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Summer reads: From raunchy phone talk to Simon Bolivar’s battles and loves

Have a little time to read while looking at the waves or watching over the kids in the pool?  Three engrossing books by Latin American and Latino authors won’t disappoint.

Hi, This is Conchita and Other Stories

Santiago Roncagliolo is one of the frontrunners to the title of Mario Vargas Llosa’s successor as the greatest Peruvian Novelist alive.  Winner of the prestigious Alfaguara Award and of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for his novel “Red April”.  in 2010 Roncagliolo was also chosen by the British literary magazine Granta as one of the 22 Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists under the age of 35.

Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories” is a collection of short stories recently translated by Edith Grossman, one of the English-language’s most renowned translators, and published by San Francisco-based Two Lines Press. The story that gives its title to the volume is a raucous phone sex novella about a man who hires a hit man to kill his mistress, another man leaving feverish messages on his beloved’s answering machine, and a phone sex worker whose client is literally crazy about her. The three stories that follow are a testament to Roncagliolo’s masterful range as a writer. “Despoiler” is the claustrophobic tale of a Carnival in Barcelona that brings one middle-aged woman face-to-face with her childhood demons. “Butterflies Fastened with Pins” is the perversely comic account of a man whose friends keep killing themselves. And “The Passenger Beside You” is a surreal story narrated by a woman with a gaping bullet wound right through her heart. The four stories are told in form of dialogue, a tour-de-force for a writer known for his narrative powers, but who has also shown a keen interest in radio scripts and telenovelas. Roncagliolo lives in Barcelona and visits regularly the U.S.

“The Polish Boxer”

“The Polish Boxer,” by Guatemalan novelist Eduardo Halfon, is a semi-autobiographical tale about roots and origins, identity and cultural loss, and the complex relation between the individual, his or her family story, and the heavy burden of History in the wake of 20th century’s greatest atrocities and genocides. At one point, the narrator says that “literature is no more than a good trick … creating the illusion that reality is a single unified thing.” This short but intense novel, however, casts a poignant light on facts that go beyond any moral relativism. The translation was a collaborative effort between Anne McLean, Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman and Thomas Bunstead. Halfon, named one of the best young Latin American writers by the Hay Festival de Bogotá, lives currently in Nebraska. Published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York.

Bolivar, American Liberator

The massive, 600-page long “Bolívar, American Liberator,” published by Simon and Schuster, is a just tribute to the memory of the Venezuelan revolutionary and nation builder.  Author Marie Arana, a writer-at-large for the Washington Post, spent several years doing research for this book in archives throughout Latin America and the U.S., somehow replicating in the process Bolivar’s epic life of voyages and campaigns.  A major work of history, “Bolívar” masterfully depicts the hero’s trajectory, from his origins in the pre-independent Caracas aristocracy to his sad and tragic final days, betrayed and persecuted by his former subordinates.

Arana’s forceful narrative brings back to life Bolívar’s victories in the battlefield and in bed—his love affairs were legendary–and portrays the many facets of the Great Colombia founder as military strategist, skillful diplomat, passionate abolitionist, talented writer, and eventually failed politician. Arana, who was born in Peru—one of the countries liberated by Bolívar’s armies, along with José de San Martín’s forces from Argentina and Chile— is  also the author of “American Chica,”  a memoir in which she tells the story of growing up between the clashing forces of her homeland traditional culture and the more self-reliant, woman-empowering culture of her mother’s U.S. family.

Claudio Iván Remeseira is a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer, and critic. Translator of the Spanish-language on-line section of The Nation and editor of Hispanic New York, an online portal and blog on current events and culture. Editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2010), an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American & Iberian cultural heritage, and winner of the Latino International Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).