I just finished reading a book of short stories in Spanish that mostly take place in Chicago: Vocesueltas: Cuatro cuentistas de Chicago written by Raúl Dorantes, Bernardo Navia, Fernando Olszanski, and om ulloa (Chicago: Ediciones Vocesueltas, 2007). You get a real taste of Chicago in the stories of Dorantes and Navia even though they write about their adopted city in Spanish. I really enjoyed reading Dorantes and Navia the best of the four. Olszanski and ulloa didn’t particularly focus on Chicago as did Dorantes and Navia. My favorite story in the book was “Duelo de sur” by Bernardo Navia. I could truly visually the subway stop that he described. The story breathed and smelled of Chicago despite being written in Spanish.
Of course, my enjoyment of this story was based on personal reasons. I personally knew, and still know, Bernardo Navia. I’ve known him for years after first meeting him at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Bernardo was the first graduate student to receive a Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies from UIC. We were enrolled in several classes together, he as a graduate student and I as an undergraduate.
One class in particular that I remember was a 20th century Latin Amrerican literature class in which we read Jorge Luis Borjes, Alejo Carpentier, Nicanor Parra, Julio Cortázar, among others, with Professor Klaus Müeller-Bergh. I really enjoyed this class thoroughly. I still vividly remember some of the class discussions, particularly the one about “El sur,” a short story by Borges.
Well, in Vocesueltas, Bernardo updates “El sur” by placing the action of “Duelo de sur” in Chicago in the present. The story is even dedicated: A Dahlmann, the protagonist that Borges toys with in his story. I enjoyed how Bernardo even notes similarities and differences with “El sur.” For example, instead of someone throwing crumbs, Julián notices that someone has thrown a tooth at his feet. And then he notices another and another, before he finally sees a molar. We know that Julián is in a hospital, as was Dahlmann, but in the end he remembers that at least someone gave Dahlmann a knife to defend himself. For me, this was certainly the best story of the anthology.