Jennifer Croft is a translator, author and literary critic who works from Polish and Argentine Spanish. She was awarded the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Flights written by Olga Tokarczuk. Croft’s recent translations are a Perfect Cemetery by Federico Falco (Charco Press), and The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal She is the author of the memoir Homesick, the novel in Spanish Serpientes y EScaleras ; the forthcoming novels Amadou, Fidelity and a book-length essay about Postcards.
After almost five years of interviewing authors from Latin America, Literary South is exploring a new direction to talk about literature in translation. Many of the authors that have been featured in the show are also translators and Latin American authors writing in Spanish can access English-speaking readers, and important literary prizes, thanks to the translations of their work.
That’s why Literary South wants to explore translation as an art and as a powerful tool to diversify the stories we read. The first three guests of 2021:
February: translator, author and editor Jessica Sequeira.
Jessica Sequeira is a writer, literary translator and PhD candidate at the Centre of Latin American Studies, based in Cambridge (UK) and Santiago (Chile). Sequeira has translated authors like Carlos Fonseca, Osvaldo Lamborghini, Liliana Colanzi to name a few. She is the author of A Luminous History of the Palm (Sublunary editions), A Furious Oyster, a novel (Dostoyevsky Wannabe), Rhombus and Oval, a collection of stories (What Books Press), Other Paradises, a collection of essays (Zero Books).
March: translator and author Jennifer Croft
Jennifer Croft is an American author, critic and translator who works from Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. Croft is the author of the memoir Homesick (Unnamed Press) With the author Olga Tokarczuk, she was awarded the 2018 Booker International Prize for her translation of Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions).
April : Translator and editor Eric M B Becker
Eric M. B. Becker is a writer, literary translator, and editor of Words without Borders. In 2014, he earned a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for his translation of a collection of short stories from the Portuguese by Neustadt Prize for International Literature winner and 2015 Man Booker International Finalist Mia Couto (now available from Biblioasis as Rain and Other Stories). He has also published translations of numerous writers from Brazil, Portugal, and Lusophone Africa, including, Noemi Jaffe, Elvira Vigna, Paulo Scott, Martha Batalha, Paulo Coelho, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Current book projects include work by Djaimila Pereira de Almeida, Alice Sant’Anna, Fernanda Torres, and Lygia Fagundes Telles (NEA Fellowship 2019), among others.
Feebleminded is narrated with an intense and fragmented prose characteristic of Ariana Harwicz (Argentina, 1977). It is the second book of what Harwicz calls an “involuntary trilogy” where she explores motherhood, how it affects the characters psychically, and how it sways their desires. Divided in three parts and with only 117 pages Feebleminded is a bold and superb short novel that confronts the impossible parameters society has set for women.
In the book, a woman in her late 20s lives with her toxic and alcoholic mother. They are more like two best friends than mother and daughter. Their house is a creepy place with wigs hanging up and mice in jars of formaldehyde. We learn about the daughter’s neglected childhood through feverish memories unveiled in conversations and internal monologues. Memories as far in the past as when she was conceived (“the guy comes inside my mum looking skyward and so it all begins”), or from one night when she was in her mother’s womb and the mum threw dice to decide if she’d get rid of the unknown creature inside her.
The pace of the novel is like a staccato: short punchy sentences where there is an intensity, a heaviness; only with short sentences can this roller-coaster of a book be bearable. We follow the story through dialogues where you don’t know if it’s the mother or the daughter talking. Other times the dialogue is internal. We feel their madness, their constant delirium in each phrase, or as the daughter says: “I’m not crazy, just possessed”.
The daughter is in a relationship with a married man who leaves her because his wife is pregnant. She feels angry — “it was the other common bitch who got him”, she thinks. She wishes for the baby to be born dead, or to be a Siamese twin stuck to a dog. But when her mum learns about this, she has a more sinister plan of revenge.
The two women are marginalised, they are maladaptive, they are happy in a very disturbing way. They have relationships with impossible men. They fantasise about men coming to their house to rape them. They drink whisky, talk about sex and masturbate in an insatiable way. From the opening paragraph —each chapter is one long paragraph— when we are getting to know them: “sitting on my clit I invent a life for myself in the clouds. I quiver, I shake, my fingers are my morphine and for that brief moment everything’s fine”.
They are verbally and physically violent to each other. Sometimes the daughter wishes for a different life. “If I could only have started a new chapter elsewhere… say bye to mum without fearing the crack of a fired arrow”. Yet, they are inseparable. At the end of part I, the mother has left and the daughter is searching for her. At the end of part II, it is the daughter who leaves the mother. But they both return. At times they are tired of life, but most times they can’t get enough of it. At the end of part III they are crawling on hands and knees, covered in blood: “let it all explode, let it all turn to dust, says mother, still wanting more.”
Translated into English by Annie McDermott and Carolina Orloff, from its original in Spanish La Debil Mental, reading this book is an intense deranged tension that only a writer like Ariana Harwicz, who wants to transgress with her work, can achieve.
Harwicz’s main characters – at least in this trilogy – are women searching for who they are in a world that is telling them how they should be. The first book of this trilogy Die, My Love is similarly a sharp book about a marginalised woman who lives with her husband and unwanted baby. It was nominated for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, and for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, placing Ariana Harwicz at the forefront of the so-called new Argentinian fiction.
* I’ll be talking with Ariana Harwicz and Gabriela Cabezón Cámara in an online event on 3 June 2020 7pm (UK time), Find out more HERE!
Event on the 13th of September!
With our colleagues from FLAWA Festival we are launching an amazing fanzine created by women and gender diverse writers and illustrators from Latin America… so we are having a Literary Party!
Meet Brazilian author Luiza Sauma, who will be talking about her second novel Everything You Ever Wanted.
There’ll be an open mic for any author who wants to take over the stage and share their work.
PLUS MUSIC! DJ Amancai will be playing Latin tunes along the way!
About the fanzine:
FLAWA Festival and Literary South have created a fanzine led by women and gender diverse writers that celebrates all the literary events during FLAWA Festival 2019.
Featuring poems by Calu Lema, Soraya Fernandez DF, Barbara López Cardona, Angelica Quintero (Hada Candelaria), Sonia Quintero, Patricia Cardona, Jael de la Luz, Sonia Hadj Said and three poets from Las Juanas poetry collective (Mabel Evergreen-Oaks, Maria Eugenia Bravo-Calderara, Denisse Vargas). Interviews with Alia Trabucco Zerán, Yara Rodrigues Fowler. Also, Rebecca Wilson interviewing the authors, ilustrations by Mitucami Mituca, Gisella Stapleton Prieto and images by Ingrid Ayunkuyen Guyon.
Designed by Jeimy Caviedes. Edited by Silvia Juliana Rothlisberger.
When the Argentinian writer Ariana Harwicz wrote her first novel five years ago she didn’t expect the attention it would get from the English-speaking world. Die, My Love is Harwicz’s debut novel long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize 2018. “For a book that has been catalogued as avant-garde and experimental,” she says, “being in the same list with bestseller writers, Nobel Prize writers, Man Booker writers means bravery from them and a great achievement for us.”
Set in rural France, the novel explores being marginalised through its foreign main character. An unnamed woman on the verge of madness, living with her husband and unwanted baby, her nationality or native language are never revealed. “She is unnamed because she only has that role that society gives her: she is a mother, a wife, a lover,” Harwicz explains. “So not giving her a name is a way of irony, it’s a way of laughing at those conventional roles.”
Though there are parallels between the main character and Harwicz’ own life (she wrote this novel after having a baby and moving to the countryside in France) the novel was born from a vision. “A stag appears in the middle of the forest and stares at her as no one has ever done it. Not her husband, not her child, no one,” she says. A foreign woman living in the countryside near a forest, in the midst of that loneliness, with a stag that stares at her, and a baby crying. ”From this alchemy emerges the prose and the music of my first novel”.
Die, My Love is written in an intense and fragmented prose. “The fragmented prose might be related to the way the nights are cut by the baby’s crying. These cries that cut the dream, hence the night, like in One Thousand and one nights or like poetry. And also from an intensity that has to be cut so that it is bearable.”
The imagery of the prose is also influenced by Harwicz’s background as she studied screenwriting and drama in her home country Argentina. “My writing comes from the theatrical concepts of composition and from the techniques in film,” she says, “I always see the scenes as if they were being filmed with a camera”.
The short sentences and violent pace are perfectly captured by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff’s translation from its Spanish original. “The process of translating the novel was fascinating to me,” Harwicz says. “I had a close relationship with the translators, answering all their doubts. I could rethink the text with them and it was like rewriting the book all over again”. Die, My love has also been translated into Hebrew and the Man Booker nomination is opening new doors. “Thanks to the novel’s growth it will be translated into more languages.”
Die, My Love was also nominated for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2018. In its second year now this prize celebrates small presses for taking risks in niche literature. Die, My Love is published by Charco Press, a new indie press based in Edinburgh dedicated to contemporary Latin American writers in translation.“[Both nominations] are also a great achievement for the press house,” she says.
Harwicz has two more novels published in her native Spanish that form an “involuntary” trilogy starting with Die, My Love. “It wasn’t conceived as a trilogy. It was more a literary longing which extended through three novels.” The three novels have mothers as their main characters and in all of them these women are marginalised. “The feminine character of each novel is desperately searching for who she is,” she says. “I wanted to explore how motherhood affects the characters psychically and how it touches their desires.”
In the last two years of the Man Booker International Prize the two writers nominated from Latin America are both women and from Argentina. Samanta Schweblin with Fever Dream in 2017 and this year, Harwicz. “I think this speaks about a moment of greater visibility of Latin American literature and specially about a greater visibility for women writers.” For Harwicz it is a consequence of women’s movements, which are impacting the literary world.
Charco Press is a new indie publisher based in Edinburgh dedicated to translating and publishing award-winning Latin American contemporary writers.