This paperback combines two disparate sorts of writing by the Argentine exile-to-France Julio Cortázar, one of the most interesting writers ever to emerge from South America. The first portion of the book is the congruent suite of stories titled "Queremos Tanto a Glenda y Otra Realtos", published in 1981, translated as "We Love Glenda So Much" as early as 1983. I read this bizarre 'sonata' of stories in Spanish, and I can't express total enthusiasm for the translation, which lacks the tangy slangy cultural specificity of Cortázar's Buenos Aires patois. The second half of this volume is a translator's selection of stories published in various magazines over the years of Cortázar's literary career. I imagine the same reservations about translation would apply, but I haven't looked at these diverse pieces in the original so I'm curiously more satisfied with the English.
To put it bluntly, Cortázar is a better novelist than a short story writer. His novel "Hopscotch" is one of the boldest experiments in story-telling structure, and one of the most probing examinations of social radicalism, of the 20th Century. One of the true masterpieces of modern literature, in short. "We Love Glenda So Much" is also a bold experiment, a sequence of stories told with stranger and stranger narrative voices and becoming ever rawer and more psychologically distressing, a brilliantly ugly portrayal of sexual cruelty and social anomie. Cortázar replaces the "I" of first-person narrative first with "we" and then with "you" and finally with an amorphous avoidance of narrative identity. It's remarkably unsettling, and it establishes beyond doubt that Cortázar was the model for the works of the currently popular Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. Frankly, I don't think Bolaño ever exceeded Cortázar in anything except number of pages, though I respect Bolaño's works very much. Cortázar was a metaphysician of society as well as a social critic. On that level - of intellectual conundrums and philosophical daydreams - Cortázar belongs more in company with Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina's other world-classic writer. Oddly enough, critics almost never mention Borges and Cortázar together, as if they'd never met or known of each other. Of course they had, but Borges was a perfervid anti-communist, almost a 'rightist' in sensibilities, while Cortázar was a sometime communist and fulltime 'leftist'. Yet neither writer favored, or was favored by, the successive brutal regimes of Argentina in their lifetimes.
The eighteen stories collected as "A Change of Light" include three or four lightweight pieces written, I'm sure, for the sensation-craving magazine public, but also several original, distinctive, compelling marvels of metapsychology. (Can I get away with that neologism? It means whatever you think it means.) I won't declare which are which; the titles wouldn't prove anything, and if you get the book you'll pick your own favorites anyway. I do recommend this book more strongly than my four-star rating might suggest. The best of the collection would deserve ten stars, but the generic English translations and the small number of dud stories require a reviewer's caveat.
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Aug 14, 2010
Aug 31, 2010 06:58 PM UTC
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