The second of Álvaro Enrigue's works to be translated into English (after his short story collection, Hypothermia), Sudden Death is a remarkable, matchless novel of historical fiction (if one were given to approximating the closest genre in which to situate it). Winner of the prestigious Herralde Prize in 2013 (placing him squarely among the good company of Marías, Bolaño, Vila-Matas, Giralt Torrente, Pitol, Pauls, Sada, Villoro, Nettel, et al.), Sudden Death is (not) a book about the origins of tennis, (nor) the counter-reformation, (nor) Italian painter Caravaggio or Spanish poet Quevedo, (nor) the prolonged, inebriated tennis match they play with a ball crafted from the hair of (the recently beheaded) Anne Boleyn. Enrique, Mexican author and Bogotá39 honoree (celebrating young Latin American writers of great promise; see also: Zambra, Neuman, Alarcón, Halfon, Nettel, Volpi, Vásquez, Díaz, Roncagliolo, et al.), has been enjoying the sort of buzz that translated authors seldom garner (save for likes of Bolaño, Knausgård, Ferrante, and perhaps Krasznahorkai). Sudden Death makes clear that the hype is indeed well-warranted.
With the aforementioned tennis match between Caravaggio and Quevedo as its centerpiece, Sudden Death expounds upon history, conquest, art, religion, and tennis. With violence and sex aplenty, a vignette-style prose, and complementary humor, Sudden Death, while defying easy classification, stands alone as a work of great imagination, impressive execution, and unique combination of fact and fiction, history and histrionics. A lively, ribald cast of characters and cameos (Hernán Cortés and Galileo Galilei, most notably) invigorate a novel that is already brimming with novelty and nuance.
Sudden Death, like so much of the best literature from Spanish-speaking countries, melds tradition with originality. Enrigue (aka Mr. Valeria Luiselli) looks backward (as perhaps Bolaño did forward in 2666) to posit bloodshed, greed, and subjugation as the thread that is forever woven into our past, present, and presumable future. Wwith a deft touch, Sudden Death doesn't bow under the weight of history, as Enrigue is far too skilled to succumb to the trappings of centuries long elapsed. That he has wrought humor, perspective, and literary ingenuity from the past is itself an impressive feat. Sudden Death, surely an early contender for one of 2016's finest works of fiction, marks Enrigue as yet another Latin American author for whom inventiveness, fertility, and singularity seem ever so effortless. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Washington Post Notable Book of 2016
The Times Literary Supplement Best of 2016
“Splendid” —New York Times
“[A] novel without boundaries.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
“Mind-bending.” —Wall Street Journal
“Brilliantly original. The best new novel I’ve read this year.” —Salman Rushdie
A daring, kaleidoscopic novel about the clash of empires and ideas, told through a tennis match in the sixteenth century between the radical Italian artist Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, played with a ball made from the hair of the beheaded Anne Boleyn.
The poet and the painter battle it out in Rome before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw the world into flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII execute Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into those most-sought-after tennis balls. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as the conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the course of history. In a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that it’s a manual instead of a parody. And in today’s New York City, a man searches for answers to impossible questions, for a book that is both an archive and an oracle.
Álvaro Enrigue’s mind-bending story features assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal schemes, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful gut-punch of a novel.
Game, set, match.
“[A] bawdy, often profane, sprawling, ambitious book that is as engaging as it is challenging.” Vogue
“Engrossing… rich with Latin and European history.” The New Yorker
"In his second work to be translated into English Enrigue (Hypothermia) ingeniously uses a 16th century game of pallacorda—a forerunner to tennis—between two hungover players to explore the beauties and atrocities of Renaissance Europe. In his fanciful mixing of historical fact and fiction as well as his linguistic blend of earthiness and erudition Enrigue can be compared to Roberto Bolaño. The novel recounts a match between the Spanish poet Quevedo and the notorious painter Caravaggio “brutal and vulnerable fragile behind his armour of grease grappa and cussedness.” During the novel’s changeovers so to speak Enrigue delves into the early literature of the sport (including a medieval account in which “four demons” bat around “the soul of a French seminarist”) expounds on Caravaggio’s life and art and profiles 16th century political figures in the Old and New Worlds. Two talismanic objects thread their way through the narrative: a tennis ball wound with hair taken from the decapitated head of Anne Boleyn and an iridescent scapular made from the hair of the Aztec emperor Cuachtémoc executed by Hernán Cortés. Emblematic of the violence unleashed across the world during the bloody century of conquest and religious upheaval each object passes into and out of the possession of various monarchs nobles or clergy before ending up with the two players exchanging strokes on a Roman court. There are some tonal infelicities—two of Caravaggio’s models are “truly awesome pieces of tail”—and the reader can get lost in the profusion of historical figures. Nonetheless this is an unpredictable nonpareil novel that like the macabre tennis ball at its center “bounce like a thing possessed.” (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Álvaro Enrigue was a Cullman Center Fellow and a Fellow at the Princeton University Program in Latin American Studies. He has taught at New York University, Princeton University, the University of Maryland, and Columbia University. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, The White Review, n+1, London Review of Books, El País, among others. This novel—his first translated into English—was awarded the prestigious Herralde Prize in Spain, the Elena Poniatowska International Novel Award in Mexico, and the Barcelona Prize for Fiction, and has been translated into many languages. Enrigue was born in Mexico and lives in New York City.