A year ago, Buenos Aires was named the UNESCO World Book Capital City, an honor we at The Argentina Independent decided to commemorate by launching a new literary section and, with it, the ‘Author Spotlight’ series. Our goal was to bring stories, poems, plays and other writing by Argentine scribblers into English, and to feature this work alongside original English-language interviews with those contemporary Argentine scribes. In just twelve months, as the famed Buenos Aires International Book Fair has come and gone and come again, we’ve managed to do just that — bringing into English novel excerpts by Guillermo Martínez and Carlos Chernov, poetry by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg, theatre by Marcelo Pitrola, short fiction by Inés Fernández Moreno and a series of microfictions by Ana María Shua.
In addition, we’ve featured two authors — and will feature a third next month — whose novels will soon be available in English translation (hint: Ángela Pradelli, Carlos Gamerro, Andrés Neuman). And, as we celebrate the first birthday of this series, we’d like to toast these authors, and their excellent additions to the Anglophone library, alongside a few other Argentine novels we think are worthy of a place on your 2012 Argentine book queue. These five aren’t just the most interesting novels by Argentine writers being published in the US and UK this year, they’re the most interesting novels being published in the US and UK, period. And they are all by Argentine authors that we’d feel remiss if you didn’t know about. So take out your pen and jot these names down, or load them onto your “To-Read” App, or scan them with your Google Glasses, whatever your style may be.
Friends of Mine by Ángela Pradelli
For loyal readers of this series, Ángela Pradelli needs no introduction. An excerpt from her novel ‘Amigas Mías’, translated expertly by Andrea G. Labinger, helped us launch as our first installment a year ago. Now, after much anticipation, the full-length novel from which that excerpt was taken will be released in English from the Latin American Literary Review Press. Called ‘Friends of Mine’, and also translated by Labinger, the novel tells the story of a group of women living in the Buenos Aires province, who meet once a year on 30th December to eat dinner, celebrate the New Year, and reflect on the strange, difficult and wonderful passage of time. Structured in short, lucid fragments, the novel reads like a coming-of-age tale for a group of friends, a neighborhood, and an era of life in middle-class Argentina that has as much resonance today (and outside of Spanish) as it did when it was first published in 2002 and was awarded the Premio Emecé. Re-read our interview with Pradelli for more context, or peruse the sample we published last year. Then head over to the LALRP website to buy a copy for all your friends — after all, that’s what the novel is about.
The Islands by Carlos Gamerro
When we spoke to Carlos Gamerro last year, two of his acclaimed novels were in the process of being translated into English, both by his friend Ian Barnett (who also translated ‘The Peronist Princess’ by Marcelo Pitrola). Last year, the first of those books, ‘An Open Secret’ (Pushkin Press), was released to a critical consensus: The Economist — a publication not known for effluvient rhetoric — declared that Gamerro’s novel had “the makings of a classic,” and the Independent called it “haunting and disturbing.” This isn’t news to us; we’ve been enjoying Gamerro’s brand of darkly comic prose since we published his story ‘Bad Burgers’ in August. Now English-reading fans of his fiction will have another reason to cheer: this May, And Other Stories, a new British publishing concern, will release a translation of Gamerro’s first novel, ‘The Islands’. Like the spiralling narrator of ‘Bad Burgers,’ the protagonist of ‘The Islands’ chases his own trauma down a rabbit hole when he discovers that, despite the passage of ten years, the Falklands/Malvinas War is still raging — a reality he’s not quite ready to confront. Written with Gamerro’s trademark muscularity, we’re certain this new addition to the English-language cannon will only swell his growing fanbase. Head over to the And Other Stories site to pre-order a copy.
Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman
Long considered an “up-and-coming” writer by the Spanish critical press, Andrés Neuman (born in Buenos Aires in 1977 and raised in Granada, Spain) published two novels set in Argentina (‘Bariloche’ and ‘Una vez Argentina’) before his fourth novel (‘Viajero del siglo’) won Spain’s Alfaguara prize and caught the attention of English-language publishers. That book, published as ‘Traveller of the Century’, made its way into the British bookstores last month, and will soon be released in the US. Neuman, who has written poetry (‘No sé por qué’), short story (‘Alumbramiento’) and travelogue (‘Cómo viajar sin ver’), created in ‘Traveller of the Century’ a novel that is at once contemporary and historical: set in Restoration-era Germany, it discusses sexual mores and intellectual disputes in a distinctly modern way. Praise from writers like Roberto Bolaño long ago boosted his reputation in the Spanish-speaking world, but more than acclaim or ambition, it’s the clarity and grace of Neuman’s prose that has earned him high standing among fans. Now, English-language readers will have a chance to assess, and enjoy: check back here next month for an excerpt from ‘Traveller of the Century’ and interview with Neuman.
The Planets by Sergio Chejfec
When Open Letter Books (US) published Sergio Chejfec’s novel ‘My Two Worlds’ in English last year, the English-reading public was introduced, for the first time, to a unique writer: hyper-perceptive, unafraid of interiority, sworn to the incremental drama of hermeneutics. The novel was well received — one critic called the book a “vast and complicated work of literature;” meaningful praise for a novel only 102 pages long. So this summer, be alert for literary excitement when Open Letter releases the second volume of Chejfec in English: ‘The Planets’. First published in Spanish in 1999, ‘The Planets’ was written during the fifteen-year period when Chejfec lived in Venezuela, a temporal and cultural dislocation important to the text. As ‘My Two Worlds’ used ambulatory reflection, ‘The Planets’ uses the act of remembering to elevate a simple story into an elegant register. It’s a mode of literature difficult to master, but worthy of celebration when done right. Head over to the Open Letter website to begin the celebration.
Varamo by César Aira
As much as there exists a literary rock star for the 21st century, César Aira is it. He publishes a new book nearly every 6 months; each is more beguiling than the last. They’re short, they’re irreverent, their surreal, or anti-real, or unreal, or, beyond real. Sometimes they’re sloppy; occasionally, they feel unfinished — but somehow, either because of, or in spite of all that, they are always worth reading. Already author of nearly 80 books published in Spanish (no one seems to be sure of the exact number), Aira has, for the last decade or so, slowly been making his way into English. Now, New Directions, famed US publisher of Borges, is bringing out a book nearly every year, with five published since 2006. This year, they’ve released ‘Varamo,’ a novel kind of about a Peruvian man who takes up the homemade art of fish embalming, and also kind of about a very slow city-wide car race, and also kind of about the makings of a classic Central American poem, and yet somehow also not about these things at all. ‘Varamo’ is as strange, and as compelling, as Aira’s best work. In fact, it may be Aira’s best work. Or his worst. You’ll have to read all his books to know for certain. Visit New Directions to start with ‘Varamo’.