Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Drifting" by Horacio Quiroga (1912).

The First South American Master of the Short Story- The Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon Basin 

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article on him HERE that details his numerous romances.   

Quiroga is as death obsessed a writer as you are likely to find.  Roberto Bolano greatly admired his work.  "Drifting" is a painfully vivid account of what it was like to die from snake bite in the Amazon basin in 1910, hours from any medical care.  Quiroga's description of the impact of the bite is really brilliant.  It hurt to see the victim's leg swell up to double size.   The man perceived his only hope for surviving was by taking a five hour canoe ride to the nearest bigger town where medical help is available and where he has a friend.  The beauty of the river is almost that of an hallucination.  We see the man become increasingly unable to tell reality from his snake vermin induced perceptions.  The riverine journey becomes a passage to another world.   I don't know what dying from a snake bite feels like but now I can imagine it.

This story was translated by Margaret Pedar.

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