Alberto Olmos newest book is reviewed in Revista de Letras. He is one of the Granta youngsters, and one of the may that didn’t really sound that interesting or at least would have to go a long way to convince me they had the goods. In Javier Moreno’s review it sounds as if he has made steps in improving his work. Still, I’m not quite convinced yet.
La literatura de Alberto Olmos ha oscilado hasta ahora entre la querencia por la confusión entre lo literario y lo biográfico a través de personajes que uno imagina muy cercanos al propio autor y que este pareciera usar como mera máscara interpuesta (pienso, por ejemplo, en Trenes hacia Tokio o A bordo del naufragio) y el distanciamiento premeditado de un artesano que busca explorar los límites de su oficio (pienso en Tatami y, sobre todo, El estatus). A primera vista Ejército enemigo formaría parte del primer grupo de novelas.
Sin duda en Ejército enemigo se suplen muchas de las carencias de las que hablé anteriormente. Estamos en este caso ante una obra con un contexto social e histórico claramente actual y reconocible, aunque desprovisto de referencias explícitas (allá quien quiera encontrar relación entre esta novela y el movimiento 15M), el personaje puede parecerse o no al autor aunque eso es algo que deja de interesarnos (a mí, al menos) con el transcurrir de las páginas, y el tema (esa gran palabra) es lo suficientemente ambicioso como para que el lector sienta que la inmersión en una novela de casi trescientas páginas merezca la pena. Y está bien. Todo esto está bien. Está bien que la trama simule un argumento tan de género como la búsqueda del culpable de un crimen sin esclarecer. Está bien el sexo real y virtual que aparecen en esta novela (memorables me parecen las secuencias del Chatchinko o la écfrasis de un vídeo porno que circula por la web, un vídeo que, todo sea dicho, existe, pero cuya visión no logró excitarme ni la décima parte de lo que lo hizo la narración hecha por el autor). Está bien que la cuenta de correo simbolice de alguna manera el alma del desaparecido y que Santiago, el personaje (detective, a su pesar), se recree ante su lectura con una mezcla de morbo y espíritu mefistofélico. Y está muy bien, por último, el espíritu jacobino que destila Santiago, un personaje nada bien pensante, políticamente incorrecto y con conciencia de clase, una combinación que resulta difícil de encontrar en las letras hispanas actuales.
Over at Caravana de Requerdos (it is in English despite the title) there was an interesting discussion on how much the translator should try to help the reader understand a book, even to the extent they are adding elements that were not originally in the book. I can see why the translator added an element to his book, but it doesn’t do a service to the book. You can be overly faithful, but adding things is going to far. I still would like to read the book as I am not very familiar with that period of Spanish Literature.
At the beginning of Chapter Twelve in Alpert’s translation of The Swindler, we find the rascally narrator Pablos on the road to Madrid in the Castilla-La Mancha region in Spain. “But to get back to my journey,” he writes, “I was riding on a grey donkey like Sancho Panza and the last thing I wanted was to meet anybody when, in the distance, I saw a gentleman walking along with his cloak on and his sword by his side, wearing light breeches and high boots” (147). This gentleman, whose appearance, manners, and hard luck may superficially remind some of Don Quixote, will then fall in with Pablos for a spell in what looks like it could be a send-up of an adventure from Cervantes’ recent runaway best-seller. So what’s the problem with such a tantalizing metafictional scene? It doesn’t appear this way at all in my Spanish version! At least, there’s no mention of Sancho Panza in my Quevedo–just the detail that Pablos was riding on a “rucio de la Mancha” [gray horse from La Mancha] (II, 5, 95 in the Spanish text). Is Alpert trying to embellish the Don Quixote-like “cameo” for English readers, using a variant text, or just making shit up? It’s hard to say. While there are at least threeBuscón manuscripts known to scholars in addition to various printed versions of the novel, Alpert never once mentions which version of Quevedo’s text he’s used as the source for his translation. Kind of a big problem there, no?
Publisher’s Weekly has an interesting summary from the BEA on the outlook for Spanish language publishing in the US and translation from Spanish to English. Of more interest to English speakers is their take on Translation from Spanish to English. They all seem to think the market is growing and acceptance of translated works will be greater. Perhaps translation some day will go from 3% to 4%? I’ll believe it when I see it, but it is good to see that the publishers feel that there is something happening, although publishers have been known to be wrong before.
“Translations from Spanish into English: Overview, potentials and hurdles,” looked at the recent surge of successful translations of Spanish-language books. Esther Allen, translator and director Center of Literary Translation at Columbia University, moderated the panel, and began by saying she has “never felt so excited, so sanguine about the possibilities of bringing work from Spanish into English…both from Latin America and Spain.”
“It’s now ‘groovy’ again to read translations,” said New Directions’ Barbara Epler. “It’s the new generation that doesn’t care about anything,” such as whether it’s a translation or not, she explained. “They’re just really excited about somebody fabulous.” Epler said there’s now a difference in the way Spanish-language literature is being perceived in the U.S., and it’s reflected in the number of translations from Spanish published today. “It’s more than I’ve ever seen.”
Granta en español’s Valerie Miles noted that there is “an awakening of talent” within Spanish-language literature itself. Miles said an upcoming issue of Granta, The Best of Young Spanish-language Novelists, would highlight translations of works by young novelists under 35. Miles later noted it was important to steer clear of “blanket” labels, such as Latin American literature, because such tags don’t allow for the notion that each writer hails from a different culture and tradition.
Jesús Badenes from Editorial Planeta said one way Spanish authors measure their own success now, is by whether or not they’ve been published in the U.S. and, consequently, Spanish editors and agents are putting more of a focus on making that happen. He also noted that the U.S. is now more concerned about “world matters,” and thus open to reading—and publishing—more works in translation.
[…]Kirmen Uribe: “The structure in the Internet, the utilization of the first person, the sub-chapters that have length of a computer screen, that are autonomous…” All of this has a great influence on his work. “I even reproduce,” he says, “the new technologies explicitly: emails, Wikipedia entries, Google searches…”
[…]Kirmen Uribe: “La estructura en red, la utilización de la primera persona, que los subcapítulos tengan la longitud de una pantalla de ordenador, que sean autónomos…”. Todo eso tiene una gran influencia en su obra. “Incluso reproduzco”, dice, “las nuevas tecnologías de manera explícita: correos electrónicos, entradas de Wikipedia, búsquedas de Google…”
Javier Marias participated in a chat at El País and in the brief session he answered questions on language, his writing, and literature. There were several questions about his constant pessimism, especially in his weekly article in El País (something I long ago got tired of reading). One in particular wanted to know why he didn’t focus on other countries, but he said he knows Spain best and will stick to that. Continuing in his pessimistic way he made several mentions of the continued “deterioro del español de España” (deteriation of Spanish in Spain). To me it sounded just like a cranky old man when he was on that topic. Language changes and there is not point in complaining about it, but I think that is what he likes most to do.
About his writing he was asked in English language structures have crept into it and he said sometimes he does that to enrich his language, but only when it makes sense. He has begun a new book and the only thing he really knows is that it will be pessimistic, too. He is about half way through, but for the last year he has been on a book tour, something that he has found boring, and is looking to get back to his work.
Finally, he does know how to use a computer, he just doesn’t like to write his books and articles with a computer. And when asked the 3 best novels of the 20th century he said, Lolita by Nabokov, Light in August by Faulkner, and Catcher in the Rye by Salinger.
The Spanish poet Luis García Montero read at the University tonight (3/3/2010) to a packed room of students and academics. He read 8 poems from his body of work that the graduate students had translated into English. I’m not that familiar with Spanish poets and so had no idea what to expect, although I had seen his interview on El Público Lee. He is considered one of Spain’s best poets and is considered a realist poet who uses the elements from the everyday to express emotion or the experience of living. The poems that he read were very interesting and would be worth a return to. While he is a realist, the poems did have a good sense of imagery and didn’t slide into that reportage that is so real it describes nothing but itself and seems to afflict many of the American poets I’ve read and seen recently. Before each poem he explained where the ideas came from and they were often from the most basic experiences, but went beyond the moment he explained and captured something about modern living. The one I remember most was his poem to his mother. It was a reflection on the dreams she sacrificed to her family that in the era of Franco were not possible. And although he fought with her as young man who was experiencing the transition to democracy, he now sees her as someone who was so much more.
Michael Silverblatt interviewed Javier Marias about his trilogy Your Face Tomorrow for his most recent episode of Bookworm. It is an interesting conversation, although one gets the impression that Marías is brushing aside Silverblatt’s often baroque questions. The first part of the interview is here and the second part will be here.