cover image LATIN AMERICAN WRITERS AT WORK: The Paris Review


Paris Review, . . Modern Library, $13.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-679-77349-8

Fearful that he had lost some of his mental acuity after a serious accident mid-way through his literary career, Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, who until that point was known as a poet and essayist, tried a new genre—short story writing—to avert possible failure in those in which he had already demonstrated his deftness. The sharp-witted Borges, who won the Nobel Prize on the strength of his stories, is just one of 11 writers featured in this absorbing collection of interviews with 20th-century writers (about half of whom are deceased), the fourth book in the Writers at Work series. Masterfully introduced by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, the interviews offer an incisive look into the politics of Pablo Neruda, the nostalgia of Octavio Paz, the morbidity of a young Luisa Valenzuela and the linguistic contortionism of Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Replete with jottings from personal notebooks and manuscript pages, the collection features Julio Cortázar's musings on the diminishing gap between "what we call the fantastic and what we call the real." Gabriel García Márquez laments the destructive potential of fame and the irresponsibility and ignorance of the literary critic. From the transcribed daydreams of Mario Vargas Llosa to Manuel Puig's rigid adherence to routine, the creative impulses of the writers featured range from the sublime to the mundane. Author Silvana Paternostro, who completed a journalism course in Cartagena under the tutelage of García Márquez, did not record an interview with "Gabo" in the traditional sense, but instead seems to have followed his advice to put away the tape recorder, have a long conversation and later reminisce about it, writing it down as an impression instead of as a series of questions and answers. While the book is a remarkable chronicle of Latin American life and writing, it serves primarily as a glimpse into the inner workings of some of the sharpest literary minds of the past 50 years. (On sale Mar. 18)