How can such a tiny novella contain so many lessons in perception? The vessel is a schoolboy named Carlos, whose father owns a soap factory in Mexico City in the late 1940s…70 pages of deep submergence in experience and sensation.

Molly Young, The New York Times

José Emilio Pacheco

José Emilio Pacheco (1939- 2014) is one of Mexico’s foremost poets, novelists, and essayists. A lifelong resident of Mexico City, Pacheco has been a guest lecturer throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain. Some of Pacheco’s best known collections of poetry include Miro la tierra (which documented the Mexico City earthquake), El reposo del fuego, Fin de siglo y otros poemas, _Arbol entere dos muros/_Tree between two walls, and Selected Poems. His No me preguntas cómo pasa el tiempo was awarded Mexico’s National Poetry Prize. New Directions publishes two titles by Emilio Pacheco: Battles in the Desert & Other Stories, translated by Katherine Silver; and Selected Poems, Edited by George McWhirter with various translators (bilingual) (both 1987).

cover image of the book Battles in the Desert

Battles in the Desert

by José Emilio Pacheco

Translated by Katherine Silver

With a contribution by Fernanda Melchor

This landmark novella—one of the central texts of Mexican literature, is eerily relevant to our current dark times—offers a child’s-eye view of a society beset by dictators, disease, and natural disasters, set in “the year of polio, foot-and- mouth disease, floods.” A middle-class boy grows up in a world of children aping adults (mock wars at recess pit Arabs against Jews), where a child’s left to ponder “how many evils and catastrophes we have yet to witness.” When Carlos laments the cruelty and corruption, the evils of a vicious class system, his older brother answers: “So what, we are living up to our ears in shit anyway under Miguel Alemán’s regime,” with “the face of El Señor Presidente everywhere: incessant, private abuse.” Sound familiar?

Woven into this coming-of-age saga is the terribly intense love Carlos cherishes for his friend’s young mother, which has the effect of driving the general cruelties further under the reader’s skin. The acclaimed translator Katherine Silver has greatly revised her original translation, enlivening afresh this remarkable work.

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cover image of the book Selected Poems of Jose Emilio Pacheco

Selected Poems of Jose Emilio Pacheco

José Emilio Pacheco’s Selected Poems is the first major retrospective gathering to appear in an English-Spanish bilingual format of the work of one of Mexico’s foremost writers. Born in 1939, his talent was recognized early, and while still in his twenties he was already keeping company with the great Spanish-speaking poets of Latin America. A prolific poet and a perfectionist, Pacheco has since 1962 published seven volumes of poetry, including the National Poetry Prize-winning No me preguntes como pasa el tiempo (Don’t Ask Me How the Time Goes By) in 1969. Tarde o temprano, collected poems of 1958 to 1980, contains the revisions on which the translations in the present volume are based. The Selected Poems is edited by George McWhirter of The University of British Columbia, who worked closely with Pacheco himself in choosing the poems and their English translations. Besides McWhirter’s own versions are those by Thomas Hoeksema, Alastair Reid, and Linda Scheer, as well as Edward Dorn and Gordon Brotherston, Katherine Silver, and Elizabeth Umlas. Affirming the poet’s stature, McWhirter writes: “In his singularity of vision and multiplicity of poetic forms, traditional and modern, José Emillo Pacheco spans past and present in both Latin American and peninsular Spanish poetry. It is a glittering and giant technical achievement, as brilliant and instantly visible as Hart Crane’s The Bridge.”

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How can such a tiny novella contain so many lessons in perception? The vessel is a schoolboy named Carlos, whose father owns a soap factory in Mexico City in the late 1940s…70 pages of deep submergence in experience and sensation.

Molly Young, The New York Times

What may be the most beloved fictional work to a nation of 130 million people. Battles in the Desert—recently reissued by New Directions to honor the fortieth anniversary of its first publication in Spanish—plays in Mexican culture a role similar to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in the United States. Everybody has read it.

Àlvaro Enrigue, Book Post

An exceptional poet of daily life, impeccable.

USA Today

An intensely felt vision of life: abruptly we realize we have been led—almost trapped—into thoughtfulness. Mr. Pacheco has said he cannot believe his work could be of interest to anyone outside of Mexico City. True, his work is not an export commodity—precisely why it is worth exporting.”

New York Times Book Review

His work is universal, part of the eternal glory of literature.

Carlos Fuentes

Pacheco often hits with deadly accuracy.

Quarterly Conversation

For José Emilio Pacheco time is the agent of universal destruction, and history—the passage of ruins…Pacheco exalts the triumph of nature over culture, but in exalting it, doesn’t he transfigure it, changing it into the word, or—as he puts it—into ‘fleeting music, the counterpoint of wind and water’?

Octavio Paz
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