ETA, a terrorist group formed in the late 1950s, was predominantly active in the Basque Country. Its name is an acronym in Basque for ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’, which means ‘Basque Country and Freedom’. Fernando Aramburu’s Homeland is not the first novel to deal with the decades of ETA’s terror. Other works, like Martutene (2012) by Ramón Saizarbitoria, also delved into the car bombs and sporadic gunfire on sunny afternoons, ETA’s separatist aim to create a socialist state independent from Spain, and the psychological carnage that was left behind. Previous novels by Aramburu himself have touched on the subject: Fires with Lemon (1996) and Slow Years (2012). But Homeland is the first Basque novel to garner international attention and to sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

Part of this has to do with timing. ETA came to a ceasefire in 2011, and the group was finally disbanded in 2018. Aramburu’s novel was published in Spanish in 2016, striking a topical chord in its readers. Homeland unfolds close to San Sebastián, in an unnamed small town that represents everyday life in the Basque Country. Txato, a successful businessman, receives letters from ETA demanding money. At first Txato complies, but when he is no longer able to pay, the demands are followed by threats. Graffiti appears, denouncing Txato as a traitor. Everyone loves Txato, but everyone is petrified to say so publicly for fear of what ETA might do. His closest friend, Joxian, stops talking to him because Joxian’s son, Joxe Mari, has joined ETA. The novel begins with Txato’s assassination, and much of its plot hinges on whether it was Joxe Mari who killed him.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Gabriel García Ochoa reviews Homeland by Fernando Aramburu, translated by Alfred MacAdam
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    ETA, a terrorist group formed in the late 1950s, was predominantly active in the Basque Country. Its name is an acronym in Basque for ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’, which means ‘Basque Country and Freedom’. Fernando Aramburu’s Homeland is not the first novel to deal with the decades of ETA’s terror ...

  • Book Title Homeland
  • Book Author Fernando Aramburu, translated by Alfred MacAdam
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Picador, $32.99 pb, 586 pp, 9781509858033

There appears to be a major problem with the story of Leonora Carrington’s life (1917–2011): it hasn’t been told enough. This may be because, as in the case of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Carrington is often overshadowed by the male Surrealist artists with whom she associated herself – especially her lover Max Ernst – or it may be because our understanding and appreciation of her genius is still in its infancy. Either way, Carrington’s art and writings, and the tumultuous life they are inextricably linked to, have not received the attention they deserve.

The salient details of Carrington’s life are well known to art historians and scholars of Surrealism. They are the stuff of a good page-turner. Carrington was born in Lancashire, to a phenomenally wealthy family. Her father, Harold Carrington, owned a textile manufacturing business and later became the majority stakeholder of Imperial Chemical Industries. Fiercely rebellious, Carrington was expelled from a string of boarding schools. From a young age she was interested in art and literature. She refused to conform to the conventions of the British upper class, which she found suffocating. In 1935, after being a debutante at George V’s court, she moved to London to become an artist. There, she met one of the most important members of the Surrealist movement, Max Ernst, twenty-six years her senior. Carrington’s father, keen to end their relationship, tried to have Ernst arrested. The lovers escaped to France, and Carrington’s father disowned her. In Paris, through Ernst, she joined the beating heart of the Surrealist movement. After Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939, Ernst was imprisoned for being a citizen of the German Reich in France. Shortly after, to escape the impending Nazi occupation, Carrington fled to Spain, leaving Ernst behind in a French concentration camp. In Madrid she suffered the mental breakdown that became the theme of her searing memoir, Down Below (1988, since republished by NYRB). Her father had her interned at Villa Covadonga, a psychiatric clinic in Santander. To check on her, Carrington’s parents sent her nanny to Spain in a submarine. Ultimately, the family decided that Carrington should be admitted to a sanatorium in South Africa, where she would be out of sight and out of mind – no further embarrassment. Before being shipped to Cape Town, Carrington escaped and married Mexican poet and diplomat Renato Leduc, whom she had met through Picasso. As Leduc’s wife and a newly minted Mexican citizen, she could finally escape her father’s reach. Like other European artists and intellectuals who settled in Mexico as refugees, she befriended Rivera and Kahlo, among others, and in time, became one of the country’s most celebrated artists.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Gabriel García Ochoa reviews 'The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington' by Joanna Moorhead
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Custom Highlight Text

    There appears to be a major problem with the story of Leonora Carrington’s life (1917–2011): it hasn’t been told enough. This may be because, as in the case of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Carrington is often overshadowed by the male Surrealist artists with whom she associated herself – especially her lover Max Ernst ...

  • Book Title The Surrealist Life of Leonora Carrington
  • Book Author Joanna Moorhead
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Virago Press, $35 pb, 296 pp, 978034900876

Translation can be an art or a craft; seldom simple, it is often unappreciated. We tend to forget that the global community of ceaseless interconnectivity could not exist without translation, or bilingualism. Without translation there is Babel, but with its quiet, endless grinding, translation brings down walls and creates porous cultures that cannot help but influence one another.

The current exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985, ponders this theme. The exhibition features more than 250 items, a combination of crafts, photographs, films, and posters. It explores the dialogue of mutual influence in architecture and design between Mexico and California. There are four main themes: Spanish Colonial Inspiration, Pre-Hispanic Revivals, Folk Art and Craft Traditions, and Modernism.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
  • Contents Category Art
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Translation can be an art or a craft; seldom simple, it is often unappreciated. We tend to forget that the global community of ceaseless interconnectivity could not exist without translation, or bilingualism. Without translation there is Babel, but with its quiet, endless grinding, translation brings down walls and creates porous ...

Monday, 22 May 2017 10:01

Neruda

In 1948, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and Chilean senator, Pablo Neruda, proud member of his country’s Communist Party, accused his government of treason for forging an alliance with the United States. Shortly after, Neruda went underground to escape arrest. For thirteen months he fled from one clandestine safe house to the next. He grew a bushy beard and pretended to be an ornithologist, Antonio Ruiz Legarreta. Under the guise of this false identity, he crossed the frozen Andean Pass of Lilpela on horseback, from Chile to Argentina, to go into exile.

The story of Neruda’s persecution and exile is well documented, and Chilean director Pablo Larraín turns it into the kernel of truth for his fictional biopic, Neruda. Larraín is one of the most important filmmakers in Latin America today. This year he received much acclaim for another biopic, Jackie (2016), starring Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. As a biopic Neruda runs along very different lines to Jackie. To begin with, the film plays with traditional elements of hardboiled thriller and noir. The story is narrated in voiceovers by detective Óscar Peluchonneau, a fictional character played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. Peluchonneau is in charge of capturing Neruda, who is played by Chilean actor Luis Gnecco. The film hinges on the interesting contradictions of this love–hate relationship between Peluchonneau and Neruda. Peluchonneau, à la Inspector Javert, is obsessed with arresting the ever-elusive Neruda. But soon it becomes apparent that his obsession goes beyond the call of duty. Each time he flees one of his hideouts, Neruda leaves a clue enabling Peluchonneau to keep pursuing him; and every night, after a fruitless chase, Peluchonneau goes back to his bachelor’s garret to marvel at his prey’s poetry.

This is not the first time García Bernal and Gnecco have shared the screen. In 2012 Larraín directed another historical film set in Chile, No, which tells the story of the advertising campaign against the country’s 1988 plebiscite to allow dictator Augusto Pinochet to be re-elected. García Bernal has built a steady reputation over the years, and his Peluchonneau does not disappoint. An element of his performance that unfortunately will go unnoticed for English audiences is his mastery over accents in Spanish. He has shown this before in Pablo Almodóvar’s Bad Education (2005), where he plays a cut-throat actor from Madrid, and as a young Ernesto Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), with the singsong pronunciation typical of Argentina. In Neruda, his sibilant Chilean accent sounds perfectly natural among the other members of the cast.

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

neruda 13 Gael Garcia Bernal 28Oscar Peluchonneau29Gael Garcia Bernal as Óscar Peluchonneau in Neruda
(image courtesy of Palace Films)

 

The biggest accolade, however, goes to Gnecco. His Neruda is composed of two very different characters: first, the people’s poet, hedonic hero of the resistance, and sensualist who likes to hold court and ensnare listeners with the same verses he has been reading for the past twenty years; and second, a middle-aged, afraid of intimacy with his wife, addicted hero worship in the country he loves, and terrified of being forgotten. The film contrasts these two facets of Neruda, unafraid to confront the image of the popular idol. An impoverished member of the persecuted Communist Party begs Neruda for his autograph, then asks him what will happen when the communist dream is realised: will everyone starve like her, or will they prosper, like Neruda? His answer is the essence of champagne socialism: ‘No, everyone will live like me, eat in bed, and fuck in the kitchen.’

Neruda, like the man, is not easy to pin down. The film is poetic and self-reflexive, with moments of intense humour. Sergio Armstrong’s cinematography is elegant: stark, melancholy shots of the snow-capped Andes, and cherry blossoms blooming in Santiago. The eclectic score by Argentinian composer Federico Jusid is a delight. It includes passages from Ives, Grieg, and Penderecki (notably, the Passacaglia from his third symphony), a cello concerto by Gavin Bryars performed by Julian Lloyd Webber, and a number of pieces by Jusid himself. In the speedy first half, the persecution of the poet defies the conventions of crime fiction and creates a steady momentum. Eventually this dissipates, and the narrative subsides into a metafictional abyss that feels more like Jorge Luis Borges than Pablo Neruda. Conceptually, this is the most interesting part of the film, but it is to the detriment of the storyline, which gets bogged down for half an hour before reaching an unexpectedly satisfying conclusion.

neruda 08 Luis Gnecco 28Pablo Neruda29Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in Neruda (image courtesy of Palace Films)

 

Neruda, 108 minutes, directed by Pablo Larraín. Distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Palace Films. In cinemas from 25 May 2017.

ABR Arts is generously supported by The Ian Potter Foundation.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Neruda ★★★1/2
  • Contents Category Film
  • Custom Highlight Text

    In 1948, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and Chilean senator, Pablo Neruda, proud member of his country’s Communist Party, accused his government of treason for forging an alliance with the United States. Shortly after, Neruda went underground to escape arrest. For thirteen months ...

  • Review Rating 3.5

Mictlán, the underworld of Aztec mythology, is divided into nine regions, like Dante’s Inferno. Yuri Herrera’s novella, Signs Preceding the End of the World, opens with a symbolic doorway to that underworld: a sinkhole that swallows a man, a dog, and a couple of cars parked down the street, missing Mika, the protagonist, by a few steps.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of two novellas in this volume. Herrera belongs to a group of Mexican authors whose translated works are making headlines internationally (Valeria Luiselli, Álvaro Enrigue, Juan Villoro). To date he has published two children’s books, and three novellas. His first novella Trabajos del reino (to be published next year in translation as Kingdom Cons) tells the story of a talented singer and songwriter who falls under the dangerous patronage of a drug lord. Kingdom Cons received critical acclaim as an early example of what is now known in Mexico as ‘narcoliterature’, a subgenre that deals with the social and political issues that the drug wars have unleashed. The novella takes place in a border town, but the reader is never told exactly where. The text gravitates around the life and tribulations of a drug lord, but again, words that one would normally associate with such a setting are not present in the text.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Gabriel García Ochoa reviews 'The Transmigration of Bodies and Signs Preceding the End of the World' by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Mictlán, the underworld of Aztec mythology, is divided into nine regions, like Dante’s Inferno. Yuri Herrera’s novella, Signs Preceding the End of the World, opens with ...

  • Book Title The Transmigration of Bodies and Signs Preceding the End of the World
  • Book Author Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Text Publishing $29.99 pb, 240 pp, 9781925498240
Monday, 19 December 2016 16:12

The City of Palaces by Gabriel García Ochoa

Describing Mexico City without tripping over a cliché is not easy. Vibrant, colourful, dangerous, loud, exhilarating, rich in history and gastronomic delights, it’s all been said before. But one aspect of Mexico that is not often spoken about is its correspondences with Australia. Famously, the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Albán and Chichén Itzá influenced architect Jørn Utzon’s design of the Sydney Opera House’s podium and Monumental Steps. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) was filmed in Mexico City. There is also a little-known anecdote about colonial palaces that links Mexico to Australia, via none other than Victoria’s first lieutenant governor, Charles La Trobe.

What is now known as the ‘Historic Centre’ of Mexico City, an area of about ten square kilometres that includes thousands of heritage buildings, monuments, museums, archaeological sites, and government offices, was once Tenochtitlán, the centre of the Aztec Empire. Erected where five sacred lakes meet, with its mighty avenues, gardens, canals, and great temples – including Montezuma’s personal palace, famous for its zoos and aquariums, and for having more than one hundred rooms, each with running water for the monarch’s guests – Tenochtitlán, according to the writings of Hernán Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo, was a sight to behold.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title The City of Palaces by Gabriel García Ochoa
  • Contents Category Commentary
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Describing Mexico City without tripping over a cliché is not easy. Vibrant, colourful, dangerous, loud, exhilarating, rich in history and gastronomic delights, it’s all been ...

Gabriel García Ochoa reports back from Mexico following the US election in his article 'The City of Palaces' which appears in the January-February issue of Australian Book Review.

The ABR Podcast is available via SoundCloud and iTunes.

ABR Podcast intro music by David McCooey

Other music by danosongs.com and bensound.com

Comments by Donald Trump on Mexican people: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo-7ISmwAi0

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Episode #12 The City of Palaces by Gabriel García Ochoa
  • Contents Category Commentary

The village of Tierra de Chá in Cristina Sánchez-Andrade’s novel The Winterlings feels a bit like Gabriel García Márquez’s Macondo, without the magic realism. It is a small community riddled with family secrets, desiccated aspirations, incest, and regrets. Located in Galicia, in north-western Spain, Tierra de Chá is full of succulent characters. There is Little Ramón, the sailor who was breastfed until the age of twelve. Mr Tenderlove makes a living as a ‘dental mechanic’, fashioning dentures from the teeth of cadavers, and dresses in drag in the privacy of his boudoir. There once was a lunatic who used to believe he was a chicken, and did so with such fervour that he started laying eggs, but no one knows where he is anymore.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Gabriel García Ochoa reviews 'The Winterlings' by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade and translated by Samuel Rutter
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Winterlings
  • Book Author Cristina Sánchez-Andrade, translated by Samuel Rutter
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe $29.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781925321586

The four-hundredth anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’s death serves as a good reminder of the influence and importance of his oeuvre, and perhaps too of our strange obsession with the decimal system. After all, Cervantes’s works will be as relevant next year as they were last, minus the fanfare. On the eve of this quatercentennary, William Egginton’s The Man Who Invented Fiction made a timely appearance. Egginton is the author of several well-known and praised academic books, but even for a scholar of his calibre, the bold proposition in the title of his new book makes one approach it with some scepticism.

This is not a biography of Cervantes (it does not claim to be one), but rather a long essay on Egginton’s definition of modern fiction, interwoven, à la Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World (2004) and The Swerve (2011), with the narrative of Cervantes’s life, which functions as its organising structure. Egginton spends most of the book explaining what, precisely, he means by fiction, and how Cervantes created this new ‘space’ of the mind for the modern world. In essence, he argues that fiction is what Cervantes wrote, and proceeds to explain to us why this is so.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Gabriel García Ochoa reviews 'The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes ushered in the modern world' by William Egginton
  • Contents Category Literary Studies
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The four-hundredth anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’s death serves as a good reminder of the influence and importance of his oeuvre, and perhaps too of our strange obsession with ...

  • Book Title The Man Who Invented Fiction
  • Book Author William Egginton
  • Book Subtitle How Cervantes ushered in the modern world
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Bloomsbury $49.99 hb, 262 pp, 9781408843840

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are, without a doubt, the two most famous Mexican artists of the twentieth century, as notorious for their scandalous relationship and political views as they were for their creative genius. She was twenty-one years younger than him; he was a communist. Kahlo had an affair with Leon Trotsky; Rivera had one with Kahlo's sister. They married, divorced, and remarried a year later which, for the ultra-conservative environment of Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s was, to say the least, unusual.

The current exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, features works from the collection of Natasha and Jacques Gelman. The Gelmans were an Eastern European couple who emigrated to Mexico City in the late 1930s, where they met, fell in love, and started their art collection. During those tumultuous years, Mexico witnessed an influx of European refugees, including some of the most important figures of the Surrealist movement. At the heart of this artistic and intellectual whirlwind were Rivera and Kahlo.

Kahlo was a true revolutionary in every sense of the word, fearless and indomitable like Che Guevara, whose visage nowadays is similarly reproduced on shirts and mugs the world over. She taught herself to paint after an accident that almost cost her her life left her bedridden for months. Perhaps as a consequence, Kahlo's works are richly introspective. Her self-portraiture constitutes a considerable part of her oeuvre, where she features as the central subject of her paintings. Rivera, on the other hand, was explosive, expansive, larger than life. His masterpieces are predominantly murals strewn across Mexico City and other parts of the world.

The exhibition mediates a dialogue between Kahlo and Rivera. It opens with one of Kahlo's masterpieces, Diego on my mind (Self-portrait as Tehuana) (1943), where Kahlo depicts herself in the garb of a traditional Tehuana, the indigenous Zapotec women of the state of Oaxaca, renowned for their rebellious attitude to men. On her forehead, above her eyebrows, where the third eye of spiritual enlightenment should be, there is a picture of Rivera.

Sign up to the fortnightly ABR Arts e-bulletin for news, reviews, and giveaways

Diego on my mindDiego on my mind (Self-portrait as Tehuana) 1943, Frida Kahlo (The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico DF)

Diego on my mind is followed by Calla lily vendor (1943), which shows one of Rivera's recurring motifs, exuberant, long-stalked white lilies. The flowers make a second appearance in Portrait of Natasha Gelman (1943), where Mrs Gelman lounges sensually on a green sofa wearing a white evening dress, her figure slender and graceful like the armfuls of sumptuous lilies in the background. Another identifiable theme of Rivera's, children with strong indigenous Mexican features, is present in two other paintings in the exhibition, Modesta (1937) and Sunflowers (1943).

Kahlo's work was transgressive, often ironic. In Self-portrait with red and gold dress (1941), and Self-portrait with monkeys (1943) Kahlo shows us her contempt for institutions, in this case, academia. Self-portrait with red and gold dress shows Kahlo from the shoulders up against an olive background. She wears an embroidered dress of indigenous design and her luscious black braids have been arranged as a doctoral bonnet. In Self-portrait with monkeys, Kahlo stands in the midst of dense foliage surrounded by four spider monkeys. She wears a white Zapotec blouse adorned with a red tassel reminiscent of the tassels used in academic headwear. In both works the commentary is clear: without the need for a university to validate her talent Kahlo, the autodidact, awards herself doctoral status.

Although Kahlo's works were subversive, unlike Rivera's murals they were rarely overtly political. Three unusual sketches in this exhibition show her views on Capitalism and the United States' government: Lady Liberty (Workers of the world unite) (c.1945), Untitled (Atomic bomb) (c.1951), and Liberty (c.1946). In these annotated studies, Kahlo depicts the Statue of Liberty as a macabre monument to Capital, holding in her right hand, instead of the torch of progress, a dangling bag of coins topped by the atomic bomb.

Diego and FridaFrida and Diego Kissing after their second marriage, 1940 (photographer unknown, courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc)

There are fifty-seven photographs arranged chronologically throughout the exhibition, the first of Kahlo as a young girl with her family, the last showing a broken Rivera standing by Kahlo's open casket at her funeral. The exhibition also includes facsimiles of letters and telegrams to and from Kahlo. The original documents are in Spanish, accompanied by electronic tablets that allow viewers to tap on the image of a letter to reveal its English translation. At the end of the exhibition there are three short 16mm silent films of Kahlo and Rivera, screened side by side in loops of one to three minutes.

This is not a behemoth retrospective, but rather a small, exquisitely curated exhibition that allows us to compare significant works by these two artists through the story of their relationship. It shows how less, when creatively and tastefully curated, can be more.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (Art Gallery of New South Wales) opened on June 9, and has been extended to October 23.

Arts Update is generously supported by The Ian Potter Foundation.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (Art Gallery of New South Wales)
  • Contents Category Art
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are, without a doubt, the two most famous Mexican artists of the twentieth century, as notorious for their scandalous relationship and political views as they were for their creative genius. She was twenty-one years younger than him; he was a communist ...