Author interview: The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán

Silvia Rothlisberger

The Remainder is Alia Trabucco Zerán’s first novel and nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2019, it places Trabucco alongside writers Hang Kang, Philip Roth and Alice Munro.

“I had part of the story with me since my early twenties and only felt I was able to write the voices when I was 27 or 28,” Trabucco tells me, sitting across the table in a café in London’s Bloomsbury. The project had to mature inside her before she was able to express it the way she wanted. “When I started writing this novel, I started crafting the voice of Iquela, the woman protagonist, which came naturally to me,” she explains. “Then the more I wrote that voice the more I needed a second voice. Something that would break the linear narrative and so I started trying out Felipe’s voice over and over until all of a sudden I had it. The moment I had it, I had the novel. And then it came really easily it was kind of writing a rhythm.”

Sophie Hughes superbly translates the rhythm and lyricism of The Remainder into English. During the translation process writer and translator would meet and read The Remainder to each other. “I would read out loud how I felt the rhythm of the characters’ voices were like. Sophie not only translated the book, she also translated the rhythm of the book,” Trabucco marvels.

Set in Chile, The Remainder is the story of Iquela, Felipe and Paloma whose parents were anti-Pinochet militants and pay the consequences as political prisoners, in exile, and worse: killed by the regime. These consequences run in the veins of the next generation, an obstacle they find difficult to move on from. Having been born in 1983 (Pinochet’s dictatorship ended in 1990) Trabucco says, “there is this question of how my generation deals with the pain and violence of my country’s past. How knowing that people were tortured, disappeared or forced to leave the country, impacts you and your imagination.”

In the novel Iquela and Felipe live with their parents’ past. “Iquela is more introverted. She is trapped by her mother’s memories,” Trabucco explains. “Felipe is a very damaged person. He has a lot of pain and he deals with this pain through a very violent imaginary,” she continues. “Paloma is the outsider who breaks the fragile balance between Iquela and Felipe.”

Iquela and Felipe are the narrators; the chapters alternate between the two. Instead of numbers Iquela’s chapters are marked by empty parentheses. “The empty parentheses are her search for her own words. She inherited her mother’s words but deep down she wants her own voice,” Trabucco says. Felipe’s chapters are numbered starting at eleven and counting down to zero. It is a reflection of “Felipe’s numerical obsession of subtracting dead bodies that he imagines on every corner of the city to match the number of dead with the number of graves in Chile.”

After Paloma’s mother dies in exile in Germany, Paloma decides to repatriate her mother and bury her in Chile. A rain of ashes falls over Santiago de Chile and the airplane carrying the dead body is redirected to Argentina. The three main characters rent a hearse and drive to Argentina. “Doing a road trip to find a body is their own story. It is about reclaiming a future,” Trabucco explains.

The three characters have sexual encounters with same sex partners. When I ask about this she replies: “I’m glad you mention the queerness of the characters because that is something that is not very commented on in Chile, especially because it’s something that is still taboo. The three characters have a queer relationship with their bodies and with the others because it gave them the desire to transgress and for me that made them a lot more complex and different than their parents’ generation.”

Chile’s history also had an impact on Alia Trabucco Zerán as she studied law because of her country’s past “I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, and I decided this very early own, and that decision, if you can call it a decision —I was seven or eight years old— was deeply influenced by the context,” she says. “I remember watching TV when I was seven and the news would be images of bodies and bodies that they would find,” she reflects. “So I had a fantasy of becoming a human rights lawyer who would make justice.” But after two years in law school she realised it wasn’t meant for her. Parallel to her studies she attended literary workshops and run a literary magazine. After graduating as a lawyer she moved to New York and studied a Masters in creative writing at NYU. “I was like ‘this is it. This [law] is not what I want’. I just wanted to submerge myself in language and in writing,” she adds.

Trabucco then moved to London to do a PhD at University College London, to “research real women who committed violent crimes throughout the 20th century and how society and how culture portrays their crimes.” This research became Las Homicidas, her latest book in Spanish which she was due to launch in Chile after this interview. “The core of the book is ideas, about what happened with society when women break not only criminal law by committing these crimes but the laws of gender and femininity,” she says.

 

*Alia Trabucco Zerán will be at Rich Mix London on the 15th of May at 7pm talking about her writing with Literary South as part of FLAWA Festival

https://richmix.org.uk/events/flawa-presents-authors-qa-alia-trabucco-zeran-and-yara-rodrigues-fowler/?fbclid=IwAR0hMkDPCKGI6RCE-cAuHWC-b9F1RGX5dO7ZrZYA1FurH2xa4fYXZs4I3Bk

Ariana Harwicz on her first novel Die, My Love, nominated for the Man Booker International Prize

Silvia 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.

 

#32 Author Fernando Sdrigotti + music from Gabriel Moreno & The Quivering Poets

Sound engineer: Oscar Perez

September’s book is Dysfunctional Males by Argentinian author Fernando Sdrigotti who answered questions from readers and from an invited audience in London’s Calder Bookshop and Theatre.

Fernando Sdrigotti is from Argentina and has been living in London since the early noughties. Fernando is editor of the online magazine Minor Literature[s].  Dysfunctional Males is his third published book but the first one he wrote directly in English. In this interview he talks about switching languages,  exploring London as a writer, what is expected of Latin American writers and how he is crossing that barrier by not falling to those expectations.

About Dysfunctional Males:

Dysfunctional Males is a book of five short stories, all set in London, with a strong urban element, that deal with masculinity, loneliness, friendship, alienation, addictions; through the misadventures of its characters.

Gabriel Moreno & The Quivering Poets is a folk group lead by poet & singer-songwriter Gabriel Moreno. They are launching their new album Farewell Belief in October. In this episode there is a song from this album called Joselin, and two songs from Gabriel Moreno’s previews album Love and Decadence: No one can reach us here and We are what we are.

album launch gabriel moreno & the quivering poets

 

Mentioned in this episode:

Photos from the event with Sdrigotti

We interviewed Fernando Sdrigotti on Saturday 23 September at Calder Bookshop & theatre.

 

Poet & singer-songwriter Gabriel Moreno was featured on episode #4…

Joselin

Episode 29: Book club edition – Bookshops by Jorge Carrión

On episode 29, author Jorge Carrión answers questions about his long essay Bookshops.

Listen and discover the way Jorge Carrión linked the world using as connection all the bookshops he visited during 20 years of travelling.

Sound engineer: Oscar Pérez

Piano and book’s excerpts reading: Dave Rothlisberger

 

Mentioned in this episode:

Manifesto against Amazon (Spanish): Contra Amazon: siete razones / un manifiesto