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Discovering “The Black Minutes” at the PEN World Voices Festival

By Bud Parr

I went to see the NBCC's* "This Critical Moment" panel for the single reason that last year I hadn't and missed Rigoberto González's discussion of Álvaro Enrigue (whose work we've published). I felt what he had to say about Enrigue was important and well thought out, the sort of analysis that good critics aspire to.

So this year I went to see what Rigoberto had to say. Interestingly, he chose an author, Martín Solares, who I had seen the day before talking about an author he loved, Juan Rulfo. Solares was in the audience and I had the good fortune to say hello to him after the panel before he whooshed off to speak on a short story panel discussion.

Solares just published his first novel, The Black Minutes (read an excerpt from 2006 we also published), which Titel Magazine from Germany said was "one of the most ambitious crime novels that Mexico has had to offer since the great works of Paco Ignacio Taibo II."

Rigoberto said that as a US/Latino critic that he primarily looks at the literature produced by English speaking, English writers in the US. Solares, as a Mexican/Spanish language writer, was completely off his radar screen, but he feels that The Black Minutes is an important cross-over of Mexican literature into the US that will be embraced by the US Latino readership and beyond. This is a "border novel" giving us a unique look at the US/Mexican border from the perspective of the other side.

"The curiosity about this novel," Rigoberto said, "is that it defies characterization." Critics want to define it as a crime novel, but others are tempted to call it magical realism. It is both and neither. Anyone who approaches it as crime fiction will be disappointed by its pacing and digressions. Anyone who approaches it as magical realism will be disappointed because it's grounded in such harsh realities of Mexican crime. However, despite the tragedy of the novel taking on the subjects of crime, femicide and corruption, "this is a really entertaining piece of literature."

Another note on this novel is that one of its translators was Aura Estrada who died in a tragic accident before the novel was published - González said the translation is "extraordinary." You can hear all of his remarks in the video above, which continues at the NBCC Website.

The event was held at The Austrian Cultural Forum and besides Rigoberto González, also included Eric Banks talking about Peter Stamm and Peter Schneider, Jane Ciabattari on Sherman Alexie, and Mary Ann Newman on Quim Monzó (whom she has translated so was able to give a unique perspective). You can see videos of all of these discussions at the NBCC Website.


*full disclosure: the NBCC is a client of mine in my day job as a Web developer.

Published May 7, 2010   Copyright 2010 Bud Parr

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