Month: December 2019

The Attraction of the Local Writer

When you live in the English-speaking world, discovering a wonderful local writer must be a cool experience, as you can immediately go online and write about it knowing what most people will be able to read his work if they are so inclined.

In my case, it’s a bit of a bittersweet experience.  You see, the local writers I usually discover tend to be untranslated into English, no matte how wonderful their work is… which means that I can really only make most of my writerly friends aware of their existence, but I can’t share it.

Más sería vicio - Saurio

Almost a year and a half ago, as I was leaving the monthly gathering of Buenos Aires-based SFF writers (all but me Spanish-language writers), one of the writers followed me out the door and gifted me one of his books (a particularly touching gesture as most of the Argentines are also investors who have to sell books to make the projects worth their while).

The book went into my TBR pile and has now cycled through.

Más sería vicio (note that the title has caps only on the first letter, as that is the way it’s done in Spanish) by Saurio was a book that I literally had no idea about.  I’d never read anything by Saurio, and I hadn’t even heard of him until that same day he gave me the book.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I waded into this one, only to find that it’s one of those treats that you just don’t get in the English-Language world.  Essentially, it’s the voice of Argentina’s neighborhoods–not the literary elite, but the real, gritty people of an earlier age–expressed in a series of short stories that straddle the border between straight fantasy and magical realism.  Unlike most Argentine literature (and especially local film), which, at the drop of a hat, descend into a tango-like rending of the garments about the military dictatorship, or poverty or… or about just anything… this book is funny and irreverent as opposed to ponderous.

Yes, it’s dark.  But it’s dark in a take-no-prisoners, laugh-at-everything way with a proletarian voice you couldn’t mistake for anything but Argentine, and an utter disregard for social niceties.

Having said that, it must also be noted that Saurio follows the Shakespearian (or possibly Cervantine, in this case) tradition of keeping the masses (me…) entertained with his obscene references and painfully silly characters while, at the same time making references to everyone from Lovecraft to alternative (very alternative) rock group The Residents.  You have to be on your toes to catch all the intertextualities.

There are lots of these, and the author, when he actually remembers them, explains them in footnotes.

All in all, fun and cultural interest in a literary package that, for a couple of days, made me happy.  Recommended to anyone who reads Spanish.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose most recent collection of short stories–Off the Beaten Path–doesn’t straddle any boundaries.  They’re either fantasy or science fiction… though some seem to be one and are really the other.  You can have a look at it here.

Boring on a Large Scale, Well Done on the Small Stage

I always thought that a well-written story could pretty much overcome any apathy towards the subject matter itself.  Hell, if you think of the stakes of the last book you read, odds are that they only matter to the characters themselves.

And yet, when reading Arthur Hailey’s novel In High Places, the major stakes were essentially the possibility of Canada combining a good chunk of its sovereignty with the US.  It was written from the Canadian point of view, and it’s pretty safe to say everyone was gravely concerned with the possibility that things might go one way or the other.

Authur Hailey - In High Places

Um… Yawn.

Canada’s fate failed to inspire even the slightest interest.  I couldn’t care less, so the main political cut and thrust of the book lost a lot of its strength.

Fortunately, there was a subplot which affected the larger events in which a young lawyer attempted to win a court case against all odds.  That held my interest sufficiently that I was able to finish the book in a reasonable amount of time.

Hailey sold a ton of books (including the later-filmed Airport), so I suppose a lot of people cared about his subjects and I’m in the minority here, but this one didn’t do much for me at all…

Apparently, political intrigue of great moment to Canadians is my threshold for stuff that actually IS too uninteresting to read about, even in the hands of a master page-turner of a novelist.

This one allowed me to discover more about myself than about the book.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist.  His latest book is a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories that take place outside the usual American and European settings.  It’s entitled Off the Beaten Path, and you can buy it here.

Discovering Noblebright

A couple of years ago, I saw a call for submissions for an anthology to be entitled Still Waters.  I read through the guidelines and realized I had a story that fit with everything except one term I wasn’t sure of: Noblebright.

So I clicked on the link and learned a lot about the concept of Noblebright, including that it was meant to be a contraposition to grimdark.  Now I like a happy ending as much as everyone but, as I admitted in the introduction to Off the Beaten Path, I often set out to write a nice little story and somehow end up with bodies all over the place.

Still Waters edited by CJ Brightley

But though my story did kill of a perfectly nice and attractive character, it also embodied a lot of the concepts they wanted, so I sent it off.

As happens in these cases, I got the acceptance a couple of months later, and received my contributor copy when it was published.  The book went into my pile (those who come here often know I always read and review my contributors’ copies, even if it takes me a few months–or more–to get to each one).

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, but one thing that caught me off guard was the spectacular level of the writing here.  I know a couple of the authors involved, so they weren’t a surprise, but the level of craft across the entire book was.  Clearly, the field is getting better at being literary.

The second thing I realized is that most of this isn’t the kind of work I’d normally read were it not for the fact that I had a story in there.  The book is mostly composed of the more modern take on fantasy, meaning that there is less emphasis on adventure and a bit more on character motivation and emotional states.  There are also a couple of science fiction pieces (mine was one), but mainly, this one is more for those who enjoy the current trend of making the genre more literary and mystical (and yes, before you ask, my story is very much in line with this trend… my preferred reading is not always a reflexion on the way I write).

Finally, a word about Noblebright.  While the concept definitely makes for a much less painful reader experience because twisted, reader-unfriendly plots and characters are mostly absent, it also makes things a little predictable.  You know the main character (or the primary secondary character, or all of them) will be motivated by a desire to do good, so you find yourself consciously searching for the signs.  It doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable, but it was an interesting feature I thought worth mentioning.

Favorite story?  Probably “The Ice of Heaven” by Corrie Garrett.  I would have loved for that one to continue, aways the sign of a good story.

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s short fiction has been collected in several books, most recently in Off the Beaten Path, which you can check out here.

 

Despite Bob Hope and Jane Russell, this one Didn’t Quite Make the Grade

The next film in our 1001 movies quest was The Paleface (1948).  This one is interesting, and entertaining, but not really as good as some of the other flicks we’ve had the pleasure of watching.

The Paleface Film Poster

It pales (yes, that was intentional) beside Red River, which we discussed here just a few weeks ago.  One can argue that that is because The Paleface is a comedy… but that’s not it.  After all, the screwball era had just passed in Hollywood, releasing such classics as Bringing up Baby, My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man.  

The problem isn’t that Hollywood had forgotten how to do comedy, but that public tastes were changing to what we would now recognize as 1950s wholesomeness.  And it’s… well, it’s not as fun as the edgier stuff from the 30s and earlier in the 40s.

That’s not to say this movie isn’t fun.  It is. But it feels hopelessly innocent, like something made for kids.  The cynicism, the acceptance that adults could deal with more of an edge seemed to be seeping out of Hollywood at the same rate as it would disappear from American society.

That’s probably a natural reflection of the way Americans had changed after the war as they entered the golden age of the nation, and I assume we’ll find a lot of this as we watch the 1950s unfold through the lens of Hollywood (I’m also sure Hollywood will find a way to get a little darkness in there, so looking forward to that, too).

This is one of those films which couldn’t be made today because of the way native Americans are portrayed.  While everyone is made fun of in the film, the mere fact that some of the jokes are about Native tribes would preclude its being redone.  Also, the fact that the conflict between settlers and natives is told from the settlers’ side would make it unacceptable to the modern arbiters of cultural acceptability.  If anything, the fact that it’s unrepeatable might make it worth watching even if it isn’t perfect.

Of course, most viewers won’t care about any of that and simply enjoy the film for what it is: a goofy western with excellent actors in a transitional era.  Perhaps not a defining classic worthy of 1001 film inclusion, but an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author.  His work spans several genres, from literary to science fiction, and has even set some stories in the old west.  His latest book is a collection of stories entitled Off the Beaten Path, and you can check it out here.

Sometimes, a Wonderful Story Catches you by Surprise

So I’ve been reading through my pile of 1970s paperbacks.  The last one in the lot seemed different.  While the book itself was a 1970s paperback (actually 1967, but who’s counting?) with all the production values therein, the text itself appeared to be a war book from Eastern Europe, or a novel in the Dostoyevsky tradition.  The book was entitled The Bridge on the Drina–which made me think of a battle for that bridge.  The author?  Ivo Andrić.

The Bridge on the Drina - Ivo Andrić

I’d never heard of either, so I read the back cover.  Turns out Andrić was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961.  That did little to reassure me.  Nobel laureates have written some truly stultifying and ponderous works, and they were often selected more for ideological reasons than for actual literary merit (ask Borges’ ghost why he was never selected, and you’ll understand what I mean)… and Andrić was an official in communist Yugoslavia.

Uh-oh.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I set out to read this one.

No need.  I am here to tell you that, on this particular occasion, the committee got it right (although Andrić was selected over JRR Tolkien that year, which I think, in hindsight, was a mistake seeing how pervasive Tolkien has become as a cultural reference point).

The title gives away the story–the book is about the bridge that crosses the river Drina at the town of Višegrad, in Bosnia.  The thread that links the story together is actually the bridge itself.  Characters revolve around it, and it anchors nearly four hundred years of Bosnian, Serb, Turkish and Austrian history.  If you’ve ever read a James A. Michener novel, you’ll know how that works.

Characters come and go, their lives, their hopes, their loves and their dreams flickering on and off like a firefly as the constant stone of the bridge remains the rock that even the violent floods from off the mountain can never erode.

It is also the backdrop to tell of the turbulent political and colonial history of the Balkan region.

As a man who chronicled such things, the greatest of all Yugoslav writers was controversial everywhere after the breakup of the country into the smaller nations we know today.  Banned both in Bosnia and Croatia, his work has only recently come out from under the cloud.

But the bridge is bigger than the pettiness of politics.  It’s a character that you end up caring for possibly even more than you care for the humans who walk across its length.   When it is mined and partially blown up at the end of the book, you will lose a tear or two to that damaged stone.

The Bridge on the Drina

But, like the book itself, and the author’s legacy, the bridge is still there.  Rebuilt exactly as it was in 1914, when its center section was blown up.

Earlier this year, I sat down to write a few hundred words at a pub in Oxford called the Eagle and Child.  As literary pilgrimages go, it’s one of the greatest possible.

But now, I find myself wondering how difficult it might be to get to a little town in Bosnia to sit at the sofa on the kapia of a bridge that crosses a mountain river near the Serb border and write a few words, perhaps a short story.  Perhaps the history of the stones could seep into my writing as well.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He is unlikely to win the Nobel Prize (people who write monster books seldom do), but if he does, the book that will set him on his way is the literary collection Love and Death.  You can check it out here.