Eduardo Lalo, as a review in Necessary Fiction notes, is a name familiar to very few English readers. “At the time of this review, a Google search of ‘Eduardo Lalo’ turns up very little in English—only a basic Wikipedia page. One hoping to read more about the author must brush up on one’s dusty Spanish skills.” The Cuban-born Lalo, however, began to gain more cosmopolitan acclaim with the publication of his book Simone, which won the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, an award that aims to “perpetuate and honor the work of the [titular] eminent novelist and also to stimulate the creative activity of Spanish language writers.” (The award is somewhat comparable, though much larger in scope, to the Man Booker Prize.) ” On the heels of the award, the the book’s first English language translation, by David Frye, has recently been published by the University of Chicago Press. The plot arc of the novel is complex, and the book’s narrative fealty vacillates between the subject positions of a self-educated Chinese immigrant, a jaded novelist, and the eponymous Simone.
From Necessary Fiction, which manages to condense the core of what is at stake for Lalo:
Just when we have uncomfortably settled into the doomed love story, the book takes a significant turn. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator and a novelist friend of his interrogate a visiting Spanish writer about the literature of the peninsula, and the lower quality work—in their opinion—that many Spanish publishers publish. (There may be some continental agreement to that, as Javier Márias has stated that he had no desire “to be was what they call a ‘real Spanish writer.’”) It is, at first, a strange shift. While the plot is held in abeyance, the book tries to make a larger point about the treatment of literature. In part, the point is that Puerto Rican writers have been unfairly ignored, while more maudlin and unoriginal writings from “real Spanish writers” have received outsized attention.
While the narrator obviously has significant pride in his Puerto Rico, it inevitably comes with a concomitant sense of resentment—part of the dark shadow that follows this novel sentence-by-sentence. Upon seeing the name “Colony Economy” on a carton of milk in a coffee shop, the narrator muses about how Puerto Rico’s history “overwhelms and defines” him. It is an apt lens through which to view Simone—characters who cannot quite escape the world they were born into, or the childhoods they were subjected to, a country shackled by the past and every extension of happiness undercut by sorrow. “What is left of the men and women of this country?” the narrator muses. “What remains but the coffee and the centuries, ground down and percolated, flowing through steel tubes, pouring from plastic spigots?”
To read the review in full, click here.
To read more about Simone, click here.