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"Ilan Stavans has emerged as Latin America’s liveliest and boldest critic and most innovative cultural enthusiast," states the Washington Post. And the New York Times described him as "the czar of Latino literature in the United States." But his influential oeuvre doesn’t address Hispanic culture exclusively. It has also opened fresh new vistas into Jewish life globally, which has prompted the Forward to portray Stavans as "a maverick intellectual whose canonical work has already produced a whole array of marvels that are redefining Jewishness."
Neal Sokol devoted almost a decade to the study of Stavans’s work. He applies his substantial knowledge to this candid, thought-provoking series of eight interviews. In them Stavans is caught at the vortex where his Mexican, Jewish, and American heritages meet. He discusses everything from the formative influences that shaped his worldview to anti-Semitism, Edmund Wilson, sexuality in Latin America, Gabriel García Márquez, and the fate of Yiddish. He also contrasts the role of intellectuals in advanced and developing societies, dwells on his admiration for Don Quixote and his passion for dictionaries, and reflects on his groundbreaking, controversial research on Spanglish—the hybrid encounter of English and Spanish that infuriates the Royal Academy in Madrid and also makes people describe Stavans as "the Salman Rushdie of the Hispanic world."
Sokol shrewdly tests Stavans’s ideas and places them in context. By doing so, he offers a map to the heart and mind of one of our foremost thinkers today—an invaluable tool for his growing cadre of readers.
More than 150 years ago, the first Chinese contract laborers ("coolies") arrived in Cuba to work the colonial plantations. Eventually, over 150,000 Chinese immigrated to the island, and their presence has had a profound effect on all aspects of Cuban cultural production, from food to books to painting.
Ignacio Lopez-Calvo's interpretations often go against the grain of earlier research, refusing to conceive of Cuban identity either in terms of a bipolar black/white opposition or an idyllic and harmonious process of miscegenation. He also counters traditional representations of chinos mambises, Chinese immigrants who fought for Cuba in the Wars of Independence against Spain.
Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture fills a void in literary criticism, breaking new ground within the small field of Sino-Cuban studies. It is destined to set the tone for years to come.
Narratives of the Cuban Diaspora
Since travel restrictions from the United States to Cuba began to ease, thousands of Cuban exiles and Cuban Americans have been able to reunite with family and visit their homeland. Yet the subject of return in the Cuban diaspora remains understudied.
In this one-of-a-kind volume, Iraida López explores various narratives of return by the one-and-a-half generation—those who left Cuba as children or adolescents—and the ways in which the desire for homecoming is manifested both abroad and inside Cuba. Including memoirs, semi-autobiographical fiction, and visual arts, many of these works feature a physical arrival in Cuba while others depict a metaphorical or vicarious experience through fictional characters or childhood reminiscences. Impossible Returns ends by looking at how Cubans still living on the island depict returning émigrés in their own narratives, which have evolved from exclusionary to accommodating.
Through a critical reading of works by artists and writers like María Brito, Carlos Eire, Cristina García, Ana Mendieta, Gustavo Pérez Firmat, and Achy Obejas, López highlights the affective ties as well as the tensions underlying the relationship between émigrés and their native country.
The only recent English-language work on Spanish-American indigenismo from a literary perspective, Estelle Tarica’s work shows how modern Mexican and Andean discourses about the relationship between Indians and non-Indians create a unique literary aesthetic that is instrumental in defining the experience of mestizo nationalism.
Engaging with narratives by Jesús Lara, José María Arguedas, and Rosario Castellanos, among other thinkers, Tarica explores the rhetorical and ideological aspects of interethnic affinity and connection. In her examination, she demonstrates that these connections posed a challenge to existing racial hierarchies in Spanish America by celebrating a new kind of national self at the same time that they contributed to new forms of subjection and discrimination.
Going beyond debates about the relative merits of indigenismo and mestizaje, Tarica puts forward a new perspective on indigenista literature and modern mestizo identities by revealing how these ideologies are symptomatic of the dilemmas of national subject formation. The Inner Life of Mestizo Nationalism offers insight into the contemporary resurgence and importance of indigenista discourses in Latin America.
Estelle Tarica is associate professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of California, Berkeley.
Borges and Translation
It is well known that Jorge Luis Borges was a translator, but this has been considered a curious minor aspect of his literary achievement. Few have been aware of the number of texts he translated, the importance he attached to this activity, or the extent to which the translated works inform his own stories and poems. Between the age of ten, when he translated Oscar Wilde, and the end of his life, when he prepared a Spanish version of the Prose Edda , Borges transformed the work of Poe, Kafka, Hesse, Kipling, Melville, Gide, Faulkner, Whitman, Woolf, Chesterton, and many others. In a multitude of essays, lectures, and interviews Borges analyzed the versions of others and developed an engaging view about translation. He held that a translation can improve an original, that contradictory renderings of the same work can be equally valid, and that an original can be unfaithful to a translation. Borges's bold habits as translator and his views on translation had a decisive impact on his creative process. Translation is also a recurrent motif in Borges's stories. In "The Immortal," for example, a character who has lived for many centuries regains knowledge of poems he had authored, and almost forgotten, by way of modern translations. Many of Borges's fictions include actual or imagined translations, and some of his most important characters are translators. In "Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote," Borges's character is a respected Symbolist poet, but also a translator, and the narrator insists that Menard's masterpiece-his "invisible work"-adds unsuspected layers of meaning to Cervantes's Don Quixote . George Steiner cites this short story as "the most acute, most concentrated commentary anyone has offered on the business of translation." In an age where many discussions of translation revolve around the dichotomy faithful/unfaithful, this book will surprise and delight even Borges's closest readers and critics.
Transgressive Sexualities in the Caribbean Imagination
In Island Bodies, Rosamond King examines sexualities, violence, and repression in the Caribbean experience. She analyzes the sexual norms and expectations portrayed in Caribbean and diaspora literature, music, film, and popular culture to show how many individuals contest traditional roles by maneuvering within and/or trying to change their society’s binary gender systems. She skillfully argues and demonstrates that these transgressions better represent Caribbean culture than the “official” representations perpetuated by governmental elites and often codified into laws that reinforce patriarchal, heterosexual stereotypes.
Unique in its breadth and its multilingual and multidisciplinary approach, Island Bodies addresses homosexuality, interracial relations, transgender people, and women’s sexual agency in Dutch, Francophone, Anglophone, and Hispanophone works of Caribbean literature. Additionally, King explores the paradoxical nature of sexuality across the region: discussing sexuality in public is often considered taboo, yet the tourism economy trades on portraying Caribbean residents as hypersexualized.
Ultimately King reveals that despite the varied national specificity, differing colonial legacies, and linguistic diversity across the islands, there are striking similarities in the ways Caribglobal cultures attempt to restrict sexuality and in the ways individuals explore and transgress those boundaries.
Negotiating Sovereignty in Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism
Recognizing that in the contemporary postcolonial moment, national identity and cultural nationalism are no longer the primary modes of imagining sovereignty, Sheri-Marie Harrison argues that postcolonial critics must move beyond an identity-based orthodoxy as they examine problems of sovereignty. In Jamaica’s Difficult Subjects: Negotiating Sovereignty in Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism, Harrison describes what she calls “difficult subjects”—subjects that disrupt essentialized notions of identity as equivalent to sovereignty. She argues that these subjects function as a call for postcolonial critics to broaden their critical horizons beyond the usual questions of national identity and exclusion/inclusion. Harrison turns to Jamaican novels, creative nonfiction, and films from the 1960s to the present and demonstrates how they complicate standard notions of the relationship between national identity and sovereignty. She constructs a lineage between the difficult subjects in classic Caribbean texts like Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and The Harder they Come by Perry Henzell and contemporary writing by Marlon James and Patricia Powell. What results is a sweeping new history of Caribbean literature and criticism that reconfigures how we understand both past and present writing. Jamaica’s Difficult Subjects rethinks how sovereignty is imagined, organized, and policed in the postcolonial Caribbean, opening new possibilities for reading multiple generations of Caribbean writing.
A national hero in Cuba and a champion of independence across Latin America, José Martí produced a body of work that has been theorized, criticized, and politicized. However, one of the most understudied aspects of his life remains his time in the United States and how it affected his attitudes toward racial politics. Martí saw first-hand the treatment of slaves in the Cuban countryside and as a young man in Havana had mourned the death of Lincoln. But it was in New York City, near the close of the century, where he penned his famous essay "My Race," declaring that there was only the human race. In the United States he encountered European immigrants and the labor politics that accompanied them, and he became aware of the hardships experienced by Chinese workers. Martí read in newspapers and magazines about the mistreatment of Native Americans and the adversity faced by newly freed black citizens. Anne Fountain argues that it was here--confronted by the forces of manifest destiny, the influence of race in politics, the legacy of slavery, and the plight and promise of the black Cuban diaspora--that Martí fully engaged with the specter of racism. Examining his entire oeuvre rather than just selected portions, Fountain demonstrates the evolution of his thinking on the topic, indicating the significance of his sources, providing a context for his writing, and offering a structure for his treatment of race.