Saturday, October 13, 2018

THE TAIGA SYNDROME--Los Angeles Review of Books

IF ONE IS LOOKING for works that embody the seismic shifts in Mexican literature’s aesthetics and styles in the 21st century, Cristina Rivera Garza’s boldly experimental books are the place to start. She began publishing in the mid-1980s, and her early works of short fiction and poetry garnered her some attention and awards, but her true irruption in the literary world took place with the publication of Nadie me verá llorar (No One Will See Me Cry, 1999), perhaps one of the last great books of the 20th century in Latin America. Winner of the José Rubén Romero National Book Award, the highest national prize for an unpublished novel, Nadie me verá llorar is a daring intervention in the genre of Mexican historical fiction.
In a time when Mexican women writers were able to take over a chunk of the editorial market with wildly successful historical romances (English-language readers will probably remember Laura Esquivel’s blockbuster novel Like Water for Chocolate, published in 1989), Rivera Garza told the story of a woman institutionalized in the infamous mental hospital of La Castañeda and of the photographer obsessed with her. She did this through a narrative devoid of syrupy sentimentality — what women-centered historical fiction was supposed to be in the literary markets of the 1990s. Instead, she was informed by Michel Foucault’s and Gilles Deleuze’s theories on madness, as well as by feminist theories of the bond between medicalization and gender. The book turned Rivera Garza into a widely read and admired writer, as well as into a cult figure in Mexican literary circles.
Unfortunately, the English translation of the book, published in 2003, did not capitalize on the excitement elicited by the Spanish original (we can only hope a revised or new translation of this most important book will be reissued now that Rivera Garza has become more of a household name). Rivera Garza’s work gained great acclaim in Spanish and became the subject of scholarly study, but no other English translations were published until late 2017, when the Feminist Press released Sarah Booker’s rendering of The Iliac Crest, Rivera Garza’s 2002 experimental novel around cult Mexican writer Amparo Dávila. In departing from the historical scenarios of her first novel, The Iliac Crest then showed another step in Rivera Garza’s evolution, which placed her closer to the canon of Mexican literature, and into the territory she would eventually develop, that of gendered experimental fiction.
Rivera Garza’s work seems to be coming into English translation in full force, finally catching up with her long intellectual relationship with the United States. Born in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, next to Brownsville, Texas, Rivera Garza has a PhD in history at the University of Houston; her dissertation was the departure point of both Nadie me verá llorarand the historical nonfiction book La Castañeda, on Mexico’s most infamous mental hospital. After a few years at the University of California, San Diego, she is now a professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston, where she has been spearheading the first PhD program in creative writing in Spanish — a project with significant cultural and political ramifications in the current political and cultural climate. She is also the translator into Spanish of Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman’s Notes on Conceptualisms, a book that has had a significant following in younger Mexican poets, and, more recently, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons, which is close to her work on communality and culture, developed in Los muertos indóciles. Necroescrituras y desapropiación (The Unquiet Dead. Necrowriting and Disappropriation, 2013), a theoretical book that connects conceptualist writing in the United States with the communalist theories of indigenous thinker Floriberto Díaz, Antoine Volodine’s work on post-exoticism, and the work of David Markson. Indeed, one of the reasons why Rivera Garza has one of the most intensively theoretical frameworks in Mexican literature today comes from the fact that she has been able to develop her place in the US academy as a way to resist Mexican cultural conservatism, while her place in Mexican literature inoculates her from the vices of US academic discourse.
Read full article by Ignacio Sánchez Prado here

Friday, October 05, 2018

THE TAIGA SYNDROME--Minor Literatures

While her previously translated works (The Iliac Crest and No one Will See Me Cry) are grounded in the politics and history of her native Mexico, Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Taiga Syndrome offers a timeless, “boreal” fairy tale. Its inchoate eroticism and arch asides evoke authors as disparate as Amelia Gray and Halldór Laxness; Herbert Marcuse and Helen Oyeyemi; Anna Kavan and Donald Barthelme; (Lars von Trier and Walt Disney)—but Rivera Garza’s fabular elements create a singularly inclement climate.
Unto this arctic clime (the Taiga) comes a nameless “writer of noir novellas,” dispatched as envoy of a deserted husband. A reluctant emissary, our author/detective narrator (à la Auster) must track down her client’s “second wife,” with the help of a taciturn translator and fellow “outsider.” (The excluded figure prominently in Rivera Garza’s work.) As they puzzle over laconic leads (cryptic telegrams, elliptic testimony), they are alternately engaged and cold-shouldered by the inhabitants of that wintry wasteland.
The obscure object of their investigation rapidly evolves on this short trek (119 pages) through a frozen forest primeval. Their primary clue is a mysterious telegram, which has piqued the narrator’s “all-consuming weakness for forms of writing no longer in use” and drawn her into the fray. Further clues are ferreted from the journal of “the second wife,” as writing reveals itself as such. Rivera Garza has here nested narratives (her modus operandi) and the telling of tales takes center stage, though we are warned,
Nothing happens as it is written. 
Read Steven Felicelli´s full review here.



1. how does any story work
Wood, snow, blood: old stories. The witch in the forest, the breadcrumb trail, the grandmother-skinned wolf—everybody’s here, in this wild little book, breath steaming humid in the cold air. The taiga is the sometimes swampy coniferous forest of the high northern latitudes. A person has gone there with her lover to become lost. Or perhaps she has gone there to find something else.
2. suicide
Our narrator is a writer, a failure, and a detective. She is hired by a man whose Adam’s apple she cannot fail to notice to find a woman who loves someone other than him, or who has run away to the taiga with someone other than him, which, to him, is the same thing, but may not be the same thing to us. The circumstances of her own disappearance may not be of interest to the disappeared. She is the protagonist of a different story than the one the man seeking her has told.
“It seems,” he tells our narrator, “that certain inhabitants of the taiga begin to suffer terrible anxiety attacks and make suicidal attempts to escape.” This is a phenomenon long documented in the Arctic. Ishavet kaller, writes the painter Christiane Ritter, who spent the winter of 1934-1935 with her trapper-husband on the island of Spitsbergen, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard: “Ishavet kaller: This is what the Spitsbergen hunters say when one of their comrades, for mysterious reasons of his own, throws himself into the sea.” Maybe he can no longer stand the endless darkness of the polar night. Maybe he can no longer bear the inhuman grandeur of its beauty. A fairytale kind of death, if you think about it. Or a manner of haunting.
The woman our narrator has been tasked with detecting, the woman who has escaped, or run away, or agreed to her own absence, documents her flight, leaves our narrator an analog trail: telegrams, letters, maps. If we are lost to other people but not to ourselves, what constitutes our geography? If the terrain is unknown are we missing? Or are we merely unwilling to be found?
6. solastalgia
is the name of a specific kind of grief, the distress produced by the effects of climate change on a place that has long supported a community. It is a form of mourning that particularly affects indigenous peoples who depend on subsistence activities for their survival, although it is a loss that can splinter its way into anybody’s heart.
“Above all,” our narrator says, “I remember I used to exhale… in front of the glass, and write with the tip of my index finger the words ‘I am leaving here’ and ‘I will never return.’”
7. “We all carry a forest inside us, yes,”
our narrator says. The wilderness to which we are returning. The long way to becoming missing.
We go to a place we imagined as foreign, and find instead that we are home.

Read Sarah McCarry´s full review here


THE TAIGA SYNDROME--Arkansas International

The resultant investigation is both bright light and shadow, a slow tightrope walk towards the cold, coniferous Taiga and its cache of strange secrets. Rivera Garza maintains resistance to the traditional fable. Routinely her detective-narrator breaks the spell of her story, reminding us of the act of her telling, through commentary on her word choice (“‘Breathlessly,’” she notes, “is an adverb with rhythm”) and the presence of a literal translator accompanying her through the forest. In their breadth and variety, Rivera Garza’s words—wonderfully translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana— also resist fable. In the space of a single short chapter, the author moves from delicate and beautiful (“The booming of the sky made me tremble. The wing beats of birds with no names, that couldn’t have names. The violently clashing branches”) to strictly anatomical language (“The masculine hand on the lower edge of her jaw. Below, the submandibular glands, the submental ganglia. Underneath, the veins and facial arteries and stylohyoid muscles. . .” ) proving her’s is a book of raw nerves, exposed skin, but also hardness: sinew and bone. For the detective-narrator—and, indeed for us readers—Rivera Garza’s pages are these things and more. What she has created here is a diary of longing, anxiety, trauma; a record of the tension between our deepest, most personal forests and the ways that we choose to preserve them.

Read Elizabeth DeMeo´s full review here.



The language of the edition I read is most directly the work of Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana, who produced this first translation from the Spanish (and only the third English translation of Garza’s seven novels). Translation itself is a major theme of the book. Even after the narrator finds her translator, “tongue to tongue: a speaker of their tongue who would translate everything into my tongue,” Garza describes most events as coming through filters—through speaking, writing, or gesture. But Levine and Kana’s fantastic language is surprising, highly stylized and very, very precise. The repetition of phrases (“I remember…above all I remember,” “I told the truth”) in sections separated by many pages act as a series of bells, training readers to remember, to believe, and to fear on Garza’s terms.
This repetition brings us to what drew me to The Taiga Syndrome in the first place, which is its surprising use of fairy tales. Two are named explicitly: Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. Garza alludes to these two tales with the plot—a telegram breadcrumb trail, a literal wolf at the door—and she also includes interludes on the stories’ academic interpretations. But her reference comes in a more foundational form as well, in her application of certain stylistic techniques common to all fairy tales. Scholars like Kate Bernheimer and Max Luthi list these techniques differently but usually agree on three: rigidly repetitive language (such as the use of “once upon a time” or something similar), special logic or normalized magic (nobody bats an eye when Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger and falls asleep), and maybe most importantly here, a flatness of character (a preference for the archetype over the psychologically realistic).
I’ve described Garza’s repetitive language, but she deploys these other techniques, too. Special logic is used to terrifying effect in a few scenes I won’t give away here, but which have caused at least one reviewer to (rightly) call the book Lynchian. The archetypal nature of the characters—“the detective,” “the translator,” “the man with two wives”—is particularly central. The characters’ flatness is not complete, as it would be in a true fairy tale, because the characters’ thoughts and actions do imply complex motivations and deep emotional lives. But it’s this tension between archetype and reality that leads us to the true heart of the narrator’s struggle: “The desire between one thing and another. The desire of bodies and, at the same time, the desire to narrate bodies.” Some writers who invoke fairy tale do it for the trance-like rhythm and rich symbolism, some do it for the thrill of recognizing an old story retold, for the sheer necromancy of it. But the best authors use it to talk about story itself. They do it because they are obsessed with what we’re really doing when we draw a narrative frame and call something a story. This is exactly what is happening in The Taiga Syndrome.
Read Amelia Brown´s full review here.