Tag Archives: spanish

Read 37 of 2022. Paradais by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Paradais
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: New Directions
ISBN: ‎978-0811231329
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

My mind is numb, and my heart is a mess. The latest offering by Melchor is dark, overwhelming, rustic, punches you in the gut, devastating to say the least, and more than anything else, in a very nuanced manner touches on the class differences in society and what happens thereof.

Paradais is a shorter compared to her previous work Hurricane Season, and yet it doesn’t feel that way. Its 125 pages are packed with unsettling language, doesn’t play to the reader’s expectations, and definitely does not believe in toning it down.

We meet Polo, a 16-year-old school drop-out who works as a gardener in a luxury residential complex called “Paradise” in Progreso, Mexico.  The title comes from the fact that he cannot pronounce it, and his boss teaches him to pronounce this way. Even in language, he cannot have a piece of paradise.

Polo is the narrator and all he wants to do is get out. He is not rich like the other teenager he introduces us to – Franco Andrade – who is overweight, addicted to porn, only fantasizes about his neighbour and the ways in which he will have sex with her – who is an attractive married woman and a mother of two.

Polo just wants to escape his overbearing mother, thinks of his dead grandfather, waits for a phone call from his cousin to get him out, and drinks with Franco (whom he calls Fatboy) so he can forget his existence for a while. It is in such moments of desperation, they hatch a plan, which might go either way for them.

Melchor’s writing is not easy to digest. It is bleak, it is angry, it wants to tell so much, and it does, even in so little prose. The anguish, the frustration, and the idea to do better through worse is so ironic and yet the only thing that seems right to Polo. We only see Franco through Polo’s perspective, so at some parts I was also doubting that, but Melchor’s writing convinced me about that as well – that perhaps all Polo says is in fact the gospel truth.

The darkness that runs through the town and into the lives of Franco and Polo is palpable. Most of the novel takes place at night – some also during the day, but that’s when the ridicule happens, the discrimination is made clear, the anger is seething – only to appear at night when drunk and find escape by imagining various ways to find an exit. All of this is conjured through Hughes’ fantastic translation that doesn’t miss a beat.

When Melchor writes about the Mexican society – whether it is the wealth gap and gang violence, she does it as a matter of fact attitude. It doesn’t preach, nor does it seek pity or empathy. What it also does at some point is scary – it gives agency to the naïve, to the fatalistic teenagers who have no clue what life has in store for them or how will it all turn out and make the most horrific choices.

Paradais works on so many levels, and for so many reasons. It is built on the shoulders of toxic masculinity through and through, and you know that world will not last long. The casualness, the most nonchalant manner in which people are thrown about in the book says a lot about the societies we inhabit. Melchor just brings it to fore, and a lot more. Reading this book also repulsed me a lot of times, yet with the constant nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this is the truth – whether I like it or not.

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández. Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández

Title: Slash and Burn
Author: Claudia Hernández
Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 978-1911508823
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is war fiction to an extent. This is about the aftermath of a civil war and revolution, and what it mainly does to women. It is fascinating and almost entirely from the perspective of female protagonists. A conflict created by men, whose consequences the women have to suffer – almost every single day.

The country and the characters are unnamed. At the core of the novel is a woman who joins a guerrilla movement as a teenager, eventually becoming a comrade (compañera), suffering abuse by soldiers who terrorise the locals. The book is about family as well. It is about how several years after the war, the woman has four daughters, one of which she is forced to give up who is then sold to a French family in Paris (adopted) and lives there. The woman after getting to know of this decides to pay her a visit.

The novel moves from the past to the present and navigating back to the past. The sentences are long winding, the narrative moves slowly, sometimes it becomes a little difficult to figure who is being spoken about, direct speech is omitted, and yet it all flows smoothly. At no point did I feel exhausted by the writing. I was actually wondering how it would’ve been for the translator in terms of pronouns and no names structure.

Slash and Burn is an intense read. I am glad that men have taken a backseat in the novel and like I said it is all about the women. The idea of starting afresh after a period of war is indeed difficult and Hernández draws on that with great skill. Readers are constantly reminded of what it means to be in a state of war for normal people, how their lives change forever, and how nothing is in our control.

Dead Girls by Selva Almada. Translated from the Spanish by Annie McDermott

Dead Girls by Selva Almada could have been set in any part of the world, and that’s a tragedy really. Dead Girls, as the title suggests is a story of dead girls – the cases of three small-town teenagers murdered in the 1980s – three deaths whose perpetrators went unpunished, and there was nothing done about it. Three deaths without culprits even – just being overlooked – a casual affair almost. 

Dead Girls is about a time when violence against women goes unpunished (still does, doesn’t it? For most part?). There was nothing specifically outstanding about the women who died, nothing spectacular – just the virtue of them being women. That was enough for them to be dead. And that made me stop and think about India. India and Argentina in that sense are the same. Well, like I said it could’ve been set in any part of the world – given how femicide occurs everywhere. In some parts of the world not very much, in some others too much to want to warrant forgetfulness. 

Almada’s story is about three women – Andrea, Maria Luisa, and Sarita – a journalistic record of sorts (yet fiction and yet not) about what happened – written in the vein of In Cold Blood by Capote. It could be the story of so many women who are victims of violence, and some whose stories don’t see the light of the day. Crimes that go unreported. Bodies that are never found, and lives that aren’t acknowledged.

Almada takes into account all of it – the story morphs from what the narrator’s mother said to what someone else’s friend said – the friend who lived, the sister who survived, and accounts of other lives that are spoken about by way of gossip and nothing else. The writing doesn’t give any closure to the deaths of these women – don’t read this book expecting that. People are always judging these three women – their career choices, what they wore, how they behaved, somehow making their deaths justifiable. What hits the hardest is that it still happens almost everywhere. The negating of women’s voices, the drowning of what they have to say, and almost whitewashing all that took place and happened. 

The translation by Annie McDermott is on-spot – from the smells of a small crowded bus, to the food they eat, to the description of a run-down building, each sentence shines – resonating the original – interspersed with words from Spanish, and making you at times as a reader feel the reading experience is complete. 

Dead Girls is steeped in mystery, patriarchy and what it means and does, and ultimately validating lives lost, not only of these three women, but of so many more, so many – every single day.

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos. Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore

All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos Title: All My Goodbyes
Author: Mariana Dimópulos
Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Transit Books
ISBN: 978-1945492150
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All My Goodbyes is a strange read. A strange read that is also very satisfying on so many levels. It is a love story, a story of trauma and violence, and also a story of memory told in fragments.

The book is about the disconnected life of an Argentine woman who is rootless, constantly moving from one place to another, leaving the people who take care of her. She is scared of any emotion (I think) and doesn’t even carry emotions with her as she leaves. She then reaches the southernmost region of Patagonia, convinced that she has finally found home and happiness, till she is caught up in murders that seem to take over her life.

Dimópulos’s writing is sharp and exacting. There is no beating around the bush. It is thread-bare and works on so many levels for a book of this nature. It isn’t an easy read to begin with – the narrative moves between time and space, in almost every paragraph. However, it is very fulfilling if you keep at it.

Sentences and plot changes jump at you unexpectedly, which to me is the main strength of this read. The aura of mystery is maintained right till the end, including the life of the narrator that always keeps you second-guessing. The translation by Alice Whitmore is spot-on and manages to recreate everything the author intended it to be (again I am only going by what I have read).

All My Goodbyes is constantly moving like the narrator. It forces you to surrender to the story and let the book take you where it has to. I suggest don’t make much of it to begin with. Just read with an open mind and that is enough. More than enough to understand how we are connected to fellow humans in the larger scheme of the world and our place in it.

77 by Guillermo Saccomanno. Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

77 by Guillermo Saccomanno Title: 77
Author: Guillermo Saccomanno
Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger
Publisher: Open Letter
ISBN: 978-1940953892
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Books written to defy, to present various points of view, and above all to show us that we can and should raise voices against powers are books that I love to read. It makes me feel stronger, it makes me want to protest, and more than anything else it makes me feel that I have companions and not alone in the world when it comes to issues close to my heart. 77 is one such book that held me by my throat and being and I just had to finish it in almost three sittings or so. The book still lingers in my memory, and I know that it will for a long time to come.

 So, what is the book about?

 The book is set in Buenos Aires, 1977. A time that is considered to be a part of the darkest days of the Videla dictatorship, from the time he seized power in 1976. At the heart of the book is Gómez, a gay high-school literature teacher, trying very hard to keep a low profile as his friends and students begin to disappear. This is the time when questioning is forbidden, and people aren’t allowed to live the way they wish to.

 Things also start spiralling when he gives shelter to two dissidents in his house, and to make things worst he is having an affair with a homophobic cop who is loyal to the government and no one else. The book is told in flashbacks – from 2007 to 1977 – jumping back and forth.

 I was stunned reading this novel. I didn’t know what to feel for some time and then I realized that I was scared. Scared of such a regime being thrust upon us (though it seems that day isn’t very far) and how we would react or live in that case. Living under a dictatorship isn’t easy. At the same time, it isn’t very hard for people to get used to it, which is most fearful.

Saccomanno’s writing is fluid and clear. In most parts, I thought of it to be autobiographical and I don’t think I was far from the truth. The moral, social, and intellectual dilemmas that present themselves make the book so haunting and real. Is literature dead? Is sexual preference dead? Is raising your voice dead? What is alive anymore?

 77 is a book not just about a year – about people, their opinions, the regime that wants a mental shutdown of its people, a state that will have nothing but totalitarianism at the helm of things. 77, to me was more than just a book. It is about a literary soul that is trapped and is the story of one man trying to make sense in a world of madness and inhumanity, lurking in almost every corner. It is a book that shows you what shouldn’t be repeated. We can only hope and pray.