A Peruvian of Japanese forbears who lives in Providence, Rhode Island? A Peruvian of Japanese forbears who lives in Providence, Rhode Island and who writes about Brazil? Carlos Yushimito is beautifully 21st Century. Everyone is everywhere. Or as Joyce would say, here comes everybody.
After Borges, (particularly in the Spanish world) one has to be circumspect about bandying around once-simple words like author and story (I don’t think I can ever forgive him for that). Kindly, Yushimito flags up his game straight away. Catch the word ‘costume’ in the first line of ‘Seltz’. Yushimito slips on Brazil just as his protagonist slips on his crocodile costume. The great thing about a costume is that you can see but you can’t be seen.
All the guidebook references you would expect from Brazil are present in Yushimito’s camouflage: cachaca, caipirinha, Ipanema, Daniela Mercury. The only things missing are football and favelas (and you have to save something for another story).
Disguising yourself or dressing up (to change your station or your gender) is more a device of the theatre than prose, and generally goes one of two ways, either the transformation is a resounding success for comic or dramatic effect or a failure for comic effect. If you look at the servants posing as their betters in the drama of the ancien regime, Molière’s servants are quite convincing as nobility (thus Molière is doubly subversive, the servants are as good as their masters, or if you prefer, as potentially bad). Marivaux’s made-over servants remain bumpkins.
In charting Toninho’s trajectory from clown and poverty to plutocratic playboy for a night (by simply donning a good jacket), Yushimito is more delicate and oscillating. But judge for yourself. – Tibor Fischer, Best Young British Novelist 1993
Each of the Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists answered a questionnaire on their influences and the role of the writer in public life. Here are Yushimito's answers:
Name the five writers you most admire at the moment (any period, language or genre).
Felisberto Hernández, Guimarães Rosa, Walter Benjamin, César Vallejo and William Faulkner.
Have you published literary criticism?
I’ve written reviews for literary supplements and I currently write and publish critical essays quite regularly in academic magazines.
Which languages do you read in?
Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Do you have your own web page?
Is your fiction your sole source of income? If not, what else do you live off?
No, my income currently comes from a scholarship from Brown University. Before that I worked as a Spanish teacher at Villanova University, where I also studied for a Masters in Hispanic Studies. Until I left Lima, my city of birth, in 2008, I wrote and edited for an editorial projects company and made a decent living from that, although it left little time to write fiction.
Should writers play a role in public life beyond the publication of their work? If so, in what way?
Not necessarily. I admit that it’s interesting for there to be moralist or provocative writers who keep the debate alive in a society. And I think it’s especially necessary because there is a need for different types of writers to exist, not simply subjects cloned in one single commercial mould. I think it’s necessary because the individuality expressed in opinion generally translates into the works. However, that said, I think that this is citizen intervention in general. By that I mean opinion. To give a writer carte blanche to affect ‘public life’ with greater legitimacy than others is a sign of elitism, which isn't, of course, the responsibility of the writer, but probably that of the institutions that legitimate it or that grant greater authority to his or her words beyond the writing. Of course, it is difficult to accept literary commitment in the same way that it was regarded three decades ago, and as such I think that the persistence of this imagery, that of the writer as a committed intellectual and the current requirements for a writer to also be an intellectual capable of expressing relevant opinions on practically all the social, economic and political affairs of a country, or even the whole world, creates, on the contrary, increasingly cynical and demagogic figures. In my position, which is that of a non-professional writer, I can only take on my public involvement through certain skills, perhaps as a reader at best, or as a future academic. I don’t think that my work grants me a privileged position to express opinions any more worthy of consideration than those of anyone else. On the contrary, I take full responsibility for my fictional works, which suppose a private rather than public dialogue with a reader. This last point, the potential to affect someone’s private life, seems to me to be a sufficiently worthy intervention on the lives of others.