“God, like fireflies, only shines in the darkness, wrote Schopenhauer.” – Fireflies (p. 71)
Fireflies by Luis Sagasti is a brief, existential history of the world in the form of eight essays knitted together by subtle connection points. An eclectic array of highbrow and pop cultural personalities are presented in a seemingly random manner but have common threads that carry an underlying message. Philosophy helps us live our lives, is a consolation: Wittgenstein and Habermas make an appearance; as does the celebrated author of haikus, Matsuo Basho.
An original and stimulating work of experimentalism, Fireflies is in the tradition of fellow Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (who asserted that “the brain begins in the eye”), Roland Barthes and Michel Tournier. What is true and what is false? Are conspiracy theories grounded in any kind of reality? Is there a relationship between death and black holes? Can words express truth, and is perception reality?
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. My father owned and ran a large bookshop right in the centre of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am from originally. It was a bookshop that had been in the family for three generations, and where the likes of Borges, the Ocampo sisters and Bioy Casares had current accounts. Both my parents were and are great readers and I grew up surrounded by books from a very early age. No doubt my love for literature grew from that. I even started writing at an early age, and had a book of poetry published when I was thirteen.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? Definitely in literature, in some form. I’ve always studied and worked with literature. I did an BA in Literature, followed by an MA in Translation and a PhD in Latin American Literature. I then lectured on literature, translated literature, examined literature papers and even wrote articles and books on one of Argentina’s most celebrated writers, Julio Cortázar.
Here is our New Year round up of eclectic reads to delight and inspire you, happy new year, bonne année, felice anno nuovo, feliz año nuevo, ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος, szczęśliwego nowego roku !
Listing in alphabetical order according to publisher @bitterlemonpub @commapress @Carcanet @CharcoPress @Istros_books @maclehosepress @NewVesselPress @orbooks @whitecrowbooks
Hell in Paradise
The Greek Wallby Nicolas Verdan Trs. W. Donald Wilson (Bitter Lemon Press)
“At the moment, he no longer knows why he is here in this spot alongside a national highway, outside this brothel on the very edge of the Schengen Area. Perhaps, instead of discussing the wall inside, he might find a body like Christina’s? Not her face, not, he wouldn’t recognise it in that place. But maybe her perfume? Just a woman’s perfume, a scent, just her scent, please, please tell me if there mightn’t be, here in this place, in the countryside, on the frontier of Europe, a girl wearing Rykiel Woman.”
A severed head is found on the Greek border near a wall planned to stop Middle Eastern immigrants crossing from Turkey. Intelligence Agent Evangelos wants the truth about the murder, human trafficking into Greece, and about the corruption surrounding the wall’s construction. More than a mystery novel and a political thriller, The Greek Wall evokes the problems of the West incarnated in Greece: isolationism, fear of immigration, economic collapse and corruption. Paradise for tourists can become a hell for immigrants.
Poetic, pungent and atmospheric, The Greek Wall is a good example of how compelling crime fiction gives insights into the detective and the society in which they live.
The issues dealt with by Nicolas Verdan in The Greek Wall are close to his heart: “As a journalist, I went to Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, the Middle East, Central Asia, following or crossing the roads of migrants. My Greek grandparents were confronted by forced emigration of sorts. When my mother was a baby, the Greek civil war had begun. There was no choice but to leave your village to go to Athens, if necessary on foot. An exodus like the people from Syria and Iraq leaving everything behind: home, family, friends, skies, landscapes, the brilliance of olive trees in the sun. My grandmother came back to her village in the Peloponnese ten years after leaving it. It was only 350 kilometres from the capital, but coming back to your abandoned homeland was like coming to a foreign country. Devastation, no time, no money. Such was life in the 1950s in Greece. We must never forget how much rural exodus has affected the mentality of modern Greece.” Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | January 2018
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I was born in Sligo, Ireland and while I was a good student, and a precociously gifted musician, I did very little to maximize my talents. I went to Trinity College Dublin to study English and Philosophy, but as a young gay man just coming out (in a conservative, deeply Catholic country), I feel in love, slipped off the radar and left university without finishing my degree. It was the end of my first real relationship that prompted me to move to Paris (to a country and a city I have never visited, with rudimentary secondary-school French that I had never been called on to speak aloud). From there, a series of curious but fortunate accidents led to me translating bandes dessinées, working as a publishers’ reader and finally, in 1998, embarking on my first literary translation. So, while I am passionate about languages, and cannot imagine anything more fulfilling than literary translation, I can hardly claim that I had a career path, or worked towards it. In fact, it never occurred to me that I would be “allowed” to translate novels, assuming vaguely that such herculean feats were reserved for some rarefied species.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? From a very early age, I was a voracious reader – not that our house was filled with books or my parents were particularly bookish, but I haunted the local library and read anything and everything I could lay hands on. My early reading tastes were probably no different to any boy of my generation: C.S. Lewis, Emil and the Detectives, Richmal Crompton and later Tolkien, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein and A.E. Van Vogt. By my teens, I was reading Joyce and Woolf and Dostoevsky (I was idiotically precocious, and my reading of them was through a glass darkly) and marvelling at what words could do, how they could create worlds, affect moods, inspire thoughts, mould dreams. I was determined to be a writer. I wrote my first (truly awful) novel at about fourteen, my second (modernist, sub-Salinger) novel at about sixteen. Thankfully, neither has survived to embarrass me. Books, for me were both a world, and an escape from the world.
Roberto Bolaño called novelist Alan Pauls from Argentina “one of the best living Latin American writers.” The Past, first published in the UK in Nick Caistor’s English translation, is about obsessive love, addiction and self-destruction, played out against a bewitching backdrop: Buenos Aires. It is a strange, unsettling read.
Protagonist Rimini is good looking and easy going; his partner Sofia is eccentric and strong. Their relationship seems inviolable and eternal to their friends, but “occasionally Rimini faltered. He wavered, ran away from Sofia, and then was enraged at his own weakness.” They split up after twelve years, but Sofia refuses to accept that they are no longer a couple, “two people like us cannot separate”. She writes letters and leaves messages on Rimini’s answering machine, obsessing about the importance of sorting through the hundreds of photos of their time together, but he is scared to look at them, “for fear of being sucked into an emotional whirlpool and drowning in it.” Sofia’s presence becomes ominous like that of a stalker. She clings on as he struggles to let go and make a new life.