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Cuentos Completos 1, Cortazar (Complete Short Stories 1, Cortazar) (Spanish Edition)

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A book by Julio Cortazar

The first of three exceptional volumes of short stories written by this immortal master. His stories are a brilliant painting of improbable, magical and tender beings. They are the best mixture of his Literature, and are also the opportunity to embark … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Julio Cortazar
Publisher: Punto de Lectura
1 review about Cuentos Completos 1, Cortazar (Complete...

Brilliant, unsettling stories.

  • Jul 5, 2009
Borges and Cortazar are the two giants in the literary pantheon of 20th century Argentina. Although the genius of Borges is not questioned, interestingly, it is Cortazar who takes top place in the hearts of modern Argentines. They will tell you that it is he, not Borges, who writes about the regular 'man on the street', that he was the more politically engaged (the fact that Borges was born, and died, in Switzerland will be mentioned, with the implication that Borges did not concern himself with Argentina's domestic political turmoil), and that Cortazar's writing is infinitely more accessible than the cerebral musings of Borges.

These are strongly held beliefs (I've had the experience of being chastised by the friendly waiter at my local Italian restaurant in Buenos Aires for reading Borges - in his view I would have done much better with Cortazar) which have almost no basis in fact. Much of Cortazar's writing has a slanginess about it that makes it far less accessible than the relatively straightforward language of Borges. Furthermore, it is Cortazar, not Borges, who spent the great majority of his writing life living outside of Argentina (in France). And the preoccupation with parallel (often magical) universes that is the hallmark of Cortazar's short fiction surely makes the descriptor "cerebral" as appropriate to his writing as to that of Borges. The only explanation I have for the emotional preference Argentines profess for Cortazar is that he doesn't keep himself at quite the same distance from his protagonists as Borges does.

But the whole comparison is insidious to begin with. It's not a question of 'should I read Borges or Cortazar'? The answer is - you should read both. Each is rewarding in his own way.

This collection, the first of three volumes of Cortazar's complete short stories, is an excellent introduction. It contains many of his best-known stories: "Axolotl", "La noche boca arriba", "Casa tomada", "Continuidad de los parques", "Las babas del diablo" (Blow-up). Most of these stories tread the line between the "normal" world and a darker universe of Cortazar's imagination -- there is a signature twist which leaves the reader unsettled.

I found that I could read these stories in the original Spanish. Many of them (including the five mentioned above) are available in translation in Blow-Up: And Other Stories. As all 15 of the stories which appear in translation in that book are taken from this volume, I append my review of it.

Review of "Blow-Up: and Other Stories":

The first story of Cortazar's that I ever read was "La Noche Boca Arriba", roughly translatable as "The Night Turned Upside Down". It creeped me out then, and it still creeps me out. As in many of Cortazar's stories, it revolves around the idea that the protagonist simultaneously inhabits two parallel realities, and that beyond the "normal events" being described there lies a far more terrible world ready to engulf the protagonist (for instance, the obsidian knife of an Aztec executioner-priest).

Or there's the opening paragraph of "Axolotl", another story which blurs the edge of reality:
"There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl."

Time and again in this collection of brilliantly original short stories, Cortazar pulls the rug out from under the reader. Isabel spends her summer vacation in a country house stalked by a tiger, a situation which she ultimately exploits to get revenge, and a measure of justice. A man sits in his study, reading a murder mystery in which he himself is the victim.
This collection, first published in 1967, contains translations of 14 of Cortazar's early short stories, as well as "The Pursuer", an exploration of a jazz musician's creative demons which the author dedicated to Charlie Parker. Though the translation is not particularly impressive, this volume does convey the energy, dislocation, and menace that is characteristic of Cortazar's stories.

These stories were simultaneously fun and disturbing to read. I highly recommend them.

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