Finger on the global pulse

Stories that fix their gaze on spaces outside the national territory add to the diversity of a bilingual anthology of work by Mexican writers

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Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction
Edited by Álvaro Uribe; translation editor, Olivia Sears
2009, Dalkey Archive Press
450 pages

Reviewed by Eli Gardner

IT IS A GOOD thing to have one’s finger on the pulse of modern letters. Álvaro Uribe, a writer and editor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico(UNAM), has pieced together a collection of 16 short stories from 16 different Mexican writers, all of whom were born after 1945, which attempts to do just that.

This bilingual anthology – every story has its corresponding English translation on each opposing page – is a broad text that offers a wide cross-section of brief narratives by each author. The individual contributors speak on a diverse range of topics – from road trips to sexual initiation.

Some stories appear to be strongly grounded in social reality. Other tales even appear to border on the realms of fantasy.

However, there are a few topics which do connect this sundry assortment of narratives. One common thread which runs through this collection is that of human relationships. Often, it is a lack of them or, in the cases of others, those that are destructive or dysfunctional. Society itself seems to be one of the elements on trial by several of the authors.

Absent city

Interestingly, while this anthology has a very strong foundation composed of writers from Mexico City or those from the provinces (or even other countries, in the case of Fabio Morábito) who now base themselves in the Aztec capital, Mexico City itself is strangely absent from the themes the writers present.

Even those that appear to possibly take place in the capital do not have any special emphasis on this urban space. One, “Fin del Mundo/The End of the World” even seems to exhibit a type of apocalyptic escape from it.

Several of these authors have, in a tradition that is becoming increasingly common in contemporary Mexican letters, fixed their gaze on spaces outside their national territory. A great number of the narratives occur abroad: Spain, France, the US, and even a mythical African country, adding to the diversity of this assortment.

Sexual content, though not overly explicit, is also shared by several of the authors as well, showing a tendency towards the erotic in many of the contributors.

One unique aspect of this work is its transparency with regard to the translation. While many readers will opt to choose to experience the anthology either in Spanish or English, according to their own personal preferences or abilities, it is important to note that, in several cases the translations do not always run parallel to each other, a clear example that this should not necessarily be viewed as a pedagogical text that one uses to learn Spanish with the help of English (or vice-versa), but rather as a collection of narratives intended to offer “a glimpse of the rich tapestry of Mexican fiction” to an ample public.

To this end, each story has its own well-established translator whose biographical details, like the original authors themselves, are also included at the end of this volume. This is a worthy recognition of the contribution they make in enabling this book to reach both the Spanish- and English-speaking world.

Eli Gardner is a scholar of Mexico and Latin America

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