Steven Moore then, editor at DA with Felipe Alfau and ms of Chromos, 1991 I know how much Photo Reviews can f with your feeds especially on those rinky apps but I love pics too and too I just wanna get me some back sides, I love this photo So, yeah, a ms BURIED in a drawer for decades Excavated by the inimitable team of Moore Dalkey But, thing is, I m sure there areandof these ms s BURIED in drawers just look in Theroux s for instance but too there are so many of these which actually saw publication, became printed artifacts, which remain out of the purview of those dominated by NYC I mean especially from the Southern half of America there are literally dozens of these Boom novels which still aren t read I m dazzled how many I ve found and how NONE of them have that MFA whiff nor that New Yorker whiff But yet are of a piece with that Other Stream of the Northern half of America s literary output, I mean of the Gass Gaddis Coover Barth ETC Faulkner is the common denominator as much as Joyce of course, etc etc usw stream which itself too, as much as I hype it, remains yet under recognized as the significant contribution of the Northern half of America to World Literature your Updikes Roths Bellows Carvers ETC shall pass but thank you indeed sure The moment one learns English, complications set in That s right, I picked this up in the beautiful Dalkey hd From back in those days when DA seemed to habitually produce the hd s Then too I found a second copy in a thrift shop and gave it to someone who perhaps wasn t its best recipient Still, I can t say much for myself, given how long it s taken me to get around to reading Our Alfau but not as long as he had to wait for its publication.And the final disconnected section of Review Text do read Locos A Comedy of Gestures first Or second Whatever floats your boat I mean, read the two together I mean the characters connect the two Alfau s style, though, shifts along a major fault line between the two I d go so far as to say jovial in Locos and heavier,literary in Chromos But, yes, the two together. And this is the stereochronic sense of life to change, to retrace and to advance, to sidestep oneself and join one s other past, present and future selves, and by undergoing this displacement along the axis of possibilities, to raise the curtain of man s next state and let consciousness flood our total identity which remains invariant under all transformations This is metanthropy In Spain there is no aristocracy but only nobility, and there is a great difference, oh, yes He remembered his delight when analyzing the general solutions of equations The practical quadratic was a sonnet with two possible endings the cubic was an ode to ingenuity and perhaps a monument to the controversial perfidy of an unscrupulous mathematician, its irreducible case a hint of irritating suggestiveness the quartic, a drama in which three unknown victims are enlisted, two of them liquidated to zero only to be exhumed later to yield the solution with their identity the quintic, the pillars of Hercules, a stimlulus to generalizations and conquests which far surpassed the original problems and a profound humanistic lesson which tells us that we should always question whether the solutions we seek to our problems really exist LIke two confluent spirals, they circled and flowed along the increasing rattling of Lunariito s castenets to a spot in the common center, face to face, as a wave comes to a crest They froze a moment and then melted and boiled into the dance It was a furious exhibition of bristling, eloquent, gesticulating motion, of proposition and answer, a complete argument with inevitable conclusions, but self contained in the world of dancing where the subect was movement and the answer and resolution given in dancing terms Alfau plays with time and death they are the warp and woof of his narrative Except there is no orderly movement of a shuttlecock narrator back and forth within a traditional or linear plot on a four square loom Time scatters scenes indiscriminately until one reaches the heart of the book, a philosophical density, a sort of black hole It comes near the end of the novel, and in it Alfau discusses time as the fourth dimension that negates motion And yet he then immediately starts the finest scene in the book, an 18 hour fiesta for the Spanish immigrants to New York City who we have been learning about for 275 pages In this scene it is specifically motion, in the form of dance, that is the essence of living and the act of dying The dance is accompanied by the moving fingers of the finest Spanish guitarist extant Alfau studied music when he came to the US It is watched by a jobless bullfighter, longing for the graceful motions of the different passes.And, to follow the fabric metaphor, there arestories woven into the here and now of the main plot They occur in the form of several hackneyed but not quite cliched tales that the young Spanish character Garcia is writing and reading to the narrator These are set variously in America and Spain, and evoke the gradual decline of Spain that preoccupies Alfau The old Spanish grandeur is personified in two older men among the Spanish in NYC, who represent the strains of Moor and Christian heritage, with the contributions each made to Spanish character This is a book that gets better as it goes along, with that final party scene knitting together the pieces that have been constructed bit by bit One sees the glimmers of colors and textures repeated and given meaning by the final installment of the primary tale that Garcia has been telling intermittently, and by the old Moor s ravings The quotes I ve chosen above are examples of his most dense writing, to give a sense of his experimentation with language It is astounding that Alfau has this command of English, since he came to the United States at almost twenty years of age To assure you that it is indeed readable, there is much that istraditional in Garcia s tales This is a challenging read, especially what I ve termed the black hole section which is really about relativity , but worth it. Chromos Is One Of The True Masterpieces Of Post World War II Fiction Written In The S But Left Unpublished Until , It Anticipated The Fictional Inventiveness Of The Writers Who Were To Come Along Barth, Coover, Pynchon, Sorrentino, And Gaddis Chromos Is The American Immigration Novel Par Excellence Its Opening Line Is The Moment One Learns English, Complications Set In Or, As The Novel Illustrates, The Moment One Comes To America, The Complications Set In The Cast Of Characters In This Book Are Immigrants From Spain Who Have One Leg In Spanish Culture And The Other In The Confusing, Warped, Unfriendly New World Of New York City, Attempting To Meld Two Worlds That Just Won T Fit Together Wildly Comic, Chromos Is Also Strangely Apocalyptic, Moving Towards Point Zero And Utter Darkness I read Locos A Comedy of Gestures over two and half years ago, so I have no idea how Alfau s two fiction books dovetail But Mike will So watch his space, watch his face I can assert that as far as my memory of Locos extends, which isn t very far, though I do recall reading portions on the fifth floor toilet at Napier U strange how memory works Chromos is the superior work Despite its anticipating the fictional inventiveness of Barth, Coover et al the novel is quite straightforward to read stories within stories is the form and the reader s full commitment for the central frame tale a corny MS about the Sandoval family s fortunes in America written by Garcia, one of the several Americaniards in the main narrative is required along with the tales within the narrator s own streetside antics The prose is a stunningly erudite mixture of stylistic, witty English with occasional Spanish flourishes, and consistently entertains with the intellectuals Dr de los Rios and The Moor, whose revelries at the El Telescopio hostel along with the narrator s fondness for inventing his own runaway narratives about his friends explore thepeculiar aspect of the post war Spanish immigration experience in New York The Garcia sections satirise the sentimental mode of Spanish writing and the text is an astonishingly confident piece of work for a then underrepresented voice in American fiction Chromos should have been published in the 1940s but was unearthed by Dalkey and published in 1990 Profound, hilarious, darkly comic, wildly inventive Begging to be read Incomplete Glossary Notes to Complement the Incomplete Glossary Notesantasala anteroomantip tico unpleasant person banderilla type of toreador boina beret caballero gentleman chacol sparkling dry white winechavales kidschulo handsome mancoleta torero s pigtaildiestro another term for matadorestoque sword used in slaying of the bullfront n court for playing ball games against a wallheredad estate hidalgo title of persons in Spanish nobilitymanzanilla Spanish term for camomile tea muleta the name of the stick that the red cloth hangs from in the final third of a bullfightpercebes goose barnaclesporr n decantershillelagh wooden walking stick and club or cudgel sicalipsis sexual suggestivenesssuertes parts of a bullfighttauromachial relating to bullfightingzarzuela a Spanish lyric dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes The moment one learns English, complications set in Try as one may, one cannot elude this conclusion, one must inevitably come back to it This applies to all persons, including those born to the language and, at times, evenso to Latins, including Spaniards It manifests itself in an awareness of implications and intricacies to which one had never given a thought it afflicts one with that officiousness of philosophy which, having no business of its own, gets in everybody s way and, in the case of Latins, they lose that racial characteristic of taking things for granted and leaving them to their own devices without inquiring into causes, motives or ends, to meddle indiscreetly into reasons which are none of one s affair and to become not only self conscious, but conscious of other things which never gave a damn for one s existence.In the words of my friend Don Pedro, of whomlater, this could never happen to a Spaniard who speaks only Spanish We aredirect but, according to him, when we enter the English speaking world, we find the most elementary things questioned, growing in complexity without bounds we experience, see or hear about problems which either did not exist for us or were disposed of in what he calls that brachistological fashion of which we are masters nervous breakdowns, social equality, marital maladjustment and beholding Oedipus in an unfavorable light, friendships with those women intellectualoids whom Don Pedro has baptized perfect examples of feminine putritude, psycho neuroses, and hallucinations, etc., leading one gently but forcibly from a happy world of reflexes of which one was never aware, to a world of analytical reasoning of which one is continuously aware, which closes in like a vise of missionary tenacity and culminates in such a collapse of the simple as questioning the meaning of meaning.According to Don Pedro, a Spaniard speaking English is indeed a most incongruous phenomenon and the acquisition of this other language, far from increasing his understanding of life, if this were possible, only renders it hopelessly muddled and obscure He finds himself encumbered with too much equipment for what had been, after all, a process as plain as living and while perhaps becoming glib and searching if oblique and indirect, in discussing culturesque fads and interrelated topics of doubtful value even in the English market, he gradually loses his capacity to see and think straight until he emerges with all other English speaking persons in complete incapacity to understand the obvious It is disconcerting The moment one has to give stars complications set inWhat do you give a book that deserves no less than 5 stars and at the same time deserves nothan 3 The writing is great The storytelling through the first 250 pages is top notch Then the magic just kind of fizzled out for me.I read Locos a while ago and still vividly remember many of the characters, so it was a delight to read of their further adventures This time most have moved to New York and find themselves astranged from their Spanish roots trying to hold on to what makes them Spanish while at the same time come to terms with what will make them American.Being an Ex Pat myself, I wanted to like this book and I did It presented so many of the things I have experienced and while reading it I kept thinking Yeah, I ve been there The problem starts when Garcia leaves the scene and The Moor starts going on about math and time These were long and tedious pages that I just couldn t get into It felt like Alfau had slammed on the breaks because he hadto say and wanted to find a way to say it I think he understood another novel would not be coming and so tried to fit things into this one that would have been best left for a third installment.I kept waiting for the story to get back on track and unfortunately it just never did.I am glad I read it and I will definitely put it on my To Read Again list I have a feeling that the second time through, when I am a little older and a little wiser, may produce apositive result.For now I am not giving it any stars but rather letting the job of judging this book remain for my future self. Chromos, by Felipe Alfau, is a sort of inverted Arabian Nights Fictional characters insist on telling stories to the narrator, who doesn t want to hear them The stories bleed into one another, each one at least as compelling as the one before The characters are from an earlier novel by the same author, characters who had dreamed of becoming real, and now here they are, meeting him years later in New York, telling stories of their own It is an extraordinary novel, as was its predecessor, Locos A Spaniard, he wrote only in English Astonishingly, though he had written this book in his forties he was nearly 90 when it was finally published One resonant quote in this regard His attempts at extracting a living from writing in this country, battling the set ideas, preferences and patterns of the literary world, had left him as frustrated as a woodpecker in a petrified forest This is one of those books I keep wanting to copy sections out of and post them on Twitter or somewhere, or at least I wish there was a way to permanently stamp those great sentences into my brain.Speaking of wishes, one of the stories in the novel is about a man who has the ability to skip over sections of his life to get to the point he wants to be His impatience keep driving him on to use this gift, and so he lives a long life but only consciously lives a few bits of it How many of us would be able to resist that temptation I remember many late night shifts where I would have gladly traded the hour or two my sleepy commute took just to be already at home in bed I discovered Chromos in a bookshop, not one of those great hulking used bookstores where the books are thrown about like leftover refuse, no this bookshop was a time traveler, a holdover from a bygone era where books are respected and cherished As I was saying I discovered Chromos hiding away in the Books Translated from Spanish section It called out to me with its intriguing cover and the opening lines The moment one learns English, complications set in Try as one may, one cannot elude this conclusion, one must inevitably come back to it And so I took it home For 8.95, I took home a hardback book in pristine condition in spite of having been published in 1990, and upon arriving home, I soon discovered that it was a first edition on acid free paper Wow Further inspection revealed that it had been improperly shelved, for Felipe Alfau who emigrated from Spain during WWI to New York City, wrote Chromos in English in 1948 and never bothered to publish it until 1990 when he was 88 years old Having now completed reading this masterpiece, I have come to the same conclusion as others before me that this book was simply too far ahead of its time. It takes all kinds to make a book He was changeable and he was complicated and, in his manner of speaking, it would have been interesting to trace the wanderings of this complex variable over the subconscious plane and evaluate the integral of his real conclusions To me, he was an absurd combination of a slightly daffy Irish Moorish Don Quixote with sinister overtones of Beelzebub and the only Irishman I ever heard speak English with an Andalusian brogue.With a character like this who needs Ulysses or Baron Munchausen Or even Finnegan Chromos is a set of pictures in colour and colourful scenes incredibly cheesy family saga syrupy and inane outings into music That is not a waltz, it is a dance macabre People could not dance to that only the dead could dance to it and fiery dances The dancers were shadows and their shadows were shadows of shadows drinking bouts intellectual routs esoteric reflections on the nature of the space time continuum and even a new fangled law of geometry a line is straight until it bends.And this law seems to be very universal and can be applied to anything Life goes straight until it bends. Christ with castanets, says Alfau without emphasis Cheeses as I m wont to say myself. It s hard, for me, to know what exactly to say about Chromos. Brilliant Incredible All the usual predicate adjectives that seem to say so much while saying so little, other than exert with some vehemence that I was taken by the novel, tossed around for a couple weeks, then deposited on this side of the TBRs Accomplished In my case, tossed around for a couple weeks may be considered warning as Chromos is neither quickly or easily read well, unless you re a troublesome Scot who can plow through dense material with the ease of an eel the aforementioned Scot s buck passing review may be read, and should be read, here Whatever this novel is, it is not a sequel to Locos not exactly All the unruly characters from Locos reappear here although they now live in New York, dead characters are resurrected all the characters of Locos had minds of their own and couldn t be controlled by the narrator some make only cameo appearances, others reappear with stories of their own to tell, e.g Garcia, whose novel and screenplay are pushed onto the narrator who doesn t appreciate either and the reader, each provided slowly, in pieces, over the course of the entire novel they can be as laborious as they are confusing one the story of the Sandoval family, a rags to riches to rags story, the other of Julio Ramos, whose most urgent wishes are always granted and always at a cost Alfau has an appealing way with words, and a vocabulary that is humbling It was an inscription which he had read on a discarded sundial while on his way to Julio Ramos The dial lay upon the grass at the margin of the little cemetery for Spanish Jews in the New Bowery Its position was such that the shadow of the indicator did not fall upon the dial but somewhere else where time, if it passed, was not marked Time and place matter motion is an illusion As one grows older, one prefers what has been, scarcely tolerates what is and decidedly abhors what is going to be The greatest virtue of a thing, then, is that it has passed, the greatest defect, that it is yet to come In one s opinion things are bad and growing constantly worse Every coming event means certain disaster Among the things that are going to be, the vision of one s death looms as the most execrable, tainting the horizon with the most somber and depressing hues One sees every future event through funereal shadows, everything appears wrapped in ominous clouds of pessimism, whether it be social changes, new ideas or even the smallest change of routine One dislikes everything modern, everything new, including young people, because all of these things represent the flow of time, because everything that enters the world is taking the place of something that is leaving it One becomes a conservative and wants things to stay as they are because perhaps thus one will stay as one is This said in 1948 look around, it s contemporary and all too familiar.Alfau can be outrageously sarcastic and funny In a scene where a young girl who aspires to be a poet approaches the poet who lives in her home and on whom she has a childish crush she is admonished with If I were you I would not write poetry but help my mother around the porter a And by the way, my dear Sappho, don t call me bard any, will you do me that favor I resent it It is embarrassing, as if I called you Saint Peter simply because you are always at the door And again when the narrator describes the writing of Garcia This has been done by masters of the trade and Garcia had taken in every stock situation with amazing powers of retention, but he had not put things together right and had used extraordinary discernment in not adding one single touch of originality Following a discourse on physics, motion, time and space, the final fifth of the novel is devoted to an incredible party As it should be.Recently I told another reader that he should read Locos before reading Chromos in the Introduction to this volume, Joseph Coates says that Chromos is a jumping off point for reading Locos Go figure Not for everybody, but one helluva novel.One final quote from early in the novel After all, reading is not a very good occupation It is well to read when one has nothing better to do, but life is not that bad.
Felipe Alfau was an American Spanish novelist and poet Like his contemporaries Luigi Pirandello and Flann O Brien, Alfau is considered a forerunner of later postmodern writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, and Gilbert Sorrentino.
- 348 pages
- Chromos (American Literature (Dalkey Archive))
- Felipe Alfau
- 10 March 2017 Felipe Alfau