Tag Archives: Spanish Translation

Read 202 of 2021. Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro. Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro

Title: Elena Knows
Author: Claudia Piñeiro
Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 978-1999368432
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Elena, all of sixty-three years old, knows that her daughter did not die by hanging herself. She knows there is more to it and wants to find out what happened to Rita. Why do they claim that Rita hung herself in the church belfry? How could that have been possible since it was raining that night and Rita would’ve never gone out in the rain as she was petrified of lightning? Elena wants answers about her daughter’s death, and no one is willing to help her. She is determined to find the culprit. Even if it means she has to venture out and journey through the suburbs of the city, to call on a favour from a woman named Isabel, who she and her daughter met twenty years ago. Even if it means that she has to do this as she suffers from Parkinson’s – the disease that will not let go of her and will obstruct her search to some extent. What happens next is what the novel is all about.

Piñeiro is well-known as a “thriller” or “crime” writer in Argentina and even around the world. Elena Knows, according to me is a good start to get to know her writing and fall in love with it. I’m surprised that with almost four books translated in English, Piñeiro is still not that well-known. I hope that changes when more people read Elena Knows.

Elena Knows is so much – a detective novel, a woman dependent on her disease to make all basic decisions – that of walking, turning her neck, seeing someone, and even sometimes breathing. It is a lucid and most disturbing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, and what happens when the child becomes a caregiver. It is also about the role of the government when it comes to providing medical care to its citizens – the red tapism, the bureaucracy, and the narrow-mindedness of it all. The book is political. It is about the agency of women and who controls their bodies. Piñeiro doesn’t hesitate to show society the mirror and make them realize what they stand for or not.

The plot unfolds in a day with clearly marked sections – Morning, Midday, and Afternoon – the times that are governed by Elena’s medication schedule. If she misses this, she will not be able to function. She will not be in control of her body and has to follow the schedule. This is another important element of the book. Let me also add here that Elena is not a likeable protagonist. There are shades and layers to this character and that’s what makes her also so endearing to some extent. There is no maudlin expression of her coping with her disease. There are facts, there are emotions, and sometimes the two converge most beautifully in the book.

Elena knows is so much more and I am stunned at how Piñeiro managed to say so much in such a small book. At the same time, Frances Riddle’s translation is on-point and makes you wonder what it would sound like in Spanish. The sentences gleam and I often found myself underlining passages.

Elena Knows is a book about patriarchy, structures, narrative (italics for dialogues), time, gender, motherhood, illness, and law and what we do with it, as we move on – day to day, hoping for a better tomorrow.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cámara Cabezón. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Title: The Adventures of China Iron
Author: Gabriela Cámara Cabezón
Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 9781916465664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I hadn’t read Argentina’s epic national poem Martín Fierro (1872-79) to which The Adventures of China Iron is a queer response. I just dived straight into this one and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is so much and much more. The layers of this novel are plenty and to uncover and peel each one took quite some time in my head.

The narrator China (Latin for female) is soon renamed Josephine Star Iron, is the teenage wife of Martín Fierro, left behind to fend for herself as her husband is press-ganged into the army. She soon takes refuge with Liz, who has just arrived from Scotland, and the two of them travel together. Liz is here to claim land she and her husband are about to manage for a wealthy British man. On their travels, China develops a crush on Liz. She has her hair cut and wears men’s clothes to travel safely and in turn, becomes Jo. Thus, their adventures begin.

I do not think I will ever read Martín Fierro, and not because it isn’t good or anything, but because The Adventures of China Iron is a book I will never forget. Fierro may not even live up to it at all, and of that I am sure. The complexities of China Iron are plenty. There is so much to take away from it, and not just about being queer, or a woman, but historically as well.

Gabriela Cámara Cabezón’s writing is so powerful that I literally had to reread so many portions, just to understand it at a deeper level. The translation by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre doesn’t disappoint – every nuance – traditional and otherwise is presented to the reader as is. The interactions of these women with men they encounter, the power dynamics, the inequality, and the punch of 1872 Argentina comes across vividly in so many ways.

The Adventures of China Iron is a treat for any reader – a romp of a read, but more than anything else, makes you understand what it means to not only be a woman but find your own at the end of it all.

Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes.

Mac's Problem by Enrique Vila-MatasTitle: Mac’s Problem
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes
Publisher: New Directions Publishing
ISBN: 978-0811227322
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This book was a treat. At almost every level – the plot, writing, characters, pacing of the novel, and the fact that a master such as Vila-Matas has written it, only adds to its wonder. The idea of life imitating art and vice-versa has always been a personal favourite, and then to find one of the few novels whose premise is seeped in it is a thing of joy to read and contemplate about.

At the heart of this novel is Mac, who is unemployed and dependent on his wife’s earnings. Being an avid reader and beyond, he decides to maintain a diary at the age of sixty. His wife who is dyslexic thinks he is wasting his time. A chance encounter with a neighbour – a successful author of a collection of stories, Mac decides that he will improvise his neighbour’s stories, which are in turn narrated by a ventriloquist who has lost the knack of speaking in different voices. The book then takes a strange turn and only gets stranger as you go along, with art imitating life or vice-versa.

Mac’s Problem is a book that had me in from the first page. Again, it is not an easy read, but there is something to it – the concept of a diary, and then someone’s short stories, and how they become personal after a while, and the paranoia that takes over. Vila-Matas’ writing is full of literary references, and stellar prose if anything. It is also quite funny in a lot of places – I am sure that was intentional.

The book does drag and something about it being two-dimensional worked so much for me. It takes time to get to the actual plot perhaps but if you persist, you will be massively rewarded in the end. A must-read if you ask me.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin Title: Little Eyes
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786077929
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Samanta Schweblin has done it again. This is her third book (translated in English) and the second novel and I do not know how will I write this review without gushing. Little Eyes is a strange book, or so it seems as you start reading it. After a point, as a reader, you realize that you could be living this life at some point in the future. Or maybe you already are, given the rate at which technology is surpassing us minute by minute. Little Eyes is a book about human connections as well, through technology, and how it makes us think, behave, or react.

They are called Kentukis. They aren’t robots, or toys, or not even phones. They are devices that connect you with other humans without really connecting you. The world is that of voyeurism, narcissism, and the need to not be lonely, and yet not quite maintain social relationships. These are available throughout the world and have a different way of operating.

The book is split into very short chapters and set across the world. The techno dystopian world that Schweblin builds is scary, intriguing, and to a large extent almost a prediction of things to come. The larger themes of the book are atomization of society, surveillance, lack of privacy, and how we have reached a stage that we will hanker after every new technology that there is.

I enjoyed the different narratives and the worlds I was being exposed to as I turned the pages. Schweblin’s writing packs a punch, and even in those short chapters, you are looking forward to more. Different characters only add to the overall appeal. There is also so much hope and redemption in the book that at times it felt strange to understand that it was written by the same person. Megan McDowell’s translation makes for the story to be only more interesting, thereby driving the narrative. A read that will stick with you for days. It has with me.

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of Birds Title: Mouthful of Birds
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786074560
Genre:
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The world of Samanta Schweblin’s stories is intriguing. There is aplenty and then there is nothing. You begin to wonder as a reader, in-between being stumped by the prose and the sheer magnitude of the story being read, whether or not you are worthy of it. The stories are nightmarish for sure, but then Schweblin also prepares you for them right at the beginning. The context and the tone are set immaculately, the translation by Megan McDowell precise to the last word and emotion, and more than anything else the diversity of the collection, only makes you want to turn the pages sooner, even if the collection seems too long at twenty stories.

Mouthful of Birds is strange. But that’s what makes it so delicious a read. The title story is that of a teenaged girl, who to the fascination (at some point) and repulsion of her divorced parents resorts to only eating live birds. It just happens, one fine day without any reason. So what does one feel after reading such a story? Pity? Empathy (can you, really)? Disgust? Schweblin gives you enough and more room to feel, get in touch with your emotions at the end of the every story, only to be met with another story, with another set of emotions all over again.

The devastating realities of fairy tales creep up in The Merman. You cannot help but go back to your childhood and be alarmed at what you read. This is just Schweblin’s perspective when she has a story to tell and it shines. Or you have a story such as “Butterflies” whose end will leave your stomach churning and wanting more. The imagery of no two stories is remotely similar. Schweblin draws every story and every framework from different places and varied emotions, which makes it even more interesting.

That’s the thing about Samanta’s stories. They make you wonder, you are awed, fascinated even, repulsed, revolted, and yet you cannot help but turn the page to the next one. It is the feeling of a roller-coaster ride, knowing you are going to fall, plunge headlong and yet there is this excitement – the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of a feeling. If anything and more, this collection is ferocious.

You can also tell that the stories have matured and come to the author over a period of time. These have not been written all at once, and it shows. The translation by Megan McDowell is on-point. She also translated Fever Dream by Schweblin, which was written after this collection but translated and published in English before. But that’s just a technicality in the sense of publishing timeline.

What is truly astounding is how McDowell makes the original voice hers, thereby giving us a culminated effort. The multiple stories breathe and live multiple lives. It is as though you can see the author mature and an underlined theme runs throughout – that of intense dysfunctional of family and the self. Headlights, the opening story is strange – Schweblin has got the emotion pat-down and you can see the misogyny of men. In another story titled Preserves, an unborn baby is spat out (perhaps unwanted as well). Each story shines and has its own unique element. Some leave the reader satisfied, while others don’t.

Mouthful of Birds breaks ground in storytelling and so many times also sticks to the traditional format of showing more and telling less. It challenges readers every step of the way, and never lets you imagine what will happen next. Samanta Schweblin’s reality is the one we inhabit and also the one we are way far-off from. That to me is the beauty and core of this fantastic short-story collection, that deserves to be read by almost everyone.