About Katie Brown

Katie Brown is a Teaching Fellow in Hispanic Studies at University of Bristol, book-lover and translator.

Nominations for Premio de la Crítica 2013 announced

Premio critica novela 2013The Premio de la Crítica a la Novela for 2013, organised by Ficción Breve Venezolana, announced on 4 July 2014 its 17 contenders. The jury, comprising professors and researchers Violeta Rojo, Miguel Marcotigiano and Álvaro Conteras, will announce the winner, and up to five finalists, in September.

The novels in the running, in alphabetical order, are:
  1. Días de novenario, Inés Muñoz Aguirre, Bruguera
  2. El abismo de los cocuyos, de Mario Amengual, Bid &CO. Editor
  3. El buen esposo, Federico Vegas, editorial Alfa
  4. El hijo de Gengis Khan, Ednodio Quintero, Seix Barral
  5. En sueños matarás, Fedosy Santaella, Alfaguara
  6. Guararé, de Wilmer Poleo Zerpa, Ediciones B
  7. Jezabel, de Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles, Ediciones B
  8. La decisión justa, José Miguel Roig, Oscar Todtmann Editores
  9. La escribana del viento, Ana Teresa Torres, Editorial Alfa
  10. La luna envidiosa, José Miguel Roig, Oscar Todtmann Editores
  11. La víctima perfecta, Mónica Montañés, Ediciones B
  12. Las horas claras, Jacqueline Goldberg, Sociedad de Amigos de la Cultura Urbana
  13. Las topias de la invocación, Leoner ramos Giménez Ediciones B
  14. Óyeme con los ojos, Valentina Saa Carbonell, Ediciones B
  15. Por poco lo logro, de José Manuel Peláez, Ediciones B
  16. Procedencia desconocida, Antonieta Benítez Briceño, Bruguera
  17. Sábanas negras, Sonia Chocrón, Ediciones B

Read the original announcement from Ficción Breve here.

Un hielo en mi boca

un hielo en mi boca coverAl compás de la música, sentía proyectarse como una pelicula aburrida y lenta las cosas que he visto y vivido, la sensación del hastio, el morbo por estar, la indiferencia al terror, la rutina, el doble sentido del todo, la miseria de las noches, la represión de los días, la muerte como algo natural. Esos golpes secos de batería que no me tocan el alma.

To the rhythm of the music, I felt the things I’ve seen and lived project themselves like a slow and boring film, the feeling of weariness, the desire to be, the indifference towards terror, the routine, the double meaning of everything, the misery of nights, the repression of days, death as something natural. Those dull drumbeats that do not touch my soul.

Very shortly, I will be bringing you a translation of Tibisay Rodriguez Torres’ short story ‘Blood’, winner of this year’s Premio de Cuento Policlínica. In the meantime, I am very excited that Tibisay has kindly allowed me to share a free PDF version of her first collection of short stories with you, Un hielo en mi boca (first published by El perro y la rana in 2006; republished by the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela in 2013).

Click here for your free PDF of Un hielo en mi boca.

The narratives weaved in Un hielo en mi boca, switching between the viewpoints of often unnamed protagonists caught in an undefined present, are as mind-altering as the sex, drugs, rave music and other substances which fill its pages. In some ways small, confessional tales, each has a wealth of meaning and emotion lurking beneath the surface. Tibisay Rodriguez Torres significantly juxtaposes the awkwardness of everyday social situations with moments of genuine horror. When connections are formed between people they are fleeting and fragile. In this short but powerful first collection of stories, Rodriguez Torres develops an increasingly poignant picture of the loneliness, self-doubt and disconnection that plagues the postmodern subject.

 

The Conspiracy

conspiracy centeno

In Buenos Aires it’s called mist. In Mexico City they call it smog. When the wind from the Sahara blows and covers Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the islanders know it as haze. In Caracas, there was soot, and I was moving through smoke and ashes on the day I went out to kill the president.

In 2002, shortly after the failed coup attempt of 11 April, Israel Centeno published El Complot. The stark criticism and demythification of the Bolivarian government presented in the novel lead to a campaign against Centeno which ended in his exile. Now thanks to Sampsonia Way Publishing and translator Guillermo Parra,  Centeno’s remarkable, provocative novel is available to Anglophone readers for the first time.

As with all Centeno’s work, The Conspiracy has a dreamlike – or rather, nightmarish – quality, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, and shifting the focus of narration between identifiable characters and an unknown but all-knowing observer. The dizzying quality of the narration leaves readers feeling as disorientated as the protagonist Sergio, who cannot reconcile his revolutionary zeal with Venezuela’s new political reality.

Beginning with a failed assassination attempt, The Conspiracy explores what happens to far-left revolutionaries – those remnants the from the guerrillas and radical movements which flourished in Venezuela following the end of dictatorship in 1958  – once the ‘Revolution’ is in power. The novel expresses Centeno’s own disillusionment with the Process, having grown up surrounded by radical activism. It is deeply critical of power-hungry former radicals turned ministers, who abandon their Marxist beliefs to form part of the establishment. At the same time, the novel shines a light on the sinister undercurrent of this process, that is, the ruthless violence necessary to cover up any traces of former ‘undemocratic’ behaviour by those now in power.

“All processes need elite groups for executing indecorous tasks. Every process has its indecorous tasks, it was romanticism to believe otherwise”.

In the background bubbles a criticism of Chávez himself (only ever named as ‘the President, but instantly recognisable), his populism, his reliance on the military and his use of the media to secure his power.

Ultimately, the novel is about the government’s betrayal of the revolutionary ideals it purports to represent. While anti-government sentiment is not hard to find in current Venezuelan literature, nothing attacks the core values and myths of Bolivarianism like The Conspiracy. At a time when opposition to the government is consistently labelled right-wing, imperialist, and oligarchic, The Conspiracy is a powerful document of the objections of the radical-left.

Click here to buy The Conspiracy from Sampsonia Way Publishing

Manifiesto: país – Exhibition at Sala Mendoza, Caracas

From Sunday 18 May until 31 August 2014, Sala Mendoza at the Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas will play host to Manifiesto: país, a creative response to the wave of protests which have hit Venezuela over the past few months. The exhibition brings together 66 responses to the idea of país from the country’s leading writers, poets, intellectuals and journalists, and accompanying artwork.

manifiesto país

The exhibition is organised by Lisbeth Salas, currently resident in Barcelona, who runs La Cámara Escrita publishing house. She explained to El Nacional:

I made the same request to each of them: define the word country.The ideas was that they speak about how they see it, what they hope for from the future that we seemingly don’t have, how to rescue the idea of nation from memory, reminiscence and even exile. We are all living through the same thing, regardless of where we reside; what’s certain is that Venezuela is no longer what it was and we don’t know what it is now either.

A todos les hice la misma petición: que definieran la palabra país. La idea era que hablaran sobre cómo lo ven, qué esperan de ese futuro que al parecer no tenemos, de cómo rescatar la nación desde la memoria, el recuerdo y hasta desde el exilio. Todos estamos viviendo lo mismo, independientemente de dónde estemos parados; lo cierto es que Venezuela ya no es lo que era y tampoco sabemos lo que es.

Each text has been transformed into a visual artwork inspired by Soviet posters, advertising, Dada, and mass movements, a fusion of words and images conceived by Salas and developed by the design duo Pedro Quintero and César Jara. The director of Sala Mendoza, Patricia Velasco, told El Nacional:

It’s a project for the city, but also for the student movement, which is leading the protests. It’s an exhibition to make us think, to think about Venezuela in a positive way, to dialogue, because that’s what we all want.

Es un proyecto para la ciudad, pero también para el movimiento estudiantil, que es el que está al frente de las protestas. Es una exposición para pensarnos, para pensar en Venezuela en positivo, para dialogar, porque eso es lo que todos deseamos.

The book, Manifiesto: país will be launched in July. I hope to bring you more news on that soon!

Winners Announced for 8th Premio de Cuento de la Policlínica Metropolitana

policlinicaCongratulations to Tibisay Rodríguez, who won first place in the VIII Premio de Cuentos Policlinica Metropolitana para Jovenes Autores. Judges Ángel Gustavo Infante, José Pulido and Violeta Rojo chose her short story Blood out of 125 entries. Rodríguez was praised for skilfully putting together a very current story in which youth language blends with literary discourse and leads the audience to an ending which allows them to piece together the scenes and reinterpret their conclusions.

Second place was awarded to Rodolfo A. Rico for Para siempre, while Juan Manuel Romero‘s Palmadas en el hombro took third place. The following all received honourable mentions:

Día de gracia by Pedro Varguillas; Flor by Isabella Saturno; La mesa by Víctor Mosqueda Allegri; La muerte elocuente by Yorman Alirio Vera; La vida sexual y triste by Diego Alejandro Martínez; Una escena al estilo de Steven Seagal by Roberto Enrique Araque and Ya no seré otra habitante by Rosanna Álvarez Barroeta.

The judges also highlighted the wide participation by authors from regions across the country and those living abroad.The three winners will receive a cash prize of Bs. 12,000 (about £1100), Bs. 6,000 and Bs.3,000 respectively.

You can read the full verdict in the original Spanish at Ficción Breve.

A Chinese Tale by Hazael Valecillos

As well as travel guides based on literature (whether visiting the places where stories are set, or places of significance to authors), my good friends over at A Pie de Página also publish stories that take their readers on a journey. One such story is Hazael Valecillos‘ Un cuento chino, a short story of culinary discovery in Mérida. Hazael kindly agreed for me to translate and publish the story here. Read the original in Spanish at A Pie de Página.

A Chinese Tale

The cities in the interior of a country always imply a bet on the unknown. In Latin America, this phenomenon is even stronger as, depending on who is looking and visiting, perceptions of the province can swing between bucolic and wild, barbarous, dangerous. In a city like Mérida, situated some 800 kilometres from the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, the situation becomes even more interesting, being as it is the seat of the principal university in the country and not having more than a handful of avenues.

For Kostas, born in the mythical Greece and raised in the rapidly changing Caracas of the 1960s, Mérida meant nothing but the chance to continue his studies after the President at the time, Rafael Caldera, closed the Universidad Central de Venezuela. Moved in reality to chase some long legs rather than by a vocation as a student, Kostas did what innumerable compatriots had done before him: he set out on a journey into the unknown.

But the unknown in this case did not include Cyclopes or Laestrygonians, and the cold was too fierce to even think about mermaids. For the rangy Greek, the adventure was more pedestrian and mundane, to face being far from home for the first time, and most importantly, far from his father’s cooking.

From a young age, Kostas’ father, Petros, became a renowned cook – it always seemed pompous to him to be called chef -, eventually acquiring so much prestige that even the president of Greece was a regular at his table. Kostas never knew to which president his father was referring, but the latter assured him with pride that he was his godfather. The successive conflicts, the unending periods of crisis in their native land, made them emigrate and no sooner had they arrived in Caracas than he opened his own restaurant. His enormous talent and tenacity turned Petros into a star almost immediately, removing him and his family from the scarcities common to immigrants.

It’s not surprising, then, that with the economic solvency afforded to him by his father and all of the comforts offered by this city which seemed much older than any that he had known in Venezuela, the principal problem which Kostas had to resolve was that of food, not for a lack of resources, but for gastronomic quality.

Too far from the heat of the fasolada which had so helped him to cope with the climate, the explosion of flavours of mousakka or the afternoon gyros on workdays, Kostas had no other choice but to try his luck in the limited options offered by the small city, immediately becoming acquainted with the rigors of the restaurante ejecutivo[1] and the popular menus. A few weeks after his arrival, a friend from university recommended a place right in the city centre, just next to the School of Arts and a few blocks from his halls of residence, where you could eat the very best for just five bolivares (less than one dollar).

chipen

When Kostas arrived at the indicated address he saw a very austere frontage, with a glass door and a sign that announced Chipén. The long minute that he spent standing in the road opposite, with his eyes glued to the sign, served to bring him face to face with his demons. Today there is a Chinese restaurant on practically every corner, and with the passing of time it has become the number one fast-food option in many places, but 40 years ago, entering a Chinese restaurant was more reproachable than leaving a brothel. If you add to that Petros’ legends of the culinary habits of these people, the sense of discomfort and the shivers that Kostas felt at the moment are understandable.

That day he understood that, like all human beings, he had prejudices and that those would remove him from what was definitely cheap, and according to his friend, even excellent quality food. He started to walk away from there and ended up chewing meat and potatoes at an ejecutivo nearby, with an expression of disappointment that was difficult to hide. The following day he left classes and walked up to the road in question, he stopped in the same place and stayed for around five minutes, trying to leave his thoughts to one side and act; however, he only managed to look strange to the passers-by and ended up copying his actions of the day before. He tried the same thing a couple of times more until he surrendered and from then on, during the year that he lived in Mérida, he avoided passing by the Chinese restaurant in any way possible.

Later they reopened UCV and Kostas returned to Caracas to complete his studies. The shadow of the Chipén came to affect him so much that when he returned to Mérida after a couple of years, this time for good, although he did not know that yet, following the same long legs as last time, the first thing that he did was go directly to the restaurant, park his brand new yellow Volkswagen Beetle and open the door with a shove.

What he found surprised him greatly, it was more of a Spanish tavern than anything else, with an enormous bull’s head on the right wall, a few tables crammed into five square metres and walls papered with bullfighting posters. Kostas cursed his prejudices and before the disconcerted faces of the waiters walked in silence to the bar and asked for the menu. That day he ate the most delicious plate of king prawns – each one the size of an arm, so he says – that he had ever tried – he still maintains today-, while the owner explained to him the origin of the name and they laughed together at his idiotic confusion.

Sitting at what became his table, right next to the kitchen, Kostas watched an enormous number of bullfighters parade by, each one more renowned than the last, he even came to share his chicken stew with one of them, apparently the best of all time, but not knowing anything about bullfighting, he never knew who he was. He also saw, with the passing of the years, couples begin and end beneath the serene head of Manolo (he thought it was stupid to give the name Minos to the bull’s head which he had grown so fond of). Later, the toreros, the banderillos and the novilleros were replaced by poets, short story writers and novelists, or at least by men and women who referred to themselves as such. Some very good, others moving, the majority just good-for-nothing drunks. At the peak of the poets, as they liked to be called among themselves, he saw how one day they arrived liked a cloud of mosquitos around a disproportionately tall bearded man with bulging eyes, who sat in front of the door to watch the falling rain through the glass while the others did not stop talking. That day Kistas understood that, even though he had never read more than the Selected Works, there was an enormous difference between writers and poets.

Forty years later, the yellow beetle can still be seen outside the Chipén periodically. Kostas sometimes gets his son to accompany him, although in general he prefers to go alone, he says that that way he can keep reading the world while he eats the best liver in the world, at his table in the Chinese restaurant that never was a Chinese restaurant, in a city that never quite became a city.


[1] Restaurants mainly serving fast and simple lunch, offering a choice of set menus.

El Universal Poll: The Books of 2013

Venezuelan daily newspaper El Universal carried out a poll of 23 writers, editors, critics, professors, publishers and general bookworms to decide on the top Venezuelan books of 2013. The only rule was that they could not vote for a book in which they were some way involved themselves.

The voters:

Albinson Linares, Andreína Melo, Andrés Boersner, Antonio López Ortega, Carlos Pacheco, Carmen Verde Arocha, Carolina Lozada, Diego Arroyo Gil, Diómedes Cordero, Freddy Ñáñez, Joaquín Marta Sosa, Luis Barrera Linares, Luis Moreno Villamediana, Luz Marina Rivas, María Alejandra Bello, Marialcira Matute, Melissa Nahmens, Michelle Roche, Nelson Rivera, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, Roger Michelena, Valmore Muñoz Arteaga and Vicente Lecuna.

The winners, by genre:

Short Stories: La sombra inmóvil by Antonio López Ortega. The book which received most votes of any in the poll, Carlos Pacecho described it as ‘without competition’, and deserving distribution abroad.

Novel: La escribana del viento by Ana Teresa Torres. Editor Andrés Boersner called it Torres’ ‘most important fictional work of the last decade’

Poetry: Annapurna by Igor Barreto. Nelson Rivera, director of Papel literario called it ‘unexpected, distant and close at the same time’.

Essay: Derivas by Alejandro Sebastiani Verlezza. A literary diary full of ‘reflection, observation and intuition’.

Non fiction: Pasaje de ida by Silda Cordoliani. A compilation of testimonies from 15 Venezuelan writers living and working abroad.

Children’s literature: Taquititán de poemas by María Elena Maggi and Ana Carolina Palmero. An anthology of Venezuelan poems for children.

Read the full article at El Universal

Granizo

granizo

Yo, una estudiante normal, devorando libros echada en mi cama y pensando que llevaba una vida normal, no como en las grandes películas, o en las grandes historias, sino una en donde la gente vivía y moría, como si no fuera gran cosa, como parte de algo que resultaba tan cotidiano, que no se dejaba notar y mucho menos analizar en profundidad.

Me, a normal student, devouring books lying on my bed and thinking that I lived a normal life, not like in the great films, or the great stories, but one in which people lived and died as if it was no big deal, like part of something so everyday that you didn’t notice it, let alone deeply analyse it.

With her debut collection of short stories, Granizo (Caracas: El perro y la rana, 2010), Dayana Fraile won the I Biennial Literaria Julián Padrón, whose judges praised her use of dialogue, suggestive narrative techniques and very ‘current’ irony.

What I love about Dayana is how she refuses to give in to the demand that literature should be overtly political. Instead, hers are simple stories of normal young people – students or factory workers – their friendships, their everyday pleasures or struggles and their search for independence. Dayana’s are strong, nuanced female characters, of which there are still not nearly enough in contemporary literature. While the settings are small, the characters are so real and engaging that you genuinely care for them and often feel like a friend is confessing secrets to you as you read. La vida con Fiori, for example, begins with a brilliantly evocative description of a flower made of guacamole and peppers, just a small detail of a joyful drunken evening between friends, but the juxtaposition between this and understated, almost casual way in which a huge emotional secret comes to light later in the story is extremely powerful.  Though Granizo is short, it proves Dayana to be an extremely talented story writer and deserves to be much more widely read.

Prizes

I Biennial Literaria Julián Padrón 2010

Read

Granizo (short story) in País Portátil

La vida con Fiori in Ficción Breve

When Adam Lacroft Met Death

when adam lacroft met death

“I’m what awaits at the end.” She added in a deep
voice, mocking a storyteller, “The one thing no man can avoid.” She giggled at my unchanging look of incomprehension. “I’m Death, silly.”

When Adam Lacroft Met Death (New Generation: 2013) isn’t the kind of Venezuelan literature I usually come across. For a start, it’s written in English. The author, Carlos Paolini, is currently resident in the States, studying marketing, but was born and raised in Caracas and smatterings of Venezuelan speech appear throughout the novel. I must admit I was anxious when I received the book, as 19-year-old Paolini, like his young protagonist Lacroft, seems extraordinarily self-assured – would he have the talent to back it up? I’m happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by his debut.

When Adam Lacroft Met Death is the first of a trilogy of fantasy novels for young adults, revolving around an underachieving high school student who comes face to face with Death after a car accident. Far from the stereotypical hooded figure, Death is a beautiful 20-something brunette, who calls herself Eve and seems to know all of Adam’s hidden desires. Eve offers Adam a moral dilemma: if can find and kill the man who killed him within three days he will  win back his own life. As t becomes increasingly clear that Eve cannot be trusted, will Adam be able to resist his temptation towards her and find a way to save himself? If a battle of wits with Death wasn’t complicated enough, Adam must also save his budding romance with the love of his life, Erica, but she has secrets of her own.

Having dropped out of law school after three months, Carlos spent a year just trying to absorb as much literature and film as he could. It shows, as references abound, from Dante’s Inferno to Oscar Wilde. As a Brit, I particularly appreciated Adam’s passion for our indie music too!

The initial irritation at Adam’s character gives way to a real warmth towards him thanks to his endearing nervousness trying to woo Erica, and then an admiration at how he matures as he tries to deal with death. It’s easy to get sucked in by him, just as Eve and Erica do. Not just the cliffhanger ending, but the fast-paced, engaging narrative throughout, left me impatient for Carlos to finish the next instalment.

Buy When Adam Lacroft Met Death from Amazon UK

The Heraclitus of Los Puertos by Mariano Nava

Mariano Nava Contreras (Maracaibo, 1967) is both an acclaimed short story writer and a classical Greek scholar. A Professor of Greek Language and Literature at Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, he has published three non-fiction books – Envuelto en el Manto de Iris. Tradición clásica y literatura de la Emancipación venezolana (Mérida, 1996), Novus Iason. La tradición grecolatina y la Relación del Tercer Viaje de Cristóbal Colón (Mérida, 2006) and Dos ensayos sobre humanismo clásico y pensamiento de la emancipación en Venezuela (Mérida, 2010) – as well as four collections of short stories – El blues de la cabra mocha (Mérida, 1995), Cuentos de los cuentos que nos contaron (El Tigre, 1996), Vidas, hechos y palabras de ilustres filósofos difuntos (Maracay, 1996) y Culo’e hierro y otros relatos (Mérida, 2004).

In ‘Heráclito Puertero’ (The Heraclitus of Los Puertos), taken from Vidas, hechos y palabras de ilustres filósofos difuntos, these two interests come together to tell the story of a Venezuelan man who lives by Heraclitian philosophy.

Read the original version of the story, Heráclito Puertero, on Ficción Breve here.

The Heraclitus of Los Puertos by Mariano Nava

And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead,
awake and asleep,
young and old;
the former are shifted and become the latter,
and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former.
Heraclitus, fragment 88.

1. Noel Federico Olivero Olivares, my great-grandfather, didn’t bat an eyelid, he folded the telegram and put it under the small plate of peas that he was eating, and calmly continued his lunch. He laughed to himself – they didn’t tell me that, but I know he did – and thought: “You can’t step into the same river twice either”.

“What is it, Noel, what happened?” Mamita asked him.

But he acted as if it were nothing, because he also knew how Mamita was, that she lived to fight with him and that what you like, Noel, is booze, not even ipecacuanha does you any damage any more, and one day I’m going to fuck off with the kids (and she did because one St Anthony’s Day she went from Los Puertos to the El Consejo de Ziruma, alone and on foot, like St Ignatius). That’s why Papá Noel didn’t want to tell her anything, because she was very industrious and everything had been lost: the fique to make sandals from, the cheese and the bijao leaves, and even two macaques he had caught in Encontrados for the boys. But Mamita had had enough and grabbed the paper and read it.

“And you’re going to stay so calm, Noel! Jeez, you’ve got some nerve! The canoe sinks on us and you’re so calm! Now what are you going to put in the shop?”

And Papá Noel, who not for nothing was called “The Philosopher” in Los Puertos, said unfazed:

“Aha and what do you want, Eleuteria! I’m not going to get in the water to look for the bits and pieces. What’s lost is lost… ”.

2. Papá Noel’s grocery shop was once set on fire and the neighbours went running to throw water on it first and to warn him about it after. Some arrived at the house almost out of breath: Noel, your shop is burning down, run, my son, run. Then the Prefect arrived in “Little Red” (which was both the only ambulance and the only car in Los Puertos) and started to deal blows to the rubberneckers who weren’t helping to put out the fire. Papá Noel, who watched fascinated as the flames ran about the shack, was one of the first to feel a slug in the ribs.

“Don’t hit that man, sir. He’s the owner, see”.

“Really, you’re the owner of the shop and you’re standing there watching so calmly?”

And Papá Noel, who knew very well that all that exists is fire and that the real nature of things is that which is hidden, replied to him shrugging his shoulders, his small blue eyes red from the smoke, and with an enigmatic smile:

“Aha, and what can I do. Everything is burnt”.

3. Papá Noel also knew that the way up and the way down are one and the same. He had an interesting syllogism. He would say: if things have a solution, why worry about them? And if things don’t have a solution, why worry about them? For that reason, he died aged 95, and that was because he wanted to, because one day he lay down in his hammock and said: Well…I won’t stop here any longer.