Bardo99: A Mononovel
Paperback, 78 pages
bardo (bar´do), n. [Tibetan, lit., "between two."] The intermediate or astral state of the soul between death and rebirth.
"What if the 20th Century lived as a character, and what if that character, dying, passed through a Bardo state?"
Joseph Viek, Bardo's protagonist awakens from a plunging sleep to learn there has been an accident. But what kind of accident? The massive coronary that ends his own life, or a much more dread accident, the kind we have come to associate with places like Chernobyl, Kyshtym, or Hanford, Washington? He boards a Land Rover to reach the disaster zone, but a road accident leaves him stranded in a deserted tundra that resembles the Nevada wasteland. Rescued by an unholy trinity of American GI's, he spends the night in the hotel from hell. But more adventures are waiting for him: quarantine in a cancer ward --or is it an AIDS ward? A resurrection of the dead from all of post-modernisms post-military catastrophes: my lai, babi yar, kigali, and 'no-gun' ri. And why is it that everything he touches seems to have the uncanny misfortune of blowing up? Cecile Pineda has crafted a divine comedy where the sacred keeps uneasy truce with the profane.
- "Cecile Pineda is without doubt one of the most innovative and daring Latina/o writers. With consummate skill and precision Pineda presents in Bardo99 a story unique in US literature, a voice of the twentieth century that is not confined by either social realism or identity politics. Instead, Pineda writes her reader into the role of Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, looking backward at the pile of rubble growing skyward at his feet. And in this moment in the ceaseless march of progress, we all bear responsibility for our shared dreams and tragedies."
— Marcus Embry, University of Northern Colorado
- Writers, readers, teachers, and creative writing classes, take note: Cecile Pineda is an American original, a literary treasure, and her prodigiously inventive and important work, finally returning to print in a landmark and long-awaited reissue, deserves a place in the forefront of American literature.
— Bloomsbury Review, Sept. 2004
Perla Literary Magazine
Bardo99 is a difficult read. Cecile Pineda's most recent novel would be best experienced as an audio or visual performance. Pineda conceived the book as a "mononovel, a novel which is located inside one protagonist's consciousness." Pineda's blueprint for Bardo99 was the "comatose state of the writer's collaborator, actor and close friend, who died of AIDS in 1989," bardo being the "astral state of the soul between death and rebirth." This form, although an inspired concept, falls short of the author's contemporaneous goal to "present the twentieth century as a character." The 'mononovel' presentation, distinguished by the absence of common narration breaks such as chapters, reinforces the stream-of-consciousness style that underlies Pineda's story. Her prose can be simultaneously stark and fluid, with shockingly beautiful results. There are brilliant moments when her world crashes around you.. . .
Education DigestReviewed by Tom Bowden
. . . Written in a style that crosses Kafka's paranoid paradoxes with the post-apocalyptic morality of Heironymus Bosch via William S. Burroughs, Bardo99 is a fast-paced hallucinogenic trip through bardo, "The intermediate or astral state of the soul between death and rebirth." Far from a happy-clappy "go to the white light" fable, Bardo99 catalogues 20th-century human atrocities and employs the idea that souls of bodies never given proper burial and/or subject to wrongful death cannot rest in peace. Viek's soul (or is it just Viek's radiation-overexposed-and-fevered mind talking to him?) encounters the misshapen, anguished souls of those killed in concentration camps, on the killing fields of Eastern Europe, and in other ways and in other places, while on its own journey to a place of rest.
Although Bardo99 has a moral core, Pineda never moralizes; she instead lets her characters' behaviors and the unfolding events speak for themselves. Pineda also well controls the gradual unraveling of Viek's mind and the accumulating unreality, discord, and surrealism of the limbo it travels through.
Tom Bowden is the Managing Editor of Tech Directions and serves as Contributing Review Editor to The Education Digest.
Pineda Unbound: An Interview with Cecile PinedaBloomsbury ReviewSeptember, 2004
by Jeff Biggers
"The young man or woman writing today," William Faulkner declared in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat." Addressing the state of writing in 1949, Faulkner went on to admonish future writers to teach themselves the old verities and truths of the heart.
If only William Faulkner could have read Cecile Pineda. Born in Harlem to a Swiss mother and Mexican father, a long-time innovator in the San Francisco Bay-Area experimental theatre world, and the author of six internationally acclaimed novels (including a poetic childhood memoir), Cecile Pineda has raised Faulkner's concerns and conflicts of the heart in the latter 20th century to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and dazzling artistry.
Writers, readers, teachers, and creative writing classes, take note: Cecile Pineda is an American original, literary treasure, and her prodigiously inventive and important work, finally returning to print in a landmark and long-awaited reissue, deserves a place in the forefront of American literature.
Beyond the politics of identity — despite the fact that Pineda opened the New York publishing door for Latina writers in the mid-1980s — shattering the limits of genre, few American writers have demonstrated such a bold mastery and originality in the last 25 years. Her awards range from a Sue Kaufman Prize, by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, to a California Gold Medal; one of her novels was selected as a New York Times notable book of the year.
Consider Pineda's novels: Face, originally published by Viking in 1985, written in a precise and unnerving narrative, depicts a Rio Janeiro man's struggle to come to grips with the irreparable scars of a nightmarish accident. Immediately acclaimed as an existential classic for its broader social implications of place and being, Face was hailed by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee as an "extraordinary achievement." Pineda followed with Frieze, set in medieval India and Java and described as a slow parable on the resistance of human life, and then published quite possibly her most widely read work, The Love Queen of the Amazon in 1992, a raucous and wildly inventive Latin American farce. At once a satirical spin on the male-dominated fury of magic realism, and a lush tropical saga, The Love Queen chronicles the licentious travails of Ana Magdelana in the vagaries of Peru. Pineda's last three works are Fishlight: A Dream of Childhood, a poignant look at a child's erratic parents and her ability to stitch her quandaries and exigencies into her imagination, and Bardo99 and Reboubt: A Mononovel, two experimental novels dealing with Pineda's themes of place and displacement amid the ruins of our times.
Finally, the reissue of Pineda's work has been made possible by the herculean efforts of Wings Press, the best little publishing house in Texas. Led by the indefatigable publisher Bryce Milligan, a true San Antonio hero and literary wizard, Wings Press has ventured beyond its south-by-southwestern borders to launch a series of original publications and reprints that deserve as much national recognition and distribution as possible. Along with Pineda1s novels, Wings is publishing the works of poet Donald Hall and John Howard Griffin, the author of the controversial Black Like Me, including a previously unknown third novel, Street of the Seven Angels. The Bloomsbury Review caught up with Cecile Pineda this spring.
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