Carlos Fuentes and Vampires #TranslationThurs

I read this book in time for Halloween but didn’t have time to post a review on that day, so I am attaching it to Translation Thursday instead.

Carlos Fuentes: Vlad, transl. by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes was a versatile and politically engaged writer. During his long career he published ambitious historical sagas such as Terra Nostra, experimental curiosities such as Christopher Unborn, psychological drama The Death of Artemio Cruz and so much more. He is difficult to pin down, except to say that he started off the boom in Latin American literature which happened in the 1960s/70s (coinciding with a boom in its musical popularity – think of bossa nova, conga, salsa etc.) and culminated in the Nobel Prize for Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982.

Sadly, the novella Vlad, the last book that Fuentes published before his death in 2012, is not one of his masterpieces. I picked it up at random from the shelves because it relates to the myth of vampires and the historical figure of Vlad Ţepeş, a ruler of Wallachia in the 15th century.

It is the first person narration (largely) of Yves Navarro, a partner at a Mexico City law firm who seems to have it all: the career, the house, the adoring wife, the cute daughter, and a politically influential employer, Don Zurinaga. The latter asks Navarro to help an old friend from the Sorbonne purchase a home so he can settle into their country. It seems like a simple enough request, and it just so happens that Yves’ wife, Asunción, is a real estate agent. True, the client Count Vladimir Radu (‘call me Vlad’) has a few eccentric requests: the house has to back onto a ravine, a tunnel has to lead from the house to said ravine, and all the windows are to be blacked out. After weeks of dealing his client remotely, Navarro finally gets to meet him in person – and soon discovers he is a vampire. And that it might not be a coincidence that he was picked to handle Vlad’s affairs.

So the set-up seems promising, but it would be fair to say that it’s not quite what I expected: a satire of Mexico City and life within it. There are brief elements of social critique scattered throughout the book – traffic coming to a gridlock, the difference between richer and poorer neighbourhoods, estate agents used to the most eccentric demands from wealthy clients, the fact that Vlad has found an almost endless supply of fresh blood without too many questions being asked by the police in such a populous city. Yet all these strands do not combine successfully to form a coherent and rich satirical vein (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). It’s neither funny enough, nor quite frightening enough.

Of course, what annoyed me most was the cod history of Vlad Ţepeş, taken from historical sources of dubious and biased origin. Many of the accounts of him at the time were written by Wallachia’s enemies, therefore he was portrayed as a monster, while in Romanian folk tales and history he is remembered as a positive, just, progressive figure. All of the regurgitation of Vlad’s supposed past was unnecessary for what Fuentes was trying to achieve – if I can even understand what he was trying to achieve.

Otherwise, the story offers a strange, surreal experience, with a knowing nod to horror films or literature: Dracula, obviously;  the little girls turning vicious – Stephen King’s twins; the idealised wife/woman/muse being used then abandoned – Master & Margarita; dead child – many classic ghost stories and folk ballads. I also found it quite off-putting for the graphic descriptions not so much of physical attacks, but of the accoutrements of vampirism: eating offal in Vlad’s house, the drainage system for blood flow etc.

So not a huge success from my point of view. But what about you? Have you read it? What did you think of it? Or perhaps you have read other books by Fuentes and enjoyed them?

Incoming Books – Week of 16-22 October

My iron willpower may not match that of the legendary Fiction Fan, but I have tried to limit my spending on books, since I realised that my income is now a stable monthly affair, and cannot be supplemented by a few extra days of work.

So this week most of the books I’ve acquired have been sent for review or borrowed from the library. So there, ye doubters! I did have one momentary lapse of reason when I entered that fatal Waterstone’s near work and found their second-hand vintage Penguin section. I spent many a happy minute (hour?) in the sea of orange and emerged victorious with High Rising by Angela Thirkell. I’ve never read anything by this author, who was very popular in the 1930s/40s, but this book in particular has been discussed by several bloggers whose opinion I value, including Jacqui, Heaven Ali and Booker Talk (the last not very complimentary).

Plus, you can see why the premise of a single mother trying to make a living as a novelist in order to educate her sons might appeal to me…

Although I’m trying to pretend Christmas is still miles away, I was sent a Christmas anthology Murder on Christmas Eve by Profile Books. Classic Christmas-themed mysteries always make for popular presents for booklovers whose tastes you don’t quite know, so this should do a roaring trade. It includes stories by Ian Rankin, Ellis Peters, G. K. Chesterton, Val McDermid, Margery Allingham and many more. And you can’t fault the cover either for what it promises!

One I received this week and have already read (gasp! yes, I am occasionally speedy!) was Jenny Quintana’s The Missing GirlI was very touched by the fact that Emma Draude, the publicist for the book, actually sent me her own personal copy, as she had just run out of preview copies. So it’s a much-loved proof! And I found it very compelling – although perhaps the label of crime fiction does it an injustice. This is not the kind of book which you read for unfathomable twists (in fact, I figured out what was going on pretty early on). Instead, I enjoyed it for the pitch-perfect evocation of the 1980s, excellent writing and the psychological depth of sisterly love, family secrets and the lonely surliness of growing up.

My local library finally found a book I had reserved as soon as I heard that Kazuo Ishiguro had won the Nobel Prize, namely The Unconsoledone of the few which I haven’t read. I can feel another bout of Artist of the Floating World coming along, that is my favourite book by him, probably because of the obvious Japanese connection.

Last but not least, I ‘happened’ to pass by the Senate House Library at lunchtime and got lost in the Latin American section. I couldn’t resist Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, translated by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger. A Mexican take on the Romanian Vlad the Impaler? Yes, please! In this book, Vlad is upset by the shortage of blood in modern-day Eastern Europe and is looking for a new place to establish his kingdom. What country or city on earth could offer him a lot of people crowded in one place, where a few human disappearances wouldn’t even be noticed? Well, Mexico City, of course! And so begins this satire of the Mexican bourgeoisie…

I notice that, by some strange coincidence, all of the cover pictures above seem to be going for the monochrome look tinged with red. Luckily, the bright orange Penguin spoils that sober elegance!

So what lovely reads have you begged, borrowed, stolen or bought this week? Do tempt me if you can…