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The Sky Over Lima Hardcover – May 17, 2016
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Winner of the 2014 Ojo Crítico Literary Prize
An official selection of the Festival du premier roman in Chambéry
"The best heartbreaker novels are the ones that sneak up on you like this one." —Alexander Chee, Vulture
“This marvelous story is stitched together by the seduction of three epistolary lovers, distant acquaintances that together conquer reality and fantasy, transporting us to an imaginary world that is at once refreshing, comic, and sublime. The conquest in this novel, a game played by one writer and his readers, captivates, drawing us in through the seductive power of a monumental young author.”
—Laura Esquivel, bestselling author of Like Water for Chocolate and Malinche
“Here’s a tale with the subtlest of stings in it, dark wit and telescopic perspective aplenty. And then there's the intoxicating folly of the games that the protagonists play with fantasy and fact, malice, tenderness, ambition, envy and other forces that strike at our most vulnerable selves. I’ll be thinking of these characters, what they longed to create and what they managed to despoil, for a long time.” —Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy Snow Bird and What Is Not Your Is Not Yours
“A beautifully written novel, chock-full of sharp humor and penetrating insight, The Sky over Lima has at its heart a captivating, ventriloquistic love story, not unlike the classic Cyrano de Bergerac. But in this epistolary romance, the woman is a fiction written by two boys—reminiscent in their way of Bolaño’s Visceral Realists—who come alive on the page as impeccably-wrought emissaries of their time and place, while remaining incredibly relatable and engaging to readers today.” —Andrè Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name and Harvard Square
“Bárcena shines where so many writers stumble—his writing about art, of the artifice both in the narrative and implicit in his prose, feels alive, fresh and important. His words, which so easily could have become overwrought when translated into English, feel subtle and whimsical in Rosenberg's deft hands. Against the fascinating backdrop of Lima's burgeoning rubber industry, The Sky Over Lima explores notions of class, identity, and friendship, and reminded me of how it first felt to fall in love with writing.” —Sara Nović, author of Girl at War
"Bárcena has an incredible voice, and The Sky Over Lima evinces the attention to detail and characterization of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez...The Sky Over Lima is a magician’s conjuring through which we are made to see our own artifice. As Cristóbal says to Carlos over drinks, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder, 'Open your eyes, my friend; love, as you understand it, was invented by literature, just as Goethe gave suicide to the Germans. We don’t write novels; novels write us.'” —ZYZZYVA
"Anyone who has ever wept over a poem or burned to write more and better and despaired because their talent let them down will read this novel and come away feeling understood." —National Book Review
"A gentle, beautifully crafted, humorous and incisively profound essay on love, identity and writing."
"Charming...A love letter to the creative process." —Kirkus
“An intriguing tale of transatlantic catfishing ... Bárcena grounds the literary games in a richly detailed, early 20th-century Lima and its cast of secondary characters: dock workers, prostitutes, café-haunting literati. Its lightly ironic tone darkening as it proceeds, the novel sensitively explores how a literary prank shapes the sentimental, romantic, and moral education of Carlos.”— Publishers Weekly
“The novel is faithful to the facts, recreating in great detail the minutia of the story and time period, but also transcending them…Gómez Bárcena tackles the most serious topics while masterfully showing how to write a story that’s simultaneously a comedy, a tragedy, and a portrait of another culture. The style is magnificent, the narration told with originality, pulse, and rhythm. There’s little more to say: read Gómez Bárcena.” —El Cultural
“A solid, marvelously written narrative…The careful language, the ability to dig into the human psyche, the finely-tuned portraits of characters and the landscape of Peru in the earlier twentieth century, with is social upheaval, strikes, brothels, the rubber industry (the reader might be reminded of The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa), plus the story’s literary web, all wisely employed, turn The Sky over Lima into a novel to be read with supreme pleasure until it’s been completely devoured.” —Estado Crítico
“Gómez Bárcena succeeds at turning this singular moment into fiction with flying colors…The narration of this minimalist work flows and advances like an afternoon bike ride." —Buensalvaje
From the Inside Flap
A retelling of a fantastical true story: two young men seduce Nobel laureate Juan Ramon Jimenez with the words of an imaginary woman and inspire one of his greatest love poems.
Jose Galvez and Carlos Rodriguez are poets. Or, at least, they d like to be. Sons of Lima s elite in the early twentieth century, they scribble bad verses and read the greats: Rilke, Rimbaud, and, above all others, Juan Ramon Jimenez, the Spanish Maestro. Desperate for Jimenez s latest work, which is unavailable for purchase in Peru, they decide to ask him for a copy directly.
They re certain Jimenez won t send two dilettantes his book but maybe he ll favor a beautiful woman. They write to him as the lovely, imaginary Georgina Hubner, and their trick works; Jimenez responds with a letter and an autographed book. Elated, Jose and Carlos write back. Their correspondence continues, and the boys abandon poetry for the pages of Jimenez s life. But as the months go by, and each barge docked in the Lima harbor brings with it a new emblem of the Maestro s growing affection, Jose and Carlos are forced to reckon with their romance s inevitable denouement."
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Top Customer Reviews
Overall, I found this story sad. Carols and Jose are spoiled entitled brats. New money or old money they are irresponsible, negligent, and cruel. Although each did develop as a character, there was no accountability for the damage that was done to others. Their actions served only their selfish agendas. Instead of having sympathy or accountability for the impact their greedy game, since the story stemmed around two wealthy men trying to obtain a free copy of poetry that either could easily afford, they reveled at the outcome of their actions. The act of signing the poem for Georgina, even though they did cause the mental turmoil that inspired the poets creativity, never stopped to think of the anguish, heartbreak, or mess they caused for Jimenez.
I’ve read comments in other reviews about the treatment of women in the novel. This novel was set in the early 1900’s. It deals with the extreme wealthy and poor. Unfortunately, the treatment of women in either category is probably accurate for the time period and even more-so in forms of classic literature, which is how this novel was written. I agree, the men were awful to women but they were also awful to men and each other. The female impact was highlighted by the use of prostitutes for recreational physical relations and how charm could be used to gain similar experiences with “ladies”. Agreed it is disgusting to think of in today’s terms. My point is that the treatment by Carols and Jose towards women was not much different than the lies and disrespect they had for men.
I have mixed opinions of how to rate this book. I loved the writing. I hated the characters. Just when I was briefly liking Carols on for standing up to Jose when he was asking for help, he turned around and used the adrenaline rush to harm another individual.
The following quote appeared in the advanced copy that I read. and pretty much sums up the attitude the men had for women and for continuing the charade with Jimenez. “Carols expects love to give him everything that money cannot buy.” It is sad that this feeling of secondhand love came at the expense of so many others.
It is an easy book to read in the sparkling translation by Andrea Rosenberg, but that alone would not have been enough to sustain it. Three things deepened the interest for me -- until a fourth knocked me backwards, but more about that in a moment.
The first thing to intrigue me was that, in the most natural way, the book becomes a kind of metafiction. The two friends raise their horizons from forging a few fan letters to composing an entire novel, the romance of the real Juan Ramón and the fictional Georgina, including their own role as Pygmalions. That novel, presumably, is the book we are now reading. But a mere literary conceit, no matter how clever or how approachable, would still not have been enough. What really drew me in was learning about life in Lima in the period, and my increasing sympathy with one of the two young men.
The Lima we see in 1904 is a sharply divided world of rich and poor. There are old families whose fortunes are declining, and new rubber barons making their wealth on the backs of their indigenous laborers. There are dockworkers whose daily pay is not even enough for a loaf of bread, and prostitutes whose debts to their madams rise faster than anything they can earn on their backs. In the middle of all this is Carlos Rodríguez, the more sensitive of the two young men, a naive boy with a social conscience, trying to stand up to the macho expectations of his father, and to work out his feelings for the world around him. Georgina becomes real for him, and her image colors his relations equally with the society girls presented as marriage prospects and the young prostitute he visits weekly to pour out his soul.
Then came the ending. It is psychologically believable, I suppose, and the poet's response is a matter of history. In terms of the literary concept with which this all started, it is even elegant. But in terms of my deepening sympathy with Carlos, it came as a slap in the face.
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It has many things going for it, which I enjoy: a Spanish author (I minored in...Read more