The New York Times

August 29, 2018

My recent appearance in The New York Times es

La literatura hispanoamericana que se escribe en inglés – Español

Translate this page

“Nómadas posnacionales, en los viajes, en las lecturas, en la gestión y en la vida profesional los escritores de origen hispano están en contacto constante con esa otra lengua”.
El fenómeno no solo afecta a la relación de América Latina con Estados Unidos. Félix Calvino, de origen gallego, emigró a Australia en los años sesenta y es ahora un escritor australiano con tres libros publicados, reconocido por la academia y por la crítica.

So Much Smoke I Antípodas XXVIII

August 29, 2018

So Much Smoke I Kathryn Hummel I Verity La

October 28, 2017

An Absence of Noise: Stephanie Buckle’s Habits of Silence and 
Félix Calvino’s So Much Smoke

Review by Kathryn Hummel
Edited by Robyn Cadwallader

A land as vast as Australia is well-suited to capturing through snapshots, for viewing separately or stitched together in a panorama. In many ways the snapshots’ literary equivalent, works of Australian short fiction, are created regularly and convincingly: idiosyncratic of frame but requiring no great effort to locate them in the landscape from which they derive. Recent collections, Habits of Silence by Stephanie Buckle and So Much Smoke by Félix Calvino, have been put together with a similar assuredness and piercing eye for capture, particularly concerning narratives marginal to the mainstream.

An overwhelming weight could lie upon the whole mechanism 
of speech,from the thoughts of what you would say, which 
one by one are relentlessly rejected; to the courage 
to speak them, which is consumed by the bile swilling 
in your stomach; to the cringing, self-defeating apathy of
the tongue that would have to form the words. Silence is safe. 

Silence commits to nothing.
Far easier to be silent than to speak.

(‘The Silence’ p64)

Throughout Habits of Silence, Stephanie Buckle shows skill in examining the absence of noise from various angles, as if it were a clear rather than cloudy proposition. In ‘Material Remains’, silence becomes a Millennial tragedy, observed as texting and social media browsing and distilled as isolation, a lack of intimacy and trust between a grieving teenager and his mother: ‘I’m sorry I’m upsetting her but she’ll get over it, like she’s got over Scott. I can’t deal with her. I can’t help her. I just want to be left alone’ (p33).
Buckle’s tone, bending through various characters and their narratives, is sharply contemporary and as bleakly recognisable as any suburban backyard. ‘Lillian and Meredith’ charts the romantic fascination Lillian, in residence at an aged care community, develops for newcomer Meredith. Their separation isn’t as surprising as sadly inevitable, initiated by carers and their institutional discourse: ‘Anyway, this is just the icing on the cake. She’s very inappropriate and disinhibited around Meredith, it’s a really unhealthy relationship and it’s upsetting the other residents’.(p15) Under the cover of silence, Buckle articulates the act of feeling as primary and the consequences of reality as secondary, although the stories she tells are far from fantasy. Frequently addressing the politics, economics and ethics of aged and mental health care facilities and the truncated emotional and erotic experiences of their residents, Buckle erects a black mirror to reflect the socio-political climate of their composition. Her writing evokes elements of Sonya Hartnett’s work, without the gothic tones: even with occasional lapses into self-consciousness, Buckle’s exploration is very real and just as frightening. In ‘Us and Them’, a mental health facility doesn’t have the resources for intensive counselling required by a resident; in ‘Frederick’, the need for psychiatric attention does not come from patient to carer but from one carer to another.
With such adherence to reality beyond the page, Buckle’s careful language often drops below pared-down. In some stories, as in ‘The Silence’, which dwells on the relationship between two elderly brothers, the understatement becomes almost abstract, lessening the emotional draw. The final image of George looking ‘down at his beer, turning the can slowly in his hand’ as silence ‘settle[s] around them’ (p79) could perhaps indicate the futility of trying to break longstanding silences, but doesn’t break through the surface of the characters’ suspension. At other times, Buckle supplies some excellent visual sketches: ‘…another glance, almost too quick to spot, slides off me’ (‘A Lovely Afternoon’ p83). The dialogue between Buckle’s characters is at times uneven — unexciting between Steve and Emma in ‘Choices’ and the hikers in ‘The Man on the Path’, but well-observed and paced between allies Jeannie and Zoe in ‘A Lovely Afternoon’:

‘Shelley’s always getting me into trouble,’ Zoe says. ‘It’s not fair.’
‘No, it isn’t,’ I say.
‘My friend Lauren gave me a book, and Shelley can’t even read yet but she said we had to share it.’
‘Perhaps she’s jealous because she didn’t get anything,’ I offer.
‘Even if she had, she still would’ve wanted my book.’
When some people think you’ve got something you shouldn’t have, I want to say, they’ve just got to try and spoil it for you. (p84)

The effect created by the stories in Habits of Silence is cumulative, its richness coming across in the details of dogged attempts to find value in desolation and loneliness (‘Sex and Money’); the longing for intimacy in any form (‘Us and Them’), and the silent tragedy of human beings going about their rigidly patterned lives (‘Fifty Years’).

Félix Calvino’s So Much Smoke is crisply blurbed, setting up readers to expect semi-autobiographical stories from the Galicia region of Spain and migration to Australia around the 1970–80s. While the influence of journeys pulses evenly through the collection, Calvino is expressively concerned with ritual, some of which bind his characters to their origins, others signifying their physical and mental advancement in the world. In ‘They Are Only Dreams’ and ‘The Hen’, the rites are of passage, with children coming into, or attempting to come into, their identities as mature beings; while ‘Valley of the Butterflies’ charts Julián’s entry into a darker adulthood suggestive of manipulation and conscious harm. The unexpected confidence between Pascual and the narrator in ‘What Do You Know About Your Friends?’ is prompted by a ritual formed in a new setting:

Half a dozen of us, all in our mid-twenties and all with no more than three years in Australia, were in the habit of dropping into the pub late on Saturday afternoon for a few beers and a chat on the way to our girlfriends, dinner, or just a night on the town. (p11)

The preparation and sharing of meals is described as an integral part of domestic life regardless of the degree of happiness within the home: ‘The Smile’ depicts a lunch gathering where guests are lulled into silence by Consuelo’s nostalgia-inducing home cooking, as well as a comfort meal of chicken and potatoes following her death. Within Calvino’s wide exploration of ritual, silence occasionally features: in stories of migration, where present dwelling on past lives is regarded as a dangerous pastime, silence is a rite of survival. Silence is also politicised through Gabriel in ‘The Dream Girl’, who reflects on the choice of language as an expression of cultural freedom:

What right has a government to subordinate—in the long run to murder—one language that is the property of all to replace it with another language in the quest for personal and nationalistic glory? (p120)

With So Much Smoke, as with Habits of Silence, it is worthwhile to ask whose voice is, in general, quietened — similarly to Buckle, Calvino articulates the narratives of the lesser-heard. The characters he identifies as migrants are shown dealing with implications of difference and the tension between their origins and present locations. Pascual’s sharing of a family tragedy with a fellow migrant is seen as ‘a flaw in the armour of his carefree mask’ behind which, in the narrator’s opinion, painful secrets should remain (p15); elsewhere, a group of friends reflects on ‘the life they had left behind and what they missed most as migrants’ (p52), thereby reducing their feelings of isolation. Told in implicit retrospect and with a sincere lack of ironic reference to contemporary immigration policy, Calvino’s stories of migration to Australia depict a Golden Age of this iconically hospitable and tolerant land: Fidel remarks that ‘in Sydney, we had discovered peace and joy and self-reliance. We were living our lives. The living like wounded animals searching for a place to hide was over’ (p104). With the same lack of irony, Calvino emphasises the fabled virtues of family, education, hard work and fidelity when, for example, the uncomplaining José is rewarded with riches at the conclusion of ‘The Road’. Given a non-laying chicken to slaughter, the boy in ‘The Hen’ is told by his mother, ‘Make it quickly so she does not suffer…’ (p5); while the remembered recognition of his parents’ ‘rituals of love across the kitchen table’ partially redeem the seedy John Benson of the eponymous story (p33).These details, sanguine and unsentimental, have the effect of illuminating a world beyond this variegated, rarely meritorious reality: within So Much Smoke, as it should be outside the text, migrants retain their humanity, education is a dignified goal, and culture and memories are treasured and preserved.

Keeping the reader engaged can be challenging for short fiction collections with multiple narrative trajectories and emotional pitches. Calvino’s collection could benefit from greater tautness, particularly in the lengthy central narrative ‘The Smile’, which includes an extended, dreamlike account of Fidel and Consuelo’s backstory. At other times, the dialogue is blurred by a similarly surreal tone that’s often formal, rather like a stilted translation:

‘Where does that broadcast come from?’ José asked.
‘The radio is Fidel’s baby,’ Consuelo replied. ‘Hasn’t he shown it to you yet?’

(‘The Smile’ p83)

In the dialogue-driven ‘They Are Only Dreams’, the same technique sets a portentous tone, highlighting the threat that the anonymous girl’s augury poses to peaceful village life. ‘So Much Smoke’ is murky in emotion and writing — ‘an incestuous relationship between lantana and passionfruit vines’ (p29) — and strewn with language (‘porch’, ‘mailbox’ and ‘apartments’) that seems too modern to be a deliberate contrast against the story’s implied retro setting. Quite possibly it is the nostalgic tint in Calvino’s writing that provokes a comparison to bygone writers like Ernest Hemingway. Calvino is similarly lean, and frequently elegant, in his powers of description: ‘After the leaves turned gold, they tended to the corn and the potatoes and the wood for winter’ (p17). So Much Smoke is noticeably male-focused, with attention given to inter-generational relationships and friendships between men; female characters are present but lacking somewhat in dimension.

While Buckle engages with and minutely examines reality to the edgy benefit of her work, Calvino is more mellow and reserved without being detached from reality: both occupy places of instantaneous belonging in the current literary landscape, fulfilling a need to have short fiction emit starker and softer lights by turns. Habits of Silence and So Much Smoke attest to the valiance of short fiction of and in contemporary Australia, and to the intrigue of the images captured by their authors. 
Kathryn Hummel is a writer, researcher and poet: the author of Poems from Here, The Bangalore Setand The Body That Holds. Her new media/poetry, non-fiction, fiction, photography and scholarly research has been published and presented worldwide (Meanjin, Cordite, Rabbit, The Letters Page, Prelude, PopMatters, Gulf Times, Himal Southasian), and recognised with a Pushcart Prize nomination and the Dorothy Porter Prize at the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards. Kathryn holds a PhD for studies in narrative ethnography and lives intermittently in South Asia. Her activities can be tracked @


So Much Smoke I Jessica Foster I Goodreads

September 26, 2017

So Much Smoke

Once again, deceptively simple prose which I imagine is not easy to pull off--fantastic writing, really! I just wish there weren't such stark polarities, severe/earthly or celestial, when it came to the women represented. But nonetheless these stories of Spain and migration to Australia are really well done. They inspire me to read more Spanish literature, to hear from those female voices--some were outlined in a lovely story, 'The Dream Girl'. There's a rhythm to Calvino's voice I've come to expect now, you know you're safe with his erudite abilities. I particularly liked 'The Hen' and the final story 'The Valley of the Butterflies'. Not sure what to rate it, too hard to settle with collections, suffice it to say it's high and I enjoy his writing, recommend it, and will keep track of his work. 

María Jesús Lorenzo Modia I Australia and Galicia in Transnational Narratives

May 8, 2016

Australian Studies Centre, Barcelona University

Australia and Galicia in Transnational Narrati

María Jesús Lorenzo Modia


This article analyzes the transnational features of narratives between Galicia and Australia from the year 1519 to the Present-day. Sailors like Pedro Fernandez de Quiros and Luis Váez de Torres, who reached Australia in the sixteenth century, will be considered as the starting point of a cultural dialogue still going on in today’s literature not only as regards the geography of the continent but also in the collective imagination of the country. Other connections between these countries are also established by contemporary novelists such as Peter Carey, Sally Morgan and Murray Bail, who use Galician history and places, filtered through British sources, to address Australia and its present-day characters and decolonizing conflicts. Finally, the works of other authors such as Robert Graves and Félix Calvino, who also deal with this literary dialogue in their fiction, are explored.


Australia; Galicia; Robert Graves; James McAuley; Félix Calvino; transnational fiction; diasporas.

Full Text:

The Valley of the Butterflies I Quadrant Magazine

May 1, 2017

The Valley of the Butterflies
By Félix Calvino

“Mother, I want a dog,” says Julián.
“We already have a dog,” his mother replies.
Julián is standing by the kitchen window... 

So Much Smoke I StylusLit I Alison Clifton

March 2, 2017

So Much Smoke 
Reviewed by Alison Clifton.

Félix Calvino’s So Much Smoke occupies a liminal space between the old world of village life in the Spanish pastoral region of Galicia and the new world of Sydney in the 1970s. This is familiar territory for Calvino, who wrote the short story collection A Hatful of Cherries (2011) and the novella Alfonso (2013), both of which examine the Spanish migrant experience in Australia.
In O Tempo como Castigo na Lírica de Rosalía (1986), Luís Caparrós Esperante writes: “The longing (“morriña”) for Galicia is confused with the longing for the past; the emigrant’s longing is similar to the longing for good times gone by.” Esperante might have been describing the experience of the dislocated Fidel, a migrant in the central short story of So Much Smoke, “The Smile,” who returns to live in Galicia after his wife has died in Sydney, knowing that he is destined to occupy a space as much on the periphery of Spanish life as he was a fringe-dweller in Australia. The past can never truly be reclaimed; the motherland remains elusive.

The Galician word “morriña” is translated into English as “nostalgia:” a loan word from Greek that means “ache for the past.” Nostalgia privileges the past as something yearned for but unattainable except through memories. We experience such thwarted desire as pain. For the Galician migrants of Calvino’s stories, pain is always present like a menacing revenant.

In “What Do You Know about Your Friends?” — a highlight of Calvino’s collection — the narrator observes that another character, Pascual, has a past in Galicia that is “slowly pushing him towards the hell of ghosts who dwell in two worlds” (15). Ghosts are present but usually remain unseen, like the Spanish migrant street-sweepers, cleaners, and labourers who inhabit these stories and who are rendered invisible in Australian society. Indeed, Calvino plays with what is unseen and what is on the edge of sight, inverting and subverting the reader’s gaze.
In “The Smile,” Fidel and his wife have both been cursed with faces so extremely ugly that they draw stares wherever they go, rendering them visible in an unsettling and unheimlich way. They build a walled garden around their Sydney house to escape into: a sanctuary that emulates the gardens of the stately home in Galicia that had once offered them refuge from another hostile society. After a priest in Galicia refuses to marry them, saying that they are so misshapen that they should not be allowed to reproduce, the couple flee to Sydney where they hope to attain some sort of anonymity. Yet, as objects of the gaze, the pair are unable to avoid scrutiny even in a society which pushes migrants to the margins.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from morriña is the Japanese concept of “natsukashii” which refuses to privilege the past or the present. Instead, each is held up as equally valuable because necessarily transitory. With the pleasant feeling of natsukashii, the past is recognised as a time of happiness which was vacated out of the necessity for growth and which gives meaning to the present. Natsukashii recognises that there can be no butterflies without caterpillars. People move on.

However, in Calvino’s work, the central problem is often a reluctance or inability to move on. Thus, the protagonist of Alfonso recognises that “the pain of nostalgia paralysed him” (21) and, as a result, the “demarcation” between the “two universes inside his head … had dissolved, allowing the old one to infect the new” (75). Indeed, infection and disease are recurring motifs in Calvino’s stories: for example, Fidel’s wife, Consuelo, dies suddenly from a brain tumour. Fidel’s two universes collapse and he must return to Galicia knowing all too clearly that he can never recover the past. The infection of misfortune afflicts his life in Australia as if it were a return of the repressed; a disease that has lain dormant since his life in Galicia but which returns with renewed and terrifying vigour.

Only occasionally does the tension between the two worlds of past and present resolve itself in Calvino’s stories and still even more rarely does a character transcend the agony of nostalgia to replace it with acceptance and the gentler recollection of natsukashii. In “The Dream Girl,” true happiness is relegated to the innocent past, a time that was so “sweet” that it should have been “bottled” according to the protagonists, a man and woman who had fleetingly enjoyed a kind of puppy love as children but have gone their separate ways (131). “Bottling” implies preservation but also shutting off one’s vulnerable feelings from a harsh and unforgiving society.

Indeed, the characters in these stories usually inhabit a microcosm rather than a large, anonymous society. There is village life in Galicia where everybody knows your business or migrant life in Spanish-speaking enclaves in Sydney where everyone seems to be harbouring a secret past as the ghoulish figure of the Civil War lurks menacingly in the depths of their collective memory.
Calvino’s spare style creates a hyper-realistic world in which spectres from the past haunt the characters literally in the form of an apparition of Consuelo, who fleetingly manifests herself before the narrator of “The Smile,” and figuratively in the form of memories that are usually disturbing. The prose is often stark which suits the sometimes sinister subject matter and unnerving themes: a chicken is tied up and shot by a boy who is too cowardly to slit its throat; later, the boy resurfaces as a teenager who begins to take sadistic pleasure in tormenting his mother until his wish is granted. As he has tortured his father’s dog, it will not bond with him and so he wants a new dog; eventually, his father capitulates and orders the old dog to be shot. The moment when the dog is killed forms the final image of Calvino’s collection, leaving a disconcerting ending to linger in the mind, like an uneasy truce between reader and narrator.
So Much Smoke is an intriguing, unsettling read. These vignettes and short stories feature simple plots that deftly frame the potent, often disturbing images and nightmarish visions that haunt Calvino’s intoxicating prose. The absence of complex lyricism makes the prose palatable to swallow but the aftertaste is less bittersweet than bitter. This is acrid smoke, perhaps from a bonfire fuelled by the dried-up, desiccated dreams of migrants seeking a better life only to be ingested by the bleak, surreal city that promised adoption but delivered only partial assimilation. But there is also so much smoke because so much fire: the fire of passion, defiance, and stubborn determination. This is not insipid, watery fiction but an inferno of evocative and provocative prose.

Arcadia, 2016