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Beyond Urban Legends: Contemporary Fabulism

June 2006

Some may consign fables and folklore to ages past, but these versatile forms still have magical attraction for great writers around the world. Carmen Boullosa portrays a masterly Spanish artist who conjures the world with his brush in Lepanto’s Other Hand. In Costa Rican Jacques Sagot’s “Enigma of Ursa Major,” an astronomer trains his lens on the dazzling heart of reality. Bitite Vinklers’s translations of Latvian folksongs make maps of the heavens. Pierre Michon’s “Sorrow of Columbkill” converts a warrior to a monk while his “The Madness of Suibhne” transforms a madman to a beast of prey. The underwater realm of Francisco Mendez’s “Water Cathedral” becomes a metaphysical temple where children are baptized into wonder and death. And Luminita Cioaba’s two cautionary tales, “Queen of the Night and Stone Flower” and “Birch Grove” impart traditional Roma knowledge. And if your taste in fables runs more toward sports legends, join us as we tune in to the World Cup with Alvaro Enrigue’s “Readymade.”

From “Lepanto’s Other Hand”
By Carmen Boullosa
But his canvases were irresistible, hypnotic, and no sooner did his greatest critics lay eyes on them than they rushed to have their own portraits executed by that magical hand.
Translated from Spanish by Samantha Schnee
The Enigma of Ursa Major
By Jacques Sagot
The astronomer had been promised immortal glory if he could complete this assignment.
Translated from Spanish
The Sorrow of Columbkill
By Pierre Michon
It was the first psalter he had held between his hands, possibly the only one that existed in Ireland. He hears the sea crash below with all its might. He loses himself in the text.
Translated from French by Robert Bononno
I Found a White Bean
By Anonymous
I found a white bean: where did I plant it?
Translated from Latvian by Bitite Vinklers
I Had a Brindled Cow
By Anonymous
What became of the brindled cow? I traded her for money.
Translated from Latvian by Bitite Vinklers
The Madness of Suibhne
By Pierre Michon
In the month of May Suibhne took up arms against this neighboring king. The reason mattered little.
Translated from French by Robert Bononno
The Water Cathedral
By Francisco Méndez
I will never forget how Sebastián was dressed one morning, the first time he told us about the Water Cathedral.
Translated from Spanish by Kristin Bengtson Mendoza
Queen of the Night and Stone Flower
By Luminita Mihai Cioaba
The eyes of the Roma know exactly when the earth’s heart begins to stir deep down at spring’s root, reviving the shoots of grass and the buds of trees until the green sap bursts with love before the Sun’s eyes.
Translated from Romany by Adam J. Sorkin & Cristina Cirstea
The Birch Grove
By Luminita Mihai Cioaba
Then, without ever knowing why, trees raise their naked arms to the King of the Sky.
Translated from Romany by Adam J. Sorkin & Cristina Cirstea
By Álvaro Enrigue
He was apt to score unbelievable goals whenever he could keep his balance on the field, something that didn’t always happen: occasionally he fell over while fighting for the ball and couldn’t get back up again because he was too drunk.
Translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner