Saturday morning I finally finished the Fuentes. I feel like I deserve a medal.
I got independent confirmation of the quality--and the difficulty--of the writing: Last Tuesday I was out to dinner with an Ecuadorean friend and I showed him a particularly lovely descriptive passage I'd just read. He swooned over it, too, and then confessed to having trouble with some of the same parts that send me to a dictionary. (At the top of the page, the author makes mention of picadillo de charal
. We're both used to "picadillo" meaning "ground beef" so we assumed "charal" was a dialect word for some kind of a wild mammal. It isn't; it's a genus of fish
found only in lakes of the Mesa Central of Mexico and, if you don't know that, it makes a later reference to dividing up "pescado" quite confusing.) And he's one of the best-read Spanish-speakers I've ever met.
Now that I can see the whole structure, I can appreciate how well-constructed it is. At first, it seems like you're hopping around in time with no rhyme nor reason, but later you can see how the memories--like ripples on a pool--are both farther back and farther forward starting from one of the most pivotal events in his life. Thankfully, the last extended reminiscence is also one of the most straightforwardly narrated (though one sequence where two people are sitting in a room together thinking about all the things they're not
saying to each other gets a little hairy).
I rewarded myself for making it to the end with a short story from the Bolaño collection that restored my faith in my Spanish skills: In four prose-packed pages, there were only two words I didn't know and had to look up. So it's not just the style which makes the book hard to comprehend. All in all, I'm very glad I read it; I may even reread it when I'm close(r) to death myself.
I also polished off two other works: the Blasim collection and a compilation of recent Vietnamese short stories in translation called Wild mustard
that I first started sometime last year. I think the reason it took me so long is that the stories are rather repetitive. At least half of them feature protagonists with a nostalgic longing for their home village after abandoning it for the big city. There's a lot of tragedy and despair in the stories with almost no humour or happy endings to balance it out. Blasim, for all his horror and blood, at least has humour, along with a generous dose of fantasy. Some of the stories are surreal enough to remind me of the works of Iranian author Sadegh Hedayat. Several have inconclusive endings and leave you with the feeling that they are metaphors for something, but for what exactly?
Saturday, while it was still steaming hot out, I started an early novel by Daniel Woodrell. I also have a book of short stories by Hilary Mantell (of Wolf Hall
fame) that I'm most of the way through already.