Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His latest books include Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature.
($17.95 paperback original; May; 327 pp.; 1-880684-49-7): A bilingual collection of 16 approximately contemporary stories chosen as their favorites by such esteemed translators as Gregory Rabassa, Edith Grossman, and Helen Lane. Editor Stavans contributes an imposingly learned prefatory essay ("Translation and Identity"), and the translators themselves add informative brief prefaces to such pleasant surprise inclusions as Uruguayan Felisberto Hernández's edgy "The Crocodile"; Argentinian Ana Maria Shúa's hilarious tale of domestic mayhem and embattled parenthood ("A Good Mother"); and Dalton Trevisan's droll minimalist vignette "Three Shots in the Afternoon." This high-concept anthology helpfully showcases several other lesser-known writers as well - and joins Oxford's Book of Latin American Short Stories (1997) as one of the best currently available volumes in its field.Read full book review >
The pangs of cultural dislocation and the pressures imposed by both rural and urban poverty are central themes in this generous anthology of 23 stories by mostly unfamiliar Hispanic-American writers. The collection's general unevenness may be observed in microcosm in editor-contributor Stavans's savvy Introduction (an overview of the recent ``renaissance'' of such writing) and also in his story ``The Kiss,'' a tale of revenge that feels oddly dispassionate and detached. Read full book review >
A first collection of stories, including a novella and also an autobiographical essay, from the Mexican-born critic best known for his journalism and nonfiction studies of Latino history and culture (such as The Hispanic Condition, p. 151). The unifying theme of Stavans's fiction is announced in the essay ``Lost in Translation'' (written in English), which summarizes his Jewish-Mexican origins, ethnic and intellectual disorientation, and literary ambitions: ``the mysteries of my divided identity.'' The stories, which are uniformly discursive and so muted and dispassionate they scarcely feel fictional at all, concern thinly sketched protagonists and narrators caught in dreamlike states of derangement or incompletion. ``A Heaven Without Crows'' is an imaginary letter written by the dying Franz Kafka to his friend and literary executor Max Brod explaining why Kafka wishes his writings destroyed (``nothing imperfect should survive''). ``House Repossessed'' constructs but does not develop an arresting metaphor for a girl's alienation from her own sexual nature. ``The Spot'' on a man's shirt provokes a fantasy of disease and disintegration; and ``The One-Handed Pianist'' neurotically insists she's losing one of her hands—but neither piece does much with its originating idea. ``The Invention of Memory'' posits an intriguing situation—a married woman's furtive fixation on her new neighbor—but the relationship between her loneliness and his enervation (he's a ``memory expert'' whose powers are lapsing) is never made clear. Read full book review >
A deeply considered essay on the Chicano movement's worldly Aquinas. Best known through his thinly disguised appearance as Hunter S. Thompson's drug-gobbling Samoan attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), the Mexican-American lawyer and political activist Oscar Acosta receives a faithful, and appropriately irreverent, biographical rendering in the hands of Mexican intellectual Stavans (The Hispanic Condition, 1995, etc.). Read full book review >
Part history and part cultural encyclopedia, a sophisticated- -sometimes too sophisticated—discussion of Latino identity as displayed in art, literature, and popular culture. Stavans (Growing Up Latino, not reviewed) asks more questions than he can answer about Latino identity—in part, he concludes, because the Hispanic community is continuously creating itself. Read full book review >