Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Marginalized in Puerto Rico: Eduardo Lalo’s “Simone”

by

The unnamed narrator of Eduardo Lalo’s cleverly addictive novel, Simone, finds himself inside a story that resembles a treasure hunt. He’s a single academic and a novelist, in his early thirties, who one day begins receiving cryptic notes that—when followed—lead to another and then another. For the longest time, he isn’t even certain whether the writer is male or female. Then, in addition to the notes that he discovers all over San Juan, there are messages written on walls and sidewalks and, eventually, messages left on his answering machine that tell him, at least, that his stalker (who seems to be invisibly hovering around him) is female. For a time she calls herself Simone, and there’s a biography of Simone Weil that enters into the game she’s playing with him. Then, another name: Lina. And, finally, her real identity: Li Chao, a Chinese part-time student at the university where he teaches.

That’s the stalker story, only one aspect of Lalo’s engaging novel. Then there is the life of a writer, who is an academic because his books have not been very successful. Simone begins, in fact, with a witty remark made in a bookstore, where he purchases a notebook or blank book, observing, “Leaving a bookstore with only a tome of blank pages is a metaphor”—if everyone did that, there simonebkwould be no published writers—but then he adds, “struggling and writing are the same thing.” So this is a guy whose writing career has not come easily and, finally, to stalking and writing, Lalo adds national identity. What is the fate of a writer in a country that everyone thinks is nothing more than an extension of the United States? Puerto Rico, is that really a country? Consider the state of Puerto Rico today and what we are currently reading in the news about its finances.

The narrator is as aloof, as distant, as his stalker. He admits that he has not let others (that means women) get close to him. He’s had an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman named Julia, who has had a son by another man during their relationship. He even refers to himself as “an invisible man,” which is why it is so perplexing to have someone stalking him. And she certainly doesn’t appear to be in any hurry for them to meet. “I was in the sights of a sharpshooter who wanted to toy with me.” Even as a writer, he’s pretty much been eclipsed. “Hardly anyone reads me,” he tells Li, after she has revealed herself and they have begun to meet in neutral environments.

Li has her own problems, and she responds to his remark about a lack of readers by saying, “Hardly anyone sees me,” to which she adds, “or if they see me, they see a Chinese woman,” easily ignored and forgotten. The fact is that Li has begun pursuing him because she has read three of his novels. She’s lived a terrible life as a drone, working excruciating hours in the restaurants of her relatives, while excelling at school, with the help of a couple of benefactors. Understanding her situation, he begins to think of the relation that all immigrants have by effacing themselves and, by extension, marginalized countries that appear to have little status in the scope of things:

“I came to know the uprooted lives of the Chinese in Puerto Rico, the deeply introspective nature of their sadness, which they stifled in work days of ceaseless hustle. They were resigned to their lot and so exhausted that they had no strength left to desire any life but that of working in kitchens. This explained their endogamy, their slack efforts to learn a language or to go out and become acquainted, during their limited free time, with the society in which they had lived for years. In such a setting, Li stood out prominently, but it constrained her as much as it did them.” Later, in an argument with a visiting Spanish writer, the narrator will understand his own marginalized status in the world of writers.

For a time the writer and Li are free of cultural restraints and carefree about what others might think of them. Li is a gifted artist, a talented painter, out of the school of traditional Chinese painting. The writer is also a photographer. They work together at their respective interests, spend increasing time together, and develop a highly erotic relationship. But this is where things become difficult, because there are aspects of Li’s complicated past that she has hidden from him. And then one day, when their sexuality surprises both of them, she disappears.

Unpacking her past and seeing her again is as complicated as understanding his own limits as a writer and Puerto Rico’s ambiguity as a nation.

The translation by David Frye is seamless.

Eduardo Lalo: Simone

Trans. By David Frye

Chicago, 159 pp., $17

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail