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LITERATURE Letters from Latin America

Reviews of fiction by Argentinean author Federico Falco, Ecuadorian Mauro Javier Cardenas and verse by Mexican poet Ulises Carrion

A PERFECT Cemetery (Charco Press, £9.99) is Argentinean writer Federico Falco's fourth collection of short stories, and it’s one of his most accomplished.Unlike many of the better-known short-story writers from Argentina, Falco was not born in Buenos Aires but in Cordoba, a province in the centre of the country surrounded by mountains, sierras and lakes, and it this supposedly idyilic landscape that shapes each of the stories in the collection.

They flow with a slow and hypnotic rhythm, with the brilliant clarity now associated with Falco’s refined style.

Particularly striking are The Hares, in which a mysterious hunter spends his days hidden in the mountains, his cave or in front of the altar that he built with the bones of the eponymous animals; and Silvi and Her Dark Night, in which the bored protagonist abandons her Catholic faith in order to get closer to a handsome Mormon, rebelling against her oppressive mother and the social conventions of her sleepy town as she does so.

The standout story for me is A Perfect Cemetery, an outstanding tale of the limits of artistic creation, the ego and death, set in a quiet town in the Argentinean countryside. In it, experienced engineer Victor Bagiardelli arrives at the village of Colonel Isabeta to build “the greatest cemetery” for the local population.

He finds the ideal place for his masterpiece, one for which he thinks will be remembered, a perfect hill in a quiet place by the sierras.

But in the process he will have to deal with the locals, including the mayor’s bedridden father, a caustic elder for whom in principle the cemetery should be built and the contracted blacksmith who keeps Bagiardelli in the dark as the deadline to build the perfect cemetery looms.

Each powerful story captivates and I cannot recommend this collection enough.

Aphasia by Mauro Javier Cardenas (Oneworld, £14.99) is a completely different read. Where Falco uses traditional storytelling techniques, elevating them to make them his own, Cardenas opts for experimentation and exuberance to shape a novel with many sub-plots, meandering trains of thoughts, memories and connections.

Aphasia is the inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions and its precisely this that makes the novel tick. At its centre is Antonio, a sharp-eye Latinx database analyst unfulfilled by his daily job, who is facing up to his failed marriage and to a continuous stream of ex-girlfriends.

The language is dislocated, the syntax awkward and meaning disintegrates. Cardenas’s use of long, breathless sentences, coupled with a multilayered and multifocal view of the protagonist, makes the reading as exhilarating as it is dizzying. Who’s speaking to who and who’s behind that voice? And who’s repeating what it is said?

Postmodern and flamboyant, rich and daring, Aphasia is a challenging read. Cardenas is a new force to be reckoned with in Latin-American fiction.

Experimentation was a leitmotif for Ulises Carrion (1941-1989), one of Mexico’s most important conceptual artists and the author of the poetry collection Sonnet(s), published by Ugly Duckling Press, £15.

Widely known for his role in defining and conceptualising artists’ books through his manifesto The New Art of Making Books, in 1972 Carrion embarked on an experiment in poetry.

He took Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poem Heart’s Compass and transformed it through 44 typographic and procedural permutations. The book begins with the the original poem and continues its journey through capitalised, underlined, footnoted and “mirrored” versions.

What is striking in this highly inventive avant-garde exercise is how it is both playful and meaningful. Subtle variations — typographic, conceptual and linguistic — can transform a whole poem, rendering it multilayered and with multiple meanings.

This republication benefits greatly by the addition of essays by contemporary artists, writers and scholars from Latin America, Europe and the US, including Felipe Becerra, Monica de la Torre and Heriberto Yepez.

A historically important book for those interested in Latin-American conceptual art and poetry.

 

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