Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction by Álvaro Uribe (ed)
If in the last century Mexican literature was largely inspired by the country’s diverse, and often extreme, socio-political issues (from poverty to protest), then judging by this fascinating anthology of contemporary Mexican fiction, that impetus has been replaced by a more outward looking, worldly-wise view. The political has been overshadowed by the personal and the experimental honed into narrative finesse.
Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Álvaro Uribe, features sixteen short-stories from writers born between 1945 and 1972 and published in Mexico today. Those readers expecting a unified landscape may be disappointed. Whereas previously Mexican writers looked within their own country for their inspiration, in this collection most of the authors position themselves outside of their own territory – personally, politically and geographically. A number of the stories are, quite literally, set abroad - in the US, Spain, France, and even in a mythical African country - and many of the authors focus on the inner psyches of the characters rather than the pressing social issues of the day. For example, Cristina Rivera-Garza’s Nostalgia is a melancholy take on an exile’s longing for another life; Mariachi by Juan Villoro is about a disillusioned singer who breaks into porn films with surprising consequences; in Crosswords Fabio Morábito writes about two sisters whose communication is reduced to the biannual exchange of crossword magazines; and Rosa Beltrán’s Sheri-Sade follows the highs and lows of an all-consuming erotic relationship.
As Uribe comments in his prologue, the writers are “characterised by an unclassifiable variety”. Despite the lack of clear cultural definition, Mexico’s rich tradition of storytelling is evident in many of the tales and the sheer diversity is part of their appeal. Ana García-Bergua’s blackly comic The Preservers, about a widow who keeps the embalmed corpse of her husband in front of the TV reflects Mexico’s particular fascination with death. This theme is repeated in different ways in Hernán Lara Zavala’s Hammering Away, centring on a son’s dialogue with his dead father, and Eduardo Antonio Parra’s Requiem which laments the passing of a legendary whore.
The anthology is ordered chronologically, starting with the youngest, Vivian Abenshushan, and her humorous take on the high incidence of divorce in Mexico. But probably my favourite is the story that closes the anthology by the most senior contributor: Hector Manjarrez’s aptly named The End of the World juxtaposes the destructive clash between civilisation and nature with the attempts of an estranged couple to reconnect with one another.
I found this collection hard to put down. An added bonus is that it is bilingual – English and Spanish versions can be read side by side. Until recently, the only Mexican works of fiction in translation were by a handful of authors – amongst them, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo - so this goes some way to address the balance. One hopes that Dalkey Archive Press will be persuaded to make a series of anthologies like this one; the merit of uniting readers across literary borders and over continents is immense.