Haruki Murakami, Clare Cavanagh, David Bellos, Alice Kaplan, Peter Cole, Eliot Weinberger, Forrest Gander, and José Manuel Prieto.

 Announcement of the book

Esta por salir este nuevo libro sobre el Arte de la Traducción que contiene un ensayo mio. Lo publica Columbia University Press y lo editan Esther Allen y Susan Bernofsky. Los antologados incluyen a Murakami, Eliot Weinberger y otros. La salida está prevista para mayo.


In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means

By Esther Allen (Editor),  Susan Bernofsky (Editor)

 “A panoramic view of the craft of translation. An impressive gathering of the expertise of the finest translators working in English today from a wide range of languages and literatures.”

—Peter Constantine, Literary Translator, Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize winner for Benjamin Lebert’s novel The Bird is a Raven

 The most comprehensive collection of perspectives on translation to date, this anthology features essays by some of the world’s most skillful writers and translators, including Haruki Murakami, Clare Cavanagh, David Bellos, Alice Kaplan, Peter Cole, Eliot Weinberger, Forrest Gander, and José Manuel Prieto. Discussing the process and possibilities of their art, they cast translation as a fine balance between scholarly and creative expression. The volume provides students and professionals with much-needed guidance on technique and style, while reaffirming for all readers the cultural, political, and aesthetic relevance of translation.

 These essays focus on a diverse group of languages, including Japanese, Turkish, Arabic, and Hindi, as well as frequently encountered European languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, and Russian. Contributors speak on craft, aesthetic choices, theoretical approaches, and the politics of global cultural exchange, touching on the concerns and challenges that currently affect translators working in an era of globalization. Responding to the growing popularity of translation programs, literature in translation, and the increasing need to cultivate versatile practitioners, this anthology serves as a definitive resource for those seeking a modern understanding of the craft.


“Reckless Internationalism: Polyglossia in José Manuel Prieto’s Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia”


El seminario en la Boston University fue ocasión para volver a hablar junto con Esther Allen sobre los retos de la traducción de mi Enciclopedia de una vida en Rusia al inglés. Esther leyó un excelente texto gracias al cual, y como siempre ocurre, aprendí nuevas cosas sobre el libro, y yo hablé sobre mi larga experiencia como traductor y también autor traducido. Ambos respondimos luego a las muchas preguntas del público presente. Aquí aparecemos en la foto junto con Margaret Litvin, organizadora del evento y autora del excelente libro Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost”, y con mi traductor al ruso Pavel Grushko, que reside hoy día en Boston. Grushko es un traductor legendario que ha vertido al ruso a escritores como García Lorca y a Pablo Neruda, entre muchos otros. Entre los cubanos sostuvo una larga amistad con Eliseo Diego y es un gran conocedor de la literatura y la poesía latinoamericana. Es autor también de muchos volúmenes de poesía y de varios libretos muy exitosos para teatro, incluido rock operas. Grushko trabajó también en la filmación de la hoy día muy conocida película “Soy Cuba”.


Another review of my Encyclopedya by Brian Howton of Hairy Dog Review

Frivolity and History: José Manuel Prieto’s ENCYCLOPEDIA OF A LIFE IN RUSSIA

By On January 29, 2013 · In Fiction, Reviews

Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia (buy it here) by Cuba’s José Manuel Prieto is easily one of the most challenging and beautiful books I’ve read in years. That it is also one of the most pleasurable is not a surprise.  Set in 1991, months before the fall of the Soviet Union, which Prieto’s narrator, who is sometimes called Thelonious Monk, refers to as the imperium, this encyclopedia chronicles the days spent between a writer and a young, lovely, red-haired, Russian girl in St. Petersburg and in Yalta, on their way to Nice. But what makes this book so fascinating is not its inventive form (it is indeed written as several entries in an encyclopedia, about which the narrator writes, “[this story] will exist in suspension among the vectorial convergence of these entries or voces (voices) as they’re known in my language”), nor can its pleasure be pinned to its plot, which for the most part slips through cracks of these voces. The most exquisite pleasure to be found in this books is contained in its most indefinite quality, which for some readers might put them off it, since it is to be found mostly in its style.


But, then again, where else should a reader look for treasures in a book full of sentences like these:

The idea of the past, the history of the universe, would be incomplete without this slight adjustment. The sensation of well-being—between sheets whose colorful patterns are designed to accord with the feeling of a today that already, by tomorrow, will be an embarrassing yesterday when it sees itself reflected with appalling fidelity in the photos of yesteryear and the collections of “oldies but goodies” advertised on the radio—is the principal motor of existence. Trivial, yes:  but then life is, too.

Or these:

The imperium, which had projected its considerable plantigrade weight into the distance of a perfect future, collapsed under the pressure of pure-bred dogs, the once impossible dream of Jaguar convertibles and soft Persian carpets, undermined by the new goal of a pleasant way of life that, over time, had managed to replace all its celestial objectives. It had been at least fives years since anyone wore one of those awful striped neckties. That is:  a profound antagonism had become apparent between the quietism of the Doctrine and the dizzying scandal of disposable diapers:  between the search for a future kingdom of truth on this earth and the “general line” of the century which was to consume the present and consider the future no more than a mental construct. The peoples held captive in the imperium peered out into the dark night, afloat on a warm sea awash in delightful detritus, to watch the illuminated ship that was the permanent carnival of the occident coming toward them, and they heaved a collective, pensive sigh. “Yes, it’s in a state of decay, no doubt, but how good it smells!

To believe that the imperium fell for purely economic reasons is to commit the sin of pedestrian materialism and ignore the teachings of Weber.


In Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia, José Manuel Prieto weaves the history of the fall of communism with a prolonged and theoretic discussion of the increasing frivolity of taste. First published in Spanish in 2003 and translated now into English for the first time by Prieto’s longtime translator, Esther Allen, this exquisite work better illuminates the clash of civilizations that for decades has been known as the Cold War than any other political, historical, economic, or realist work has. For the first time in reading a work of fiction that deals directly with the themes of East and West, of Communism and Capitalism, it seems to me that the writer, while writing his book, made the assumption that the civilizations in question and the personalities involved in the dispute are more profoundly linked together as human beings than they are separated by their political interests or their ideological visions of the world.


The Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia’s narrator has amassed an enviable knowledge of Russian literature and history, as well as that of the world, which he keeps in scanned files on his computer, which he calls the Bibliosphere, and in entries on Dostoevsky, Raskalnikov, and the Dacha, which is a kind of country hut where many writers lived and wrote, he shares his knowledge with the reader all while forwarding his argument about the end point of human progress. In one of my favorite entries, called “The London Dandy,” the narrator writes his interpretation of Peter the Great:  ”Technically Peter I was the first zapadnik or arbitrum elegantiarum of Eurasia. Not content with shaving the boyars’ beards and dressing them in European fashion, he was led by a pure and metaphysical dandyism to build a city for himself in much the same way one orders a bespoke suit.”


In the narrator’s mind the world’s history points to an inevitable end in which all of life is as transient, as consumable and replaceable, as a pop song. He sees his role in this development as an usher leading Russia in its direction. This is an antithetical proposition to the rigid, state-controlled development sanctioned by the imperium, and he knows it. Nevertheless this is what he thinks that he must do. “Finally, [Thelonious] decided upon an essay in the primitive sense of the word:  an alchemical experiment. To mix all his dandified knowledge within the vessel of a young soul, to bequeath his vision on an innocent girl.”


Thelonious understands that his success in this experiment also reflects his success of being able to lead a different kind of life. His certainty about this historical tendency toward frivolity is as much a reaction against the communistic thinking with which he has lived for most of his life as it is a reversal of that old, material dialectic. Thelonious’s experiment grapples with the hard transition that so many must have faced when their countries transformed into a free-market systems. Having believed in one historical inevitability and then seeing the world created around it collapse to be replaced by its destructive opposite, these men and women, trying to find their way in foreign world, must have felt like they were groping in the dark. Their thinking must have produced some striking absurdities, like that contained in the first two sentences of the entry on “Packard” (the car):

I suspect that we are, to our Creator, as complex and mysteriously distant as machines, and that he swells with pride when he observes our perfection. In much the same way, we are unaware of the laws that govern the aesthetic evolution of the automobile; how it ceased to be the imperfect replica of a horse-drawn carriage and instead blossomed into the dazzling curves of the post-war Packard.


There is something laughable about Thelonious’s understanding of his efforts with the young Russian girl as an experiment, about his  deduction of the historical tendency towards frivolity, or about his likeness of humanity’s perfection to a post-war car. These few examples all fit the definition of pseudo-science, and the book is brimming with more, reflecting a tendency of thought that has survived for too long in communist and capitalist countries alike:  the tendency to elevate science to an undeserved position as the arbiter of all truth and then to try to conform the rest of life to meet its standards. Thelonious understands this by the time his encyclopedia reaches the letter S. In his entry on “Samopal” he writes of Russia that “it was a papier maché Utopia populated by unicorns manufactured in porous resin, light and graceful, but useless.” So too the likenesses of truth.


But Prieto makes space for beauty. Even within this strange work that seems to twist our normal categories of understanding, not on their head, but in every other way than in that which can be called clear and definite, Prieto allows us to contemplate pleasure. In his entry on “Opium” he writes this sublime passage about perfume:

I had travelled to this city in search of fragrances that would be devoid of all reference, for perfumes are innately free of such things; it is we who, by christening them, endow them with a story, though we violate their essential vagueness when we attach names to them. In fact, we have no particular names for smells. We say “it smells like” and name the smell by analogy. Scents thus introduce a terrifying glissando into our representation of the world:  they are as invisible as sound, without the limit of duration or spatial boundary. By giving names to perfumes, to fragrances, we seek to diminish this impression, to segment the continuum of smell into precise ideas that possess relevance and modernity. Now domesticated, these scents can establish a membrane between nature (this grey city, the dirty time of year) and ourselves:  the cushion of air on which we glide, inaudible.


Just as in a fin-de-siècle novel or poem,  the Huysmans of A Rebours or Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, in Prieto Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia sublime beauty stands above the natural imperative to work and strive, to mature and reproduce, and finally to die. And this is a truth that stands above a social order, for all socioeconomic systems fail to grapple adequately with this natural truth. Whether communist or capitalist, Cuban or American, or any other distinction that tries to divide and classify the world and to leave behind a coherent picture of what we know, the only human problem that truly matters is this one, and Prieto’s, Huysmans’s, and Baudelaire’s is still one of its most elegant solutions. It is fatalistic but true, and in the end it’s honest:  live, feel, and try not to think, because the world, in the end, will escape our understanding.


Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia is available now from Grove/Atlantic Press.


About The Author

Brian Howton

Brian Howton is the founder of The Hairy Dog Review. He has a master’s degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland and a B.A. from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He also writes fiction and lives sometimes in Paris.


Another review of my Encyclopedia

Postmodern and Post-Soviet: “Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia,” Reviewed

By On January 24, 2013 · 1 Comment · In Lit., reviews


Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia
by José Manuel Prieto; translated by Esther Allen
224 p.; Grove/Black Cat 

Perhaps the greatest divide between European and American literature lies in the weighty consciousness of history, or lack thereof. American literature, for numerous reasons that we can theorize about, largely lives outside of history and politics and rather dwells inside the individual, in the urgent now. European literature, in contradistinction, cannot outrun history or politics. Their authors feel the immense weight, burdens, and joys of ancient traditions, of the upheavals from previous decades demanding attention and a voice. In this vein, I find it wholly fitting that American literature often calls for and envisions a more engaged, sincere, genuine, political, and even moral writing while European literature, or what we would crudely umbrella under as translated literature, mostly desires the freedom of play and frivolity, a freedom from history and politics, and freedom from rebellions, occupations, wars, and massacres defining their interior life. No recent book captures both this tension and divide than Jose Manuel Prieto’s brilliant novel, Encyclopedia Of A Life In Russia. A literary sensation the world round, Prieto’s reception in America has taken a bit more time, but with the recent translation of this novel written in 1998, hopefully more will take notice of this rare talent.

The EOALIR, in the manner of all experimental literature, defies easy categorization or even description. Prieto does write the book in the form of an encyclopedia; an encyclopedia, the narrator tells us meant to capture the importance and nature of frivolity and the Russian experience:

The simplicity of the subject matter, the overtly trivial idea of frivolity of tangential living, diminishes the complexity of the method to some degree, even as it facilitates the task of keeping all the entries in mind. Moreover, the philosophy of the moment, which this Encyclopedia seeks to summarize, operates by instants, exists in the present.

As it does so, it also tells the story of post-Communist Russia, a country confused, uncertain about its past and future, veering towards the Occident, but uncomfortable with any sort of simple cultural co-opting. Old generals dine with young powerful capitalists, foreigners with natives, all confused as how to act, in a motley representation of the cultural explosion engendered by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Prieto, through the lens of a narrator foreign to Russia but now living there for numerous years, explores the idiosyncrasies, neuroses, and loves of a people rising from the stupefying yet naively hopeful system of Communism. Prieto centers his abstractions around a basic story, a type of modern day love story between the narrator (named Thelonius Monk) and Linda. Thelonius uses Linda as a muse for his upcoming novel because of her striking red hair. He takes her around post-Communist Europe to taste the luxuries of now more capitalistic systems.

Using this as more concrete reality, Prieto then muses on a range of philosophical topics, from the nature of art to the importance yet frivolity of fashion:

There is an intelligence in beauty, a true feeling that can alter the silhouette of a pair of legs, penetrate the occult meaning of rouge and expensive face creams…expand the borders of the moment, to capture the signals, painstakingly, to stop the passage of time in a perfect second of heightened perception: the pleasing touch of a linen shirt, your full arched eyebrows, the breeze that dries us off after a warm bath.

Like in most experimental fiction, the parts sometimes do not fit easily, but even then Prieto rarely wastes words and even if he did, I would want to read his digressive thoughts. He writes, even in translation, in a dazzling dizzying prose of the masters, and his thoughts always feel unique, no matter the topic. (His discursions on technology, on fashion, and on literature feel important and essential, even 14 years later.)

What differentiates Prieto from a slew of similar authors tackling the similar topic of post-communism is not only his technical acumen, and his ability to meld experimental with traditional narratives, but his abiding empathy. As Americans, we tend to feel either an acute apathy or disgust towards any form of communism, philosophical or otherwise. Prieto, born and raised in Cuba, and having spent considerable time in Russia doesn’t craft any sort of manifesto or apology, but a sort of elegy to what was or what could have been. He gives voice to a world unknown to Americans, a world in which progress, at least of certain types are looked upon with wariness, a, a world in which material luxury represents an indulgence, maybe even a transgression, a world uncertain of the obvious assured goodness of this American Life.

Russia is struggling against its destiny, but the shadow of this fatalism pursues it. Russia is an old country and there one breathes the frozen air of multiple histories that bear out this theory of destiny. The Imperium collapsed under the pressure of purebred dogs, the once impossible dream of Jaguar convertibles and Persian carpets, undermined by the new goal of a pleasant way of life that, over time, had managed to replace all celestial objectives. A profound antagonism had become apparent between the quietism of the Doctrine and the dizzying scandal of disposable diapers: between the search for a future kingdom of truth on this earth and the “general line” of the century, which was to consume the present and consider the future no more than a mental construct.

In doing so he creates and evokes a realm of foreignness full of folk and cultural tales, the demands of tradition, lovely cultural absurdities; a world thousands of years old desperate for expression as it comes to terms with the onslaught of modernity, at a pace that prohibits thinking. Both a love letter to a lost world, and a vision of world being born before his eyes, Prieto captures the precariousness of national death and rebirth. While rooted deeply in the history and tradition of Russian culture, Prieto’s book transcends time and place as a book meant to be sipped, slowly, with a good helping of Kvas, treasured for its intelligence and warmth and celebrated for the life-affirming capabilities of an intellect attempting to give voice to a culture historically bogged down by our fears, insecurities, and propaganda.

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Reseña de mi Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia en The Chicago Tribune

Aquí les va la reseña, que es excelente.

General Views Of Saint Petersburg - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia: Host City Candidate



Vivid impressions of Russian culture in ‘Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia’

By Trine Tsouderos

6:34 PM CST, January 4, 2013

Cuban author José Manuel Prieto’s playful and fascinating book, “Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia,” is, according to Prieto’s narrator, an encyclopedia-style guide to a book the narrator is planning to write about a man named Thelonious Monk who meets a redhead named Linda Evangelista in St. Petersburg. The book unfurls as encyclopedia entries, each tied somehow to Russia or Monk and Evangelista, who engage with a very minimal plot. Essentially, they meet. They talk. They visit the Soviet seaside town of Yalta. They think about going to France. That’s about it.

But with these encyclopedia entries, Prieto has built a book of vivid impressions of Soviet and Russian culture. Prieto lived there for 12 years and translated Russian authors into Spanish. He is a keen observer of Russia, able to capture small moments that trigger memories in anyone, including myself, who has traveled to this part of the world.

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.

His narrator’s description of what a hard frost means in St. Petersburg will earn a smile from those who have visited this frigid place in winter, with icy gales blowing off the Gulf of Finland:

“This morning when I went downstairs to shake out the carpets, I realized immediately we must be very far below zero when my eyelashes grew heavy with a coating of ice. It happened in a single blink.”

It is fitting that “Encyclopedia” is set in Russia, land of the bibliophile, because that’s what the book really is about. It’s about books and the role of texts in this age of Wikipedia, of Google Books, of ambitious projects to scan all of written human knowledge into the digital cloud. It’s also seemingly about the world of hyperlinks, of mashups on YouTube, of cut-and-paste, about the idea that someday everything knowable will be knowable by everyone.

All of this has fueled a fascinating and sometimes heated debate.

On one side are folks like Wired magazine founding executive editor Kevin Kelly, who wrote an essay in The New York Times Magazine in 2006 called, “Scan this Book!” Kelly enthusiastically described efforts to scan every book ever written and merge them all into a “universal library of human knowledge.”

“All new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story,” Kelly wrote in his Times magazine essay. “On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge.”

On the other side are skeptics like dreadlocked digital age guru Jaron Lanier, whose 2010 manifesto “You Are Not A Gadget” sounded the alarm at such efforts, arguing that they would degrade what it means to be human and crimp creativity by devaluing it. Why write a book if you are not going to be paid for it, and if your work is going to be uploaded into the cloud, mashed up, cut up and pasted up any way the masses like, with authorship lost or simply ignored along the way?

Prieto’s “Encyclopedia” is, in essence, such a mashup. Its format is stolen from encyclopedias. It is packed with clips and quotes from other texts borrowed from around the globe, from different moments in time, even from (purported) Soviet elevator instructions. Some entries stylistically echo writing by beloved Russian authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Nikolai Gogol. The very names of the main characters are ripped from the worlds of jazz and fashion.

Prieto’s narrator’s description of his “encyclopedia,” available in a bound book made up of physical paper and ink, could also be an apt description of the Internet:

“The entries are like black holes, exits into universes of other meanings, junctures crossing through the mass of the text to give it cohesion. Such a structure presupposes a reading that will be non-linear and unending ….”

Prieto’s narrator even kicks off his entry for “bibliosphere” by quoting Prieto’s novel, “Rex,” published before “Encyclopedia.” This “bibliosphere” sounds a lot like the universal library of Kelly’s dreams:

“Its thin walls — thick as a single page from the Bible — harbor all texts that have been written and all those being written at this moment (including this one), their surface ceaselessly expanding.”

After exploring the “bibliosphere,” many would walk away feeling “dejected,” Prieto’s narrator writes, “having deduced that nothing new can be created.”

But, cheer up: “All that remains then is to discover the generative nature of the BIBLIOSPHERE, its capacity to create texts out of itself.” Claiming to quote the British Museum, Prieto’s narrator writes, “If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all of the books in the British Museum.”

The book’s insight is that this brave new digital world may seem very new, but it is not. We have always lived in this world of hyperlinks. This mashing up and cutting up has been going on forever because human knowledge is built on the “cloud” of human knowledge that came before it.

But, the narrator also warns against going too far down Kelly’s path. Under the heading, SUMMA TECHNOLGIAE, the narrator describes a state in which virtual reality technology becomes embedded in our brains, feeding us images of the world we want to see:

“To walk naked through the Garden is to have no contact with this real world where you and I live. Therein is a paradise of vivid colors and simple forms, the pure and archetypal pleasures that in our earthly life we do no more than clumsily brush against.”

We will forget that we are living in a fantasy, until one day, in a nod to the Old Testament (and perhaps to the movie “The Matrix”), we “awaken in the Garden of Delights” and “the serpent whispers the terrible truth in our ear; we break through the membrane, open the door and discover our own nakedness.”

So much of this rings true as companies create technology that can recognize faces in the photos we upload, collect data on everything we do online, and digitize every bit of human life they can while we increasingly live our lives online, virtually. More and more, our screens give us what we want, or what they calculate we want.

As a reading experience, “Encyclopedia” mirrors our hyperlinked, mashed up, online lives. This book is not meant to be read from page one to the end. Instead, the reader is encouraged to skip around, allowing each entry — and curiosity — to lead to others, back and forth, until everything is read.

It’s a fun experience. But it’s also one curiously devoid of the pleasures one usually enjoys while reading a novel. The story of Thelonious and Linda is scattered throughout the book, out of order, and because of this, it is almost impossible to connect with them. They never seem real. There is no emotional heart.

And perhaps this is the point of “Encyclopedia.” What is lost and what is gained with this sort of life? And where, Prieto seems to be asking, are we headed?

Trine Tsouderos is a former science and medical reporter for the Tribune and is now a Chicago-based healthcare media director at a global communications firm.

Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia

By José Manuel Prieto, Grove Press, 224 pages, $15.95 (paperback)

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC



Mayo 2012

Philippe  Ollé-Laprune

México: visitar el sueño

trad. Mónica Mansour, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2011, 134 pp.


“Hay una ‘forma de ser’ propia de la literatura de cada país –comienza diciendo el autor de este libro, el escritor y ensayista francés-mexicano Philippe Ollé-Laprune– que deja huella singular en los textos y los distintos autores…” (p. 8). Y hay, por consiguiente, añade párrafos después, “una forma de ser del mexicano que tiene marcada influencia en la literatura que se hace en este país”. A dilucidar este vínculo existente entre el “ser mexicano” y la literatura que se produce en México, el autor dedica su México: visitar el sueño,que quizá es correcto leer como una suerte de detallado informe del estado actual de la literatura mexicana. “He intentado –avisa– comprender la relación particular que México mantiene con la palabra escrita y por lo tanto con su literatura.”

El autor nos explica qué entiende por ese “ser” mexicano, qué cualidad suya tiene mayor impacto en la literatura que produce. Se trata, en primer lugar, de la proverbial “reserva de los mexicanos”. Un “comportamiento –dice– que a veces impacta al visitante hasta hacerle creer que está frente a asiáticos”. Y continúa diciendo: “Las convenciones y las costumbres locales son marcas de discreción, de pudor, envueltas en contención.” Todo esto impacta la literatura que se hace en este país. Aventura por último una razón histórica: “México mantiene desde hace alrededor de quinientos años una relación única con la palabra escrita, debido en gran parte a su nacimiento violento y al lugar que ocupa la escritura en ese contexto.”

¿Qué tipo de libro florece, entonces, en un país en el que enfocar la realidad de manera frontal es algo mal visto? En primer lugar la crónica y el ensayo. “La crónica, que tiene como objetivo describir y comentar lo real, y el ensayo, cuya función es analizar esa misma realidad” (p. 16). Esto es así, afirma, porque “las primeras palabras escritas en México están destinadas a impresionar, a instaurar una relación de fuerza entre ambos grupos” (p. 20).

Ahora bien, ¿cuánto de este talante peculiar de la literatura mexicana tiene que ver no solo con el carácter del mexicano, con la historia única del país y, además, con la formidable participación del Estado como principal mecenas visible del entramado cultural mexicano? Ollé-Laprune señala los riesgos que trae aparejado tal mecenazgo interesado. Muchos de los escritores mexicanos, en un país “en que no se lee”, no viven de sus lectores, ni su popularidad es el resultado de esa suerte de votación democrática que es la venta de libros. “Los más célebres, más que vivir de conferencias o de las regalías de sus libros, tienen al Estado como único patrón: Octavio Paz y Carlos Fuentes son embajadores (antes de renunciar como señal de protesta), Rosario Castellanos o Juan Rulfo trabajan para instituciones del Estado”  (p. 69).

Según el autor, y es una conclusión con la que no se puede no estar de acuerdo, lo negativo de este arreglo es que el Estado  “… refuerza una literatura desprovista de furia, dominada por la gravedad y el sentido de la mesura”. Y añade: “La omnipresencia del poder en las artes tiene una consecuencia anestesiante.” Como consecuencia de esto, la literatura mexicana “está desprovista de los malditos y los furiosos que pueblan las letras de muchas culturas y de muchos países” (p. 39). En México, abunda el autor, “la confusión es grande entre la superficie social del escritor y el valor de su obra” (p. 72). Y en este libro que es, en realidad, una mina de observaciones agudas (lo he leído lápiz en mano, y he puesto muchos signos de exclamación al margen) declara: “En México, la relación con la escritura está impregnada de religiosidad. Hay una forma  de absoluto que afecta al libro y le da una resonancia particular. Esto se da sobre todo entre la gran mayoría de la población que no lee nada, pero tiene de manera difusa el respeto por los doctos, por quienes saben descifrar” (p. 50).

La literatura mexicana vive, por consecuencia, una suerte de dualidad dolorosa, de “escritores –nos dice– sometidos en el campo social y sabios en el campo artístico, son reveladores de lo que es la literatura mexicana: un canto que se esfuerza por disimular su rabia o dominarla” (p. 61).

Una vez delineada esta maquinaria conceptual, Ollé-Laprune la usa para volver con ojo crítico y penetrante sobre la obra de muchos autores canónicos de las letras mexicanas. “Se comprende mejor, por ejemplo, por qué la obra de un Alfonso Reyes, en el que la dimensión de docto es ejemplar, no tiene ninguna presencia en otras lenguas. El tono apacible y el aspecto prudente de su estilo están más conformes con la pluma de un diplomático que de un insumiso” (p. 95).

La misma anemia, por llamarla de algún modo, encuentra Ollé-Laprune en la poesía. Su juicio no puede ser más polémico (en un libro escrito no sin cierta dosis de provocación, de sana provocación intelectual, déjenme añadir):  “… la poesía mexicana está marcada más bien por el estetismo que por la belleza. No tiene el aliento de la poesía chilena, la sabia construcción de la poesía argentina o el vigor exaltado de la poesía peruana. No, su encanto está en su habilidad para domar las pasiones más vivas y los arrebatos más intensos” (p. 88).

Más adelante dedica varias páginas a analizar la crítica literaria al uso en el país, que “es periodística, anecdótica o centrada en los valores que representa el autor estudiado”. Los suplementos literarios y las revistas comentan las actualidades de las letras, juzgan las novedades, atacan o defienden más bien con el fin de golpear o halagar a una persona que de proporcionar claves de lectura. Y aporta un muy revelador cuadro que cualquiera que haya vivido en México y participado en su, por otra parte, muy vibrante vida cultural ha presenciado en más de una ocasión: “La presentación de un libro da lugar a una curiosa ceremonia, organizada por el editor en que el autor está rodeado de varios glosadores. Todos lanzan su ditirambo sin que haya entre ellos el menor debate. El lector potencial deduce la importancia del libro presentado (y de su autor) por el lugar donde se lleva a cabo, el prestigio de los comentadores y las personalidades que componen el público” (p. 72). Otra vez: ¿quién que haya vivido en México no halla esta descripción exacta?

Llegado a este punto, se hace una pregunta fascinante: ¿cuál sería el resultado si un escritor extranjero, sin todas esas trabas anteriormente mencionadas, se aplicara a escribir la realidad mexicana? El resultado, ¿ofrecería una escritura alternativa de México? El autor considera que sí y enumera estos “visitadores del sueño” mexicano, creadores que a lo largo de los años se han visto atraídos por el carácter enigmático del país, por su inmensidad y exotismo. Se trata, entre muchos nombres, de Antonin Artaud, Malcolm Lowry, Huxley, Graham Greene, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, el enigmático B. Traven, etcétera. Obras en que aparece un México distinto al que ven los autores nacionales. Habría que bucear allí para entender otras vías, parece decirnos Philippe.

Si bien es verdad que esto no es privativo del caso mexicano, el autor parece sugerir que esta inyección extranjera ha sido particularmente notable y saludable en México. Un caso reciente, apunta, podría ser el del chileno-mexicano Roberto Bolaño. Ahora bien, esta literatura mexicana “alternativa” no es privativa de los extranjeros. Hay escritores mexicanos que por azares biográficos (largas estadías en el extranjero, variada extracción social, etcétera) logran escapar de la gravitación, del “carácter petrificado y pesado de las letras mexicanas” (p. 91). Ollé-Laprune menciona a Sergio Pitol, escritor de larga vida itinerante, y a Jorge Ibargüengoitia, ambos saludablemente desprovistos, nos asegura, “de ese espíritu solemne de la literatura mexicana”. Yo añadiría algunos otros nombres, el del novelista Daniel Sada y el de la escritora y ensayista Margo Glantz.

No deja de ser sintomático que esta suerte de auditoría rigurosa de las letras mexicanas aparezca en un momento en que la literatura mexicana misma se está moviendo. En gran medida gracias a los cambios tectónicos que experimenta nuestra sociedad, entre ellos la fractura del monolito estatal mexicano cuyo mecenazgo debe cubrir ahora un cambiante entorno de mayor pluralidad política y, por lo tanto, de “sucesivas y encontradas lealtades”, para decirlo con las sabias palabras de Borges.

Desde joven, en Francia, el autor se ha dedicado a la edición de libros y a la promoción cultural. Quizá atraído él mismo por lo exótico mexicano llegó al país a mediados de los noventa como encargado de un programa de fomento a la traducción auspiciado por la embajada francesa. Es director de la Casa Refugio Citlaltépetl donde publica la revista Líneas de Fuga, que en noviembre pasado, cuando el mundo se enteró del Nobel concedido a Tomas Tranströmer, era una de las pocas publicaciones en español que había dado acogida a las obras del sueco. Datos estos importantes para señalar que estamos ante un participante muy activo de la vida literaria nacional, un testigo de excepción en suma.

A pesar de que muy al comienzo anuncia que se trata de un libro de “impresiones personales”, estamos en realidad ante un libro de talante casi académico, muy anclado en el dato, en la referencia histórica y que pasa revista a los grandes creadores mexicanos, poetas y narradores. Un académico, un investigador literario propiamente dicho, podría encontrar aquí tesis sumamente interesantes que desarrollar, entreverar páginas y capítulos con ejemplos y citas. Sería otro libro; este fue concebido para ser leído así, compactamente. Uno puede, figurativamente hablando, pasearse por las muchas salas de la literatura mexicana con este breve libro como guía en que las más penetrantes intuiciones salpican cada una de sus páginas.

El libro es, por último, de una crudeza excepcional. Es justamente lo contrario de lo que uno esperaría de un “libro mexicano”. No dudo de que mucho de lo que leo aquí haya sido dicho o quizá barruntado por más de uno, pero no había leído yo nada de igual contundencia ni en la seriedad con que lo ha dicho. Atreverse a un libro así es un acto de temeridad. Pero como dice el mismo autor: “Producir una obra literaria es un método posible para descifrar los misterios de un país que se complace en el secreto y apropiárselos”  (p. 31). Estamos, entonces, ante un acto de la más crítica y apasionada apropiación.

Publicado originalmente en Letras Libres, Mayo 2012

Mi vida como escritor en Nueva York

Por: José Manuel Prieto. 19|9|2012

Estar alejado de mi cultura ha sido mi condición desde que comencé a escribir. No tiene mayor significancia para mí, por el contrario, lo veo como un reto estimulante. Aquí en Nueva York la New York Public Library es el centro de mi existencia literaria, el lugar a donde más pertenezco. El año pasado festejaron los cien años de la biblioteca y escribí un ensayo para un volumen que Penguin publicó con textos de cien escritores, sobre el uso que le dan a la biblioteca, las horas que pasan en ella. ¿Sobre quién quieres escribir? Sobre Cervantes, dije. Y ahí aparezco fotografiado con un ejemplar de la primera edición del Quijote. Podría —les dije— escribir también algo sobre Borges. Y al instante me vi hojeando el manuscrito de “La lotería de Babilonia”, una libretita de escolar cuadriculada, garrapateada por Borges con letra minúscula. Así de sorprendente es este lugar, mi sitio preferido de trabajo aquí.

Claro, lo más difícil para un escritor en el exilio es la ausencia de contexto, la necesidad de recontextualizarte. Está ese ensayo de Joseph Brodsky, “Esa condición que llamamos exilio”, donde habla en extenso de ello. En 2005 tuve la idea de crear una organización que agrupara a los escritores que escriben en español en la ciudad de Nueva York, nos contextualizara, en una palabra. Le mencioné la idea al escritor mexicano a Nayef Yeyah en el legendario Cedar Tavern, de Village, famoso en su época por ser lugar de reunión de los Beatniks. A Carmen Boullosa, que había llegado a Nueva York el año anterior, le pareció una excelente propuesta y luego bautizamos a nuestro grupo como Café Nueva York. En ese punto se sumaron el novelista español Eduardo Lago y la académica y también escritora Silvia Molloy. Café Nueva York tuvo corta vida por razones que no tiene caso mencionar aquí, pero justamente fue un intento de organizarnos en una ciudad ajena, en un entorno en cierto modo hostil, antes que nada por la lengua o más bien por esa única razón.

Por todo lo demás, New York es una ciudad extremadamente literaria. Sólo que, cosa lógica, su mundo literario funciona en inglés. Hay ciertamente otros escritores de España y Latinoamérica que viven aquí (Antonio Muñoz Molina, Diamella Eltit que pasa un semestre cada año, la novelista y poeta argentina María Negroni, entre otros), pero no hay un espacio o campo de juego propiamente en español. En lo que va de año he presentado tres libros en McNally and Robinson, la librería en la que un joven uruguayo, Javier Molea, lleva un programa literario en español. Lo interesante es que funciona muy bien y por ahí pasa prácticamente todo el mundo, pero no deja de tener una proyección limitada, de figurar como una honrosa excepción.

Están también instituciones más importantes como el Instituto Cervantes o el Americas Society, pero sin duda el espacio literario en español más relevante en USA yo diría que son las universidades que cuentan con el público cautivo del alumnado, de los especialistas en literatura de Hispanoamérica. Suelen pagarte más o menos generosamente por las charlas y también, algo que constituye una novedad en español —aunque tradición añeja en las universidades de aquí—, han comenzado programas de “escritura creativa” en español. La Universidad de Nueva York tiene el programa que lanzó Silvya Molloy y que ha sido todo un éxito. Impartí unos seminarios con ellos, y uno encuentra allí el grupo más activo y entusiasta de aprendices de escritores.

Ahora bien, tras los años que llevo aquí mi inserción al inglés ha crecido exponencialmente, los libros que leo, los volúmenes que día a día engrosan mi biblioteca, los escritores que frecuento. Sin que haya considerado jamás pasar a escribir en inglés. Algo que algunos amigos de aquí esperan con toda sinceridad o quizá deba decir con toda ingenuidad. No les pasa por la cabeza que sencillamente uno no quiera o que bien, claro, simplemente no pueda. Yo insisto en escribir en español y gracias a Dios tengo una excelente traductora, Esther Allen, que pone mis libros impecablemente en inglés.

La “escena literaria” neoyorquina es “vibrante”, como dicen aquí. Abres el Time Out y hay cinco lecturas a la misma hora. Tengo amigos entre los escritores locales, sigo sus libros. Para no ir más lejos, y es algo que digo con orgullo, entre los escritores con los que pasé un año en la New York Public Library, en el Cullman Center,hay ya dos premios Pulitzer: el del historiador T.J. Stiles, por su biografía sobre el Cornelius Vanderbilt y el de la novelista Jennifer Egan, por su libro A visit from the Goon Squad. Con Jennifer hice muy buenas migas cuando compartimos en el centro. Están luego las grandes ocasiones, el Festival Internacional del PEN donde viene todo el mundo, y ves salir de un elevador a Claudio Magris, muy atildado y maravillosamente amable. Hablas luego con Umberto Eco, le dices que leíste El nombre de la rosa pero te callas lo malo que te pareció su siguiente libro. Tienes ocasión de asombrarte de lo malgenioso que parece ser Martin Amis, que critica a algo o alguien mordazmente, y esa misma noche, junto a la champagne gratis, descubres la cabellera blanca de Margaret Atwood, que se siente obligada a decirte algo entusiasta sobre Cuba. Por último, en una ocasión intercambié teléfonos y correo (y nunca la llamé ni le escribí) con Zadie Smith, más entusiasmado por su belleza que por sus libros, que todavía no leo. Y así en largo etcétera. You name it, como dicen en inglés. No sé, francamente, si es bueno o malo o, más bien, irrelevante. Simplemente lo menciono, es parte de la vida como escritor aquí.

Mi exilio (¿de México? ¿De Rusia? ¿De Cuba?) ha sido voluntario y la condición en la que he escrito mi literatura. Lo que más me estimula de vivir en un país extranjero es la posibilidad (o tal vez la necesidad) de incorporarlo a mi literatura. Una operación a la que mi existencia itinerante me ha obligado reiteradamente y que, al contrario de lo que pueda parecer, no es tan común, no es todo el mundo quien lo hace. Siempre pienso en Vladimir Nabokov, que supo hacerlo tan magistralmente. En lo que respecta a mí he corrido con suerte: cuando salió Livadia en ruso, por ejemplo, tuve muy buenas reseñas allá, lo que fue un alivio porque en esencia, era su territorio literario, por decirlo así. Ahora acabo de terminar una novela que pasa en Nueva York aunque tiene mucho de mi vida en México también. Veremos qué ocurre. Lo cierto es que estoy pensando regresar a Cuba, literariamente hablando: tengo la idea de una novela que pasa allí. Aunque tengo cuentos y dos novelas “cubanas” que nunca publiqué. En Cuba, por lo demás, tan solo he publicado un pequeño libro de cuentos. Los tres países que menciono más arriba: Rusia, México y Estados Unidos ahora son también mis patrias literarias, México en primer lugar.

Aparecido originalmente en el suplemento El Laberinto del diario mexicano Milenio.

International Literature Festival Berlin

10.ilb - 15.09 bis 26.10.10 - Focus Osteuropa

José Manuel Prieto [ Mexico, Cuba ]

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© ilb

Gast des ilb 2003.

José Manuel Prieto was born in 1962 in Havana. At age 19, after taking his school-leaving exam, he left Cuba and went to Novosibirsk to study electronic engineering, which is where he met his future wife Elena.  During the Perestroika he lived with his wife in St. Petersburg, where their daughter Alicia was born.  He has lived in Mexico City since 1995.

In 1996 his first book of stories ‘Nunca antes habías visto el rojo’ (Engl: You Have Never Seen Red Before) was published in Cuba. He published his first novel ‘Enciclopedia de una vida en Rusia’ (Engl: Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia) in 1998 in Mexico; an excerpt from the novel can be found in the anthology ‘Cubanísimo.  Junge Erzähler aus Kuba’ (Engl: Cubanísimo.  Young Writers from Cuba).  His second novel ‘Livadia’ (Engl: Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire, 2001), which was published in Barcelona in 1999, has been translated into seven languages including German (to appear in February 2004). The novel has been praised as a jewel by literary critics among others in ‘The New York Times’ and ‘The New York Review of Books’.  This is not only because an intelligent interlinear network of literary references and allusions runs through the narrative texture in an original way, recalling Nabokov’s greatest moments, but also for the formidable history reflecting the post soviet Russia.  José Manuel Prieto has emerged also as a brilliant translator of Russian literature into Spanish.  His translation work includes poems by Gennadi Aygi, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Cvetaeva, and Josef Brodsky as well as prose by Andre Platonov, Victor Pelevin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Vladimir Nabokov. In 2002 he published two new books: in Mexico his second book of stories ‘El tartamudo y la rusa’ (Engl: The Stutterer and the Russian) and in Barcelona his first travel book ‘Treinta días en Moscú’ (Engl: Thirty Days in Moscow). In 2007 his latest novel, ‘Rex’ appeard. He currently lives in New York where he is head of the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute at the University Seton Hall.

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North American Books I Read as a Child in Castro’s Cuba

October 19, 2011 | by José Manuel Prieto

Havana, Cuba. Photograph by Jordi Martorell.

In the spring of 2007, I was invited to a dinner organized by The Paris Review in honor of Norman Mailer. The novelist had just published what would be his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, and would have a conversation with E. L. Doctorow. That evening, when Mailer entered the room, with his very distinctive mien—that of a rather solid and stout man who, because of his age, used two canes—I was deeply moved. I told him—what else do you say in those circumstances?—how much I admired his books and that I started reading them when I was very young, many years ago.

A few days later I told a friend about this experience. “But, how?” he acted surprised, “Did you read Norman Mailer in Cuba?” And added, “Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the banned North American authors on the island?”

My friend had imagined, perhaps for a good reason, that you couldn’t find American literature in Cuba, that it was banned because both countries were at more or less declared war, an openly proclaimed enmity. I patiently explained to him that nothing like this ever happened. Mailer’s books and those of many other North American authors were not censured in Cuba; in fact, they were widely sold. You could find them in every library; they could be read by everyone.

However, his comment did make me reflect on the impact of our neighbor’s literature in Cuba. It made me think about how these books got past censorship and political fate, and it caused me to recall an intellectual itinerary, to take a brief inventory of the North American books I read as a child in Castro’s Cuba—and to consider how greatly that literature influenced my literary education. I’m talking about authors like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, J. D. Salinger, Carson McCullers, William Saroyan, Sherwood Anderson, James Fenimore Cooper, Thornton Wilder, and many others: an endless list. These books demonstrated to me—and demonstrate to me today—the way literature can permeate borders and, above all, perforate the wall of hostility.

I was a child during the Vietnam War, when the newspapers were covered with the most damaging anti-American caricatures. The U.S. was blamed for every calamity, for everything that happened to the country: every death, every natural catastrophe. America was a heartless place, where people took drugs, violence had reach unprecedented levels, and racism dominated everything. That’s what you would find on the radio and television every day.

And if you didn’t listen to the radio or watch television, you might participate in study groups, which were organized to analyze the Maximum Leader’s latest speeches. These study groups were one of those public interventions that lasted for hours and hours, accusing the U.S. of the most treacherous aggressions—provoking the masses and agitating the imperialist aggressor’s puppet.

But what I want to call your attention to—what still surprises me today—is that all of that didn’t end up deeply indoctrinating me. It didn’t end up shaping my opinion of the outside world and of the United States in particular. It’s not that it didn’t have an effect, because of course it did, and my vision was tinged for years by the most common stereotypes; but it didn’t end up ruining everything for me.

I attribute my salvation to books. It could have been a book by Henry James that I surreptitiously read while the Communist youth leader monotonically spelled out a speech that we had all heard only a couple of weeks before. The Political Commissar’s speech couldn’t have differed more from the elegance I found, for example, in a story like Daisy Miller by James. That book captivated me. I fell in love with its extraordinary heroine to the extent that many years later, I titled one of my first short stories, written in Russia, “Daisy,” a name we also have in Cuba.

In my opinion, it’s obvious that the people in charge of publishing policies during the first years of the Cuban Revolution had a humanistic focus; it wasn’t very ideological. I think they considered major works by American authors books that should be part of the intellectual training of any educated person. And I don’t think that any library was purged of North American books. That wasn’t what happened, for example, at my school library, and I attended the famous Lenin school, where the nomenklatura sent their children.

Although it may sound paradoxical, my passion for literature, and particularly for North American literature, was cultivated by state-run publishing houses. They favored literature about social matters; priority was given to authors who in some way complemented the work of the Cuban Ministry of Truth or to books that denounced, in a sophisticated way, the Big Neighbor to the north. As a result, there were always North American titles among the books my mother—a big reader herself—would buy for us every week. One week it might be In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, which must have been published to show the climate of unstoppable crime that existed in the U.S. The next week it might be Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, a book with no explicit criticism (I don’t think) and that I thought was full of mystery, and still do. Then she might bring home An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, which was published to show the ugly side of capitalism. It was easy to find They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy, or The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I still clearly recall an image from The Jungle that made me tremble as a young boy: There are giant cooking pots into which some always tired workers throws the entrails of the animals killed in the Chicago slaughterhouses, and one day one of them stumbles, trips, and falls in. But they leave him in there, because capital’s miserable logic impedes them from throwing out all that meat. Then, in a Chicago diner, a customer bites into something hard with his molars. He takes it out and examines it in the light. It turns out to be a button from the cooked worker!

Other books that sold well were the ones that talked about the exploitation of blacks in the U.S. I read them with particular interest. For example, I read Black Boy by Richard Wright when I was very young, and it painted segregation in the South in a tremendously vivid way. I can still clearly remember entire passages from the book and the names of many characters: Shorty, Richard’s fat, cynical friend who let people pat his behind for coins; Mr. Falk, the Irishman who let Richard use his library card to check out books that a young black boy couldn’t; the compassionate Mrs. Ross and her daughter, Bess, who helped little Richard so much.

I also read the “socialist” novel Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell. I read the U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos and his Manhattan Transfer. I read Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. I read Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway, of course. Hemingway was the epitome of the good North American writer: a lover of Cuba (fondly portrayed by him, we were told, in The Old Man and the Sea) and an author committed to the Spanish Republic (For Whom the Bell Tolls). In Cuba he was worshiped.

I read a lot of William Faulkner. I particularly remember an afternoon in which I should have been with my father, on one of his doctor’s visits, but instead stayed in the car and read. I was reading an ugly edition of As I Lay Dying from the state-run publishing house and, toward the end, when the family is carrying the mother’s body and must ford the overflowing river, I experienced a total acoustic immersion, a kind of sonorous hallucination: I could hear the wind’s roar, the water hitting the wheel hubs, the rustle of the tree branches. When my father finally tapped on the little window of the car to let me know that he was back, I had the impression that everything had gone completely silent because the book had stopped happening.

Ironic as it may seem, the books that were censored most were books that were light and cheap. Bestsellers, pulp fiction: in other words, books that could be a source of entertainment. As a result, it became a status symbol to have one of these books, even when it was something as insipid as Airport by Arthur Hailey. The children of Cuban secretaries and diplomats went around with those books in my school because they were exactly the types of books that the Cuban secretaries and diplomats would buy on their trips abroad. I managed to read almost all the best sellers of the time: Jaws by Peter Benchley, The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, and the most ingenuous, Papillon by Henri Charrière.

Alas, this early liberalism regarding culture in Cuba, from which I benefited as a reader during my childhood and adolescence, has today yielded to greater inflexibility, to a more dogmatic focus that doesn’t allow for such intellectual flirtations. Cuban readers’ vision of North American literature today is, to be very optimistic, from the seventies. In other words, it’s thirty years behind. In Cuba, nothing has been published by Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, or (I believe) Toni Morrison. Important aspects of life in the U.S. have thus been largely ignored: in particular, the enormous ethnic diversity of the U.S., the rise of minority authors that has characterized the American literary scene in the last decades, and the gay revolution.

However, if my history of the American books I read as I child in Castro’s Cuba explains anything, it’s the power of literature to undo any stereotype, to annul even the most terrible accusatory campaigns and propagandistic platforms. Literature does more for the rapprochement of nations than thousands of well-intentioned speeches.

For me, literature was an antidote to propaganda—one that helped me gain a more human idea of the country presented as our main enemy, as always spying on us and ready to invade us. What image did I have, after all of these books, of Americans? They were obsessed in Faulkner, candidly provincial in Lewis, neurotic and scrawny in Salinger, brutally alone in Carver. A population—how to put it?—of humans, perfectly ordinary.

José Manuel Prieto is a New York–based novelist and translator. His latest novel, Rex, was published by Grove. He teaches literature at Seton Hall University.

Translated by Regina Galasso.

Here the link http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/10/19/north-american-books-i-read-as-a-child-in-castro%E2%80%99s-cuba/

In Foreign Lands: An evening with Pavel Lembersky and Jose Manuel Prieto

 at CEC ArtsLink Offices, 01/31/2012

When: 01/31/2012  Time: 6:30-8:00pm
Where: CEC ArtsLink Offices Address: 435 Hudson Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10014
Price: free RSVP e-mail: zstadnik@cecartslink.org
For more info visit: http://bit.ly/AEQVaa   on facebook: http://on.fb.me/yuRQWV
Pavel Lembersky and Jose Manuel Prieto will read from their novels and talk about how their unique émigré experiences shaped their writing and brought forth idiosyncratic new worlds of two very different protagonists.

Pavel Lembersky’s recently published novel,  Aboard the 500th Jolly Echelon tells a detective story in jazzily syncopated language with unlikely twists and philosophical implications. Jose Manuel Prieto’s Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire, a book “woven from an abundance of subtle threads”, is a story of love, smuggling and a search for an elusive butterfly.

“Imagine Borges writing philosophical conceptual anecdotes using the sparkling language of Isaac Babel. Sometimes the significant parts are located in the breaks between the [Pavel Lembersky’s] phrases, and one can feel the draught of pain and despair blowing from those gaps which perhaps irony alone can suppress.” – Anton Nesterov, «Nezavisimaia Gazeta»

“[Jose Manuel] Prieto seems as comfortable writing about the Crimea as he is about Istanbul, Finland, or Milan, his eyes wide open, his mind working, … steadily producing wonder and a few chuckles …. Nabokov’s spirit, alive and kind, has touched him with its butterfly wings.” –Aleksandar Hernon, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

Pavel Lembersky
Pavel Lembersky came to the United States in 1977. He graduated from The University of California at Berkeley with a degree in comparative literature, did graduate work in film at San Francisco State University, and worked on film projects with Jonathan Demme and Spalding Gray, among others.

Lembersky writes his prose and screenplays in Russian and in English.  He authored three collections of short stories River #7 (Slovo/Word, New York, 2000), The City Of Vanishing Spaces (Drugie Berega, Tver, 2002) and A Unique Occurrence (The Russian Gulliver, Moscow, 2009).  Lembersky’s work was included in The Anthology of Short Stories (ACT, Moscow, 2000). His short stories have been translated into English, German, Finnish and Vietnamese and have appeared in literary magazines in Moscow, New York, Munich, Jerusalem and Helsinki such as Solo, The New Review, 22, Little Star, Habitus, Calque, Kommentarii , Words Without Borders, and many others.  Pavel Lembersky is a frequent contributor to Teatr, Foreign Literature and Snob magazines as well as OpenSpace.ru.  Aboard the 500th Jolly Echelon (Franc-Tireur-USA, 2011) is Lembersky’s first novel.

José Manuel Prieto
José Manuel Prieto was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1962. He is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction including the international acclaimed Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire and Rex among others. Prieto’s work has been translated to many languages with an exceptional critical reception. He has been a Fellow at The New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Prieto has also translated the works or many Russian authors into Spanish, among others, Andrei Platonov, Anna Ajmatova, Iosif Brodsky, Vladimir Maiakovski.

Jose Manuel Prieto is an assistant professor at Seton Hall University and has taught at Cornell University and Princeton University. His currently lives in New York where he has finished his most recent novel Human Voice.