Paco Urondo’s poems figure in the conversational, revolutionary trend in Latin American poetry in the mid-to-late 20th century. He and his contemporaries engaged with the difficult political realities of their time, always with the intent to achieve art above all else. Though he would come to write conversationally and directly over time, his oeuvre preserves the legacy of Surrealism. His humor and pain, individually and in solidarity with others, make this poet crucial, unavoidable, to the reading of the poetry of the Americas.
Urondo was a victim of the dictatorship in Argentina, killed just months after the March 1976 coup. He was active in the guerrilla organization Montoneros and worked as a journalist. He was a contemporary of Juan Gelman, Mario Benedetti, Julio Cortázar, and many others who considered him a great talent and friend. Though his work appears alongside that of these renowned authors in some anthologies, it has largely been excluded from criticism and translation. Currently, his legacy is experiencing a revival in Argentina.
He is famously quoted as saying, “Empuñé un arma porque busco la palabra justa” (I took up arms in search of the just word). Urondo’s efforts to merge the roles of artist, intellectual, and militant were sites of devastation and of hope, confirming the poet’s valor and his trust in his work, in his compañeros, and in history, to effect the change he sought.
– Julia Leverone
Likened to Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Clarice Lispector, Hebe Uhart is an Argentine writer whose distinctive voice has made her beloved over the past 50 years by the Argentine public and fellow writers. Relatos Reunidos, her collected works, won the award for the Best Work of Literary Creation at the Buenos Aires Book Fair in 2011. Her newest story collection, Un día cualquiera, was released in 2013. An avid traveler with a piercing eye, Uhart has also published two travelogue collections, with a third forthcoming.
“The Fluffy Cake” is the title story from a collection originally published in 1976. Uhart says she wrote the story after a having experienced a moment of considerable disappointment during which she saw her world as flat and depressing, like this cake she had once made in childhood.
“Dear Mama” was included in the 1997 story collection Guiando la hiedra. Uhart wrote it as a tribute following the death of her mother. In 2009 it was adapted for the theater by Laura Yussem.
– Maureen Shaughnessy
Luisa Valenzuela, one of Argentina’s most prominent and inventive fiction writers, was born in Buenos Aires in 1938. The home in which she grew up was a gathering place for writers, artists, and publishers. Borges (whom she described in her Paris Review interview as “a walking system of thought”) came at least once a week, being a close friend of her mother, Luisa Mercedes Levinson (herself a well-known writer). The Luisa in question here wrote her first poem at six, and published her first story at twenty. The author of over twenty books–novels, short stories, and micro-fictions–Valenzuela has lived in France, Spain, Mexico, and New York, and taught at numerous universities, including Columbia and NYU. She has won a host of major prizes and awards (including a Fulbright, a Guggenheim, the Cervantes Prize, and at least one honorary doctorate). Her work has been widely translated. She left Argentina in the wake of the 1976 military coup, when one of her books was censored; in 1989 she returned to Buenos Aires and re-settled in her native neighborhood of Belgrano. Although fluent in French and English, she always held on to “the Argentine language [as] a home I don’t want to lose” [The Paris Review interview, No. 170]. Her writing has rightly been called “hallucinatory” (although in matters of craft, it is absolutely lucid), arising as it has from her country’s surreal and violent politics. Valenzuela’s sentences have force and momentum, though her phrases may shift into unexpectedly delicate cadences and textures. Terror, exile, and alienation continue to be major themes, yet there is also a new, entirely unsentimental, tenderness between her characters.
“The Wanderer” (original title: “La errante”) is from Tres por cinco, a collection published in Spain in 2008 and Argentina in 2010.
Valenzuela’s most recent visits to New York took place in May 2014 for the launch of Review 88: Literature and Arts of the Americas, where she did a reading of “Conyecturas” (a witty philosophical story called “Conjectures on the Great Beyond” in English), and in 2013 for several events at McNally Jackson centering on her latest novel, La máscara sarda (The Sardinian Mask), which delves into the Sardinian roots of Juan Domingo Perón.
– Marguerite Feitlowitz
First published in the Argentine journal Acción in 2011, Jimena Néspolo’s short story “La mujer del dorado” narrates the strange case of Virginia Fhury, a woman with yellow-green eyes who breeds Dobermans on a declining, formerly ostentatious farm in a small Argentine town–and who never seems to age. Virginia becomes a point of obsessive interest among the townsfolk, and the narrator reconstructs the details of Virginia’s life from the gossip and reports s/he overhears. Told from the point of view of a singular, unnamed narrator, s/he invokes the plural consciousness of the town for emphasis, and betrays a sense of lament at the town’s intrusiveness. As the mystery of Virginia’s age unravels, the reader might imagine that so, too, does the bickering cohesiveness of the town. The reader is left to wonder: were Virginia’s age and life a mystery after all, or did the town invent a myth based on whispers of her identity? Small town politics feature as prominently as the eternally youthful golden woman.
I translated this story in cafes in Argentina while on a Tinker Foundation grant for predoctoral research in the summer of 2012. Jimena generously agreed to correspond with me and meet for coffee to discuss the finer points of her writing style and philosophy, which come alive in her artfully constructed bio note. During a meeting over coffee in Buenos Aires, she stressed the importance of the play on words in the title, something that is difficult to carry over to the English from the original Spanish. The “mujer del dorado” simultaneously invokes a woman made of gold; a woman from the mythical El Dorado of South American legends; and a woman of golden color, much like a “carpa dorada” (goldfish). All three associations are important, given the gilded history of Virginia’s family, her mythical status in town, the strange story of the large goldfish passing through her legs, and the way in which she dies. I decided to let the Spanish speak for itself and titled the story “The Dorado Woman” rather than the more literal “The Golden Woman” or “The Woman of Gold,” and throughout the text of the story tried to emphasize the three associations Jimena wrote into the Spanish.
– Kristina Zdravič Reardon
Romina Doval teaches at the University of Buenos Aires. She has translated several books from French into Spanish, including Isabelle Rimbaud’s Mon frère Arthur. Her short stories and essays have appeared in a wide range of magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, including the featured story, which appeared as “La edad de la razón” in La joven guardia. Nueva narrativa argentina (The Youthguard: New Argentine Fiction).
Ursula’s Dream is a multi-layered construction, a coded journey that redefines the rules of the epic genre. Any outline of the plot would be misleading, since María Negroni’s method is to question the distinction between dream or vision and historical, fictional, and legendary reality, while refusing to respect the limits of chronology. The medieval histories of Ursula that inspired this thoroughly contemporary novel recount the life of a young woman near the end of the first millennium. Heiress to the throne of Cornwall, in order to escape immediate marriage to a suitor and on the advice of an angel, she lays down three conditions: that her suitor be baptized, that she be supplied with eleven ships and eleven maidens to command them, and that she be given three years to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Ursula—according to the many surviving versions of her life—made the pilgrimage with her companions and was killed before her return. Accounts of her death differ; perhaps she died at the hands of Attila the Hun, perhaps her vengeful suitor pursued and killed her.
On the whole, the novel follows these legendary events, depicting Ursula’s youth at the court of Cornwall and the arrival of the suitor’s messengers, then introducing her companions and narrating the progress of their journey while incorporating the characters—from bishops to minnesingers—that they meet along the way. There are debates, crises, and defections among the women, a plot of sorts. Yet the question of Ursula’s death remains unresolved. The larger action of the novel takes place out of time, as Ursula’s Dream continually departs from the linear, through apparitions and presentiments, embodying figures from other realms of reality: some who died before the pilgrimage began and others who were to live—and write—of her in future centuries.
Expressing the polyphony of inner life through female voices, the novel reveals the depth and risk of feminine experience in a world controlled by patriarchal institutions. Its concerns are millenary: the confrontation with death, time, love, historical circumstances, and destiny. In endowing them with a contemporary perspective, Ursula’s Dream rediscovers for its readers the spiritual quest that gives a deeper meaning to the epic gesture.
María Negroni has published numerous books of poetry, including De tanto desolar, Per/canta, La jaula bajo el trapo, Diario Extranjero, Camera delle Meraviglie, Islandia, El Viaje de la Noche, and Andanza, as well as novels, translations, and essays. She has won two Argentine National Book Awards, as well as other prestigious prizes and fellowships. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
The Kings (Los Reyes) was published in 1949. It was the first time Julio Cortázar published under his own name. Aside from this text, Cortázar wrote four other short plays that were collected and published in 1995 as Goodbye, Robinson, and other short pieces (Adios, Robinson, y otras piezas breves). One of the plays included in that volume Nothing Goes to Pehuajó (Nada a Pehuajó) had first been published as a single text in the year of his death. This adaptation/translation of The Kings was originally commissioned by The Art Party, Inc. in New York City, and developed with The Internationalists Around the World in the 24 Hours Festival.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).