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February 2006

A River Runs Through Us: Mexican Literature Now

A river of language both unites and divides us and nowhere is this more true than with the stories that flow between the U.S. and Mexico. Aura Estrada's "A Failed Journey" recounts the juvenile passion inspired by an excursion to the first McDonald's in Mexico City, while Juan Villoro's hyperreal personal essay "Escape from Disney World" tells of a man's struggle with a mouse. The theme of the dream vs. the reality takes on political dimensions we rarely see in Anglophone fiction in Guillermo Fadanelli's "Vladimiro the Arab," Antonio Ortuño's Capraesque "The Headhunter" and Martín Solares' noirish "The Black Minutes." Literature looks at itself in the mirror in Álvaro Enrigue's "Death of the Author" and Carmen Boullosa's playful and innovative excerpt from The Perfect Novel. Reality shimmers and drifts in and out of focus in Alain-Paul Mallard's "Ameising" and Jose Manuel Prieto's excerpt from his novel REX. Ominously, alchemy and deaths foretold dominate the ancient Greece of


Vicente Herrasti's "Death of a Philosopher" (with an introduction by Earl and Sylvia Shorris on Mexico's Crack Generation of writers) and suffuse an excerpt from


Gabriela Vallejo's The True Story of the Labyrinth. And Monica de la Torre's "Doubles" has the author-also the translator-wondering just how many of her there might be. Elsewhere, anthropologist, linguist, and Hispanophile Liza Bakewell considers patriarchy, matriarchy, and the culture of cursing, and an interview with


Eloy Urroz provides a context for his own and his compatriots' work. We are in national debt to the brilliance and generosity of guest editor Francisco Goldman, who has convened these writers in one of our best issues yet.

Editor’s Note
Invited to guest edit an anthology of Mexican fiction, initial enthusiasm soon gave way to ennui: twelve or so spots to fill, and twenty-five or so obligatory and obvious names comprised my first list.…
By Mónica de la Torre
From: mcorreche@tuberí To: Undisclosed recipients Subject: abandonedI am looking for Mónica de la Torre, my biological mother. She traveled from Argentina to Barcelona with my father in 1975.…
Translated from Spanish by the author
from “The True Story of the Labyrinth”
By Gabriela Vallejo
One “Early in the morning, when the sun begins to reveal the objects around us, for me it will be late: another day to fill me with fear,” Clara confessed to herself as she looked at her reflection…
Translated from Spanish by Marina Harss
Escape from Disney World
After having spent his childhood doing comic strips and his youth doing animated cartoons, Mickey Mouse finally discovered his true vocation as a corporate insignia. In heraldic times, only mythological…
Translated from Spanish
from “The Black Minutes”
By Martín Solares
Up until now, the most important nightmare I've had in my life I had when I was traveling by bus on a highway lined by pines. I haven't been able to decipher its meaning, at least, not entirely.…
Translated from Spanish by Francisco Goldman & Aura Estrada
On the Death of the Author
By Álvaro Enrigue
Written on my soul is your face And when I write about you it is you that I desire -Garcilaso de la Vega There are stories that seem impossible to tell. It must be at least ten years since I traveled…
Translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner
The Headhunter
By Antonio Ortuño
The Future had reacted to Garza’s victory with disbelief and resignation. The editorial page during the weeks following his inauguration was devoted to voicing outrage over the series of illegal…
Translated from Spanish by T.G. Huntington
Vladimiro the Arab
By Guillermo Fadanelli
Vladimiro Pérez isn't exactly an expert on the Islamic world, though he likes to think of himself as one. Sedentary by nature, a man without great ambitions, he has lived for many years with…
Translated from Spanish by Marina Harss
from “REX”
By José Manuel Prieto
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Jose Manuel Prieto’s Rex is a novel like none other. Its epigraph, from Bishop Berkeley, “Things are what they appear to be,” is the first of many indications…
Translated from Spanish by Esther Allen
My Grandfather
By Vitaliano Brancati
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Sicily has been to Italian what Ireland has been to English. The Mediterranean’s largest island, with a population of around five million people, it has produced over the…
Translated from Italian by Gregory Conti
from “The Perfect Novel”
By Carmen Boullosa
Chapter FiveWe were working on “recording” the following scenes from my novel: the Sunday lunch in the garden at Manuel’s house, where the two families part amicably, mothers and aunts…
Translated from Spanish by Samantha Schnee
from “The Death of the Philosopher”
By Vicente Herrasti
TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: In 1996, a group of young Mexican writers published a manifesto about a new wave of Mexican writing in reaction to the Latin American Boom. They called themselves the Crack Generation.…
Translated from Spanish by Sylvia Sasson Shorris
The Toughest Guy in Utouf
By Naguib Mahfouz
As evening fell, Boss Bayumi al-Fawwal left the Husseiniya Police Station clutching a “caution against vagrancy,” his chest about to explode with exasperation and rage. He frothed and foamed…
Translated from Arabic by Raymond Stock
Three abandoned Happy Meal containers from McDonald's
Photo by Meghan Hessler on Unsplash.
A Failed Journey
By Aura Estrada
They warned her that one more offense against good behavior and the promised trip to the promised land (the United States) would be cancelled . . .
Translated from Spanish by Mónica de la Torre
For years my grandfather treated his cataracts with Cineraria maritime, a therapy recommended by his friend Chiunti, el Licenciado. I don't know what cineraria is-most likely a plant. I admire, however,…
Translated from Spanish
Wounds and Contusions
By Mario Benedetti
Daydreaming“See, that’s why I don’t want you to come by yourself.”“What did I do?”“Don’t make believe you don’t know.”“But, what did I…
Translated from Spanish by Harry Morales
My Madre, Pure as Cumulus Clouds
By Liza Bakewell
In this essay, Liza Bakewell tries to figure out what the word madre, or mother, really means in Mexican culture. She looks, in particular, at mentadas de madre, or insults about mothers.