Tuesday, 5 November 2019

A Dream Come True by Juan Carlos Onetti

A Dream Come True by Juan Carlos Onetti
Stories written in Spanish from the 1930s to the 1990s. English language translation by Katherine Silver published by Archipelago Press today, the 5th November 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: 4 of 5 stars

A Dream Come True collects the complete stories of Juan Carlos Onetti, presenting his existentialist, complex, and ironic style over the course of his writing career. Onetti was praised by Latin America's greatest authors, and regarded as an inventor of a new form and school of writing.

Juan Carlos Onetti's A Dream Come True depicts a sharp, coherent, literary voice, encompassing Onetti's early stages of writing and his later texts. They span from a few pages in "Avenida de Mayo - Diagonal - Avenida de Mayo" to short novellas, like the celebrated detective story "The Face of Disgrace" and "Death and the Girl," an existential masterpiece that explores the complexity of violence and murder in the mythical town of Santa MarĂ­a. His stories create a world of writing which is both universal and highly local, mediating between philosophical characters and the quotidian melodrama of Uruguayan villages.

A Dream Come True is the title of a single, hauntingly memorable story within this lengthy collection, as well as being the title for this English language collection itself. The book spans an amazing seven decades of Juan Carlos Onetti's short stories and includes fifty of his works ranging from half-page flash fictions to short novellas. Many are set within a single imagined town of Santa Maria so we get to revisit characters in different situations which I found particularly interesting. Santa Maria has a high proportion of Swiss, German and Italian immigrants so I could recognise the European roots of their communities at the same time as witnessing the shifting space maintained between them and the indigenous people.

I loved Onetti's writing style, here expertly translated by Katherine Silver. He had an intuitive understanding of human needs and interactions which I feel gives a deeper meaning to the stories. Everyday notions such as enjoying a sip of mate or lighting a cigarette are loaded with a sense of significance beyond their normalcy, although sometimes this seemed carried to such a point that I lost track of the story itself! For me, Onetti's most powerful work was from the earlier decades and I especially liked the unreal vibes of stories such as A Dream Come True where an unknown woman convinces a theatre director to create a scene of her own devising. Other favourites include Esbjerg By The Sea where Kirsten's husband tries to put together enough money for his homesick wife to visit her native Denmark, and On The Thirty-First which is a wonderfully unusual New Year's Eve tale.

I probably should have treated A Dream Come True as a bedside tome to dip into rather than working my way through all the stories without any other reading distractions. This method did mean I was able to appreciate the two treatments of the same story, originally published some twenty years apart, but I also found the collection hard going at times. None of Onetti's stories are easy reads - even the shortest have a thoughtful quality to them and a complexity which I found often left me questioning if things I had taken at face value were actually what Onetti had meant! These stories are beautifully layered and detailed, benefiting from pondering as well as simple reading. My thanks to Archipelago Press for this Onetti retrospective.

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  1. This is a very interesting collection; it's certainly been a while since I've read one. It's just hard to pick and choose from the many out there.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one!

    1. I'd certainly recommend this extensive collection and I imagine it would be just as rewarding to dip into it from time to time as to devour the whole lot at once like I did!

  2. I love translated books! Short stories aren't my jam but what a fascinating way to check out this author! And detective stories are my writing partner's favorite.

    1. I'm ok with short story collections by a single author, but don't much like anthologies because the frequent changes of style distract me