FSG asked me to name the best, most original book(s) I read in 2014. You can check them out here alongside recommendations from a lot of great authors. Or simply look below:
Rebecca West, Survivors in Mexico – Reading Rebecca West for the first time floored me. There’s such active intelligence in her language, it’s nearly overwhelming. This book was compiled posthumously from essay fragments, so quality varies accordingly, but there’s more wisdom and elegance in a single paragraph of West contemplating Montezuma and Cortes then most books on the subject. Bow down.
Luis Zapata, El Vampiro de la Colonia Roma – El Vampiro is a picaresque gay Mexico City hustler novel from late 70s in the format of ‘told to tape recorder’ monologue, with speech pauses indicated by spaces on the page. A bath of slang and general hilarity, indebted to the Spanish novella The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of his Fortunes and Adversities, which came before Don Quixote and is also very funny.
Ágota Kristóf, The Notebook – First part of a trilogy (whole trilogy is great, each book does very different things). Told in first-person plural by limpid and disturbing young twins in a border village during wartime. Kristóf’s stark minimalism reads simply (the stylistic opposite of fellow Hungarian Krasznahorkai’s baroque apocalyptics) but after a few paragraphs the awe piles up and you realize how deep it all goes. A stone cold classic that’s impossible to discuss at a holiday party without alienating your peers!
Etel Adnan, Sitt Marie Rose – Experimental novella set (and written) during the Lebanese Civil War in which gendered violence might be the real civil war. It is also about the way cities tense up. Politics and religion and sentences as precise and glowing as Adnan’s abstracted landscape paintings. The title character is a teacher of deaf-mute children. Adnan’s language shares those concerns through a great attention to sound, vibration, and silence.
Horacio Castellanos Moya, Senselessness – Senselessness is narrated by a drunk horny literary bigot working freelance for the Catholic Church in Central America. His job: to edit 1100 pages of indigenous survivors’ testimony from the Guatemalan massacres. What’s not to like? Seriously, it’s dynamite—rambunctious on one level and masterfully subtle on another, no preaching to the choir, no creepy neo-con pull, no letting the reader off the hook. I think of the Hannah Arendt quote: “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
Elias Canetti – Do people talk about how crazy Canetti is? His books are either too long or too short; his fiction reads like psychology and his sociology reads like fiction. The single flaw of his Marrakech book is its brevity. Crowds and Power is rewarding reading for all of us who gather in the streets because we still need to assert that #BlackLivesMatter.