In her new book The Gods of Tango, bestselling author Carolina de Robertis weaves together a story addressing the issues of race, class, immigration, and sexuality as beautifully as the tango weaves together the music of Argentina’s many immigrant communities. In language musical and brutal by turns, de Robertis tells the story of Leda, a young Italian immigrant who passes as a man in order to pursue her dream of becoming a tango musician. Along the way, we learn the back stories of many other characters and the obstacles they overcome — or fail to overcome — as their lives intersect with Leda’s. de Robertis took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her work.
What inspired you to write this book and what sort of research did you need to do to write it?
I began with the seed of my own great-grandmother’s immigration experience, from Italy to Argentina. I quickly saw, however, that from that seed I wanted to grow a much larger story, not only about the great migration of that time to South America, but also about the rich cultural history of the tango’s origins, and about female transgression into an underworld of men.
I did a huge amount of research. I scoured libraries and bookstores, read piles of books in English, Spanish and Italian (badly), walked the streets of Buenos Aires and Montevideo and Naples and my ancestral village in Italy, took tango dance lessons and violin lessons, and consulted with all sorts of experts, from musicologists and musicians to friends on the transgender spectrum. Continue reading “Interview with Carolina de Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango”
Alexandra Delancey’s novellas Always Her and Me and Her chronicle the love story between newly-out Elise and ultra-cool tomboy Jack. I caught up with Alexandra recently to talk with her about her characters, her craft, and the business of publishing in the age of e-books.
Your characters are well-drawn and idiosyncratic, especially some of the more minor ones like Tatiana, Christie, and Alyssa. How did your own experience of the lesbian scene inform these characters?
That’s really nice to hear. I didn’t base any of them on individual people that I know, but I wanted to reflect the experience of being in your early twenties and being gay, or thinking that you might be gay, and the insecurities and preconceptions that sometimes accompany it. I spent my twenties discovering the lesbian scenes of several countries, and they all have their own norms and cliques. They can be frustrating at times, but they’re a lot of fun too. What I’ve always loved about the scene is that it gives you an opportunity to meet a much broader cross section of people than you otherwise might, so I tried to make my characters diverse in order to reflect that.
In the new romance Always Her, Alexandra Delancey evokes the angst and drama of the college lesbian scene.
In the new romance Always Her, Alexandra Delancey does an excellent job of evoking the angst and drama of the college lesbian scene. While I don’t necessarily agree with the identity politics of the characters, they do ring true for their milieu. Jack is that elusive object of lesbian desire: the cool butch who tends bar and had led a charmed life free of homophobia. Elise is the perfect wish fulfillment for every dyke who’s ever loved a straight girl: blonde-haired, shy, sweet, and only newly come to terms with her sexuality. The novella does a great job of building tension between the two to the final sex scene, which is most definitely a one-handed read.
This poem comes from a collection put out by Dancing Girl Press in 2008 called “Billet-doux” (Love letters), which comes like a box of letters and postcards, each poem printed differently on a different missive. It must have taken the press a great deal of effort to produce these by hand. The format wouldn’t mean much, however, if the poetry itself weren’t high quality. I have many collections of poetry, and this is by far one of my favorite.
The myth of Persephone and Demeter has a great deal of personal significance for me. I appreciate the bare quality of this poem, and the hope offered at its end.
Persephone, to Demeter
handfuls of asphodels,
but their white edges
waste into air. I should be
thankful roots taste buttery
sweet and a feeling triggers–
your hair shaking out blue
sky, fingers pulling down knotted
threads of white birds
tiny then: stalks thicken with
shade distorting the light,
a shatter of wings where breast
and earth meet. But you are
careful, the rolling cart stands
upright on the precipice. Farmers
steady the harrow; smoke toils
on the horizon.
I walk into daylight and offer
you this bouquet, this earth stripped
from my side making you radiant.
– Shawn Fawson
Billet Doux, Dancing Girl Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Terry Pratchett is one of the most prolific authors of our age. When he died yesterday (March 12, 2015) he left behind a massive oeuvre: more than 70 books, most of them about the Discworld, a flat planet carried on the back of four elephants who themselves stand back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims through space.
Victoria Griffith’s debut novel Amazon Burning follows the exploits of Emma Cohen, a journalism student who leaves New York under a cloud of suspicion. She arrives in Brazil to shadow her father, bureau chief for the Guardian newspaper. Ill at ease with upper-class Rio society, she jumps at the chance to accompany her father while he reports on the murder of an environmental activist in the Amazon rainforest.
On the way they meet up with the impossibly handsome and charming photographer Jimmy Feldman — a Brazilian-born son of expat parents. While Emma’s father is off reporting, Emma and Jimmy embark on their own investigation, attempting to navigate a web of corruption involving local officials, miners, rancher, smugglers, and other parties who stand to profit from the destruction of the rain forest.
One part eco-thriller, one part “new adult” romance, Griffith’s novel offers readers a close-up view of modern life in Brazil. Her vivid descriptions of the Amazon and the Yanomami who live in it are far more compelling than the love story between Emma and her hunky photographer. And the account of Emma’s troubles in New York seemed rather overwrought and improbable. Aside from these few false notes though, the book is well worth a read.
Arguably my favorite book, unarguably my favorite author, The Dispossessed tells the story of a brilliant physicist born and raised in a colony established on Anarres, the barren red moon of Urras, a blue planet that bears a striking resemblance to late-19th-century Earth. LeGuin’s Hainish cycle often explores socio-political issues at play in our own society, and this book is no exception. The Dispossessed describes what might have happened if a group of anarcho-communists (Odonians) had been able to establish and develop a society in isolation from the hierarchical, capitalist world that rejected it. I appreciate LeGuin’s evenhanded presentation of each world: the egalitarianism and austerity of Anarres, and the lush abundance and injustice of Urras.
Shevek leaves Urras because his work as a physicist isn’t considered “central” by Odionian society, but he struggles to maintain his ideals and his identity on a planet that grants him luxury and wealth while forcing others to live in hardship and poverty. As Shevek travels between the two worlds, his journey sheds light on the wonders and flaws of each.
On Anarres, it is an insult of the highest order to call someone a profiteer. In her 2014 acceptance speech for the National Book Award, LeGuin used the word “profiteers” to refer to the increasingly money-focused publishing industry. Anyone who’s read The Dispossessed will recognize the philosophy of the Odonians in the following excerpt from that speech:
“We need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profits and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”