Archive for October, 2005

Portbou (Catalunya, Spain) and Walter Benjamin

Portbou (Girona/Gerona province, Catalunya/Cataluña/Catalonia) is the first place travellers arriving from France reach after crossing the border with Spain. It has not only a beautiful natural setting but a rich and dense history of border crossings both ways, by such figures as George Orwell, Alejo Carpentier, and, above all, Walter Benjamin, who breathed his last in Portbou in tragic circumstances in 1940. ** I have published an article about Benjamin and Portbou: ‘Border Crossing, Resting Place: Portbou and Walter Benjamin’, Lingua Franca (Brussels), Vol. 5, No. 8, 2002, pp. 4-9; on-line at:

Here is a brief extract from that text: ** ‘On the afternoon of 25 September 1940, a group of three clandestine travellers arrived in Portbou, exhausted after a harrowing trek across the Pyrenees from Banyuls-sur-Mer in France (15 km distant as the crow flies). One of them was a stateless German Jew, who carried on his person a provisional American passport issued by the US Foreign Service in Marseille, stamped with a Spanish transit visa, also issued in Marseille and good for the land journey to Portugal. A fugitive from the Vichy regime, he now aimed to reach the safety of the US via Lisbon. He had once visited Ibiza, but spoke no Spanish, although he had an excellent command of French. The Spanish frontier guards accosted the group and demanded their documents. They told the bearer of the US passport that he could go no further: his presence on Spanish territory was illegal because he had no French exit visa. However, in view of the traveller’s evident ill-health, the police agreed to postpone expelling him back to Pétain’s France until the next day. Impelled, perhaps, by inexplicable generosity or covert republican sympathies, they allowed him to spend the night, not in a police cell but in the less undignified surroundings of a cheap room in the Hotel de Francia – at No 5 in Avenida del General Mola, a street in the town centre near the police station, recently renamed after a Francoist commander. At 10 p.m. the next day, in Room No 4 on the hotel’s second floor, the traveller was found dead. The stateless refugee whose life ended in Portbou on 26 September 1940 was Walter Benjamin, now recognised as one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century (…)’ ** These photographs complement my article. From left to right you can see:  1. The cemetery, with marble slab in memory of Benjamin;  2. The Casa Alejandro, formerly the Hotel de Francia, where Benjamin died (in the second-floor room with the balcony). 3. View of Portbou;. 4. The Benjamin monument by Dani Karavan, 5. The Benjamin museum.  ** The words on the memorial slab read: in German, ‘Es ist niemals ein Dokument der Kultur, ohne zugleich ein solches der Barbarei zu sein’, and then in Catalan: ‘No hi ha cap document de la cultura que non ho sigui també de la barbàrie’ (‘There is no document of civilisation which is not at the same time a document of barbarism’).




The French translation of Salman Rushdie’s new novel, SHALIMAR THE
CLOWN, is already out and in the shops. Details are: SHALIMAR LE CLOWN,
Paris: Plon, 2005, translated by ‘Claro’. The translator thus appears
under an alias and leaves no other details as to his/her name and
background: I make no comment. There is no introduction or glossary.
This translation is out remarkably fast, but it appears that this is
generally the case for Rushdie.

This blog will be keeping an eye on translations of literary works,
especially though not only of Indian Writing in English, and I will
welcome any relevant information anyone wishes to send me. It is
unlikely I would actually read the translations into any language
othert than Spanish, but all relevant data will be grist to my
globalised mill …

Dora Sales Salvador, ‘PUENTES SOBRE EL MUNDO’: recepción + bibliotecas

En esta bitácora (27 de septiembre de 05) encontraréis una versión abreviada de mi reseña de PUENTES SOBRE EL MUNDO, estudio critico de la autoría de Dora Sales Salvador. Ahora he descubierto que este libro figuraba, para este curso 05-06, en la bibliografía crítica básica de la asignatura TEXTOS HISPANOAMERICANOS (programa que incluye el estudio de LOS RÍOS PROFUNDOS de José María Arguedas, texto analizado en el libro de Dora Sales), de la licenciatura en Filología Española de la Universidad de La Laguna (Islas Canarias). Esto se debe a la profesora responsable de la asignatura, Petra Iraides Cruz-Leal, experta en literaturas hispanoamericanas, a quien, efectivamente, yo había enviado el texto de la reseña. 


Añado que, según lo que he podido verificar por la Red, el mismo libro PUENTES SOBRE EL MUNDO se encuentra ya en las bibliotecas universitarias de NAVARRA y SALAMANCA (Estado español), AMBERES y GANTE (Bélgica), EDIMBURGO (Escocia), MANNHEIM y VECHTA (Alemania), MONTREAL (Canada), ILLINOIS at CHAMPAIGN (EE UU), y KINUGASA, Kyoto (Japon),y también en las del Consejo Superior de Investigación Científica (Madrid), del Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation (Amsterdam) y del Instituto Iberoamericano de Berlín.

Esta noticia fue actualizada el 7-2-07.

Vikram Chandra – upcoming novel: Bombay mafia theme, 1225 pages and US$ 1.3 m advance

I have just found great news (see links below) about Vikram Chandra’s forthcoming novel. This book, his third, is still untitled but will be published by Harper Collins (US/Canada) and Faber and Faber (UK). It is about the Bombay (or Mumbai) mafia, and at 1225 pages will be one of the longest novels published in recent years. Vikram will receive a US$ 1.3 m advance for the combined US and UK rights, after a bidding war between 6 publishers. The Indian publisher is not yet known.

Vikram’s previous books are the superb novel ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’ and the impressive volume of stories ‘Love and Longing in Bombay’. I have had the privilege of meeting him, at a conference in Bologna in 2000. It is a great pleasure to know both Vikram and his Spanish translator and critic, Dora Sales Salvador. Dora’s book on Vikram, based on her Ph.D. thesis, is reviewed elsewhere in this blog (28 Sept 05). Here too on the blog you can find a piece on the paper I gave at in Lisbon in 2004 on Dora’s translation of Vikram (27 Sept 05). At Vkram’s site – – you can find, in the bibliography, 13 entries under Dora’s name and seven under my own. Vikram currently teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley.
Site:, 5 Oct 05**
Site: Mumbai Newsline – 30 Sept 05**
‘Million dollar Baby: Author Vikram Chandra joins the fancy-advance club ‘
From New Kerala:
‘Stated to be on the lines of the hugely popular ”The Godfather” and a Victorian Gothic work, Vikram Chandra’s latest novel is considered to be a major work of literature.’ **
‘Vikram Chandra worked seven years on his current novel, which portrays crime in Mumbai and takes on ”religion, politics, money, corruption, idealism, family, loyalty, and betrayal," according to a HarperCollins statement released on Monday.’
From Mumbai Newsline:
‘The Commonwealth Prize-winner’s new novel—his third book—has earned a million-dollar advance, putting him in an exclusive club of Indian authors that includes Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy. ‘**
‘Though the novel is set in Mumbai, it moves to north India, Bihar and south-east Asia, to countries like Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, “like modern organised crime”’ ‘While publishers usually shy away from large-size books, Chandra’s was fought for by three top publishing houses. “I was a bit curious about that. When I started writing it, I thought it would be shorter. It’s long but it doesn’t feel that long, it moves fairly well. There are a couple of questions that dominate the book that keep the reader going.” ‘


For the full text of this review, see:
or, in Italian:
Edgar Allan Poe, after whom a street is named in Bologna, wrote an essay on ‘The Philosophy of Composition’, and José Saramago has very recently named his latest novel Essay on Lucidity. If in the world of letters composition can have its philosophy and lucidity can be the subject of a novelistic essay, solitude too can have its logic, and thus La Logica della Solitudine emerges as the title of the debut novel by Rosarita Cuccoli, a native of Bologna who has already published L’Amore Più Profondo, a volume of poems which appeared in 1998, also under the Pendragon imprint and with a preface by Vincenzo Bagnoli. Certainly, in this new book of the author’s we are dealing not with an essay but with a novel, but by the end of this finely sensitive narrative the reader may yet wish to extrapolate some conclusions – none too comforting – about human relations and the solitude they paradoxically generate. ** The narrative follows the time-honoured path of the star-crossed, man-woman love story, suitably updated for the age of the Internet. It is told throughout in the third person, obeying the general conventions of classical realism and with the events seen entirely from the viewpoint of the female protagonist, Anna. An Italian student in Cambridge, Anna falls in and out of love with Marco, a co-national also studying there, but Marco fails at all moments to show the commitment which Anna from her side both offers and demands. The narrative traces Anna’s passion and disillusion in linear fashion and in the past tense, with interpolations in the form of letters and e-mails. **
** My review was originally offered as a speech (in Italian) at the official presentation of Rosarita’s novel at the Pendragon bookshop, Bologna, in September 2004.
** ROSARITA CUCCOLI’s site is at: ** Below you can see some photos from the presentation, including Rosarita and myself (the photo of me is by Rosarita); one of Bologna’s finest monuments, the Abbazia di Santo Stefano, and one from Cambridge – Trinity College Library; plus an image of ‘La Logica della Solitudine’ itself.

Chambéry (Savoie), Benoît de Boigne and India

These photographs are of Chambéry in Savoie, France. They are all connected with one of that city’s most distinguished sons, Benoît de Boigne, the ‘Nabob from Savoy’: adventurer and mercenary in India, general to a maharajah, protector of the Taj Mahal, benefactor and, on his return home, rebuilder of his Savoyard birthplace. De Boigne is a character in Vikram Chandra’s remarkable novel ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’. They complement my article:


From Savoy to Agra: The Cross-cultural Narrative of Benôit de Boigne", Pegasus (Agra), Vol. VI, January-December 2007, pp. 57-66 and:


In the photos you can see: de Boigne’s château in the shadow of the Alps (Château de Buisson-Rond); his tomb in a local church (Eglise de Lémenc); his town house in central Chambéry; and the Fountain of the Elephants, Chambéry’s best-known landmark and the city’s monument to its benefactor.

India 2002 – Hyderabad: Laad Bazaar

Here is another set of photos from my visit of 2002 to Andhra Pradesh (India), where I had the pleasure of lecturing at Kakatiya University (Warangal) and CIEFL (Hyderabad).  Here are some pictures of old Hyderabad. You can see one view of the Char Minar gate. and four of Laad Bazaar.

My diary from the journey is at: