December 17, 2017

Book review

Friday, June 16, 2017

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By Herald Staff
Letras completas  by Bob Dylan (Malpaso), 1,297 pages

While there have been several breathtakingly obscure winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature over the years, no Swedish Academy choice has been more surprising than last year’s — Robert Allen Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan. Those compiling and translating the great man’s work take the word “complete” very seriously — the lyrics of each and every one of the 388 songs written in the half-century between 1962 (Blowin’ in the wind) and 2012 are rendered in both English and Spanish, thus making for a volume thicker than most men’s arms. Dylan thus certainly qualifies as far as quantity goes but what about quality, some might ask — do lines like “She walks like Bo Diddley and she don’t need no crutch” (picked at random from this book) ascend to the towering heights of literature? Yet Dylan stands or falls on his verse — rather than a great composer (and far less singer), he himself said: “I consider myself above all a poet,” adding that the music only matters to hold the words together. But perhaps it is best to read him before leaping to judgement — after all, did not Dylan enjoin: “Don’t criticise what you can’t understand” (The times they are a-changin’)?                                    

Trump, Ensayo sobre la imbecilidad by Aaron James (Malpaso), 123 pages

Those who consider Spanish a more elegant language than English might feel vindicated by comparing this title to the original: “Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump.” Doesn’t like him, it seems. Anybody wondering why this slender edition (slimmer than most people’s fingers) is less than a tenth of the previous book reviewed — Bob Dylan’s lyrics — might bear in mind that Trump has so far had far less than 50 years to do his worst. That Trump is a jerk lies beyond all discussion, asserts James, because even his most ardent supporters admire him precisely for that — what is of “existential urgency” for not only the United States but also for the entire planet is to ascertain exactly what kind of imbecile he is and thus how dangerous. At home Trump is destroying the social contract and civic sense underpinning the democratic fabric — abroad his wars on climate change and the global economy are highly damaging. James sees Trump as the triumph of the lowest common denominator in politics — thus fellow-imbecile Ted Cruz lost the Republican primary to him for being slightly smarter. A hard rain’s a-gonna fall, Bob Dylan might conclude.                

Breve historia de siete asesinatos by Marlon James (Malpaso), 792 pages

Same surname as the preceding review but the relationship is likely to be distant at best — Marlon James is Jamaican. This novel won the Booker Prize in 2015. The boundaries between fact and fiction are not always clear in this book but it has one real starting-point — the attempt on Jamaican reggae superstar Bob Marley’s life in late 1976 when seven gunmen burst into his home spraying gunfire all around the house in an episode of pre-electoral violence. This incident was never really clarified but James lets his mind wander, mixing up real and invented characters in his cast offering their fictitious testimony with a variety of perspectives on imagined crimes — thus there is no such slum as Copenhagen City in Kingston but the social reality it reflects is all too true. The variety of cast and hence language presents challenges to the translators (Javier Calvo and Wendy Guerra) — thus the distinguished politician Sir Arthur George Jennings and the gangster Funky Chicken speak English so differently that it hardly seems the same tongue. The seamier side of the sunny Caribbean is here brilliantly portrayed with a prize-winning versatility of literary technique.                     
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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia