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Posts Tagged ‘world literature

Book of the Week: Enrique Vila-Matas’s Dublinesque [Excerpt]

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Dublinesque by contemporary Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas is a surprisingly humorous story about a failed publisher, Riba, living in Barcelona. Rather than admit his company’s demise is attributed to his poor financial skills, he places the blame on the current state of the publishing industry.

Throughout the book Riba makes plans to visit Dublin in order to stage a metaphorical funeral for the printed word, a “requiem for the Gutenberg age”. A review of Dublinesque is forthcoming but until then, enjoy the opening page of this wonderful book. If you’ve read it, please share your comments below. If you haven’t, pick it up now. It’s perfect for a read-along.

He belongs to an increasingly rare breed of sophisticated, literary publishers. And every day, since the beginning of this century, he has watched in despair the spectacle of the noble branch of his trade—publishers who still read and who have always been drawn to literature—gradually, surreptitiously dying out. He had financial trouble two years ago, but managed to shut the publishing house down without having to declare bankruptcy, toward which it had been heading with terrifying obstinacy, despite its prestige. In over thirty years as an independent he has seen it all, successes but also huge failures. He attributes the loss of direction in the end to his resistance to publishing the gothic vampire tales and other nonsense now in fashion, and so forgets part of the truth: he was never renowned for good financial management, and what’s more, his exaggerated fanaticism for literature was probably harmful.

Samuel Riba—known to everyone as Riba—has published many of the great writers of his time. In some cases only one book, but enough so they appear in his catalog. Sometimes, although aware that in the honorable sector of his trade there are still some valiant Quixotes, he likes to see himself as the last publisher. He has a somewhat romantic image of himself, and spends his life feeling that it’s the end of an era, the end of the world, doubtless influenced by the sudden cessation of his activities. He has a remarkable tendency to read his life as a literary text, interpreting it with the distortions befitting the compulsive reader he’s been for so many years. Aside from this, he is hoping to sell his assets to a foreign publishing house, but talks have been stalled for some time. He lives in an anxious state of powerful, end-of-everything psychosis. Nothing, and no one, has yet convinced him that getting old has its good points. Does it?

From Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas. Copyright 2010 by Enrique Vila-Matas.

Find Dublinesque at an indie bookstore near you 

Written by Gabrielle

July 12, 2012 at 6:52 am

Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard

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“I’d attended enough sacrifices and examinations to know the amount of blood in the human body, and I suspect that the stain represented more than half of that. What in the Fifth World had happened here?”

Winston Churchill once said “history is written by the victors,” which means that those defeated find their stories erased or revised, often negatively. It was while she sat in Spanish class, learning about the 16th century colonizer Hernan Cortes and his army of conquistadors, that Aliette de Bodard came up with the idea for her Obsidian and Blood trilogy, a story set in the time and place of the Aztec Empire. Sensitive to Churchill’s proclamation and therefore skeptical of the pure savagery ascribed to the Aztec people, Aliette set out to research the ancient civilization. What came of it, as someone who had grown up reading mystery, mythology, and folklore, was a unique blend of dark fantasy and historical fiction.

The first book in the series, Servant of the Underworld, introduces reader to Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead in charge of the Sacred Precinct, a position that can be thought of as a mix between priest and coroner. The story opens with him performing a ritual for a minor member of the Imperial Family, cutting his own earlobes to produce the sacrificial blood, a reoccurring event in the book—squeamish beware. However he’s interrupted by Yaotl, the personal messenger of Ceyaxochitl, the Guardian of the Sacred Precinct, Acatl’s boss, with what can only be bad news.

In addition to preforming rituals for the dead, Acatl investigates magical offenses that breach the mortal world, threatening the balance between the Fifth World, the underworld Mictlan, and the heavens. The priestess Eleuia has been abducted from the boarding school by a supernatural animal and in an unfortunate twist of events, Acatl’s warrior brother, Neutemoc, having been found in her room covered in blood and overturning furniture, is now the prime suspect.

Although estranged from him for four years, Acatl believes in his brother’s innocence. In what turns out to be one of the most difficult and dangerous cases he’s ever encountered, Acatl sets out to clear Neutemoc’s name—and save him from the death sentence a conviction demands.

Throughout the investigation Acatl’s will is tested and as he’s forced to step out from behind the safe walls of the priesthood. The sudden reconnection with his brother and the world of death he must trod to through for answers, brings to the fore past regrets and the strained relationship he had with his late parents, in particular his father.

The natural infusion of familial dysfunction, personal struggle, and ultimately, reconciliation is both a compelling storyline and a bridge to the modern reader. Guided by instinct and a strong moral compass, Acatl forges a well-worn path to truth and personal growth. Aliette’s mastery of atmospherics and flowing prose envelopes readers in the darkness of this ancient, sacred world where earth, jade, and sacrificial animals materialize before your eyes and penetrate your bones. Servant of the Underworld is an immersion into a little-known culture worthy of a fictionalized revitalization.

Buy Servant of the Underworld at IndieBound
Aliette’s page at Angry Robot
Aliette’s website where you can read her blog
Interview with Aliette at Speculate! (audio)
Interview with Aliette at SFsignal (online)


Written by Gabrielle

September 13, 2011 at 5:33 am

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