15 June 2014

Talking to Ourselves: Andres Neuman

Three members of a family. Three voices. A woman, her husband, a son. Each narrates alternating chapters as Mario grows more ill, deceiving his son of his impending death in order to enjoy one more camping trip together. A memory in the making and, perhaps, an allegory of lifetime journey. Latin writers do love allegory.
Argentinian Andres Newman lives in Spain.

Their son, Lito, age 10, is an innocent here. His texts to his mother are priceless and suggest a future beyond their traditional past. As father and son engage in simple pleasures on the road, Elena perpetrates an infidelity meant to help her let go. Each speaks to the reader; however, in truth, they talk to themselves. Perfect title. A stream of consciousness narrative that intimately depicts their struggle with profound loss. Knowing one will die shortly is no consolation, for patient or loved ones.

Elena is the most compelling voice. She buries her despair in great literature, frequently quoting European and American writers on everything from writing to feminism, motherhood to passion. I was especially taken with her translation of the words in various languages that describe an orgasm [who knew there were so many variations on that theme?} She tirades, she berates herself and others, as she clings to a torrid, nearly abusive sexual affair with her husband's physician. The more she means to anesthetize herself, the more aggressive the sexuality, as if she must be made to suffer as an homage, or commiseration, to the suffering of her husband. Or merely to feel the pain she feels within. Much a matter of interpretation here.

"It is true, pleasure brings hope. Maybe that is why so many men leave us dissatisfied: their desire holds no promise. They are wary when they get into bed. As thought they were already leaving before they have arrived. We women, even if only for a moment, even if we aspired to nothing more, tend to give ourselves completely, out of instinct or habit."

I don't usually quote other reviews, but The Guardian summed the novel up well:
"Who needs a more complex plot than this death and the ways three people meet it? This is writing of a quality rarely encountered, which actually feels as though it touches on reality, translating something experienced into words, without loss of detail or clarity."

The book concludes as expected with the aftermath of Mario's death. Elena writes the obituary. "...announcing the death of a loved on in the third person. Imagining someone is reading it as you are drafting it. pretending you don't know your husband has died, and that you are finding out from this announcement. he, in the third person, your beloved, in the second person, who will never exist in the first person again. Grammar doesn't believe in reincarnation. Literature does."

I am immersed currently in Latin American writers and plan to read next Neuman's acclaimed "Traveler of the Century." Of the twenty books he's penned, few have been translated, but I've no doubt more will come given the extraordinary reputation he has earned in recent years. Stay tuned.