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LITERATURE Letters from Latin America

Reviews of fiction by Jorge Consiglio, poetry by Arturo Desimone and Argentinian dramatists

MID-LIFE crises and relationship breakdowns can lead to unexpected places and they loom large in Fate (Charco Press, £9.99), the fifth book from Argentinean writer Jorge Consiglio.

In his novel, three individuals are undergoing a critical moment in their lives. Meteorologist Marina, her oboist husband Carl and son live in central Buenos Aires but when she travels to the province of Chaco on a work trip, she shares a room with a fellow scientist with whom eventually ends up having an affair.

Meanwhile, in another area of Buenos Aires, successful taxidermist Amer enrols in a self-help group for smokers who want to quit, where he meets the much younger Clara and begins a relationship with her.

With some inherited money, he begins to get interested in apiculture, while at the same time trying to adapt to the challenges and trials a new relationship brings.

As the marriage of Carl and Marina disintegrates, Amer and Clara's relationship begins — or so it seems. Each of the protagonists face a turning point in their lives as they try to make sense of the fragility of human relationships and love.

The desire for a different life will lead each of them to take difficult decisions to break with the everyday.

Fate is a marvellous book that confronts the reader with the fragility of the human condition, as well as with its irrepressible impulse for change and constant adjustment to new realities.

Poems of the Mare Nostrum/Costa Nostra by Arturo Desimone (Prote[s]xt, £8), deals with aspects of a contemporary world in turmoil. A book of poetry with beautiful illustrations by the author, it explores the plights of migrants and the political tragedies of the Mediterranean — the Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”) of the Romans.

As Desimone explains in his introduction, centuries later “vestiges of the Roman power manifest in a diverse range of other, more recent institutions,” and he argues that “Costa Nostra” (“Our Coast”), in contrast, references the beaches and the Pan-European defence of coastlines and borders, “a machinery which only intensified in recent years.”
 
In his powerful poem How the First Strangers Met the Coastguard, the Arubian-Argentin​​​​​ian poet writes: “The maritime guards stopped/the half-naked,/very tall animal-headed strangers/on their boats,/asked them ‘Show your papers, please.'/They answered:‘All we have are these roses.'”
 
These are poems that denounce migrants’ suffering as well as the corrupt political system that allows it. Compelling in their scope and poetic voice and full of poignant references, they reference Middle Eastern, Semitic and Biblical stories, Ancient Greek literature and the ever-changing world of today.

The Oberon Anthology of Contemporary Argentinean Plays (Oberon Books, £17.99), showcases some of the most exciting new voices in the country's theatre.
It includes six plays never before translated before into English, among them three winners of the national playwriting competition in Argentina.

A stand-out is Extraordinary Life, written by Mariano Tenconi Blanco. Set between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia — the most southerly town in the world — the play pays homage to one of Argentina’s seminal texts, Martín Fierro by Miguel Hernandez.

There are only two characters in the play, both friends for life. Aurora is a primary school teacher from Ushuaia who moves to Buenos Aires where she marries, has a son and takes up with a lover. And she writes poetry. Blanca is a seamstress who lives with her mother and, when the latter dies, finds one boyfriend after another. And she also writes poetry.

Extraordinary Life is a memorable exploration of two “ordinary” existences, a lifelong friendship, the trials and tribulations of living and loyalty.

It typifies an anthology, part of the theatre translation project Out of the Wings, which aims to bring the riches of Spanish-language theatre to the attention of the English-speaking world.

It's a landmark publication for anyone interested in discovering the nuances, power and beauty of Argentine theatre.  

 

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