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Summer reads: brilliant takes on Nuyoricans, random murder and narco-literatura

Puerto Rican poet, novelist, and essayist Giannina Braschi is a true force of nature. Born in 1953 into an affluent San Juan family, by the age of 14 she was the youngest female tennis champion in Puerto Rico’s history. Before turning 18 she had left home to study literature in Madrid, Rome, London, and Paris. After four years in Europe, she established herself in New York, where she later earned a PhD in Spanish literature from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. An expert in Cervantes, Garcilaso, Lorca, Machado, Vallejo, and Bécquer, she taught for many years at Rutgers, Colgate, and other prestigious universities.

A writer in three languages –Spanish, English, and Spanglish—her own literary work has been considered cutting-edge and revolutionary by the critics, as well as recognized with several awards by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, PEN American Center, Ford Foundation, and the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, among other organizations.

In 1988 she turned out “El Imperio de los Sueños,” widely regarded as a classic of Latin American Postmodernism, which at times, in the words of one critic, sounded uncannily like a female, tropical version of Samuel Beckett. Braschi’s production blends fiction, drama, essays, poetry, philosophy, and performance art. In 1998 she published “Yo-Yo Boing!” a novel written in Spanglish that dramatized the linguistic clash between “Anglos” and Latinos in New York City. Both “Yo-Yo Boing!” and “Empire of Dreams” have been masterfully translated into English by Tess O’Dwyer.

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Braschi’s latest book is also the first one that she wrote entirely in English, “United States of Banana.”  In a post-9/11 world, she explores the cultural experience of Latinos in the U.S. and the three political alternatives for Puerto Rico: nation, colony, and statehood—or in the author’s words, Wishy, Wishy-Washy, and Washy.

“Revolutionary in subject and form, UNITED STATES OF BANANA [sic] is a beautifully written declaration of personal independence,” declared The Evergreen Review. On September 26, Braschi is scheduled to appear on September 26 at the American Voces series organized by The John Hopkins University, Baltimore, where she will discuss her work with the audience.

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Javier Marías’s 12th novel, “The Infatuations,” translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa, is a mesmerizing, disturbing novel. At the center of the story, there is an apparently random murder.  All we know about this murder we know from the perspective of a woman of a rather uncontrolled imagination. This woman, Maria, is also the one who tells the story.

This is the first time that the award-winning Marías, born in Madrid in 1951 and considered one of the greatest Spanish-language novelists alive, employs a female narrator. As the storyline progresses, the murder mystery turns into a metaphysical inquiry into love and death, guilt and obsession, chance and coincidence—in sum, on the elusive nature of truth and of our ability to find it.

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On the surface, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Juan Pablo Villalobos’s miniature novel, is just another example of “narco-literatura,” the genre inspired by the Mexican drug wars. More deeply, it is a brilliant experiment on perspective and the account of a delirious journey to grant a child’s wish.

Short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award, “Down the Rabbit Hole” is the promising debut of a post-boom generation writer (Villalobos was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1973).

ClaudioRemeseiraClaudio 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).

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