Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 29 (Carlos Fuentes)

Fuentes, Carlos
La Muerte de Artemio Cruz

Purchased at Rust Belt Books in the summer of 2008, which, some of you may recall, was the Summer of Reading in Spanish. The summer of reading in Spanish has now lasted two years, but who's counting?

I think this was the second novel I read that summer, during which I spent a month alone at my mother's house in Sarasota, FL in order to get some solitude and time time to write. The first book I read in Spanish was Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, this in anticipation of her visit the following spring.

I recall struggling with this book for a time. Fuentes' vocabulary is impressive and he has no qualms about putting it to use in his fiction. I spent much of the first 100 pages looking up every third or fourth word. At some point, I just stopped looking them up and started to read the book, an act which was essentially the moment I learned that reading in another language is the same as reading in one's own. You just have to figure it out as you go.

Nonetheless, it took me nearly a month to read this pocket-sized, 300-page book, despite the fact that I had nothing to do but read, write and watch movies.

There's a tremendous chapter in the book in which he examines the use of the verb "chingar," which is Mexican slang meaning "to screw" or "to fuck." It's one of my favorite passages in all of Spanish language literature (and probably one of the most famous of the "boom" generation of Latin American Writers).

In the passage he says that "chingar" is the Mexican national word and then goes on to examine it in its many forms. It is used in ways that are about as versatile as Americans use the word "fuck," but because it is a verb, it's deployment in Spanish is a bit richer than "fuck" is in English.

I don't think it translates very well, so I'll just give you a little taste in Spanish.

From La Muerte de Artemio Cruz

Tú la pronunciarás: es tu palabra: y tu palabra es la mía; palabra de honor: palabra de hombre: palabra de rueda: palabra de molino: imprecación, propósito saludo, proyecto de vida, filiación, recuerdo, voz de los desesperados, liberación de los pobres, orden de los poderosos, invitación a la riña y al trabajo, epígrafe del amor, signo del nacimiento, amenaza y burla, verbo testigo, compañero de la fiesta y de la borrachera, espada del valor, trono de la fuerza, colmillo de la marrullería, blasón de la raza, salvavidas de los límites, resumen de la historia: santo y seña de México: tu palabra.
–Chingue a su madre
–Hijo de la chingada
–Aquí estamos los meros chingones
–Déjate de chingaderas
–Ahoritita me lo chingo
–Andale chingaquedito
–No te dejes chingar
–Me chingué a esa vieja
–Chinga tú
–Chingue usted
–Chinga bien, sin ver quien

...and so on. The whole chapter is devoted to 'chingar' and it is worth learning spanish just to read it!

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