Archive for the ‘Latin American Literature’ Category


Thursday, July 20th, 2017

When you get to be my age—old but young-at-heart—you start wondering if you had to do it all over again, what different choices would you make. Life is about choices, of course—choices covering an entire spectrum, from small to big. You might have some regrets too. That’s only human.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in my personal life. Given the same circumstances, I’d make the same ones. I wouldn’t have minded if some of them had turned out differently—I’d like to decrease the bad experiences and amplify the good ones—but I generally wouldn’t change the choices I made that led to these experiences.

I started publishing my fiction 10+ years ago (the first edition of my second novel, Full Medical, was published in 2006). At an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m a practical person, though, so I made the choice to become a scientist, figuring that being a successful writer was too much like winning the lottery. It is, no matter what some authors or writing gurus say. Don’t give up on your day-job just yet. I think Dean Koontz’s wife gave him a year or so to achieve success. That’s unheard of nowadays, unless you win the lottery like Hugh Howey, J. K. Rowling, or Mark Weir. Writing good fiction is a necessary condition; there are no sufficient ones.

Science might not seem like a career that forms a basis for writing success (except maybe for sci-fi—many successful sci-fi writers are ex-scientists). One can wonder what careers are best for that. A love of languages has always accompanied my love for writing. I have a modest ability with languages. Given other circumstances, I might have become a linguist. That seems to be a fulfilling career for putting food on the table while you write stories and wait for some modicum of success. Probably not as lucrative as hard science and technology, though, which everyone calls STEM nowadays. While a journalism degree is probably better than an MFA (the former produces more understanding of and exposure to the human condition), the study of languages is undeniably related to what a writer does all the time: putting ideas into words and choosing the right words and logic to do so.

Of course, any writing career does this, even writing verses for Hallmark. But the study of languages goes far beyond writing skills. Understanding the linguistic history and structure of languages, especially one as dynamic as English, offers the future and present writer an incredible base for the logical choices s/he must make in her or his writing.

I don’t own many print books now. Although I have enough to keep bookshelves sagging, I generally find ebooks more practical—they’re easy to read, very accessible, and don’t take up any physical space beyond my Kindle. But there’s one print book on my reference shelf that I greatly value, David Crystal’s The Stories of English. Even if you ignore current dialects and regional variations, English is a complicated amalgam of many bits and pieces that has seen a dynamic and rapid development. The Spanish reader can still read Cervantes; we struggle with Shakespeare. And these men were almost contemporaries (Shakespeare died one day after Cervantes).


Is magical realism dead?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Probably not.  Its champion is.  Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1982 Nobel Prize winner, died at 87 in Mexico City.  His word mastery and acerbic humor will be missed.

Magical realism is seeing a fantasy-world amidst stark reality, a technique that intertwines the mystical and sensual with the everyday trials and tribulations of ordinary people, making their lives extraordinary.  It has influenced many authors since Garcia Marquez, and not just Hispanic authors.  He wasn’t the first either.  Kafka and some of the early dystopian sci-fi writers practiced magical realism—nowadays King and Koontz practice it in their cross-genre alloying of horror and sci-fi.  Many tales about drug addiction and mental cases contain elements of magical realism, but it can creep into mysteries, thrillers, and that nebulous and catch-all genre we call literary fiction.

My personal discovery of Garcia Marquez was probably a bit different than your average gringo’s.  While my sojourn in Colombia led to a cultural immersion so profound that I soon found myself dreaming in Spanish, I didn’t feel capable of tackling the grand master’s tomes until late in that sojourn.  I’m not going to claim that one must read a great author in his own language—modern translators are rarely literal and often profoundly capture the author’s true meaning—but I’ve never read Gabby in English.  You’re probably familiar with the great trio—One Hundred Years of Solitude, Autumn of the Patriarch, and Love During the Time of Cholera (these are my title translations that don’t necessarily agree with accepted ones)—each novel a masterpiece and each novel totally different.


Yes, I Cry for You, Argentina…

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

[Note from Steve: Allende, Borges, Garcia-Marquez, and Vargas Llosa are four great South American authors.  There are many more, of course, and many of them are unfamiliar to U.S. readers, even though many of us consider Spanish our country’s second language.  Here is a note from Vargas Llosa about political incompetence in Latin America and the current political nexus between Argentina and Venezuela.  Any similarities of the former to our political situation in Washington D.C. might not be coincidental.  The latter might be controversial.

Over the years, political winds have blown from many directions and Latin American writers reflect those shifting winds.  Take what truisms you find from the following.  As with all op-ed, the educated reader should question the opinions and perhaps develop his own.  My review of Edward David Holzman’s book Malena—also see my webpage “Steve’s Bookshelf”—is complementary to this article in many ways.  As always, your comments are welcome.

By the way, the translation is mine—don’t blame the author!  My version is a free rendering of the original.  Things can be lost in the translation.  The original Spanish text follows.  Thanks to my compadre for bringing this article to my attention.

If you like this post, support this blog: buy, read, and review some of my books.  Free ebook: In particular, Angels Need Not Apply will be available as a free download on Amazon, June 14 through 18.  Don’t miss this chance for some exciting summer reading.]

Yes, I Cry for You, Argentina.

Argentina, a country that was democratic when three-quarters of Europe was not, a country that was one of the most prosperous on Earth when Latin America was a starving and backwards continent.

 The first country in the world that ended illiteracy wasn’t the United States or France—it was Argentina with an educational system that was an example for all the world.  How could this progressive country become the impoverished, chaotic, and under-developed country of today?  What happened?  Who invaded it?  Did it suffer through some terrible war?


Respect for dictators?

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

North Korea has gone on record asking South Korea to show some respect for the deceased tyrant Kim Jong-il.  How South Korea reacts to this veiled threat is up to them, but it’s time the world asks, “Why should we respect any dictator?”  A dictator might believe that he is the benevolent philosopher king that Plato envisioned, but anyone who usurps the power of the people to squash dissent and make sure a country is run as he sees fit, does not merit our respect.  On the contrary, such persons have earned our disdain and loathing.  How is it that human beings can bury Mozart in an unmarked pauper’s grave and yet put on public display Lenin and Kim Jong-il?  How brainwashed can the North Koreans be that they kneel, pound the pavement, and wail at the loss of their leader?  And they’re still in mourning?  Come on, are you human beings or are you lemmings?


The Eightfold Way

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

The media has become fixated on spontaneous symmetry breaking and the Higgs boson (the so-called “God particle,” a name that would surely make Mr. Higgs cringe).  The Higgs mechanism (i.e. the spontaneous symmetry breaking) is necessary to give mass to some of the vector bosons in the electroweak or weak and electromagnetic interaction theory.  Forgotten in all this media hoopla is the theory that led to the idea of quarks and gluons, the Eightfold Way of symmetries popularized by Mr. Gell-Mann.  (Note that I refrain from using the term “discovered.”  In theoretical physics, the math is “out there.”  You just have to figure out what math matches up to the experimental data.  Experimental physics is where “discoveries” are made.)

Now that I’ve had some fun imagining your eyes glazing over as if you’d just had tequila mixed with sleeping pills, let me say that this post is not about physics.  (My eyes are glazed too, because the above is hardcore physics, and I’ve been sipping my Jameson’s while writing like a madman.)  The Eightfold Way I consider here is the shining path that leads you to a finished novel that someone might want to read. It’s my distillation of rules for writing a novel—a distillation that is not the quality of a fine Irish whiskey, but I’ve put some thought to it and would like to share (I’d like to share the Jameson’s too, but the internet hasn’t discovered e-drinking yet).


Mr. Hugo Chavez, an atypical dictator…

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Some time ago I was collaborating with some researchers at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid.  My four weeks in that city represented the best “working vacation” I ever had.  I really got involved in Spanish culture.  Together with the cook at a coffee shop near my pension (boardinghouse), for example, I even left my mark on their culture—a grilled cheese and egg sandwich with a hole in the top where the yolk can wink at you.


Macondo, U.S.A.

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Garcia Marquez created a fictional place called Macondo which provided the setting for novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien An~os de Soledad) and Love in the Time of the Cholera (Amor en los Tiempos de la Colera).  His stories spawned a new current in 20th century literature called magical realism, in other words, how ordinary day-to-day events become cloaked with an aura of magic.

We now have our own Macondo.  A blustering old ex-VP, still practicing Machiavelli’s magical art of fascist repetitive doublespeak, is out challenging a sitting President little more than 100 days into his term, an extraordinary event in American politics which doesn’t bode well for eliminating the partisan rancor that has split this country into two camps in verbal warfare.  I am referring to Mr. Cheney versus Mr. Obama, of course.


Un aprecio no merecido…

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009


A lo largo de la historia compleja y turbulenta del America Latina el hombre comun ha mantenido cierto aprecio para el dictador pomposo y narcissista.  Excluyendo los muchos del siglo diecenueve, los siglos veinte y veintiuno han tenido buenos ejemplos:  Somosa, Castro, Rojas-Pinilla, Pinochet, Noriega, Chavez y Peron, para nombrar algunos.  Garcia Marquez en su novela El Otono del Patriarca nos presenta con un dictador quien agrupa todas las malas calidades de estos personajes y otros.  Aunque el sujeto de la novela sea la soledad del General, mientras que lei el libro me sientia que el autor tambien tenga aprecio para el viejo dictador y lo compartia, pero al fin el desgusto me gano.  Asi el autor me ayuda entender el odio sentido contra tales figuras, pero no su aprecio. 


An undeserved admiration…

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

All during the complex and turbulent history of Latin America the common man has maintained a certain admiration for the pompous and narcissistic dictator.  Excluding the many from the 19th century, the 20th and 21st centuries have had some good examples:  Somosa, Castro, Rojas-Pinilla, Pinochet, Noriega, Chavez and Peron, to name a few.  Garcia Marquez in his novel The Autumn of the Patriarch presents us with a dictator who brings together all the bad qualities of these and others.  Although the subject of the novel is the loneliness of the General, while I read the book I feel that the author also admires the old dictator and I joined in the admiration, but at the end disgust overtakes me.  Thus the author helps me understand the hate felt for these figures, but not the admiration.


La Sombra del Viento — The Shadow of the Wind

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

La Sombra del Viento por Carlos Ruiz Zafo’n crea ma’s y ma’s intere’s en el mundo de la literatura hispanica.  Toma lugar en Barcelona al comienzo de la Guerra Civil.  Es una mezcla de intriga, suspense, amor, y el rito de pasaje de la juventud a la vejez.  No es exactamente literatura de America Latina, pero lo recomiendo como una novela muy interesante que demuestra la gran capacidad e inteligencia de este autor espan~ol.