locosLocos: A Comedy Of Gestures by Felipe Alfau. New York. 1936. Farrar & Rinehart. 307 pages

Talk about an unappreciated classic. Written in English by a Spaniard living in New York, this book languished in limbo from 1936 until it was reissued by The Dalkey Archive in 1988. From a cafe in Madrid to the pickpocket convention this book is a real gem and was way ahead of its time.


The interconnected stories that form this novel take place in a Madrid as exotic as the Baghdad of the 1001 Arabian Nights and feature unforgettable characters in revolt against their young ‘author. ’ ‘For them,’ he complains, ‘reality is what fiction is to real people; they simply love it and make for it against my almost heroic opposition. By the end of this book my characters are no longer a tool for my expression, but I am a helpless instrument of their whims and absurd contretemps. In short, my characters have taken seriously the saying that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ and I have failed in my attempts to convince them of the contrary. ’ These fables of identity are enchanting despite Alfau’s frequent reminders that these are mere puppets, figures of the imagination; nor can the reader fail to find, despite Alfau’ s mock warning, ‘beneath a more or less entertaining comedy of meaningless gestures, the vulgar aspects of a common tragedy. ’ First published in 1936 and undeservedly neglected for the last fifty years, LOCOS anticipated the ‘magic realism’ of the Latin Americans as well as the inventions of such later writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O’Brien, John Barth, and Donald Barthelme. Modern readers are now in a better position to appreciate Alfau’s ingenuity and art, and to wonder how such a book, whose place in modem fiction is now so clear, could have gone unrecognized for so many years.

Alfau Felipe

Born August 24, 1902

Felipe Alfau (1902–1999), was a Spanish American (Catalan American) novelist and poet. Like his contemporaries Luigi Pirandello and Flann O'Brien, Alfau is considered a forerunner of later postmodern writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, and Gilbert Sorrentino. Born in Barcelona, Alfau emigrated with his family at the age of fourteen to the United States, where he lived the remainder of his life. Alfau earned a living as a translator; his sparse fictional and poetic output remained obscure throughout most of his life. Alfau wrote two novels in English: LOCOS: A COMEDY OF GESTURES and CHROMOS. LOCOS — a metafictive collection of related short stories set in Toledo and Madrid, involving several characters that defy the wishes of the author, write their own stories, and even assume each others' roles — was published by Farrar and Rinehart in 1936. The novel, for which Alfau was paid $250, received some critical acclaim, but little popular attention. The novel was republished in 1987 after an editor for the small publisher Dalkey Archive Press found the book at a barn sale in Massachusetts, read it, and contacted Alfau after finding his telephone number in the Manhattan phone book. The novel's second incarnation was modestly successful, but Alfau refused payment, instructing the publisher to use the earnings from LOCOS to fund some other unpublished work. When asked if he had written any other books, Alfau provided the manuscript for CHROMOS, which had been resting in a drawer since 1948. CHROMOS, a comic story of Spanish immigrants to the United States contending with their two cultures, went on to be nominated for the National Book Award in 1990. Alfau also wrote a book of poetry in Spanish, SENTIMENTAL SONGS (La poesia cursi), written between 1923 and 1987 and published in 1992, and a book of children's stories, OLD TALES FROM SPAIN, written in 1929.




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