The Distance Between Us, Renato Cisneros (May 2023)
It’s been so long ago that I have started to question whether Florentina Ariza ever truly loved Fermina Daza. And why is it that what remains most vivid in my mind is how Dr. Urbino’s tasseled slippers made Fermina weep after his death?
“The thing you remember most is what has most deeply affected you,” writes Renato Cisneros. Have I always been affected by loss, or afraid of the space of another’s absence?
I apologize. I have fully digressed right from the beginning! Is it even possible to digress right from the beginning?
But what makes the writing and the translation of The Distance Between Us so satisfying is that it is reminiscent of my first encounters with the Latin American greats! (Not the magic realism aspect for there is none of that here, but in the way the writer involves the reader intimately by making the characters palpable, using subtle tricks of psychoanalysis to dig within as far as they can so that one can gape even into the unconscious.) But perhaps, most of all, for the moving premise of a son writing a book in an attempt to reduce the distance between him and his deceased father, a controversial figure in Peru’s turbulent history: A poignant endeavor to understand who the father really was in order for the son to fully understand himself. To acknowledge the faults of the father so as not to perpetuate them. To break the cycle and confront, rather than escape as his father and forebears have done, “Ignoring and later burying the thornier details of their pasts, they turned their backs on the intrigues of their shared history, embarking on a course of permanent disorientation…”
And yet, “Just as a father is never prepared to bury his son, a son is never prepared to dig up his father.” His undertaking brought to light his father’s amorous affairs; classified information that led him to acknowledge, though he loved him, that his father was a villain, but also that villains are made of wounds; the discovery that his parents were never legally married; and then to write about their love, to legitimize it — “This novel is my parents’ lost marriage certificate.”
Forget my likening Charco Press books to espresso shots. This strong blend of the personal and the political compelled me to spend hours and days between its pages. “Authenticity” is such an abused term nowadays that I sometimes wonder if the overuse has marked the word with a tinge of insincerity. Then comes along a book like this that keeps such doubts at bay. A work devoid of the inauthenticities of biographies and brimming with the honesty that confronts us in fiction.
Was I wrong to wish that the son of a dictator who is now our current president could be more like this son? But I digress, again.
Chic French flaps that double as bookmarks, attractive colors, dimensions that fit in any handbag, and cover designs that could easily pass as pieces from the Museum of Modern Art: Charco Press indulges the busy contemporary reader.
It’s a section of my shelf that has lately become, perhaps unfairly, my go-to for a literary quick fix; where I’d proceed to grab a book without giving it too much thought — the way you would your car keys, the way I would a doppio from an espresso bar — on my way out to an appointment.
Small doses that pack a punch, style-wise, thought-wise, or both, delivering that stimulating and undiluted shot without demanding too much time and space. Yes, there are blends more intense or smoother than others. Some are darker roasts, and some have notes of an exotic flavor that make you gaze twice, sometimes longingly, inside an already empty demitasse. Some have a thick and bittersweet crema that cling to your lips, tongue, and insides long after you’ve downed the shot. But whatever the Charco Press barista has in store, it’s sure to come from a spread of South American blends that jolt our sleepy minds awake.
A Musical Offering, Luis Sagasti (February 2022)
Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord / That David played, and it pleased the Lord / But you don’t really care for music, do you?
How can you not love a book that quotes Leonard Cohen on the first page? And truly, if you care for art and music, exquisite is an understatement of how this book is written. With an enchanting thread, Sagasti strings The Goldberg Variations, Bach, The Beatles, Brahms, Messiaen, Glenn Gould, Rothko, Mahler, Scheherazade… yes, Scheherazade! Because literature is still undoubtedly under her spell. Sagasti’s musical offering puts us in the shoes of the bewitched Persian King Shahryar, and this musician can only dream of a thousand nights more…
Fireflies, Luis Sagasti (May 2022)
Scheherazade in A Musical Offering, Penelope in Fireflies. I see what you did there, Mr. Sagasti! The mother weaver of stories of the East, and the mother un-weaver of storytelling of the West. Spun and spanned. And spangled. “Now I’m drunk, with universe.” Your books are beautiful reprieves. Write some more, please. We will need more of your magic.
“Without the slightest doubt, art is the answer. What we can’t be sure about is the question.“
The President’s Room, Ricardo Romero (February 2023)
The only part I felt I understood was the author’s note, but which I liked, because it speaks of the incendiary power of literature. At the end of this story of a nameless suburb in a nameless country where every house has a room reserved for the president, I had more questions than answers. But perhaps that is the point. To question, especially the things that people do not bother to question.
Two Sherpas, Sebastián Martinez Daniell (April 2023)
One of the many things I learned during a trip to Nepal was that it had never been colonized. Two Sherpas made me re-think this view when I realized how imperialism, with its enduring effects, encroaches on the mind and the sentiments of a people.
Unlike other books set in the Himalayas, the action takes place internally, inside the minds of two sherpas, one old, one young, as they look on an Englishman who has fallen from a ridge. The world looks different from up there, and there is much to glean from their perspective.
Trout, Belly Up, Rodrigo Fuentes (April 2023)
How simply evocative, these seven interrelated short stories! Subtle in depicting different social classes, but forthright in expressing that suffering is a shared experience, inextricable from the human condition.
Elena Knows, Claudia Piñeiro (April 2023)
The choice to highlight a specific incapacitating disease that isn’t limited to women — to effectively confront every reader with what it feels like to lose bodily autonomy — is, I believe, the most impressive allegory that should be uncovered from under the many other brilliant qualities of this novel.
The Remains, Margo Glantz (April 2023)