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

Monday, July 27, 2015

"A Slap in the Face" by Horacio Quiroga (1916, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden)

Spanish Literature Month (now extended through September) is an annual event hosted by Richard of Caravana de Recverdos and Stu of Winstondad's Blog.  Any work originally in Spanish can be posted on for the event.  There are lots of suggestions and links to participant posts on the link above.

The First South American Master of the Short Story

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 HERE that details his numerous romances)

I have posted in the past on five of his short stories.  Probably the most convenient way to read his stories in English is in the two volumes of his short stories published by the University of Texas Press.

"A Slap in the Face" is set in a logging camp in the Amazon.  The workers travel by boat to the remote camps. They are not allowed any alcohol, especially their home brewed sugar based drink, as they lose control and can become violent.  The labor bosses pay for their passage and pay them for their two months work at the end of the period.  They transport them home and most workers spend all their money in a few days drinking and whoring.  Or their wives take all their money.  The cycle begins and they soon are back on the boat to the camp.  One of the workers on the boat is returning from a camp where the owner had banned him for drunkeness.

The bosses are very abusuve, seeing the Indian workers as little more than slaves and use a whip on slackers.  The banned worker  dares to speak back when he is cursed at as a lazy stupid drunken Indian.  The foreman slaps him in the face.  The man raises his machete to his boss who then points his pistol at him.  The worker uses his machete to take the gun out of the bosses hand, taking some of his fingers at the same time.  A life time of suppressing rage overwhelmes the worker.  He grabs the whip and begins to beat his oppressor.  

The descriptions of the beatings are very graphic.  The worker places the boss on a raft.  He whips him  repeatedly, stripping his clothes and skin and leaving a bloody mess.  He then launches the raft on a course headed for a fall, with the unconscious foreman headed for sure death.  The worker laughed and says he has been slapped for the last time. 

I will leave the close untold.

"A Slap in the Face" was an expose of the abuses heaped on Indian loggers.  

I hope to read more of the short stories of Horacio Quiroga soon.  

Spanish literature month has been extended through September so maybe I can post again.

Mel u

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