Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Letras Latinas to JD: Enhorabuena!

Today in The Washington Post:

The real importance of his prize, he said, lies in its potential effect on others: "For any young person who's attempting to make art against all the odds, I hope this can be inspiration and motivation."


On October 6, 2007, in the midst of a fairly lengthy, multi-faceted post, Rich Villar, over at Compa'i, Compa'i, wrote:



Confession: I don't read many novels. If anything, I'm more drawn to short fiction (I'm currently working, relishing through William Trevor at clip of a story a week). Or I read nonfiction of all types. And of course poems.

And yet: my most personal, and moving experiences with literature have probably been with novels:

In 1991, while living in Madrid, I remember buying The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love shortly after it won the Pulitzer, particularly after learning, according to reports, that Oscar Hijuelos was the first Latino writer to win this distinction. And I remember feeling, as I was reading Mambo Kings, that Hijuelos, to my ear anyway, had indeed captured the rhythms of speech I remember hearing as a child, growing up mostly around other Latinos in the Mission District in San Francisco. In that sense, then, Hijuelos' novel was a seminal read, if you will, for someone aspiring to create literary art.

In 1998, another novel, Sergio Ramírez's Un baile de máscaras, struck me deeply---I read it in Madrid months after my mother's death---and is the subject of a nonfiction piece I've been working on for some time now ("The Nicaraguan Novel"). Again: a novel, in this case novela.


And so---though perhaps not as swift as Rich Villar prompted readers of his blog to do so---I purchased TBWLOOW in Freeport, Maine on my way to Canada for the Christmas break, and read it. And loved it. I kept quiet about it, though. What I did notice was this: the few times I discussed it with other Latino writers who had read it, their regard for the book did not approach my enthusiasm, which I kept mostly muted. Mind you, I'm thinking that the writers who were more reserved in their judgement were other fiction writers. One conclusion I did come to for myself was that I couldn't imagine someone with access to English only possibly enjoying the book as much as a reader with equal access to both Spanish and English.

That a book of these characteristics, one where, in my view, the Spanish language is an important part of its aesthetic experience, could be garlanded with a Pulitzer is indeed something to celebrate.


Rich Villar has linked up Compa'i, Compa'i to a YouTube video. I've never heard JD read, so I look forward to having a look and listen.

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