Editor's Note: Having spent the previous eight years living in Peru, where he married a beautiful diplomat (Analu) and sired two children (Chloe and Thomas), Roy Kesey (a writer with short stories in McSweeney's Issues 6, 9, 15 and 20) has moved to China, where his wife will begin her first foreign assignment at the Peruvian embassy in Beijing.
The day’s walking and looking, the day’s climbing and looking, the day’s banal and pointless arguments have left us stupid with exhaustion, and also thirsty.
The story is a house of cards, but not the usual kind: it is a reverse pyramid balanced on a single card.
Please be forewarned: I am not speaking, here, of Erik Hildinger's relatively recent and by all accounts eminently readable translation of de Plano Carpini’s Historia Mongalorum Quos Nos Tartaros Appellamus, of which I have not yet gotten ahold. I am speaking instead of the version of that text that later appeared as the second chapter of the thirty-second book of Vicentius Beluacensis’ Speculum Historiale, and was translated and reprinted in the 1598-1600 edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries. Just so that’s clear.
It is in the surreal villages that my favorite stories take place--the women of "The Thirteenth Woman" and "The Cedar Trees," the fog and teeth and cynical trees of "Smoke." I say that, and then I change my mind and prefer the careful thought and deep intuition of "Pastor Elaine’s Newsletter"...
Dreams are strange and wonderful things. Our own dreams, that is. Other people's dreams, of course, are just fucking irritating. "And so then this huge purple-and-green snake rose up out of the stick of butter! And the snake had the face of Tom Cruise! Except it wasn't Tom Cruise, it was my sister! And then the stick of butter turned into an M1 Abrams, and all of a sudden I'm on a battlefield, kind of like Vietnam except not exactly, more like Ecuador, maybe? Are there battlefields in Ecuador? Anyway, so then..."
I came across this classic work of literature two years ago in one of the several book fairs that Lima, Peru, boasts each year, and was immediately taken with its cover, which bears photographs, or possibly lithographs or whatever it was that they had before they had photographs, unless these actually are photographs--does anyone know that timeline?—of six lovely if large-boned women in poses of varying coquettishness. Though the cover price said that the text only cost twenty cents—twenty-five in the provinces, where I wasn’t—the stand owner charged me upwards of five dollars, probably because of the rarity of the first edition—indeed, the only edition—of The National Opinion that was published on the particular day in question eighty-nine years ago next month.
Each psyche mapped carefully into language feels as distinctive as a fingerprint, and it’s precisely this quality that first attracted me to Aurora Venturini’s novel Las primas (The Cousins). The story of how I came across the book is fairly standard stuff—an international book fair, an editorial director who knows my tastes all too well. The story of how Aurora Venturini came to be “discovered” in Spanish, on the other hand—at the age of 85, following decades of writing and translating in exile, by winning a contest explicitly designed to find the next hot young thing in Argentine letters—is nothing short of extraordinary.
In a recent essay about electronic communication in Slate, Tim Harford begins by saying, "It stands to reason that distance is dead." Then he gives four reasons why that argument is mostly crap.
¿Desde cuándo necesito instrucciones para abrir un libro?