appear in American Voces. On February 20, 2014, Garcia will present her new book King of Cuba, a darkly humorous novel about a decrepit dictator who refuses to accept that his grip on his health and his power is failing.
American Voces was founded and organized by Amanda Smith and Amy Sheeran to provide an engaging forum with Hispanic authors whose works re-imagine the cultural borders that have delimited the traditions of US and Hispanic literatures. This new series is sponsored by the Department of Germanic and Romance Languages at The John Hopkins.
reblogged from: Repeating Islands