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Book Club Tue Sep 24 2013

I Came By Bus From San Juan: 7Vientos Rescues Caribbean Fiction


In the foreword to Manuel Abreu Adorno's posthumously-published novel No todas las suecas son rubias (Not all Swedes are blonde), globetrotting professor and crazy prolific writer Saúl Yurkievich celebrates the "distinctly Caribbean accent" of Adorno's work, the raw tenor of his talent, the strong appetite for recognition in a marketplace dominated by North American surnames. So it's only fitting that Adorno made his U.S. debut via local translating house 7Vientos, since it shares so many of these traits.

The Chicago-based independent publishing collective got its humble start when three newly unemployed professional editors decided to collaborate, according to Daniel Parra, who goes on to kid about the other four founding members: "friends and family with jobs, so they could pick up the tab." The seven literary-minded individuals took inspiration from "The Windy City" and named their editorial initiative 7Vientos (where "viento" = "wind" in Spanish).

7Vientos states its raison d'être as a venture to make previously untranslated Latin American texts available in English, and to translate into Spanish literature that is not widely available in Latin America. It accomplishes this by publishing what it calls "flip books," each text in its entirety in each language. Editor Parra explains:

"A flip book allowed us to print one book and reach twice as many readers. We hesitate to use the term "bilingual," it conjures images of books with facing-page translations, annotated and footnoted explanations of obscure terms or idioms, and what basically amounts to a distracting format. A "bilingual" book is something that is still firmly marketed toward the reader of one language; in the U.S., often that language is English."

7Vientos published its first such flip book last year: And the Hippies Came, a book of short stories by overlooked, underrated Puerto Rican maestro Manuel Abreu Adorno. The collective enlisted fellow puertorriqueño Rafael Franco-Steeves to translate Adorno's 1978 debut, which F-Steeves cites as a major precursor to McOndo (an urban, literary reaction to the magical realism of Macondo). Likewise, the twelve exceedingly brief, stylistically ambitious stories of Hippies prefigure the popularity of flash- or micro-fiction, each one a fleeting burst of affective genius. As Vincent Francone of Three Percent says: "The pop culture mingled with literary playfulness is surely what captivated initial readers, fusing music with literature and echoing the tastes of readers who love Oulipo and the Beats as well as the Allman Brothers and Arsenio Rodríguez."

Indeed, Adorno's prose propels each of the dozen stories headlong into inventive vibrancy, from the eponymous piece that employs page-length graphs and sentential repetition ("I came without hash or kif. I came to buy LSD. I came with no flute, no guitar. I came by bus from San Juan.") to an almost totally unpunctuated, stream-of-conscious catalogue of Latin American musical figures ("i'm talking about ray barreto who is younger than mongo although alright I'll concede you that point") to the frequent titular appearance of U.S. pop icons ("the truth about farrah fawcett majors" and "jesse james & billy the kid").

Both F-S and Parra credit the decision to translate and publish Hippies to a desire to see Adorno's work in wider circulation. To be sure, Adorno's life and writing have received little attention, save an extensive profile at Diálogo Digital, the online version of the University of Puerto Rico's community newspaper. We know he was born in 1955 in San Juan, graduated salutatorian from high school, and studied poetry at university in Río Piedras, before undertaking self-imposed exile in Europe, what he referred to as "the pilgrimage of all Latin American writers." In Paris, Adorno befriended Argentine surrealist Julio Cortázar until the latter's death in February 1984. Adorno returned to Puerto Rico, struggled to find outlets for his fiction, and died on October 29, eight months after Cortázar.

By returning Manuel Arbeu Adorno's work to print, 7Vientos has rescued at least one worthy work from likely oblivion. Together with Hippies, Adrono's oeuvre includes a book of poems (Sonido de lo Innombrable), and two novels (No todas las suecas son rubias and Elegía para Eleanor Rigby). Adorno saw only Hippies bound and sold in his lifetime, and Rigby remains unpublished. Perhaps 7Vientos will be the first to publish, let alone translate, Adorno's lost novel?

Perhaps. As of this writing, 7Vientos has published one other work of fiction, Saturnalia by award-winning Dominican performer and PhD candidate Rey Andújar, and there's talk of resurrecting a zine called Huevo Crudo ("Raw Egg"). I got word just this morning from Daniel "Danny" Parra himself, and the next offering from 7Vientos will be Malabarismos del tedio by Peruvian experimentalist Marco A. Escalante. Parra also discussed a third flip book for early 2014, "a bilingual edition containing two of the greatest works by Mario Bellatin never before published in English; Flowers and Illustrated Biography of Mishima." Here's looking forward to many future titles from 7Vientos.

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7Vientos / November 1, 2013 9:20 AM

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