Our weekly Seen and Heard update will return soon, and we hope that it will contain a lower percentage of obituary coverage. We recently heard from LitKicks member Rubiao who also noted this trend and wrote in to share some thoughts on another great writer that passed away on February 21, 2005.
It seems that this month was a bad month for famous literary icons and for at least one major religious icon as well. Those giants who have passed away have overshadowed at least one of the lesser-known writers who have moved on recently, namely one Guillermo Cabrera Infante. This Cuban giant living in exile wrote with the most unique style I have ever encountered.
His scope has included non-fiction about cigars and the early days of American Cinema (his passion) as well as journalism and fiction. He was also an early critic of the Castro regime after supporting the revolution against Batista. His masterpiece is Three Trapped Tigers, a glorious novel set in a pre-Castro Havana which follows the lives of a group of young men around the cabarets of the city, crossing paths with plenty of bizarre characters along the way. The other work of fiction I have read is Infante’s Inferno, a bawdy tale of the narrator’s love affairs, complete with the same word play that made him famous. That is the stripped down introduction to the man, as I am unsure as to how many people know who he is.
Three Trapped Tigers is impressive as itself, but the fact that someone translated this book is nearly unfathomable (It was Infante along with some other folks in tow). He is famous for his endless strings of puns and alliteration, along with reminding us of the less humorous fact that art is not supported/allowed in Cuba. His craft is brought to life in a character he created called Bustrofedon, who reads the dictionary as a novel, creating a new syntax out of chopped up words, especially palindromes and word puzzles. The following palindromic haiku will explain a small part of what I cannot put into words:
I saw, I was
Psychic, chic spy
Eve, Adam’s rib:
A maid, a bride:
A river’s dam
I’ve made bras!
Have you ever read a translated book where you felt the style, tone, and flow all seeped through? I have read lots of translated books, and I have truly enjoyed a great many of them, but never, outside of this one, have I felt the meaning/purpose/idea/style shimmer so brightly. I try and do lots of research when I decide to read translated works, but I get the feeling that different languages cannot be channeled through an impartial medium and still convey the poetry of the original author. I believe the story can come across, and that they can make it appear real, but it always seems like a photograph of the language rather than the actual language itself.
For that matter, have you ever read someone in any language who comes across as being truly different in the very basic syntax they use, someone whose style is completely different than other authors? That just has that ineffable quality that others don’t? It could be a good or a bad trait, I am interested either way. For instance, JP Donleavy writes in incredibly short fragments. The book Bright Lights, Big City is the only book I have ever read that was written in the second person. Both were very disconcerting in that after reading them it took an adjustment to get used to the next book I picked up. After I finished Three Trapped Tigers, I wrote and spoke in puns and alliteration for a long time. I also found I did a lot more bursting into ravenous laughter during this period. Prognosis: puns and alliteration are hilarious. But I think the quality I speak of is more identifiable in poetry, where syntax gets a higher billing, but should this be the case?
And what are your Latin American favorites? If I had to name a favorite genre, I would be hard pressed not to say this one. Anything you think the rest of us might have missed? Has anyone read Infante and if so, what did you think? I’ve reached a point in time where I have a giant stack of books I have already bought that I want to read, but don’t feel particularly compelled by any of them. I’ve picked up each of them and begun, before moving taciturnly on to the next. What to do …
Please chime in with your thoughts on Infante, Latin American writers and translated literature.