The OF Blog: Cuentos

Saturday, January 14, 2006


As many of you know, I like to read a variety of genres and styles. Although I very much enjoy fantasy (especially in the form now categorized as 'magic realism'), I also very much like to read stories that are set in the here and now, sometimes to the point where it seems the story, the cuento in Spanish, reads like a diary of someone who has existed under our very noses and yet we never noticed until that narrator thumps our nose and makes us pay greater attention to what is transpiring before our very eyes.

Alberto Fuguet has a gift for this. One of the founding members of the McCondo movement, which aspired to wage a 'war' of sorts against the notion that Latin American literature=magic realism, Fuguet has been a very successful author and screenwriter for about 15 years now. I particularly enjoyed his transnational update of The Catcher in the Rye known as Mala onda (Bad Vibes in English translation) and his 2003 novel, Las películas de mi vida (The Movies of My Life), demonstrated quite well his talent for relating his experiences living in both the U.S. and Chile in a fashion which illustrated the ever-growing influence that American pop culture has had on the 'other Americans' of the Western Hemisphere. His latest book, (Cortos: Cuentos (Shorts: Stories in English), illustrates this influence even more.

The stories found within Cortos revolve around a few Chilean youth. Some of them never leave the country, while others take extended tours of the United States, often with disillusioning results. It is a tale of a group of pop culture cognoscenti, those who are as much at home discussing the latest Hollywood gossip as they are reflecting upon Chilean culture (which often is seen in a negative comparative light). The tales are written in a variety of ways, from a traditional narrative coming-of-age moment that opens the tale, to the usage of screenwriting script to portray in vivid terms the conflict between the traditional and the disposable pop culture.

One story in particular, "Más estrellas que en el cielo," ("More Stars Than in Heaven"), highlights what Fuguet (and in some fashion the others of his literary generation) has aimed to achieve. It is a tale of a group of youth that have arrived in the US and have become enamoured with the bright lights, big city of Los Angeles. Told in a form that is even more Spanglish than usual for Fuguet (and he and others tend to mix in more Americanisms to reflect the speech of South American youth today), this story is a tale of the conflicts that occur each and every day in the cities of the United States, where not only are there a thousand tiny humillations but also a profound gap in the worlds that separate the nations of the Americas. It is powerfully written and yet subtle, as Fuguet tends to let the characters show what is happening rather than just trying to explain.

The other stories in the collection come close to the level achieved by "Más estrellas que en el cielo," but in different fashions. There are accounts of sons returning home to visit, talking about just how strange it is to be at 'home,' or how difficult it is to be a Latino in the land of the Yanquis. Cortos is a reflection of just how interconnected and yet segregated still the various Americas have become and as such, it is a valuable work of fiction. Highly recommend reading it in either language (although I myself read it in the original Spanish).


Alustriel said...

That sounds extremely depressing. Is that all there is to it?

Freebird said...

Yes, there's more to it: some of the stories are hilarious, especially reading this "play" in which a son returns home to Chile from having lived in the US and the customs/traditions have been turned upside-down (or so it seemed to the son). It's not completely depressing, I just only chose to highlight a personal favorite, which happened to be depressing.

Interesting enough, I have a sense I might be experiencing some of the wide range of emotions illustrated in Fuguet's stories if I follow through with my plans to emigrate from the US in a few years.

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