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September 25, 2017

Book Notes - Rodrigo Hasbún "Affections"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rodrigo Hasbún's Affections is a fascinating novel of family and revolution.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Hasbún writes with patience and precision, revealing the family’s most intimate thoughts and interactions: first smokes, blind love, and familial devotion. This is a novel to savor for its richness and grace and its historical and political scope."

In his own words, here is Rodrigo Hasbún's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Affections:

(translated by Sophie Hughes)

I wrote Affections listening over and over again to the sessions that Chet Baker and Bill Evans recorded together. I know very little about the sessions themselves, and even less about jazz in general, but to me there's something utterly hypnotic about those fifteen tracks. Hearing the same music on repeat is curious in that sense: after a while you stop hearing it, but even then it lulls you into a certain state of mind, into a kind of sensory disposition useful for writing.

Back then I was living in Toronto and I didn't like working in the apartment we rented, so every morning I went out looking for some café where I could spend the next four or five hours. There are, then, at least a dozen good cafes behind Affections, and all of them are full of strangers, and in the background you can make out Chet Baker's sinuous and tragic trumpet, and Bill Evans' delicate, luminous piano. Those songs that helped me write Affections don't, however, take me back to the novel when I hear them. It's for this reason, and because otherwise it would be pretty dull, that I've been true to the unruly spirit of playlists when selecting my own. This is a playlist I might have listened to at the end of one of those writing days, when I would go wandering around the city. It's a playlist straight out of the streets and neighborhoods of Toronto, but precisely thanks to the music, they can transform suddenly into the streets and neighborhoods of Cochabamba, Santiago, Barcelona, or Ithaca, all cities where I'd lived prior to that year. If music has a power, I would say it's this: it allows us to travel through time and space, and it takes us back to moments and places that we cannot return to by other means.

There is no logic running through these twelve songs, only a jumble of styles, voices and eras, of intensities and rhythms that vaguely remind me of Affections. Some of the songs I heard for the first time on my iPod. Many more played out of a Walkman which I still keep in my desk.

Caught In Between – Micah P. Hinson
The main characters in Affections are a family of Germans who move to Bolivia in the mid 1950s to try to start again. From then on they all become somewhat trapped between this place and that, between the past and the present, between one life and another. I don't suppose Micah P. Hinson had any of this in mind when he wrote the song, but each time I listen to it, it brings back that liminal feeling, so common among those who no longer know where home is.

There Is a War – Leonard Cohen
Old Leonard was wise before he was even old, and this much he knew from the start: there are wars raging everywhere, between the rich and the poor, between men and women, between those who know there's a war on and those who don't. I have no doubt that Monika, the eldest and strongest of the daughters in Affections, would agree. At the beginning of the novel she is part of the group oblivious to the fact that there is a war on. Toward the end, she's ready to kill, and be killed, for her convictions.

El matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
In some of those invisible wars this song plays loud and clear.

Manuel Santillán, el León – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
And this one, its sister song.

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
"So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain? Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil?"

Cry, Baby, Cry – Janis Joplin
There's urgency in Janis Joplin's howls. There's vulnerability and emotional commitment. There's enduring ghosts and painful contradictions. Everything a novel needs to survive.

Fly – Nick Drake
Such sweetness, such kindness. We owe Nick Drake a life. His tone and voice never fail to move me. In some way they remind me of Trixi, the youngest of the daughters in the novel. She, too, needs "a second grace, a second face". She, too, wants to learn to fly.

En la ciudad de la furia: MTV Unplugged – Soda Stereo
The voices of Gustavo Cerati and Andrea Echeverri meld together delightfully in the middle of the jungle of eerie sounds. There are no more fairytales in the city of fury, he says. He's talking about Buenos Aires, but it could be any other city. La Paz, say, in the eyes of the unhappily married Monika, who haunts its streets searching for herself.

We No Who U R – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
"Tree don't care what the little bird sings. We go down with the dew in the morning light. The tree don't know what the little bird brings. We go down with the dew in the morning. And we breathe it in. There is no need to forgive."

Idioteque – Radiohead
"I have seen too much I haven't seen enough you haven't seen it I'll laugh until my head comes off women and children first and children first and children here I'm alive everything all of the time here I'm alive everything all of the time ice age coming ice age coming let me hear both sides let me hear both sides"

Feeling Good – Nina Simone
The more peaceful days, when everything seems easier –why are they so hard to capture? Will we ever learn how to write about them? Or, rather, does that peacefulness, so elusive, so necessary, only ever last a moment? If that's the case, I want to believe that there are a few such moments dotted throughout the novel, hidden beneath the commotion of daily life.

God Yu Tekkem Laef Blong Mi – Hans Zimmer, Gavin Greenaway
In the scene in The Thin Red Line when this choral piece plays, Private Witt takes advantage of a ceasefire to leave his Company and go and live among a community of Melanesians. In the middle of all the carnage, he finds a way to be closer to something that has remained impervious to the destruction, a way to be closer to the secret splendor of the world. Yes, Malick seems to be telling us in that scene, there are always wars going on –constant, interminable, brutal. But there is also this. Solidarity, the sense of belonging, the promise of better times. Children's voices, their games and their faith. The sea.

Rodrigo Hasbún and Affections links:

excerpt from the book

Financial Times review
Kirkus review
The National review
Publishers Weekly review
The Scotsman review

Houston Matters interview with the author
Quarterly Conversation interview with the author
The White Review interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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