Begoña Paz is, to my mind, a necessary writer for the world to know. She writes about topics that I notice most English-language writers seem to avoid (I could never imagine someone from the US writing “The Weight of My Desire”), and in such a startling, beautiful manner. To me, “The Weight of My Desire” represents some of the best characteristics of flash fiction, and the things that draw me to it: in the space of about a page, Paz is able to evoke so much of the history of this crumbling marriage in such simple ways. For example: “Despite every year’s present, a jar of Pond’s wrinkle cream.” With one image she evokes an uncaring husband, not only giving the same present every year, but a present which is a constant reminder to the protagonist that she is aging, that she no longer satisfies him, that he wishes she were younger, and that she feels emptiness over her inability to do anything about her situation. The story delves deep, probing, moving slowly until, with the last two paragraphs Paz turns a slow, pensive narrative into one with charge, moving at lightning speed. It gallops forward towards its conclusion and ends so fast that the reader is left as confused and disoriented as the narrator, who seems, when it is all over, to be wondering what happened and looking down at the page, or the husband, to check and see if it truly did occur.
One of the challenges of translating her poetry is that she has a great economy of language and beautiful imagery: “And cars like pills/ for anything and/ for nothing,/ and pounds/ of dreams/ that spread/ over sidewalks/ at twilight/ so that we step on them/ on our way to the/ jobschooljail of/ our everyday lives.” There is a sort of vague clarity to these lines from her poem, “Proof,” that sort of foggy clarity one gets if awake around that hour before the sun has fully risen and it’s still dark outside. The challenge of linguistic economy becomes greater when dealing with Galician—the amount of contractions in the language makes English seem tame. The Galician language, too, has such a distinct sound to it that it can be hard to approach the sonority of the original, best exemplified by “Motel Silviculture.” In the original, the last stanza reads “Elixe./ Elixe./ Elixe.” In Galician that “x” has a soft, “shh” sound, which softens the tone of the middle-heavy word (e-LI-xe). The word in Galician has a heavy emphasis, but is softened by the “shh” sound, giving a sense of harshness and pressure at the same time as it has a voice-in-your-head, whispering quality to it. In English, the two best translations of this word, which is an imperative verb conjugation of “elixir,” would be “choose” or “decide.” With “choose” readers get some of that softness from the Galician “x,” with “decide,” readers get that pounding iambic nature of the original—faced with a choice between two words in English which only contain half of the original’s sonority, how does one choose, how does one decide?
– Jacob Rogers
Spanish writer Juan José Millás notices what happens when everyone else is looking the other way. His short fiction intrudes upon the intimate, uncomfortable, often shameful but pivotal moments of his protagonists without introduction, warning, or apology, all with a distinct “Millasian” style: he peers upon an isolated human experience, takes a snapshot of it, winks at the reader, and leaves, usually in the span of two pages. Reading his work is much like spying on a voyeur who is simultaneously spying on someone else. It is discomfort, once-removed.
This brief selection from Stories Out in the Open (Cuentos a la intemperie) unfolds on the streets of Madrid at the close of the twentieth century. When our instinct is to avert our gaze, Millás forces us to look closer yet: at a father’s rage on a family road trip, at the adult man who claims to be the son of a pajama-clad stranger, at the Devil perusing religious literature at the European equivalent of Barnes and Noble. This perpetual uncovering, the initial discomfort that results from bearing witness to such private moments, eventually gives way to amusement.
Millás is a household name and public figure of the Iberian Peninsula. He belongs to a generation of writers born at the height of Franco’s dictatorship, but who began writing during the so-called “transition” to democracy. Despite their insistence upon everyday human experience, Millás’ stories are inextricable from their larger historical and political context: they emerge as the products of one who grew up in a dictatorial pressure cooker and who now wants to write about anything but that. Through a deliberate avoidance of key words such as “Spanish civil war” or “Franquismo,” combined with an experimental form and growing emphasis on the effects of the economic crisis, his stories are unmistakably situated in turn-of-the-century Spain. Millás is a rare jewel for the reader; despite his national fame, his work remains largely absent from the Anglophone literary circuit.
– Gabriella Martin
Pilar Fraile Amador’s Larva & Hedge is one of those rare collections that affects the reader by both attracting and repelling, that can simultaneously enchant and disturb. Fraile’s poems mesmerize and sing; they weave captivating webs. But they are fascinating, too, in their potential for repulsion, in their willingness to inhabit the most unsettling of spaces. The force of the text, then–the way it acts upon the reader’s interior–is twofold.
On the one hand, Fraile’s poems are magnetic. They read like deftly spun incantations, sonorous lines draped over imagined topographies. But they derive equal force from their readiness to shock and disturb, to wield images that pierce a reader’s repose and rearrange one’s insides. The poems occupy both dreamscape and night terror; they caress and startle. They situate us in the space between our discomfort and enthrallment at the sight of blood. We cannot turn away.
That Fraile’s text both attracts and repels is fitting. It is a collection that deals in dualities, juxtaposing the intimate and the collective, the strong and the weak, the human and the animal; yoking them together to call their differences into question. It is this gesture that begins Fraile’s project of blurring lines and traversing borders.
The volume itself is binary, split into two distinct sections that function together. In Larva, Fraile explores the undercurrent of correspondence that exists unnoticed between human beings, the wellspring of the common subconscious. Here, individual and collective memories intermix and alter one another and the living can communicate with objects and the dead. The destruction of the ‘I,’ then, becomes a generative act that allows the other–or others–to pass into and expand an individual consciousness. Under these circumstances, the lines between past and present, between self and other, grow indistinct. The speaker is a secret essence that mediates the collective, a human distillate in the antechamber of life. The past never dies.
In the second section of the book, Hedge, the individual disappears completely. The poetic subject shifts to plural as Fraile reflects on what binds a community. While both halves of the volume are image-driven, the poems that constitute Hedge are more intricate than the preceding fragments, rich with sensory detail and of longer duration. They take shape as blocks of prose poetry that make use of repetition, compression, and fragmentation and fuse lines into paragraphs. This configuration yields both continuity and a useful sense of isolation: while each poem is visually cloistered as a block of text on its own page, the poems hang together with their consistent form as stages in a continuous meditation.
Fraile cites influences who move “in the border of the border”–from symbolists Baudelaire and Rimbaud with their intuitive associations, unconventional syntax, and indirect expression; to the surrealism of Lorca and Buñuel; to contemporary Spanish classics like Ullán, Valente, and Gamoneda. Her imagistic precision, along with stylistic choices like nonlinear forms and a disjunctive, multivocal timbre, demonstrate a desire to move in literary border areas and to create poetry that is unflinchingly exploratory.
– Elizabeth Davis
Toni Sala (b. 1969, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Girona) is an author of fiction and nonfiction as well as a secondary school teacher of Catalan literature. His books include the short story collections Entomologia (1997) and Bones notícies (2001); the novels Pere Marín (1998), Goril·la blanc (2002), Rodalies (2004, Sant Joan Prize and the National Prize for Catalan Literature), and Quatre dies a l’Àfrica (2005); and the book-length essay Petita crònica d’un professor a secundària (2001), a controversial bestseller in which the author exposed the frustration prevalent among educators with disarming sincerity and raw candor.
Patricia Esteban Erlés (b. 1972 in Zaragoza, Spain) completed her studies in Hispanic Philology at the University of Zaragoza and specializes in chivalric literature. Her own literary production, in contrast, is firmly rooted in contemporary society, as she represents the age in which she lives, with all the technological innovations and personal uncertainties of our postmodern world. Her work has been described as gothic, with a marked influence from film, featuring a disarming sense of the mysterious as she explores the points of contact between reality and fantasy. The story featured here, “Cantalobos,” comes from Manderley en venta (Tropos, 2010), which won the 2007 University of Zaragoza literary award for short fiction and was named one of the top ten books of short stories of 2008.
Antonio Gamoneda was born in 1931. He is one of the most widely read contemporary Spanish poets. His most successful early work, Blues castellano, dates to the period 1961-66. He then entered a long period of self-protective censorship, from which he emerged upon the death of Franco with the publication of Description of the Lie (León 1977). In 1986, with the publication of the first five sections of Book of the Cold // Libro del frío, he became recognized for the originality of his language and the way in which it enacts psychological processes of personal loss and responds to the conflicted emotions needed for survival. Book of the Cold // Libro del frío is considered to be most vital and innovative volume in Antonio Gamoneda’s body of work. In 1992, a new edition of Libro del frío appeared, including the major poem featured here, “Cold of Limits,” inspired by and written in collaboration with the painter Antoni Tapies. In 2006, Gamoneda received the Cervantes Prize, an honor bestowed annually upon a distinguished Spanish-language author.
Description of the Lie, Book of the Cold, and another of Gamoneda’s works, Gravestones (all of which were translated by Donald Wellman), are deeply marked by the dark years of the Franco dictatorship. Gamoneda’s poetry can be read as a form of witness, but the work itself is conceived and should be understood as poetry marked by distinctive compositional values of a musical order, both in terms of rhythms and interlaced imagery.
Donald Wellman’s translation of Description of the Lie is forthcoming from Talisman House Press.
The Silent Woman is a novel that traces the events of the twentieth century and their dramatic influence on people’s lives. Sylva, half-German and half-Czech, is born into an aristocratic family in a sumptuous castle near Prague. With her husband, an ambassador in Paris, and later with her Russian boyfriend, Sylva witnesses the joyful madness of the 1920s and then the Nazi period of the ’30s and ’40s. During the Communist era, she loses all of her property and all of her loved ones. In the ’70s, a lonely old woman forgotten by all, she ends up living in a poor neighbourhood. That’s when she discovers the fate of her long-lost boyfriend: the Soviet regime had banished him to a Gulag. Sylva’s search for him begins…
We also follow Sylva’s son Jan, a world-famous mathematician who immigrates to the U.S. He earns a fortune, but struggles for understanding in his marriage to a beautiful Russian parvenu.
Ricardo Menéndez Salmón is one of the most respected writers in the Spanish literary scene. Born in Gijón (Asturias) in 1971, he studied philosophy and has written eight novels, a book of short stories, and a literary travel book. He regularly publishes articles in newspapers, and cultural and literary journals. His work has been translated into Catalan, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese, and he has received numerous literary awards. Praised unanimously by critics in Spain, his prose, rich and cultivated, has been described as having “a personal style, strong and close to expressionism” (El País); “a mature writer with the air of a classic” (ABC Cultural); “no writer today can compare to Ricardo Menéndez Salmón” (Qué Leer); “Goyaesque imagery” (Revista de Letras); “the best of a generation of writers” (La Razón). His latest novel Medusa was published in September 2012.
No Third Parties Are Involved is a collection of ten stories about the follies of modern life. They feature a mix of odd situations–ridiculous, decadent, comic, or endearing–and a broad array of characters that includes a Nobel Prize-winning writer, a journalist who doesn’t use a tape recorder or notebook, a late-night game show host, and an actress who has turned the corner into middle age. Author Empar Moliner presents–as she usually does–sketches of the everyday whose authenticity can touch a nerve, as many people, men and women alike, can easily recognize aspects of themselves in her characters. With her customary energy, she portrays situations of contemporary urban life through a filter of perceptive irony: Empar Moliner strips the world naked, amid wine, music, the internet, drugs and the city.
Irse (English translation: “To Leave”) is Isabel Cadenas Cañón’s first poetry book. It was awarded the 2009 Caja de Guadalajara-Fundación Siglo Futuro Award for young poets and published in 2010. The book is divided into three parts, and it explores the consequences of leaving, of being abroad, and the impossibility of returning. The book was one of the ten best-selling poetry books in Spain for twelve consecutive weeks.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in 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).