Book Review

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction by Álvaro Uribe (ed)

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction by Álvaro Uribe (ed)

If in the last century Mexican literature was largely inspired by the country’s diverse, and often extreme, socio-political issues (from poverty to protest), then judging by this fascinating anthology of contemporary Mexican fiction, that impetus has been replaced by a more outward looking, worldly-wise view. The political has been overshadowed by the personal and the experimental honed into narrative finesse.

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Álvaro Uribe, features sixteen short-stories from writers born between 1945 and 1972 and published in Mexico today. Those readers expecting a unified landscape may be disappointed. Whereas previously Mexican writers looked within their own country for their inspiration, in this collection most of the authors position themselves outside of their own territory – personally, politically and geographically. A number of the stories are, quite literally, set abroad - in the US, Spain, France, and even in a mythical African country - and many of the authors focus on the inner psyches of the characters rather than the pressing social issues of the day. For example, Cristina Rivera-Garza’s Nostalgia is a melancholy take on an exile’s longing for another life; Mariachi by Juan Villoro is about a disillusioned singer who breaks into porn films with surprising consequences; in Crosswords Fabio Morábito writes about two sisters whose communication is reduced to the biannual exchange of crossword magazines; and Rosa Beltrán’s Sheri-Sade follows the highs and lows of an all-consuming erotic relationship.

As Uribe comments in his prologue, the writers are “characterised by an unclassifiable variety”. Despite the lack of clear cultural definition, Mexico’s rich tradition of storytelling is evident in many of the tales and the sheer diversity is part of their appeal. Ana García-Bergua’s blackly comic The Preservers, about a widow who keeps the embalmed corpse of her husband in front of the TV reflects Mexico’s particular fascination with death. This theme is repeated in different ways in Hernán Lara Zavala’s Hammering Away, centring on a son’s dialogue with his dead father, and Eduardo Antonio Parra’s Requiem which laments the passing of a legendary whore.

The anthology is ordered chronologically, starting with the youngest, Vivian Abenshushan, and her humorous take on the high incidence of divorce in Mexico. But probably my favourite is the story that closes the anthology by the most senior contributor: Hector Manjarrez’s aptly named The End of the World juxtaposes the destructive clash between civilisation and nature with the attempts of an estranged couple to reconnect with one another.

I found this collection hard to put down. An added bonus is that it is bilingual – English and Spanish versions can be read side by side. Until recently, the only Mexican works of fiction in translation were by a handful of authors – amongst them, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo - so this goes some way to address the balance. One hopes that Dalkey Archive Press will be persuaded to make a series of anthologies like this one; the merit of uniting readers across literary borders and over continents is immense.

-- Reviewed by Lucy Popescu on 04/05/2009

Further Information
ISBN-10: 1564785149
ISBN-13: 9781564785145
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
Publication Date: 05/02/2009
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 450

Readers Comments

  1. Paul Sweeney says... Monday 04 May 2009

    Thanks for covering that. Looking for some South American Anthologies.

  2. Annie Janusch says... Thursday 14 May 2009

    In response to Paul Sweeney's comment: You might also be interested in _New World / New Words : Recent Writing from the Americas_. It's a fully bilingual collection of Latin American writing (both poetry and fiction), published by the Center for the Art of Translation. Also, the latest Zoetrope, edited by Daniel Alarcón, has a nice sampling of work—and lovely design.

  3. J.C. Hallman says... Friday 12 June 2009

    This is an exciting collection -- and great that Dalkey has done it. (Another incredible translation from Dalkey not that long ago was Patrik Ourednik's "Europeana," which I'm afraid didn't get the attention it deserved.) In the U.S., in particular, the interest in "ethnic fiction" is skin deep, and what one winds up seeing is a variety of cultures run through the grinder of realism. It's encouraging to hear of an anthology that emphasizes the "unclassifiable variety" to be found -- in storytelling technique, and language -- even within a single country. I agree that a series of such books is a great idea -- indeed, just what literature needs.

  4. Sophie of DAP says... Thursday 02 July 2009

    Thanks to everyone for your interest and comments. You, and JC Hallmann perhaps in particular, might be glad to know that Dalkey is to begin publishing an annual anthology of the Best of European Fiction, with just that idea of seeking out the 'unclassifiable variety' to be found out there at its heart. We launch the first in the series in January 2010.

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