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Cipango Hardcover – December 31, 2009

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Review

Cipango. Harris, Tomás. tr. by Daniel Shapiro.U.S.: Bucknell Univ. Pr. 2010.321p. ISBN 978-0-8387-5734-5. POETRY The work of Harris, lauded in his native Chile and South America with the prestigious Pablo Neruda, Casa de las Américas, and Altazor awards, is stark and lugubrious. The verses are instilled with images of death and fear; they are nautical, buoyant on the imagined sea of the explorers who lusted for gold. The title gathers its meaning from Christopher Columbus's mistaking the island of Hispaniola for Cipango, Marco Polo's Japan. Harris wrote the five books that make up this volume during Pinochet's dictatorship (1973-90), and together with the horrors of the Spanish vessels and the riches of Kublai Khan, the acts of terror unleashed during the dictatorship attain a climactic poignancy ("I'm a beggar woman, a whore,/ the only pearls my teeth,/ my teeth, brothers, that I hoard for the Divine/ in the little silk purse/ of Death smoke/ from the 80's"). What emerges is an epic odyssey in time, seen through the eyes of the perpetrators, as well as the eyes of the pillaged. Time is strung together by images that resurface--a sun wrapped in cellophane, will-o'-the-wisps, nocturnal butterflies, red fish devouring each other, blue rats--and the tragic citizens of Concepción, who dwell, sometimes lustful and happy, amid the violence and neon of the red-light district. Shapiro's faithful translations, produced here alongside the Spanish text, do well to mirror Harris's language acrobatics--from Old Spanish to contemporary to vernacular--and choral cadence. A fine collection; recommended for libraries and bookstores with a contemporary South American poetry collection and wherever current events titles are popular.--Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Palo Alto, CA --Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Bucknell Univ Pr; Bilingual edition (December 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0838757340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0838757345
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,875,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on March 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Who knows what you would find going west off the coast of Portugal? "Cipango" is a collection of poems from Tomas Harris, a Chilean poet. This volume was initially published in 1992, but now is presented in English alongside the original Spanish. The poems spin on the idea of Columbus reaching Japan, as well as poems on other historical figures and figures of popular culture. "Cipango" is an original and intriguing work of poetry, highly recommended. "Ocean of Storms": No eyes ever saw the sea so high, so furious, so covered with foam./The wind didn't let us advance/or tack toward some cape./I lingered on that sea made of blood,/seething like a cauldron on a mighty fire.
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Format: Hardcover
Cipango is a collection of poems by Chilean poet and writer Tomas Harris that reflects the political climate of Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. As a result the book is packed with cultural and political references, some of them undoubtedly more relevant to Chilean readers. Recurring themes of oppression, love, sexuality, nautical travel, and colonialism knit the book together, while the constant references to conquerors such as Kublai Khan and Christopher Columbus give the book a sense of far-reaching, historical unity and an epic scope. There is a good deal of diversity here, with references all over the map, which makes the book difficult to understand for someone unaware of the political climate in which it was written. The book presupposes a specific historic and political awareness that the casual reader may not have. The translator's introduction and notes prove helpful and insightful.

I have no knowledge of Spanish, but it seems to me that Daniel Shapiro's translation is sound. The English flows smoothly, the line breaks are all in the right places, and the language has haunting power. I particularly enjoyed seeing Harris' original Spanish poems and Shapiro's English translations side by side. Bilingual readers will enjoy comparing the poems and listening to differences in sound. People who enjoy translation puzzles like me may work backwards, matching up Spanish words with their English counterparts in a given line to establish a pseudo understanding of the original poems.

Despite its epic scope, cultural relevance, and the wealth of diversity found in these pages, I found it difficult to truly enjoy Cipango. I am not by nature a reader of "dark" fiction and the unrelenting tone of doom was almost too much for me to get through in one sitting.
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