"Life is too short to spend all of it stuck in our own bodies and minds. Books are not the same thing as traveling, and that's probably a good thing: traveling tells you so much less about the world."
Seeing Red is a rather short book—well fewer than 200 short pages, divided into paragraph-free mini-chapters—but it took me weeks to finish it. Each moment feels like a world, entire and indivisible; I kept putting the book down after spending long minutes on a single page, like I was full and needed time to digest. It was too much and too messy to absorb; I found myself exhausted, and wanted to step back, put the book down, and rest. In part, this is just the riotous fecundity of the writing (which is imbued with remarkable richness in Megan McDonald’s translation); Meruane’s sentences are knotty and raw, meaty and complex.
The Seven Madmen is a classic. Remi Erdosain is an unforgettable protagonist, as vulnerable and sympathetic as he is vicious and loathsome. While he might remind you of a character from Dostoyevsky (or Poe or Joyce), the psycho-geography he traverses is unique to this novel, and to its sequel (the still untranslated 1931 follow-up The Flame-Throwers). Arlt’s Buenos Aires is the underground exposed to the noonday sun, a mass of anxious confusion and everyday terrors in which everyone turns out to be the Lumpenproletariat. In Arlt’s Argentine capital, all are lost in the crowd and in their own confused fantasies.
If one way to describe Ladivine would be that women transform into dogs, another would how violence against women reverberates across generations: the father that a daughter never knew, the husband who abandons her, the daughter that abandons her, and, finally, the lover who hacks her to pieces in her apartment. Over four generations of mothers and daughters, estrangement and alienation is passed down like an inheritable medical condition. Her metamorphoses are not shocking transformations, and not magical realism; they are the sort of thing that happens, when daily life makes you into a thing.
A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass is like a photo-negative of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. If Adichie’s Ifemelu learns to be black in America, Barrett’s Furo Wariboko wakes up to discover that he has become white in Nigeria. As in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—a clear influence—Wariboko is transformed into a monstrous vermin: an oyibo, a white man in Lagos.
Carmen Boullosa’s newly translated novel, Texas: The Great Theft, suggests, that fascism has happened here, and it could again: History tends to tell us that our leaders were intelligent and serious and that — at worst — they had “flaws”; history is a slow, gradual and predictable progression of things we’ve already seen before. In this way, history re-assures us that a “President Trump” will inevitably remain the punchline to a very tired joke. Boullosa’s vicious and violent farce suggests otherwise. Indeed, there is no better place than Texas to remind us that history is partisan bunk, the fictions we tend to tell rather than stories about how stupid, surreal, and pointlessly violent real life has often been. Her deeply researched novel has one thing in common with Donald Trump’s wildest nativist fantasies: Both start from the premise that the border has always been in a state of permanent war. And both teach us to beware of Yankee real-estate speculators who are unafraid to weaponize fear and racial panic for profit.