Tag: Javi Cillero

From the Backlist: Hollywood and I and Mad City

In a literary world that tends to define Basque literature very much by place–most Basque authors come from the Basque Country, live and work there, and typically center their stories on events in that particular corner of the world–Javi Cillero stands out as a completely distinct voice. His own personal experience of detachment, displacement even, from the Basque Country, and especially that of living for many years in the United States, infuses his work to such an extent that it might almost be more accurate to describe him as an American author; or at least as a keen and informed observer of popular American culture, an outsider whose external gaze tells us a great deal about life on the inside.

Hollywood_and_I

In Hollywood and I and Mad City, two works first first published in Basque and collected here in one volume, we are treated to a sharp, quirky, and eclectic blend of short stories that ooze with Americana and emblematic sites of memory in the American West: from Alcatraz and Chinatown to Virginia City, Pyramid Lake, and the Nevada desert. This is a world of dive bars and Mack trucks, casino lights, bank robbers, private detectives, and mobsters; but also of Basque and Native Americans, sheepherders and cowboys, and even college professors and students.

Check out the following excerpt from the book:

The Silver Legacy hotel-casino tower stood tall and proud in the middle of downtown Reno. There was a giant dome on the back of the building, something like a space station. Inside there was a fake starry sky, and under the sky there was a large mine wheel. Hundreds of lasers started twinkling in that sky, accompanied by music by Tchaikovsky.

Near the huge mine wheel there was a wide open area. There were souvenir shops, restaurants open twenty-four hours a day, and slot machines on either side of something like an avenue. And, unexpectedly, the Silver Legacy bar next to a row of slot machines.

As usual, it was full of people. Waiters were going here and there carrying pints of reds, porters, and lagers. The musicians were taking a break, and the people in the bar’s voices easily drowned out the television’s weak sound.

A Czech girl and the Spanish teacher were sitting in one corner. They were silent, each of them looking at their own glasses of beer. The Czech girl poured a little more for the Spanish teacher. He thanked her with a hand gesture.

Here we are, like two Hitchcock characters. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in that old movie Notorious. “Officer Devlin? I’ve got a job for you.” OK, I know, I know: too many movie references for a single night. What can I do about it? Hollywood made me, to paraphrase Graham Greene. Hollywood’s influence is so big in our education that when two friends get together now they could easily be acting out a scene from a movie. We don’t mean to. It’s our only reference. In fact, it’s wiped out family, school, and church references. Young people only pay attention to the images and roles they adopt from screens. And people who aren’t so young, too. It’s impossible to count all the men who wander around like poor wretches from Woody Allen movies without knowing what they’re doing.

The Spanish teacher had gold-framed glasses. They slipped down his nose as he spoke. He had to put them back in their place with his index finger time and again. The Czech girl took that gesture to be an invitation to say something.

“Thanks for helping me present my project. I didn’t think the university press was going to be so interested in heterodox Basque women.”

“We work with all types of subjects. In fact, we’re about to bring out a book by a Japanese writer about Ozu’s movies. It would be good for you to publish the book in Reno. When it comes down to it, the States is the only place where work like that is done. The editor’s told me the book looks very good; it’s very appropriate. And here I am, ready to lend a hand. You know, Officer Devlin’s hand . . . Hey, why don’t you stay a few more days? You’ll be able to make good use of your stay if you come to the Basque Library.”

A big man who’d come to listen to a country group came up to them to take a chair. He picked it up by its wooden back with confidence, master in his own land. The Spanish teacher looked at him with contempt when he turned away.

“And I’ll show you around. Lake Tahoe, for instance. It’s where they shot The Godfather. You know, Al Pacino: ‘My father taught me a lot of things in this room. He taught me to keep my friends close and my enemies even closer.’ I’ve got my Toyota here in the casino lot.”

“Do you have classes tomorrow?”

“I only teach Spanish classes once a week. Hefty nineteenth-century novels, Galdós and Clarín. I spend most of my time in the casinos. I’m putting together a book about Old West mythology. I don’t think America’s final frontier is the Pacific; it’s the Nevada casinos. It’s here that men and slot machines come face to face. Like in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral . . .”

Anyone interested in contemporary urban Western storytelling, with particular reference to Reno, Northern Nevada, and California, will enjoy this book. This is classic Americana with a Basque twist!

Shop for the book here.

2015 Books Round-up II: Basques in the United States, 2 vols.; Hollywood and I

In the second day of our round-up of our 2015 books we see 3 more books that continue to treat the Basque experience in the United States.

Basques in the US vol 1Basques in the US vol 2

Basques in the United States, vol. 1: Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa

Basques in the United States, vol. 2: Iparralde and Nafarroa

Koldo San Sebastian, Argitxu Camus Etchecopar, et al.

The Basques in the United States is a long-term project to gather and publish information about first-generation Basque immigrants to the United States. The first fruit of this project has been published in July 2015 in two volumes (one for Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa, the other for Iparralde and Nafarroa) and contains the most comprehensive listing of Basque immigrants to the United States that has been made until now. Entries are listed arranged by the town or region of origin of the Basque immigrant and are cross-referenced by last name. An updated edition is being published in December of 2015 and plans are already in the works for further additions to increase the number of names that are included and the quality and depth of information that has been found about each person. To this end, the researchers and the Center are looking for the public’s help. We also publish a website basquesintheUS.blogs.unr.edu where the public is encouraged to help us enrich the information that has been gathered. With the help of dedicated researchers and the public at large we hope to grow this comprehensive listing of the Basques who ventured across the Atlantic to make a new life into a lasting testament to as many of those brave people who made the long and difficult trek to a strange land that soon became home for many.

Hollywood_and_I

Hollywood and I and Mad City, Javi Cillero

Bringing together of 2 collections of short stories, in this book Basque writer Javi Cillero, looks mainly at US culture from they eyes of world weary, well educated, but ultimately disoriented protagonists. The caretaker of a collection of exotic animals embarks on a dangerous relationship with a mobster’s girlfriend; the tragedy of Oediupus is retold as a Western with a happy ending; revenge is wreaked on a Bilbao art dealer for his past transgressions. In these two short story collections–“Hollywood and I” and “Mad City,” brought together here and published in English fro the first time, Javi Cillero creates an astonishing variety of different worlds: Basque cities and a city of the West; the Nevada desert; jetliners, trains, cars, ferries; classic cinema and Greek myths and legends; and much much more. All are written into existence with a distinctive voice that blends noir fiction and dark humor. These stories generally tell the stories of outsiders, and it is no coincidence that thus the city of Reno, Nevada, also forms a central heart of many stories: like them, it is a place of missed connections, of sad and broken histories, and yet has the capacity for the human spirit to persevere against the odds. The characters here are just as varied as the stories themselves: witnesses and students, cowboys and art dealers, outsiders and insiders and blends of the two. The stories almost defy summary in the incredible flowering of their imaginary worlds, just as desert flowers surprise with their splash of color in the otherwise gray sagebrush steppe.