How to describe this incredible literary masterpiece. A lyrical elegy of tempo rubato.
A Symphony of Reluctant Grief
A divorced woman, Nora Garcia (a cellist), returns for her deceased ex-husband Juan’s, (a pianist and composer) funeral; back to a Mexican village from her past, through the art and music they played and navigated together.
A lyrical and rhythmic form of elegy that, rather than speak about the person who has passed, we experience something of a past version of that person; they are almost present, seen through the distorted lens of a reluctant, grieving ex. We can almost hear his continuous and relentless explanations to his often-time audience of one.
It felt like listening to a symphony in words, as like with music, thoughts and conversations repeat with slight changes over time.
Revelatory thoughts of the woman who knew a man best, observing the body, imagining the isolation and neglect of a heart, that brought this death about. The incantation going into detail of the functions and dysfunctions of the heart, both as the pump that irrigates the body and the metaphor for feelings of love and neglect.
The heart has impulses that reason doesn’t know.
A Different Kind of Garden Party
The novel is set in the present, on the afternoon that the body is displayed in the coffin in a room, and our narrator is a guest like many others, who aren’t sure to whom, they ought to offer condolences. She overhears snippets of conversations, adding to the cacophony of her own reflections.
Its not like death goes around whispering in our ear, though, does it? It just arrives, suddenly, when we least expect it. Silence falls and I move away – he’s right, I think, death doesn’t whisper in our ear, it just arrives, alone, without warning us in advance. I don’t care how simple dying or anything else is for that matter, even if it was that simplicity that made his heart explode, made it shatter into pieces (mine too), yes, life, the absurd wound that is life, yes, it’s true, the heart is only a muscle that irrigates the body, keeping it alive, a muscle that one day fails us.
Bach, Beethoven, Gould & Open Heart Surgery
Scenes and topics of conversation from the past circulate through her mind as she observes all around her. Much of it is about music, about their preferences, their differences told through how revered pianists played the music of Bach, Beethoven and more.
In her grief, she writes intense descriptions of a person talking to her, observing visual elements, lips moving, facial gestures, drifting off and away, out of her own body, hearing nothing of the tedious chatter. Her thoughts range from music, pianists, the genius castrati voices of eighteenth century Italian opera, to the intricacies and origins of open-heart surgery.
Grief arrives unbidden, tears overflow, the intellect refuses it, reprimands her, convinces her she doesn’t care. The body does not comply. She recalls evenings spent listening to great pianists, their heated arguments, wondering if it was due to their diametrically opposed ways of seeing the world.
Though I don’t profess to know too much about the world of classical music or the work of all the names mentioned – the way Glantz takes the reader on a voyage through these subjects, venturing into them in depth, returning again in brief, then jumping into subjects of the heart – was compelling to read, in a mesmerising way.
Her reassessing of her relationship, observing the many people come to farewell the man she doesn’t know whether she loved or despised, while in the throe of grief, bewilderment and loss, showing us how lives intersect and continue to have a presence in the mind of another, long after separation.
“Life is an absurd wound: I think I deserve to be given condolences.”
Margot Glantz, Author (1930- )
Margo Glantz fused Yiddish literature, Mexican culture, and French tradition to create experimental new works of literature.
A prolific essayist, she is best known for her 1987 autobiography Las genealogías (The Family Tree), which blended her experiences of growing up Jewish in Catholic Mexico with her parents’ immigrant experiences. She also wrote fiction and nonfiction that shed new light on the seventeenth-century nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Among her many honors, she won the Magda Donato Prize for Las genealogías and received a Rockefeller Grant (1996) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1998).
Glantz demonstrates tremendous versatility as an individual and as a writer in the creative ways in which she blends her multiple cultural, religious and literary affinities. She unabashedly resists classification or categorisation of any kind and therefore identifies herself neither as a Jewish writer nor as a composer of personal narrative, nor as a Sor Juanista, the term used to refer to those scholars who devote themselves to the study of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Belonging to no single one of these groups or schools of thought, she is an enigmatic amalgam of all of them. Glantz’s multiplicity is what makes her unique, and failure to recognize any component of her being would diminish her diversity.
Despite being one of the most iconic figures in Latin American literature, her work is hardly known in English. Charco Press now bring her work to a new audience with this excellent translation by Ellen Jones.