I don’t review a lot of anthologies on this site, but when one like A Thousand Forests in One Acorn (2014; excerpts translated from the Spanish by many (see below)) comes around, I really cannot wait to introduce others to it. Subtitled An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction, this 715-page book is the product of four years of work, particularly on the part of its editor, Valerie Miles. Time well spent, I say.
In her prologue, Miles tells of going to a local library with her mother some years ago. There she found “an extraordinary piece of literary history”: Whit Burnett’s 1942 anthology This Is My Best: Over 150 Self-Chosen and Complete Masterpieces, Together with Their Reasons for Their Selection, featuring work by William Faulkner, Pearl Buck, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, among many others. In this book, these writers selected their favorite pieces of their own writing and explained why they felt that way. Miles carried this valuable resource and piece of history around for years, many of which have been spent in Spain experiencing and promoting Spanish-language fiction. One day, she decided to take the premise of This Is My Best and apply it to her beloved corner of the literary world.
Not quite as ambitious as the English-language predecessor, A Thousand Forests in One Acorn highlights 28 authors (and Miles notes that readers should not consider this a canon, “not even a personal one,” as several authors, for several reasons, were unable to participate). I’m thrilled with what we do have here, especially since many of the authors are relatively unknown in the English-speaking world — some have not even been translated before! There are a lot of new perspectives to explore here.
The book is set up in this way.
First, Miles has written a biographical preface to each authors section (beginning with the oldest author in the group and going to the youngest — I’ll list them all below).
Second, each author answers questions based on three different themes: “The Torture of Doctor Johnson,” in which the author is asked what his or her selected piece is and why they chose it; “In Conversation with the Dead,” in which the author discusses influences and traditions and friends that have affected their work; then “Coda” digs into some of the authors’ peculiarities, which are not always limited to their literary work but can, for example, move to their political careers, as with Mario Vargas Llosa.
Third, we get the selection, often an excerpt (or two — or four) from one of the author’s novels. While excerpts often annoy me, here they served their purpose, allowing the author to examine what they consider to be the best few pages of their work.
Lastly, each section ends with a list of the author’s work in Spanish, a list of their English translations (as I mentioned above, often few, as in the case of Alfredo Bryce Echenique, who has been publishing regularly since 1968 and yet has only two English translations to his name, and sometimes nonexistent, as is the case with Cristina Fernández Cubas, who has been publishing regularly since 1980), and a list of awards and recognitions.
It’s a great book, one I’ve been carrying around for a few months, now, and that I’ve loved diving into.
Here are the authors featured:
- Aurora Venturina (Argentina, 1922)
- Ramiro Pinilla (Spain, 1923)
- Ana María Matute (Spain, 1926)
- Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio (Spain, 1927)
- Carlos Fuentes (Mexico, 1928)
- Jorge Edwards (Chile, 1931)
- Juan Goytisolo (Spain, 1931)
- Juan Marsé (Spain, 1933)
- Sergio Pitol (Mexico, 1933)
- José de la Colina (Spain, 1934)
- Esther Tusquets (Barcelona, 1936)
- Hebe Uhart (Argentina, 1936)
- Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru, 1936)
- Alfredo Bryce Echenique (Peru, 1939)
- Edgardo Cozarinsky (Argentina, 1939)
- José María Merino (Spain, 1941)
- Ricardo Piglia (Argentina, 1941)
- Eduardo Mendoza (Spain, 1943)
- Cristina Fernández Cubas (Spain, 1945)
- Elvio Gandolfo (Argentina, 1947)
- Enrique Vila-Matas (Spain, 1948)
- Rafael Chirbes (Spain, 1949)
- Alberto Ruy Sánchez (Mexico, 1951)
- Javier Marías (Spain, 1951)
- Abilio Estévez (Cuba, 1954)
- Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain, 1956)
- Horacio Castellanos Moya (El Salvador, 1957)
- Evelio Rosero (Colombia, 1958)
And here are the talented translators:
- Steve Dolph
- Emily Davis
- Lisa Boscov-Ellen
- Will Vanderhyden
- Margaret Sayers Peden
- Andrew Hurley
- Peter Bush
- Margaret Jull Costa
- Natasha Wimmer
- Edith Grossman
- Dick Gerdes
- Heather Cleary
- José María Merino
- Sergio Waisman
- Alfred Mac Adam
- Valerie Miles
- Mark Schafer
- Esther Allen
- Katherine Silver