Small Stations Fiction

A young woman, who has left Galicia to go and study marine biology in Mexico (Baja California), is recalled to Galicia when it is found out that her mother is very sick. Her aunt would like her to sign some papers agreeing to take over the family business and renouncing her Mexican studies and emotional ties that she has forged in her new life. However, returning to Galicia and renewing her family ties is not exactly what the woman wants. Her mother has shut herself in her room for the last year, and relations between them have always been strained. She received more affection from a nanny, Felisa, and better advice from her uncle, Cándido. There is also an older brother, Ramón, a larger-than-life figure who has left an indelible mark in the lives of those around him, and an absent father. Will the woman’s visit to see her sick mother turn out to be permanent, and will it soothe any of the festering wounds in her psyche, wounds that she has buried beneath her marine studies and a relationship with her one-time tutor? That’s How Whales Are Born is a return to our origins, a search into the usefulness of stirring up past memories and seeking reconciliation.

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, The Book of Imaginary Journeys by Xabier P. DoCampo follows in the tradition of great travel literature that began with Homer’s Odyssey. It purports to be the transcription of two travel journals written by a certain X.B.R., in which the Traveller gives as objective a description as he can of the cities and kingdoms he visits. So it is he comes to a city you can only visit for three days or where you cannot fall asleep, a city balanced on the fine point of a diamond or rotating on a water wheel, a city whose inhabitants are all tree-dwelling women or descended from birds, a city where the tombstones are inscribed not with the names of the deceased but with the titles of their favourite books, a city where money is only valid for a year, where none of its inhabitants can go fishing because all the rods have been turned into soldiers’ lances, whose ministers are made to wear nooses as a warning to stay clean… The Traveller records songs, proverbs and remedies he hears along the way and describes some of the people he meets – a woman who conducts imaginary orchestras, a man who loves the earth so much he would like to plough it with a pair of unicorns, another searching for a treasure guarded by seven keys… Like translation, travel is a return to the source, the point of departure. What the Traveller takes away from the experience is what he has learned.

In An Animal Called Mist, a book of six short stories, the Galician author Ledicia Costas (Winner of the 2015 Spanish National Book Award) walks the tightrope between fiction and reality in a superb and sometimes shocking narrative. She bases herself on real events in and after the Second World War – the Siege of Leningrad, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the interrogation of Italian partisans by the Banda Koch, the sexual exploitation of women internees in Nazi concentration camps, the trials of high-ranking Nazi officials – and then recreates them, changing and inventing biographical details, giving free rein to her writer’s imagination in order to produce a sequence of stories that look not so much at historical fact as at the essence of barbarism, the capacity of the human mind to conceive ways of torturing and tormenting fellow human beings. This is not a historical account of the Second World War – for that, the reader should consult works of history – but a book of fiction that focuses on the shadow projected by the events, their essence, the granulated content of their darkness. Ledicia Costas is one of Galicia’s best-known writers who, in the tradition of writers such as Manuel Rivas and Agustín Fernández Paz, magnifies the voice of the persecuted in her narrative. An Animal Called Mist won the Losada Diéguez Prize for Literary Creation in 2016.

Fools for Christ are men and women who live outside the social norms, whose behavior is considered shocking or unusual. But in a time of dictatorship, when these stories were first published, “foolish” behavior can be a form of protest. So, a child who is unable to access the forbidden fruits of a pastry shop, out of protest, refuses to eat the chickpeas that are offered to him; another child, who cannot pay for a ride on the merry-go-round, slips under the tarpaulin when the ride is not working and creates his own ride out of his own fantasy. A fat child, who is bullied and made fun of by the town’s more respectable children, makes friends with a paschal lamb, which then, to his shock and horror, is served up for dinner. Another boy takes to setting the corner of a whitewashed house on fire with his coloring pencils. It is the children who throw away their toys or who torture animals that are somehow considered normal. The Foolish Children contains twenty-one micro-fiction stories by Ana María Matute in Spanish and in English translation. The original was first published in Spain during Franco’s dictatorship. It was rated by the Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela as “the most important work written in Spanish by a woman since the Countess Emilia Pardo Bazán.” Ana María Matute, along with Camilo José Cela and Miguel Delibes, is widely considered one of Spain’s most distinguished writers of fiction in the twentieth century. She was awarded the National Prize for Literature twice and, in 2010, received the Spanish-speaking world’s most prestigious literary award, the Cervantes.

‘Possibly the most impressive novel ever written in the Galician language’. With these words, the eminent critic Basilio Losada describes Suso de Toro’s novel Tick-Tock in a letter to the author. Suso de Toro is alternative in everything he does, he rearranges the boundaries, surprises the reader, does the unexpected, persons, tenses change, and what could be construed as an atheistic, chaotic novel acquires hints of religiosity. Nano, the narrator, is a man of uncertain age who has never made it in the world, but who likes to hold forth all the same, to fill notebooks with his thoughts on fishing in the Gran Sol, on controlling his libido, on inventing machines that serve no purpose. The novel centres on his experiences, and on the lives of those around him: his mother, his father and half-brother, the people who occupy the building where his mother cleans. Tick-Tock, a sequel to Polaroid, received the Spanish Critics’ Prize for its unconventionality and narrative expertise, and is the author’s most popular work.

In this collection of sixteen short stories by the Galician writer Miguel-Anxo Murado, the reader is taken on a journey through the various rites of passage that make up an individual’s life, from the months-old baby who lives in the eternal moment of Nothingness and quickly forgets an argument with his elder brother to the university professor who visits a colleague in Kyoto to see the cherry blossom and before the symbols of impermanence is forced to confront his own terminal illness. Children and adults alike endure extreme situations, from a child who is bullied at school to the Chinese women workers who stay up all night to prepare a handmade suit for the morning. Sailors are rescued at sea; others are cast adrift when their ship sinks, at the mercy of the current. A young man is brought face to face with his late father when surrounded by a mountain blaze; a young girl endeavors to learn the secrets to her sister’s radiant beauty. Two boys fall for the same girl; one tries to curry favor with the members of his gang in a story reminiscent of Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry, while another searches for the strength inside. All are caught in unexpected situations, elegantly and expertly described, and handed the task of how to react in a book that celebrates the human spirit across barriers of time and language.

Sam is a drug addict with a sense of humour. One particular escapade lands him in hospital, where he makes friends with the old man in the adjoining bed and becomes progressively enamoured of the nurse Miss Cowbutt’s unsung qualities. In an attempt to wean him off his drug habit, his elder brother, Nico, takes him to the village, Aita, where their grandmother lives, a world far removed from the distractions of modern life, in which even the silence seems animate. He meets up with Gaby the single mother and Dombodán the collector of discarded items. He also becomes acquainted with a slippery customer named ‘Sir’ who takes refuge in the radio set in the attic. A host of colourful characters – from Tip and Top to the ‘relentless lady’ – populate this tale, which pits a victim of zero expectations against the haunting traditions of the village.

Frank Soutelo is a down-at-heel private detective, the son of Galician immigrants, based in Los Angeles, California. He doesn’t get much choice in his assignments and has to take pretty much what’s on offer, so when he gets hired and paid an advance of twenty-five thousand dollars, he’s understandably pleased, and his secretary even more so. The unusual thing, however, is what he’s been asked to do: to recover the body of the actress Marilyn Monroe, which has reputedly gone missing from her grave in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Big Frank, as he is known, is about to get drawn into a world that is unfamiliar to him: a world of necrophiliacs, zealous watchmen, uniformed chauffeurs and high-class mansions. The question is will he be able to extricate himself from this situation with his dignity and heart in one piece?

Shakespearean drama set in a Galician context. There is something strikingly postmodern – or Elizabethan – about this novel, in which a man from Laracha, south-west of Coruña, on Galicia’s famed Coast of Death, is on the run for committing a multiple murder that shocks the local community and has the priest calling for the razing of the local slums. Chucho Monteiro, who has always been overlooked by his father in favor of his younger brother, Daniel, more pliable, less violent, heads to the port of Coruña in order to effect his escape on the first ship weighing anchor, a ship that will take him not to Stratford, but to Southampton and on. In a fascinating, multi-layered narrative, the author keeps the reader guessing about the murderer’s final destination until the very end. Narrative chronology is mixed up, and the veil between author and reader is torn in two, so that we’re not sure if we are witnesses or partakers of this narrative. Vicious (called Criminal in Galician) is Xurxo Borrazás’ second and best-known novel, and won him the Spanish Critics’ Prize as well as the San Clemente Prize awarded by high-school readers.

The death of a foreign cameraman outside Karlovac, the threat of Serbian snipers in Zagreb, a massacre of village peasants by guerrilla fighters, a young Croat who joins forces with a Serbian scrap merchant and is caught up in a confrontation with Gypsies competing for scrap metal left over by the war… The stories in Miguel-Anxo Murado’s Soundcheck: Tales from the Balkan Conflict focus on the hostilities between Croats and Serbs during the 1991 war in Croatia. Told with chilling brevity and disarming intensity, the stories bring to life a conflict the author himself covered as a foreign correspondent and are based on real-life events or conversations that took place during the war. Miguel-Anxo Murado, a regular contributor to The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers, is known for his fiction based on his experiences as a journalist in war-torn regions of the world, from the ex-Yugoslavia to the Middle East. Inspired by fleeting conversations or poignant scenes, he draws universal lessons about the nature and ultimate destiny of humankind.

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