I see that I’ve forgotten to mention Kalpa Imperial, by Angelica Gorodischer, which I read a few months ago. I ran into it because it’s translated by Ursula K. Le Guin; I approve of her books, and her taste in general, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
And it’s delightful. It’s a collection of stories about a fictional empire, through its twists and turns over thousands (?) of years. The stories aren’t particularly connected: they dip into the history of the empire at different times, in different places, from different viewpoints. Most (all? I can’t remember) of the stories follow the rulers of the empire, but they take quite different approaches to their lives, starting from a quite human and specific approach, so they never feel repetitive. The cities themselves are also typically major players (and it’s a long-lived empire in which the rulers moved around a bit); in a way, it feels like Invisible Cities, though it has a much more traditional narrative (and much more realistic cities) than the latter.
The author is actually Argentinian (which I would not have guessed form her name, I confess). And I don’t think that’s the only reason why she reminds me of Borges: something about the way in which they write about fictional worlds, the ties that those world have with the ones around us. (Though Borges is a good deal more eccentric.) Shades of magical realism, I suppose, but not so explicitly magical as what I associate with that term.
Too bad nothing else of hers has been translated into English…
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