Missing Persons, Animals, and Artists, by Roberto Ransom, trans. Daniel Shapiro (PRINCE ST)

Bilingual reading and conversation

Elegant prose and imaginative ironies bring these compelling short stories to life in this first English-language collection from Mexican author Roberto Ransom. Each of the ten stories is filled with fascinating, yet enigmatic and sometimes elusive characters: an alligator in a bathtub, an invisible toad who appears only to a young boy, the beautiful redheaded daughter of a mushroom collector, a deceased journalist who communicates in code, and even Leonardo Da Vinci himself, meditating on The Last Supper. One of Mexico’s most original writers, Ransom explores these characters’ emotional depths as they move through their fantastical worlds that, while at times unfamiliar, offer brave and profound insights into our own.
           
Missing Persons, Animals, and Artists is the follow-up to Ransom’s highly acclaimed A Tale of Two Lions, praised by Ignacio Padilla as “the best Mexican literary work I have read in recent years. . . . [It] heralds a pen capable of that rarest of privileges in our letters: attaining the comic and profoundly human through a perfect simplicity.”  This collection of short stories has been translated with great care by Daniel Shapiro.

Chicago. Swan Isle Press. 2018. 177 pages.

Roberto Ransom’s openings are not just that. The first story in Missing Persons is about a pet lizard grown big enough to devour its adoptive family. Ransom’s ingenuity lies in drawing out this topic’s surprising means of presenting caregiving and loss. The first story’s unexpected developments parallel its relation to the other stories. Who could foresee a series of nuanced and unsettling tales about memory, art, betrayal, and divinity from a volume that begins with a housebound Godzilla? Perhaps someone who pays close attention to first sentences, or who reads things at least twice, because—and it took me a while to notice—Ransom employs anaphora especially well. “Lizard à la Heart” begins, “The bathroom hasn’t been open for days. Under the door, as always, it smells like a swamp.” Though syntactically nothing is missing, the words “for days” and “always” map out mysterious antecedents and seductive postcedents for the unsuspecting reader.

What happened? What’s next? This is an appetizer for the initial sentences of later stories, all in Daniel Shapiro’s superb translation from Ransom’s original Desaparecidos, animales y artistas (1999). The beautiful elaboration of the capricious time of artistic labor that characterizes “Three Figures and a Dog” begins, “He liked to be in the chapel at dawn and also in the afternoon when something similar, though not identical, occurred. For that to happen, he had to leave home when his wife got up to milk the cow.” “Something similar” and “that” are more syntactic anaphora than those that open “Lizard” because they leave their possible referents reliant upon (a still unknown) context. One protagonist of “Three Figures” is a medieval Italian painter. Another is a contemporary art historian who tries to restore old paintings whose figures and colors are barely visible beneath the tracks of time. In this story, Ransom transposes anaphora to the whole text, structurally and thematically. The postcedent of the first protagonist’s story, which involves inspiration’s fickleness and a strange dog, becomes the antecedent of the art historian’s work. The story’s characters form a temporal trinity, two moments spanning the ages and the reader’s encounter with them. The triangle’s center nurtures the potential Ransom grounds as skillfully as he liberates, intriguing and delighting his fortunate readers.

Ransom’s stories set free at least as many wonders as they define.

Ryan Long
University of Maryland, review, World Literature Today

 

Roberto Ransom is an award-winning Mexican writer whose published work includes novels and collections of short stories, poetry, and essays, as well as children’s literature. His Desaparecidos, animales, y artistas (1999) was translated by Daniel Shapiro and published by Swan Isle Press in 2018.  His novella A Tale of Two Lions has also been translated into English. He is a tenured professor in the School of Fine Arts and the School of Humanities at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua.

Daniel Shapiro is a Distinguished Lecturer at The City College of New York and Editor of Review:  Literature and Arts of the Americas, published by Routledge in association with CCNY.  He is author of the poetry collections Child with a Swan’s Wings (2013, 2018), The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems (2014), and Woman at the Cusp of Twilight (2016).  He received translation fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and PEN for Ransom's Missing Persons, Animals, and Artists.

 

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Friday, October 18, 2019 - 7:30pm

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