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Rodrigo Hasbún on Antônio Xerxenesky

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GRANTA 121: BEST OF YOUNG BRAZILIAN NOVELISTS
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists

Antônio Xerxenesky was born in Porto Alegre. His first novel, Areia nos dentes, was published in 2008 and his collection of short stories, A página assombrada por fantasmas, in 2011. Xerxenesky has collaborated with several newspapers, magazines and websites, including Estado de S. Paulo, Suplemento de Pernambuco and Blog do IMS. In 2007, his short story ‘O desvio’ was adapted for television by the screenwriter Fernando Mantelli. English translations of his work can be found at wordswithoutborders.com and the online edition of Two Lines magazine. ‘Tomorrow, upon Awakening’ (‘Amanha, quando acordar’) is taken from his story collection. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Antônio Xerxenesky is introduced by previous Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelist Rodrigo Hasbún.

The signs of things to come, of everything the future has in store for us, are usually there already, in the air, but it frightens us to look at them. Perhaps because it’s comforting to think we’re in control – or maybe because not knowing helps us feel more alive – we ignore those signs in order to continue inhabiting the present. In the fragility of this present, in its vertigo and its uncertainty, ‘Tomorrow, upon Awakening’ takes place.

It is the last day of 2010, and the protagonist, a nineteen-year-old boy, has rented a house at the beach so he can be alone with his girlfriend. For him, those hours will be his entry not only into a new year, but also into the year when he’ll finally reach his twenties, adulthood. All possibilities are open, for them and for us, the readers: the night may be memorable or disastrous, mind-blowing or utterly forgettable. With remarkable subtlety, Xerxenesky leads us through that long awaited night, when even the most insignificant details become decisive, and everything is or could be a threat, a promise, a symbol (‘and he more than anybody else needs to define his symbols for the year to come, his year of change’). Gradually, lasting certainties emerge, along with the unintentional and painful confrontation with those signs of the future that are so difficult to face. An intense, luminous, moving ending also comes – one of the most beautiful I’ve read in years.

Seven pages are enough, at times, for life to become something else. Seven pages are also enough, the seven that make up this story, to discover Xerxenesky’s extraordinary talent. – Rodrigo Hasbún, Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists, 2010. Translated by Alfred Mac Adam.

Tomorrow, upon Awakening

There is a clear distinction to be made between Christmas celebrations and those of the new year. The former are family occasions, or, for those without family, sad get-togethers with friends (and even then only close friends, the ones regarded as family). But New Year celebrations, being held in a spirit of renewal, an atmosphere of ‘from now on everything will be different’, of ‘put it all behind you, here comes 2011’, are all about good riddance, and nobody really wants to celebrate that sort of thing with people as permanent as family. Seeing in the new year is a ritual to be undertaken with friends, lovers, casual acquaintances. The city of Porto Alegre empties out completely, leaving only beggars in the streets, while the lower-middle, middle-middle and upper-middle classes flock to the Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina beaches, where they celebrate the turn of the year as if it were a carnival compressed into a single day. Which explains all those crazy stories that do the rounds, like: ‘I screwed two chicks at New Year,’ or: ‘Then we all went skinny-dipping,’ or: ‘I took acid and lay on the sand and watched the fireworks.’

He, for his part, had had no such experiences. At nineteen years of age he felt he had missed out on every opportunity for a good time, breaking free, getting some kicks. He had never even travelled on his own (that is, without his family). So in the new year he would make sure things were different, and now was a good time to start. The way he spent this New Year’s Eve would be a symbol of what was in store, an introductory ritual to the adventures he would have in his twenties, making up for his boring teens and a childhood which, if not sad, had certainly been dreary.

Translated by Ina Rilke.

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