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Destroy the Miracle!

Lorna ScottFox: Manuel Rivas, 19 May 2011

Books Burn Badly 
by Manuel Rivas, translated by Jonathan Dunne.
Vintage, 592 pp., £8.99, February 2011, 978 0 09 952033 7
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... Manuel Rivas writes in Galician, the least known of Spain’s official languages. Franco’s repression of the four regional languages ended up doing a great deal to stimulate their revival, and Rivas chooses to write in Galician even if not all his characters would have spoken it, even if it means his work’s literary life will be led mostly in translation ...

Decrepit Lit

Lorna ScottFox: David Lodge, 8 May 2008

Deaf Sentence 
by David Lodge.
Harvill Secker, 294 pp., £17.99, May 2008, 978 1 84655 167 3
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... Thirty years ago, the campus novels of David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury mythologised a setting that expressed, better than any other, the cultural and ideological chaos of the 1960s and 1970s. The main characters were rarely students, but all the energy in these comedies of social transition flowed from the young: it was their politics and their sexuality that the generations above them were forced to flatter or fight, exploit or succumb to ...

Castration

Lorna ScottFox, 24 November 1994

Mea Cuba 
by G. Cabrera Infante, translated by Kenneth Hall.
Faber, 497 pp., £17.50, October 1994, 0 571 17255 5
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Before Night Falls 
by Reinaldo Arenas, translated by Dolores Koch.
Viking, 317 pp., £16, July 1994, 0 670 84078 5
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... Ever since 1956, when Fidel Castro left Veracruz for Santiago de Cuba like a conquistador in reverse, Mexican-Cuban relations have been a sensitive area. Cynical Mexicans might take the view that their government’s attitude is, or rather was, a matter of ‘I’ll support your revolution – and appear to take a stand against the US – if you don’t export it over here ...

Behind the Waterfall

Lorna ScottFox, 16 November 1995

The Creature in the Map: A Journey to El Dorado 
by Charles Nicholl.
Cape, 396 pp., £18.99, May 1995, 0 224 03333 6
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... He was a middle-aged had-been, returning in a flurry from his entrada into the Spanish Main with a crop of tall stories and a bag of glittery sand, to the yawns of Queen and country. More favoured courtiers sneered that he’d never been to Guiana at all. This repudiation persists, leaving Walter Ralegh as little more today than the cloak-and-pipe fellow who was dropped for the Earl of Essex ...

More Fun to Be a Boy

Lorna ScottFox: Haunted by du Maurier, 2 November 2000

Daphne du Maurier: Haunted Heiress 
by Nina Auerbach.
Pennsylvania, 216 pp., £18.50, December 1999, 0 8122 3530 4
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... There is a whiff of apology about the beginning of this book. Daphne du Maurier is known to be a trashy writer of escapist romance: you’re likely to find Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek and Rebecca in the teenage section, and the other titles practically nowhere – so why this ardent study? By the end of it, though, Nina Auerbach has achieved quite a rehabilitation ...

A Fine Time Together

Lorna ScottFox: Bullfighting, 20 July 2000

Death and Money in the Afternoon: A History of the Spanish Bullfight 
by Adrian Shubert.
Oxford, 280 pp., £15.99, July 1999, 0 19 509524 3
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... Most people who are obsessive animal-lovers as children grow out of it. I didn’t. I still feel a helpless identification with most of them, and the scene in Apocalypse Now in which scurrying specks are bombed from helicopters simply made it harder for me to step on ants. So I find it difficult to justify my liking for the bullfight. My excuse – which, I should say, has never convinced anyone – is that of all our dealings with animals, bullfighting at its best seems the most dignified ...

Like Heaven

Lorna ScottFox, 22 May 1997

Texaco 
by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis.
Granta, 401 pp., £15.99, March 1997, 1 86207 007 5
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School Days 
by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Linda Coverdale.
Nebraska, 156 pp., $13, March 1997, 0 8032 6376 7
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... I wonder how many culture-pilgrims have journeyed to Martinique since Texaco won the Prix Goncourt in 1992, to see whether a shanty town of that name really exists. The novel may be a lush documentary or it may be a historical romance: we can’t be sure. In any case, it is likely to change the way we think about the lives and circumstances of millions of people living on the periphery of large cities in underdeveloped parts of the world ...

Cretinisation

Lorna ScottFox: Salvador Dali, 2 April 1998

The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali 
by Ian Gibson.
Faber, 764 pp., £30, November 1997, 0 571 16751 9
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... Modern artist as con-man: Salvador Dalí. The phoniness of Dalí’s work from the late Thirties until his death in 1989 coincided with the period of his greatest notoriety and wealth. He threw political and aesthetic principle to the dogs, becoming a born-again supporter of Franco and a fervent monarchist in order to ensure his security after the defeat of the Spanish Republic, and spent the rest of his life as a salon jester of cosmic pretensions ...

The Good Parasite

Lorna ScottFox: Who was Calvert Casey?, 1 April 1999

The Collected Stories 
by Calvert Casey.
Duke, 224 pp., £11.50, May 1998, 0 8223 2165 3
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... Calvert Casey was born in Baltimore and raised in Havana. Calvert Casey was born in Havana and raised in Baltimore. American or Cuban, it’s the same ... The only certainty is that he was a writer.’ This is how Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who knew him as well as anyone did, got around the vagueness that still surrounds the early life of Calvert Casey, the cult author of 17 stories, a handful of critical articles and a poem ...

Zip the Lips

Lorna ScottFox: A novel plea for silence, 2 June 2005

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Chatto, 376 pp., £17.99, May 2005, 9780701176754
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The Man of Feeling 
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
Vintage, 135 pp., £7.99, February 2005, 0 09 945367 3
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... When I said I was moving from northern Spain to Seville, the same warning came from every northerner I knew: those Andalusians always act so friendly, but watch out, you can’t trust them. I found this puzzling, for the only thing I’d want to trust them to be was friendly, however superficially; I didn’t expect them to save my life, or even to keep my non-existent secrets ...

Double Duty

Lorna ScottFox: Victor Serge, 22 May 2003

Victor Serge: The Course Is Set on Hope 
by Susan Weissman.
Verso, 364 pp., £22, September 2001, 1 85984 987 3
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... In The Long Dusk, Victor Serge’s novel about the fall of France, his alter ego Dr Ardatov escapes death just as the author did, on a boat out of Marseille in 1941. One of Ardatov’s companions, a much younger woman, Hilda, joins him on deck. She says something intense, he counters with something pompous. With a familiar irritation, she thinks: ‘I wish you were thirty years younger ...

A Giant Still Sleeping

Lorna ScottFox: Mike Davies, 4 April 2002

Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US City 
by Mike Davis.
Verso, 202 pp., £10, November 2001, 9781859843284
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... extra seats in Parliament for its US residents. (Now that dual nationality is allowed, President Fox has proposed a similar move for the Mexican Congress, which would enfranchise ten million people.) The effects of such transnationalism are often ambiguous. It can lead to the reproduction of authoritarian, patriarchal structures in the land of ...

A Cézanne-Like Vision of Peaches

Lorna ScottFox, 30 March 2000

Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera 
by Patrick Marnham.
Bloomsbury, 368 pp., £12.99, November 1999, 0 7475 4450 6
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Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Murals 
by Linda Bank Downs.
Norton, 202 pp., £35, March 2000, 0 393 04529 3
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... At last a full-length biography of the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera: a famously fat, genial, enigmatic and ruthless man, with the politician’s mix of idealism and opportunism; an artist on the loose in the public world who made his mark on the first half of the 20th century. Following Bertram Wolfe’s political portrait of 1939, most of the reassessments have lain hidden in scholarly monographs, and Rivera is chiefly remembered these days as the husband of Frida Kahlo, Gender Studies’ emblematic victim – not least because it was Rivera who received all the attention during their lifetime ...

The Feminisation of Chile

Lorna ScottFox: Return to Santiago, 14 December 2006

... The Moneda Palace in Santiago is white, and remarkably small. I recognise it from photographs taken on 11 September 1973, in which the bombers close above seem small, too, like fat flies. I must once have seen this building and found it large – my father was British ambassador to Chile from 1961 to 1966. As children in Santiago we led supervised lives, between the garden, the Austin Princess and the Alliance Française school ...

No Intention of Retreating

Lorna ScottFox: Martha Gellhorn’s Wars, 2 September 2004

Martha Gellhorn: A Life 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Vintage, 550 pp., £8.99, June 2004, 0 09 928401 4
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... Martha Gellhorn, the war reporter and writer who feared nothing on earth so much as boredom, and hated the ‘kitchen of life’, was enamoured of a different drudgery – life’s cardboard boxes. She moved house obsessively from continent to continent, America to Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, back and forth: I daren’t venture an exact number of proper residences, but it’s more than a dozen, in almost as many countries ...

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