Best Contemporary Fiction
In his introduction to theBest of Contemporary Mexican Fiction
(out today from Dalkey Archive Press), editor Ãlvaro Uribe opens with a defense of the short story as a form to be reckoned with in his home country:"It is often said, without burden of further proof, that Mexico is a country of poets. One could say with equal veracity-and equal neglect of our estimable novelists, essayists, chroniclers, and playwrights-that Mexico is a country of short story writers.
Since the renaissance of the short story in Western literature during the nineteenth century-due in large part to Edgar Allen Poe's imaginative rigor, Guy de Maupassant's versatility, and Anton Chekhov's subtle psychology-there has scarcely been a Mexican writer of importance who did not explore, and in certain cases even broaden, the formal and discursive possibilities of a literary genre that only the misinformed or malevolent consider minor."
This extraordinary anthology of short stories, all written by Mexican authors born since 1945, came about as part of a two-way exchange through the NEA's International Literary Exchange program. Its companion publication, an anthology of U.S. short fiction entitled Lo que cuenta el vecino (What the Neighbor Says), was published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2008.
It represents an important cultural exchange, at least for U.S. readers. Even as Mexican culture has become more a part of our everyday lives here in the U.S., most of us probably have not read these influential editors, translators, columnists, and professors, even though they are the most prominent and award-winning authors of the Mexican literary scene. Why? Because many of these writers, and most of these stories, have never appeared in English before.
Uribe picked the authors (narrowing down from a field of 50), and then the authors chose the stories they thought best represented their style or voice. Authors include: Vivian Abenshushan, Ãlvaro Enrigue, Eduardo Antonio Parra, Cristina Rivera-Garza, Guillermo Fadanelli, Jorge F. HernÃ¡ndez, Ana GarcÃa Bergua, Rosa BeltrÃ¡n, Enrique Serna, Juan Villoro, Fabio MorÃ¡bito, Francisco Hinojosa, Daniel Sada, Guillermo Samperio, HernÃ¡n Lara Zavala, and HÃ©ctor Manjarrez.
These are roughly the contemporaries of Robert Olen Butler, Tobias Wolff, Tim O'Brien, Ron Hansen, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Leslie Marmon Silko, Edward P. Jones, Jayne Anne Philipps, Sandra Cisneros, Gish Jen, Susan Minot, Lorrie Moore, Jill McCorkle, Jonathan Lethem and Sherman Alexie-the U.S. authors included in the bilingual U.S. fiction anthology.
There are many reasons to be excited about this anthology, but the most immediately apparent-which you see as soon as you open it-is that it is bilingual. A BILINGUAL book of fiction. You see this with translated poetry, but almost never with translated fiction. This is such a rarity that when I first got the book I walked around showing everyone. "Look, " I'd say. And they'd flip through it like you do with a book of prose-filled pages. "No, look at the two pages."
"One of the many things this sort of facing-pages layout makes you realize is how palpably different Spanish and English really are, " said Martin Riker, Associate Director for Dalkey, when I asked him about the experience of putting the book together. "Just the idea that you have a lot more words in one language than in the other to say the same thing (essentially) is interesting, and interesting to visualize on the page."
This is the second NEA exchange with Mexico (the first was a bilingual poetry project in 2006 with two publications, Connecting Lines and LÃneas Conectadas). The NEA used that model to support publication of Dalkey's 2008 anthology, Contemporary Russian Poetry. It was also bilingual, with facing pages of English and Cyrillic. The NEA has more poetry exchanges in the works: Modern Poetry of Pakistan is coming out this July (Eastern Washington University Press), and they're planning a future poetry exchange with China. Let's hope for more fiction, too.-