Posts filed under 'Spanish literature'

Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Andrés Sánchez Robayna

far away, the shapeless clouds slide off at their leisure

Andrés Sánchez Robayna’s poems are a treat — in delicately constructed verses, they evoke deeply visual associations. The lines are startling in their clarity, and yet succeed in wrapping the reader in their complex ambiguities. 

The Sleeper Who Heard the Most Diffuse Music

The delicate backstrokes of sleep
rise red over the ocean,

thick, warm clouds
on the far side of the vaulted day,

the sea in this summer breeze.
The most diffuse music, in a dream,

the most intense vision, he dreams
the ebbing waves, the sun, the pines

twirling amidst these swells and drafts.
His back dissolves into clouds.

Neither the sun nor the dawn will be for him
the illusion of sun or dawn or blue.

On a Swimmer’s Shadow

not in living rock: out of granite
sculpted angles of the pool

the shadow on the mosaic below
sketches the figure above

far away, the shapeless clouds
slide off at their leisure

in the blind light of the edges
labile light, still shadow

so his written body flees
sculpted thus, the light dives deep

 Translations from the Spanish by Arthur Dixon & Daniel Simon

Editorial note: From Al cúmulo de octubre: antología poética, 1970–2015 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 2015). Translated by permission of the author.

A prolific author, editor, critic, and translator, Andrés Sánchez Robayna has published more than sixty books of poetry, essays, and translations. He completed a PhD in philology at the University of Barcelona in 1977, directed the magazines Literradura and Syntaxis, and is currently professor of Spanish literature at the University of La Laguna.

Arthur Dixon works as a translator and as managing editor of World Literature Today’s affiliated journal Latin American Literature Today. His translation of Andrés Felipe Solano’s The Nameless Saints (World Literature Today, September 2014) was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. His most recent project is a book-length translation of Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza’s Cuidados intensivos (World Literature Today, September 2016). He is Asymptote’s Spanish Social Media Manager. 

Daniel Simon is a poet, translator, and the editor in chief of World Literature Today. His latest verse collection, After Reading Everything, has been nominated for the Forward Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize, a Pushcart, and several other awards. His translation credits include Ramón Gaya, Eduardo Mitre, Mario Arteca, José Mateos, Abdellah Taïa, and Boualem Sansal.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of “Pierced by the Sun” by Laura Esquivel

"The white sheets she was ironing became a small movie screen on which images from that afternoon began to play out in front of her eyes."

From the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate comes a new tale of murder and redemption. For today’s Translation Tuesday showcase, we present the opening chapter of Laura Esquivel’s new novel, Pierced by the Sun, slated for release in bookstores on July 1.

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She could spend long hours dedicated to this work and show no signs of fatigue. Ironing brought her peace. It was her favorite form of therapy and she turned to it daily, even after a long day of work. Lupita’s passion for ironing had been handed down to her by her mother, Doña Trini, who had washed and ironed other people’s clothes for a living her whole life. Lupita would invariably repeat the ritual learned from her sacrosanct mother, which began with the spraying of the garments. Modern-day steam irons do not require an article of clothing to be moist, but for Lupita there was no other way to iron. She considered it sacrilegious to skip this step.

That night when she got home, she immediately headed to the ironing board and began to spray the gar­ments. Her hands trembled like a hungover alcoholic’s, which made the spraying that much easier. It was impera­tive that she concentrate on something other than the murder of Licenciado Arturo Larreaga—the delegado of her district, Iztapalapa—which she had witnessed just a few hours earlier.

As soon as the clothes were properly sprayed she went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, giving the water time to warm up. She filled a bucket with a copious amount of detergent and placed it in the shower. Before she stepped in she opened a plastic bag and immediately recoiled from the stench of the urine-soaked pants that were inside. She submerged the pants in the bucket and started to wash herself. She scrubbed away the cloying smell of urine that had emanated from her body, but the shame that was embedded deep in her soul remained. READ MORE…

In Conversation with Alfred MacAdam

"They are like magic formulas, and it’s not a good idea to tamper with magic."

Recently, Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly spoke via e-mail with Alfred MacAdam, translator of the likes of Fernando Pessoa and Surrealist filmmaker and novelist Alejandro Jodorowsky. For an excerpt from Jodorowsky’s Albina and the Dog-Men, check out this recent installment of Translation Tuesday. This interview is also available in the Asymptote Fortnightly Airmail. Subscribe here.

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RM: What was it like translating Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Where the Bird Sings Best and Albina and the Dog-Men? Did Jodorowsky’s prose get under your skin? You are an experienced translator and are perhaps more immune to the novel’s effects, but I found Albina‘s dark mythology to be intoxicating. What was it like to translate that?

AM: First, let me say that when Ilan Stavans asked me if I might be interested in translating Jodorowsky, I was dumbfounded. To me he was the crazy filmmaker of the 1970s whose El topo or Fando and Lis knocked me and my friends silly. I had no idea he had metamorphosed into a novelist.

So when Ilan sent me Where the Bird Sings Best I was simply not prepared for what it was. First of all, the Jewish essence of the book, its tracing the circuitous route of Jews who end up in Spanish America, whose religion suffers innumerable modifications along the way, was, I thought, a subject whose time in Spanish American literature had long since come. By which I mean that in the U.S. we take our Jewish writers for granted, that the Bellows, the Malamuds, the Roths (both of them) are simply part of our culture. But where was the “great Jewish novel of the Spanish American world”?  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Fernando Royuela’s A Bad End

"A man is the hunger he has suffered—whatever the hunger, whoever the man."

I’ve known an endless string of bastards in my lifetime and not wished a single one a bad end. I won’t make you an exception. Human beings roam this world blissfully unaware of the tragedy that’s lurking around the corner. Some invent gods to help soften the pain, others, meanwhile, seek out the immediacy of pleasure to keep the inevitable at bay, but all are finally measured by the yardstick of death. I’d been warned about my fate, but I never thought it would happen the way it did.

I know why you’ve come, but I’m good. Till now I’d never faced up to the implacable advance of nonexistence, and that’s why your presence belittles rather than terrifies me. I now realize that from the very beginning my life had pointed to our meeting, that my steps were doomed to reach this moment, that I couldn’t possibly escape my fate, however ridiculously hard I tried, that nobody, not even those I have loved, will ever be able to mourn my departure. I know you have come to relish the spectacle of my death, I’ve seen that in your rust-veined eyes, in your grisly fascination, but I no longer fear the end. People say that at the moment of death, scenes from one’s life dizzily return like the stills of a film. They say that once you have seen them, consciousness shuts down. That may be true, and right now I may be witnessing the accelerated passage of memories of a blurred past. The likenesses of the faces of the dead underline the continued presence of the spirit and can help the living unpick the conundrums posed by awareness of their finite nature. That will be where I will overcome. Nothing else matters; it’s idle chatter and conjecture. READ MORE…

Patria o Muerte by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

“Everything is fiction, even reality"

A striking meditation on the power of affective marketing to infiltrate and manipulate the national and individual psyche delivered in a gripping, suspenseful narrative web, Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s Patria o Muerte, winner of last year’s Tusquets Prize, is among the many novels that are garnering praise among Spanish language readers but have not yet reached American readers. Offering an intimate glimpse into a climactic moment in Venezuela’s sociopolitical trajectory, it resonates eerily with the media’s current stronghold in American politics.

The novel’s intertwined narratives unravel between 2011 and 2013, amidst the secrecy and suspense surrounding Chávez’s cancer diagnosis, treatment in Cuba and eventual death, during a propaganda campaign that sustained his political grip in a country plagued by mass unemployment, a housing crisis, extreme media censorship, unprecedented violence and an astounding fifty-two deaths a day. Chávez’s physical absence through most of the novel paradoxically strengthens his cult of personality and his power over the Venezuelan citizenry as uncertainty about the future imbues the character’s lives with constant, palpable paranoia, insecurity, and fear of the menace of violence. After his diagnosis, catastrophic collapse appears imminent but its approach is excruciatingly slow.

The action centers on Miguel Sanabria, a melancholic retired oncologist suffering from insomnia, who lives in Caracas with his wife, Beatriz, a fervent antichavista, in a building he manages. He attributes his psychic unease to his advancing age until it dawns on him that its real source is Venezuela’s state of suspense—a symptom of the national psyche in the vacuum of information about Chávez health.

At various points throughout the novel, Miguel and his brother Antonio, a fervent Bolivarian, argue about the legitimacy of Chávez’s revolution—the viability of the transition from capitalism to socialism—as the country dissolves into poverty and violence. As Chávez undergoes chemotherapy in Cuba, Vladimir, Antonio’s son and one of the president’s trusted officials, fearing the president’s mounting paranoia, asks Sanabria to keep a cell phone with compromising recordings of the gravely ill Chávez from the operating table, entangling Sanabria, who had always willfully abstained from involvement in politics, in the president’s fiction of immortality.

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Publisher Profile: Ana Pérez Galván of Hispabooks

"The more of us there are, the more readers we’ll engage in reading literature in translation, which is nothing more than just reading good books!"

Frances Riddle: How was Hispabooks born?

Ana Pérez Galván: The two co-founders, my partner Gregorio Doval and myself, had worked many years in publishing in Spain, as editors for other presses (and in Gregorio’s case, as a writer himself too) and we had an urge to create a project of our own. The local market had been plunging for several years (and still hasn’t improved much) so it didn’t seem to make sense to set up just another run-of-the-mill independent press. Instead, after a little research we were amazed to see how very few Spanish literary writers got translated to English. Whilst it was easy to spot translations into French, German, Italian, Serbian . . . of the most relevant Spanish authors, translations into English were conspicuous by their absence. It seemed to make sense to focus our efforts, experience, and expertise in Spanish literary fiction in a project aimed at countering this situation, and that’s how we came up with the idea of Hispabooks.

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Interview with Luis Negrón

"I wanted a book that showed how people find happiness, even if society at large thinks that in their life there is no space for it."

Reading Luis Negrón’s award-winning debut short story collection, Mundo Cruel, one is struck by the author’s daring, his at-times startling insights, and his blistering sense of humor. It is a remarkable collection, and the first translated work to win a Lambda Literary Award for gay general fiction. In his interview with Asymptote blog, Negrón talks about melodrama and monsters in fiction, homophobia in present-day Puerto Rico, and his experience with acclaimed translator Suzanne Jill Levine.

Eva Richter: Your epigraph is a quote from Manuel Puig’s “A Melodramatic Destiny.” “So then, a melodrama is a drama made by someone who doesn’t know the difference, Miss?” / “Not exactly, but in a certain way it is a second-rate product.” How does the notion of melodrama as a second-rate or even naive drama play into your short stories? 

Luis Negrón: There are two ways to answer this question. One, the most obvious one, is by explaining melodrama itself: it is a drama where destiny cannot be escaped. I played with and tried to transform this notion of melodrama in my texts, but not only with the structure of them, but with their aura, the environment of the melodrama, its false and perhaps fake way of suffering. It is also important to put the stories in context. In Latin America, melodrama is king. Our music is melodramatic; our politics are melodramatic, our sports, our way or conceiving love, romantic love, all kinds of love, are pure melodrama. It is our way of dealing with most situations. This is more the case in the working class population, where access to different forms of dealing with feelings are not at hand or are simply unknown. For this reason, melodrama is abundant in the book: it shows how my characters construct whole gammas of feelings, and how they make decisions or just follow the paths dictated by their destiny.

READ MORE…

Interview with Suzanne Jill Levine

"A greater problem is that there are fewer and fewer readers interested in serious or innovative literary works."

Luis Negrón’s short story collection Mundo Cruelrecently translated into English by Suzanne Jill Levine, has met the acclaim it well deserves. The first translated work to win a Lambda Literary Award for gay general fiction, Negrón’s debut book is an exceptional merging of absurdist humor (one story chronicles a man’s desperate attempts to have his dead dog stuffed), naturalism (the characters’ voices instantly take shape, come to life), and melodrama. In an interview with translator Suzanne Jill Levine, winner of PEN USA’s Translation Award, Levine discusses what drew her to Negrón’s work, and her career as a writer, translator, and educator.

 

Eva Richter: How did you first learn about Luis Negrón’s work, and how did you come to translate him?  

Suzanne Jill Levine: Out of the blue I received an email from a young editor at Seven Stories Press, Gabriel Espinal, asking me to consider translating Mundo Cruel. The stories and the author, Luis—who is now a dear friend—were totally unknown. At first glance through the book, I was skeptical. Then Gabe invited me to visit him in NYC to talk about it. I was touched by his enthusiasm, the story of how he discovered Luis, and I felt admiration for the work of Seven Stories Press, and so I agreed to do a sample.

As I began translating, I found myself smiling and even laughing as I went along. A miracle: I had discovered a new writer who had a sly sense of humor, and who was dealing with such a destitute, sometimes sordid microcosm, which in his hands became a rich kasbah of living speech, ordinary yet extraordinary characters, depicted with pathos, wit and penetrating wisdom. I was sold.

ER: Mundo Cruel recently won the 26th Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction. Could you speak a little about contemporary LGBT literature in English translation? 

SJL: I cannot comment authoritatively on this, though I presume that LBGT literature receives more recognition now than when I began translating in the 1970s. Translations in general have a double challenge in an English-speaking world—or should I say marketplace—where publishing literature even written originally in English is getting more and more difficult. I wasn’t aware, either, that Lambda had never in its history awarded a [fiction] translation, though I was struck by the fact that mine was the only translation considered this year. Maybe Lambda should add a category for works in translation? Anyway, in the context of Latin American literature, I was among the first to seek out and translate gay writers Severo Sarduy and Manuel Puig, subversively marginal among the Boom writers such as Garcia Marquez—and can only hope that this helped paved the way for others. Puig, from Argentina, was an important pioneer and spokesman for Latin America in this respect.

ER: What were some challenges you faced when translating Mundo Cruel? There are two short stories told by narrators speaking on the phone, using slang, colloquialisms, which I thought specifically must have been demanding. 

SJL: The challenges are precisely what make translation worth doing, but yes, the language in these stories is often a very private language, spoken by a particular group in a particular barrio of San Juan. All the stories are “spoken” with the author as eavesdropper, but there is actually only one in which the narrator is speaking on the phone and it is hysterical because the reader hears only one side of the conversation, a device Manuel Puig used in Betrayed by Rita Hayworth.  The main character, the speaker, is gossiping about “La Edwin,” for example: “The thing is that La Edwin fell for this little ‘Che Guevara’ and she’s got it bad… but when it comes to you-know-what the big machetero can’t even use his machete in the name of the Cuban Revolution… No, girl. That’s not the problem. It’s that the guy was and is straight.” Etc. The best way to explain to you is to show you, right? I also recommend that you read my book The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction, in which I recreate the process of translating slang, puns, and other “impossibles.” In a sense your question is like asking how a musician performs a piece of music; it’s a matter of ear.

ER: Did Luis Negrón engage in the translation process?

SJL: Luis, whose English is great, was a wonderful collaborator and the perfect source, of course, for any questions I had about gay slang, meaning, register, tone: we basically hunkered down for three days in a friend’s apartment in NYC and went through the manuscript. I also went over the text with another Puerto Rican writer and colleague in Santa Barbara, Leo Cabranes-Grant. 

ER: A number of contributors to Asymptote blog have discussed Americans’ “lack of interest” [Nicolás Kanellos] in Spanish-language literature. Javier Molea, of McNally Jackson, said, “With few exceptions, there is no connection between the Spanish literary world and the English one. Any literary event in Spanish is allocated to the community events section of the newspaper, while a literary event in English is highlighted in the culture section.” As an acclaimed translator of Manuel Puig, Jose Donoso, and now Luis Negrón, what are your thoughts on this topic? 

 SJL: I think that what Javier is trying to say is that writers play a more important role in Spain and Latin American countries than they do in the United States (I hesitate to speak for Canada and the UK). A literary event in Bogotá will probably bring in a larger audience than in lower Manhattan. A greater problem is that there are fewer and fewer readers interested in serious or innovative literary works. Here and there a significant writer receives recognition, but more often, from what I’ve observed, there seem to be certain fashionable writers who come to represent their culture or nation in the global marketplace, mainly because of a generally superficial knowledge we have of literature as well as of other cultures and countries. Tim Parks has written on this topic, and I think he is completely accurate.

ER: Regarding the diminished appreciation of serious or innovative literature, why do you think that is? How has it affected your work?  

SJL: In part I am speaking as an educator regarding this sense of a diminishing literary readership. My friends in publishing have plenty to say about this problem as well. In the past 30 odd years in academe I have watched the Humanities lose ground to the Social Sciences, but even more so, I have watched generations of students turn from the written word to the video/digital world: they are becoming increasingly illiterate, either uninterested or unable to read.

Obviously there are elite groups that continue to cultivate the study and appreciation of literature, and of course many will say that literature is evolving into other equally creative forms—and no doubt some of this is true.

How does the diminishing interest in literature affect me? There are fewer books I want to translate and fewer opportunities for publishers to translate the works of writers I like.

This being said, I am working more with poetry—and have discovered wonderful new poets from Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua—and also on my own creative non-fiction. After all, translation is a rite of passage, as someone once said. In 2012 I came out with my first poetry chapbook (Reckoning: Finishing Line Press), which brings together poems I’ve written with poems I have translated—and the translations seem almost more autobiographical than the originals…

ER: Do you have a translation philosophy that guides your work? How did it serve you (or not) in your translation of Mundo Cruel? 

SJL: The Subversive Scribe speaks about translation as creation or “transcreation.” A writer, a translator succeeds in creating when s/he finds a voice: I would say that this happened in the translation of Mundo Cruel, but only you, the reader, can tell me if this is true.

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Suzanne Jill Levine’s acclaimed translations, which include books by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Three Trapped Tigers) and Manuel Puig (Betrayed by Rita Hayworth), have helped introduce the world to some of the icons of contemporary Latin American literature. She is also an editor of Penguin Classics’ essays and poetry of Jorge Luis Borges and the author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction. She is the winner of PEN USA’s Translation Award 2012 for her translation of Jose Donoso’s The Lizard’s Tale.