© Daniel Mordzinski
David Toscana, considered one of the most important contemporary voices in Mexican literature, was born in 1961 and lives in Mexico and Poland. In 2003, he was guest of the Writers in Residence Programme in Berlin (DAAD). Toscana has been awarded an impressive number of prestigious literary prizes and is a contributing writer at The New York Times. El Último Lector was shortlisted for Latin America’s most important literary award, the Rómulo Gallegos.
In his new novel Evangelia (“Gospeless”), Toscana parodies the biblical story of Jesus by taking the known events literally, exploring their trivial dimension and so retracing the life of another Messiah. Everything begins with a divine error: Mary gives birth to a girl, Emmanuel. The three Magi are appalled and abruptly leave with their gifts. The heavens are perplexed. The Archangel Gabriel tries again with Mary, but to no avail: she is already expecting a child of Joseph, this time a son, whom she intends to call James. Later on, Joseph passes James off as his first-born, so he can take over the role of saviour. James - as Jesus - wanders through the country with his half-sister and their respective followers preaching until Emmanuel is crucified and James ensures that her name is extinguished from biblical tradition. With its parodic reinterpretation of the gospel, Toscana succeeds in presenting an intensely enjoyable work that goes well beyond a merely provocative gesture, because the female Messiah stands also for the unfulfilled revolutionary potential of Christ.
With The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Saramago dared to question even the divine commandment; in Evangelia David Toscana has dared even more.
Toscana meets the expectations for an extraordinary novel, certainly the most daring, endearing as all his books.
La ciudad que el diablo se llevó (“The City That Was Carried Away by the Devil”) tells the story of four friends who try to get by in 1945 Warsaw, selling looted goods or burying corpses in the cemetery. Then one of them is arrested… As they are drawn into a maelstrom of bizarre coincidences, they finally manage to leave the abominable city behind. Writing with a good dose of irony, Toscana once again makes the reader believe that the weirdest things are perfectly normal.
David Toscana writes with such skill that the city’s heart beats for each and every one of those who venture to read his new novel.
An anthem to life and hope.
In his novel, Los puentes de Königsberg ("The Bridges of Königsberg"), David Toscana interweaves several stories into a lyrical and romantic hymn to the transitory nature of beauty and the cruelty of war. The author contrasts scenes in his home of Monterrey with the tragic fall of Königsberg, both cities' names meaning "mountain of the king", at the end of World War II. Yet this is not a juxtaposition in the classic sense; the two levels flow together in an inimitable way, the two towns superimposed upon one another like a double projection.
We start with Floro and Blasco, two unemployed drinkers playing war games in a construction ditch. At the same time, there are Mexicans actually fighting for the Allies on the front. But these two men, are no longer needed. With a gun in your hand, Floro comments, it is easy to feel like a man: 'The difficult thing in our times is going through life unarmed.' So there is no other option for them but to lose themselves in daydreams. They start tracing the case of six schoolgirls kidnapped several years ago, who are now considered dead. Their almost erotic enthusiasm for the missing girls grows and grows. They even fantasise themselves into the role of the kidnappers.
While the parents don't give up looking for their daughters, one of the kidnapped girls' brother is secretly in love with his teacher Señorita Andrea. She had set her class an unsolvable problem going back to the mathematician Euler: to cross the seven bridges of Königsberg in such a way that each one was crossed once and only once. When the boy claims he has found a solution Andrea is indignant, but from then on she regularly meets up with him on the only bridge in Monterrey, representing a different bridge of Königsberg every time. Through stories from the city's past, the teacher draws the boy deeper and deeper into her world.
Despite all its irony, the novel, inspired by Gustav Mahler's Songs on the Death of Children, strives for romantic glorification, and attacks men's war games, from which always women suffer, becoming a wistful song of remembering. Toscana passes Euler's problem on to his readers, inviting us to cross the bridges of Königsberg over and over again. There is no one way, no single clear solution. Only the attempt.
From his first books, David Toscana has been betting on imagination as topic, as style and as narrative strategy.
Revista de la Universidad de México
Los puentes de Königsberg, a neat, frenzied and exquisite fantasy where history, theatre, epic, myth and periodism come together.
El ejército iluminado (“The Illuminated Army”) sees the suspended teacher Matus running a marathon in his little town in the deepest province of north Mexico. A man in the wrong place at the wrong time who never had the chance to compete for a medal, he now uses all his energy to retrieve it for himself from the widow of a North American Olympic champion of 1924.
Neither was the patriotic Matus granted to restore justice and reclaim the territory north of the Río Bravo, nowadays Texas, for the Mexican realm. Only his mentally handicapped pupils may follow him when he hangs up an outdated map or sets off towards the North with an old boneshaker where he intends to fight the decisive battle. Together with the plump Comodoro and his friends he manages to cross the torrent and even occupy one of the enemy’s command centres, at least for a few hours. Then however, it comes to losses, they have to surrender and a hardly heroic return home follows, which in reality is only a few miles down the road.
David Toscana deserves to be labelled as the Latin-American Cervantes of the 21st century! The Illuminated Army is like a little Quijote.
Rodrigo Argüello, El Tiempo
El último lector (“The last Reader“) again revolves around the death of a girl: In Icamole, an abandoned town in the desert-like North of Mexico, bachelor Remigio finds her in his well and falls strangely in love with her. He only tells his father Lucio about it. While the police investigate the death of the little girl, Lucio, a librarian and the last reader of Icamole, searches for explanations in literature. He reads the books he likes while feeding the others to the cockroaches. This novel proves David Toscana to be one of our best narrators. (Milenio) In “El último lector” Toscana demonstrates what true literature is. (Vértigo).
The author has been awarded three literary awards for this novel: The National Colima Prize, the José Fuentes Mares and the Antonin Artaud Prize. El último lector was also shortlisted for Latin America’s most important literary award, the Rómulo Gallegos.
In “El último lector” Toscana demonstrates what true literature is.
One closes the book with a sensation of exquisite giddiness that one encounters very rarely.
Toscana proves that he has listened closely to the lessons of the two great Latin American masters of illusion, Borges and Onetti.
To put it bluntly, Miguel Pruneda has had enough in Duelo por Miguel Pruneda (“Mourning for Miguel Pruneda”). Enough of his job as an administrative official, enough of his wife Estela who infests the bathroom with lavender-trees, enough of life, basically. But his thirty-year’s service jubilee is about to be celebrated and the local newspaper would like to honour him by publishing a portrait. Miguel’s flight from life and from reality begins, as in his childhood days, with a visit to the cemetery.
The graves and crypts of many of the dead have always exerted a great fascination on him, and so Miguel gets himself, and an illustrious group of other people, involved in a bizarre detective game, in which identities become blurred and the murmurings of the dead are scarcely distinguishable from those of the living. And so it happens that Miguel, along with his acquaintances Hugo and Monica (author of the laudatio), Faustino (journalist), Horacio (neighbour) and his wife, embalm the deceased entrepreneur José Videgaray in his bath-tub, because he did not wish to be buried. And so it happens too, that Miguel takes a plastic bag full of bones home with him, the remains of little Irenita; the girl had been raped and then murdered and Miguel does not wish to leave her bones to themselves. It also happens that, together, the dead and the living re-enact a plane crash in Miguel's living-room, and Estela exchanges her good brown dress for a good green one.
Absurd on the surface and altogether funny, Duelo por Miguel Pruneda (“Mourning for Miguel Pruneda”) also plays a highly complicated cat-and-mouse game with the reader, who repeatedly tries to pit rational means against the apparent madness of a handful of figures whose normal lives have become meaningless.
Toscana is a master at interweaving the tragic and the tender, black humour and delicate irony, love and hurt. The world of his protagonists is set in the imagination and takes a bizarre form when coming into contact with reality. And reality is miserable in the stories told in Lontananza. One sits there with the men who meet in the bar Lontananza in the evening, fleeing from the monotony at home, and listens to their stories which have a novel-like quality. A great little book.
Toscana’s novel, Estación Tula, is based on a real event: after a fierce hurricane, Froylán Gómez’ car is found in a river; the man himself is considered to have perished. Years later, his wife comes across a pile of papers and on reading them discovers that Froylán has availed himself of the opportunity to disappear with his mistress. So she asks her friend David Toscana to go through the papers to see if he can make anything worthwhile out of them. The result is Estación Tula, a novel about a triangular relationship, about longing and passion; the story of the eager orphan Juan Capistrán in search of adventure and heroism; and not least a homage to the little town of Tula that has a railway station which no train has ever stopped at.
As in Estación Tula, “a hipnotic novel” (New York Times) with its search for adventure and heroism, the life of the eight circus performers in Santa María del Circo (“Our Lady of the Circus”) is even more allegorical. Don Alejo and the members of his circus stumble upon a deserted town. Intrigued by the notion of living a normal life, they decide to establish a community.
The press about Santa María del Circo:
Toscana’s achievement is his ability to make the reader fall madly in love with the characters.
A one-man-show. Toscana is set to rise in the ranks of the most important Latin American writer.
He combines some of the greatest features of ‘A Hundred Years of Solitude’. A comparison that is anything but derogatory! Toscana tells the complete history of a world and its demise. In a witty yet poetic language.
The ABC Cultural
Evangelia, Mexico City: Alfaguara 2016, 332 p.
La ciudad que el diablo se llevó, Mexico City, Alfaguara 2012, 266 p.
Italy: Gran Via 2015
Los puentes de Königsberg, Mexico City: Alfaguara 2009, 242 p.
Brazil: Casa da Palavra 2012
El ejército iluminado, Mexico City: Tusquets 2006, 233 p.
Film rights under option
Brazil: Casa da Palavra 2007 ● Croatia: Bozicevic 2015 ● France: Zulma 2012 ● Portugal: Parsifal 2014
El último lector, Mexico City: Random House 2004, 192 p.
English translation available
Shortlisted for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize
Brazil: Casa da palavra 2005 ● France: Zulma 2009, pb 2013 ● India: DC Books 2013 ● Italy: Ed. Riuniti 2007 ● Poland: Bertelsmann 2010 ● Portugal: Oficina do Livro 2008 ● Slovak Republic: Belimex 2005 ● Sweden: Boca/Atlas 2009 ● Turkey: Kirmizi Kedi 2011 ● US: Texas Tech University Press 2009
Duelo por Miguel Pruneda, Mexico City: Random House 2002, 219p.
Sweden: Boca/ Pocky 2006
Santa María del Circo, Mexico City: Random House 1998, 288 p.,
included by Publishers Weekly in its annual review “The Year in Books 2001”
Feature Film by Guilherme Weber
Brazil: Casa da palavra 2006 ● Portugal: Oficina do Livro 2010 ● US: St. Martin's Press 2001
Estación Tula, Mexico City: Joaquín Mortiz 1995, 272 p.
Film rights under option
France: Zulma 2010 ● Germany: Wolfgang Krüger 1998 ● Greece: Opera 1999 ● Serbia&Montenegro: Narodna Knjiga 2005 ● Syria: At-Taquee 2003 ● US: St. Martin's Press 1999 (avail.)
Lontananza, Buenos Aires: Random House 2003, 115 p.
English sample translation available
Participation in anthologies:
La Frontera – Die mexikanisch-US-amerikanische Grenze und ihre Künstler
Frankfurt am Main: Faust Kultur 2014
Rio de Janeiro: Record 2010