Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Scent of Buenos Aires by Hebe Uhart

The Scent of Buenos Aires by Hebe Uhart
Stories individually published in Spanish in Argentina between 1962 and 2004. First published in a collected volume in Spanish in Argentina in 2010. English language translation by Maureen Shaughnessy published in the UK by Archipelago on the 15th October 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From one of Argentina's greatest contemporary storytellers, The Scent of Buenos Aires gathers twenty-five of Hebe Uhart's most remarkable and incandescent short stories in English for the first time.

The Scent of Buenos Aires offers the first book-length English translation of Uhart's work, drawing together her best vignettes of quotidian life: moments at the zoo, the hair salon, or a cacophonous homeowners association meeting. She writes in unconventional, understated syntax, constructing a delightfully specific perspective on life in South America. These stories are marked by sharp humor and wit: discreet and subtle, yet filled with eccentric and insightful characters. Uhart's narrators pose endearing questions about their lives and environments - one asks "Bees - do you know how industrious they are?" while another inquires, "Are we perhaps going to hell in a hand basket?"

Hebe Uhart's short story collection, The Scent Of Buenos Aires, wasn't really what I expected so I found it took the reading of several stories before I truly began to appreciate her style. The stories aren't 'stories' in the sense I usually encounter them in a short story collection. Instead of a sense of narrative flow and a (often dark) twist, these works I think would better be described as slice-of-life vignettes. I felt overall that I gained an understanding of Argentine daily life, particularly in smaller communities. The titular use of Buenos Aires had led me to expect mostly city environments, but actually I envisaged more of Uhart's scenes taking place in a rural Argentina.

While I loved these settings though, I'm not sure how much I actually liked the stories themselves! Few of the characters seemed to have any great depth because Uhart's fairytale storytelling style made it difficult for me to understand their motivations. For example, in one story a woman loses her sanity and threatens her young son with a knife. Her husband rushes home - to build an oven by the side of road. Er, what?! I felt this lack of understanding also affected the stories' memorability for me. Other than a couple of the women - poor cold Botznia and inquisitive Luisa - I couldn't honestly say that I can remember much of what happened or to whom. This is strange for me. I know I liked most of these vignettes as I was reading them, and I can recall elements of them while scrolling back through the collection as I review it. However without that prompt my recollections are vague.

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  1. Thank you.

  2. Hmmm what an odd reading experience you had with these Stephanie!! I think its a warning sign though when you can't remember much of what happened. An oven?! Really...

    1. Yes, I just couldn't hook myself in to these stories sufficiently to really appreciate them. I don't know if I wasn't in the right zone at the time maybe?

  3. It sounds chaotic in a sense that none of the stories makes sense. Lol. Glad you stuck with it, though.

    1. I could appreciate some of the individual moments and scenes but really did struggle to stay with this collection.