Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: The Informers. Bits & Pieces

But first a wonderful Bit of news...

2010 Festival de Flor Y Canto at the University of Southern California

The event is scheduled for September 15, 16, 17 2010. The Funding Proposal is in its final stages now. I want to invite all the poets and writers from the 1973 Festival de Flor Y Canto. If that's you, or you know someone who read their work back in 1973, please contact Michael Sedano. I encourage others who would enjoy reading a selection of their work at the Festival to respond to the Call for Artists at this link.

Review: Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Translated by Anne McLean. The Informers. NY: Riverhead, 2009.
ISBN 9781594488788

Michael Sedano

Near the end of his novel, The Informers, Juan Gabriel Vásquez treats readers to an irony laden line, “'Let’s not use of the whole morning talking about the past,' he said, 'Let’s be realistic. You and I are alone. These stories don’t matter to anyone anymore.'” The irony is how vitally important “these stories” remain in today’s repression-minded times. That the subject is repression against Nazis is but an added irony.

The speaker, an old friend of Gabriel Santoro’s father, refers to Gabriel’s post-mortem investigation into what made his crusty namesake father tick. The father, a noted Colombian rhetorician—teacher of oratory and legal communication—estranged himself from his son by writing a scathing review of fils’ historical account of Jewish and Nazi immigrants in the pre-war years.

Colombia firmly aligned itself with Franklin Roosevelt’s U.S. policies. Much as FDR had, Colombia rounded up Germans with Nazi sympathies and shipped them off to internal exile. Not to concentration camps like Tule Lake but interior towns where the exiles lived on the dole in public accommodations. German language schools were closed. Speech—denunciations—had the power to put people away. The government created blacklists, neighbors and rivals reported various sins. Some denunciations had validity, others nonsense, as in the case of a man who dressed in mourning black and was blacklisted for wearing the uniform of fascism.

Gabriel’s book related how Jews escaped Germany, through fear, prescience, or owing to kind-hearted neighbors warning of impending arrest. Once in Colombia, Jewish and Nazi Gemans lived side-by-side, some with a kind of gentleman’s agreement to put aside the European schism. Others, intent on assimilating into their new patria, turned their back on the past, learning Spanish, marrying into local families, moving beyond the holocaust that was mostly rumors. Still others transplanted their attitudes unchanged into Bogotá’s parlors and families, even if the Nazi had married a local woman. These are the characters in Gabriel’s story, and his father’s life.

Gabriel père contacts fils out of the blue. The aging scholar has fallen ill and turns to his only living family for sympathy and care. Son brings up the matter of the scathing review. Father explains but ambiguously, not to son’s satisfaction. But they appear to be on the road to reconciliation. Son wonders how much of the emotion is his own fault?

Gabriel the writer has interviewed Sara Guterman, his father’s long-time friend. Daughter of a German Jew, a hotelier, Sara had a front row seat at the goings-on between rich German exiles. Her history informs son’s story. But evidently the son hasn’t asked the right questions, and the holes in the story infuriate the father, the son believes. Moreover, as close as old Santoro was to Sara, old Gabriel isn’t mentioned in Sara’s narratives, except obliquely in a single paragraph. Is that why the old man has such bitterness that his son would write journalistic trash, as father alludes?

Then Gabriel the father drives off a mountainside under mysterious circumstances, leaving Gabriel the son with a haunting set of questions that require a 347 page novel. Framing the quest is the father’s love for Demosthenes’ oration “On the Crown” that talks of past injustice and forgiveness, or the absence thereof.

Can a son ever learn truly his father’s motivations—can he be worthy of his father’s esteem? Will a clear and authentic portrait of a man emerge from a son’s desperately clouded inquisition? Can the son see through the smokescreen of a life that is eulogized as “the very paragon of the impartial and honest man”? It may be the reader gleans a more fully fleshed sense of the father than his own son. And this may be Vásquez’ point after all. What’s past is indeed over, it cannot be undone. The father spoke fluent German? Quoted Nazi oratory from memory? Was an inspirational teacher of leading Columbian lawyers including Supreme Court justices. A confusing welter of contradictions for a bereft son. And the apparent profit in investigating this past: a bitter shoulda woulda coulda, a life of “if onlys”.

The Informers reads easily and smoothly, with some hidden gems. This surely the result of an able translation by Anne McLean. I imagine she has good material to work with from the Spanish. As old Gabriel’s a rhetorician, Vásquez / McLean put forth language rich with schemes and tropes. Some the novelist elects to name, others sit there on the page as an in-joke, the techniques having their effect because such impact is their nature. In once scene, old Gabriel employs paralipsis to great effect, “I have not come here to talk of these cases but to keep quiet. I have not come to talk about the enormous error…I have not come to make cheap accusations….I’m not going to give details …Today I want to speak to you about what is not said…” The technique works seamlessly into the novel, a speech-within-a-speech that shakes Gabriel profoundly. The unspoken fills in the story the father never told the son.

In the end, these stories do matter. In a period when people worry about unrestrained eavesdropping, when government officials justify torture or decide who can marry, when Christmas is under attack, who knows what new repressive movida will sally forth from Washington or some idiotic demagogue and gain a foothold? The ugly history of blacklists, denunciations, concentration camps, whether in the United States or Colombia deserves another day in the sun. I’m not going to say Juan Gabriel Vásquez is asking readers to think about what happened, how easily, and who promulgated these horrors. I will say he, and translator Anne McLean have put forth a provocative novel that deserves to find a U.S. audience.

More from the Heartland...Report from Kansas City MO

The Voice That Reaches You II and the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO
By Xánath Caraza

For the second consecutive year, the Latino Writers Collective (LWC) collaborated with Cara and Cabezas Contemporary in Kansas City, MO (http://www.caraandcabezas.com) with their annual exhibition: The Voice That Reaches You II, organized by Paulo Cabezas, Director, and Cara Megan Lewis, Curator. This annual show is about an exploration of immigrant/emigrant/migrant experiences in contemporary culture. The art displayed is a combination of local and international Latino artists. For this year’s exhibition, the art work is by Alexia Miranda, José Faus, Roxana Marroquín, Boris Ciudad Real, and Ernesto Bautista. In Segment of a Scribble, a labyrinth-like map on the wall, by Boris Ciudad, we perceive how easily human beings may become abstract numbers in contemporary daily life, lose themselves and forget who they are and where they have come from.

Before our poetry reading, on the evening of January 16, 2010, I had a friendly conversation with Paulo Cabezas, Director of the Gallery. We talked about the experiences of some Latinos in the US. We agreed that at times some Latinos mourn cultural loses as we go on in our daily and fast paced lives. For a moment, we remember our grandparents, parents, and places of origin, before the realization that we have become foreigners within our original cultures, which is nothing new, but a vivid experience for those who live between cultures, such as the border culture between Mexico and the US. Thanks to the mediums of art and poetry, these experiences can be explored and shared with others.

For this poetry reading, six LWC members participated in the event enveloped by art and social commitment. Roosevelt Campbell, Carlos Duarte, Gloria Adams, Gustavo Aybar, José Faus and Xánath Caraza were readers this occasion. After the reading, several people approached LWC members, having the opportunity to listen to audience reactions. I very clearly remember Jeff’s explanation. He said that he came without really knowing what to expect. However the diversity of voices shocked him in a good way. It was as if he could dance with the words he was listening to from the various poems he heard, and learned through the words about the Latino experience. The Voice That Reaches You II accomplished its goal of giving a voice to the immigrant/emigrant/migrant experience. Hasta la próxima.

The Voice That Reaches You II y el Latino Writers Collective en la Ciudad de Kansas, MO
Por Xánath Caraza

Por segundo año consecutivo, el Latino Writers Collective (LWC) colaboró con Cara and Cabezas Contemporary en la Ciudad de Kansas, MO (http://www.caraandcabezas.com) con su exhibición anual: The Voice That Reaches You II, organizada por Paulo Cabezas, Director, y Cara Megan Lewis, encargada de la galería de arte. Esta muestra anual es sobre la exploración de experiencias inmigrantes/emigrantes/migrantes en la cultura contemporánea. El arte expuesto es una combinación de artistas latinos locales e internacionales. Para la muestra de este año, el arte es de Alexia Miranda, José Faus, Roxana Marroquín, Boris Ciudad Real y Ernesto Bautista. En Segmento de un garabato, un mapa-laberinto en la pared, por Boris Ciudad, percibimos qué tan fácilmente los seres humanos se vuelven números abstractos en la vida diaria contemporánea, se pierden y se olvidan de quiénes son y de dónde vienen.

Antes de nuestra lectura de poesía, la noche del 16 de enero de 2010, tuve una conversación amistosa con Paulo Cabezas, Director de la galería. Hablamos de las experiencias de algunos latinos en EEUU. Concordamos con que a veces algunos latinos están de luto por pérdidas culturales provocadas por el ritmo apresurado de la vida diaria. Por un momento, recordamos a nuestros abuelos, padres y lugares de origen ante el descubrimiento de que nos hemos vuelto ajenos a nuestra cultura original, nada nuevo bajo el sol, pero sí una experiencia vívida para los que viven entre culturas, como la cultura fronteriza entre México y EEUU. Gracias a medios como el arte y la poesía estas experiencias pueden ser exploradas y ser compartidas con otros.

Para esta lectura de poesía, seis miembros de LWC participaron en el evento rodeado de arte y compromiso social. Los lectores de este acontecimiento fueron Roosevelt Campbell, Carlos Duarte, Gloria Adams, Gustavo Aybar, José Faus y Xánath Caraza. Después de la lectura varias personas se acercaron a miembros de LWC, teniendo la oportunidad de escuchar las reacciones de la audiencia. Muy claramente recuerdo la explicación de Jeff. Dijo que vino sin saber en realidad qué esperar. Pero la diversidad de voces le impresionó de buena manera. Fue como si pudiera bailar con las palabras de los varios poemas que escuchaba y aprendió a través de las palabras sobre la experiencia latina. The Voice That Reaches You II cumplió su cometido, dar voz a la experiencia inmigrante/emigrante/migrante. Hasta la próxima.

Foto Credits
1. LWC Wanted by Stephen Holland-Wempe
2.Photos on the Wall by Carlos Duarte
3. Carlitos by Stephen Holland-Wempe
4. Gloria by Stephen Holland-Wempe
5. Galeria con gente by Carlos Duarte
6. Paulo Cabezas y Xanath by Carlos Duarte
7. La lectura de poesia by Stephen Holland-Wempe

Morro Bay Bird Festival

I am far less than a dedicated birder and much more than a part-time photographer. As a photographer of public speakers and literary readers, my goal is to take what I call The Perfect Speaker portrait. I've come close a number of times, but when I finally do it, I'll let you know.

Nature photography is another endeavor. I rent a beauteous lens, a 300mm f2.8 telephoto lens made by Canon. It focuses automatically and has image stabilization technology. This means I can hold the lens in my hand on a rocking boat and get sharply focused frames. The Osprey and Sea Otters, for example, I exposed on a boat, hand held. A tripod is really for the best, except when taking a four mile hike with the tripod and camera right shoulder arms. Just like the Army, only I'm far older and just as foolish. The Quail and Oyster Catcher frames are tripod hike images.

The end of January every year takes me and a group of friends up the California Coast to Morro Bay. When I was a kid, my Dad used to take us up there on a sentimental journey. Both before and after WWII, he trained at Camp San Luis Obispo and weekended at a then far more primitive Morro Bay. He climbed to the top of the rock. I'm glad it's off limits now, because climbing it would probably kill me, but I would attempt the climb to get a photo from up there.

Please enjoy the following slidemovie of Egrets in flight. I captured these images just after sunrise on the Morro Bay Salt Marsh. I love it when a plan comes together, and this was planned. I arrived well in advance of the sun, set up the tripod and waited for the light and the birds. For quite a while I entertained myself whistling sub voce Pajarillo Baranqueño, and rehearsing dire predictions that all the birds would remain half a mile away.

The music is Haydn's "Bird" string quartet Number 3, IV Rondo. Presto. Salomon Quartet.

That's 3/4 of January 2010's Tuesdays. A Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. The third of four. Amazing how time flies.

See you next week.


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Viva Liz Vega! said...

Loved, loved, loved the Egrets in flight and the music accompaniment. Thanks for a beautiful morning treat. Maybe now, I will finally break open my Sible's guide to Western birds.

Gloria Martinez-Adams said...

Xanath y Stephen -- Abrazos a los dos. Caras y Cabezas was a real stand-out this year.

¡y también, oh qué talento!

Gloria Martinez Adams