Literary Party! Fanzine launch and author Q&A

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.

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Eventbrite

 

Book review: Faces in the crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli’s first novel published in 2012 (Spanish tittle Los Ingravidos) takes its English title from the poem In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound. The poem is featured in the book and becomes part of the story as the different narrators in the book start to recognise faces in New York’s metro.

Three stories in three different times are delivered in fragmented paragraphs. Each paragraph jumps from one story to the other in a very skilful way.

Story 1: The narrator -a woman who lives in Mexico City with her husband and two children – is writing a book about the time when she lived in New York, before being a wife or a mum.

Story 2: The book the woman is writing becomes part of the narrative and it is about her time in New York working as a literary translator and researcher for a small publishing house, the people she knew and how she became obsessed with the Mexican poet Gilberto Owen who lived in New York between 1928 and 1930.

Story 3: Then we start reading paragraphs were the narrator is the poet Gilberto Owen himself and his time in New York. How he was friend of Federico Garcia Lorca (who lived in New York at that time too).

The three stories are interwoven in such a way that even though each paragraph changes in time, location and narrator you never feel at lost while reading it.

Faces in the crowd is also about the literary scene from the Spanish-speaking diaspora in New York from the time when Gilberto Owen and Garcia Lorca lived there. At least the literary scene imagined by the author Valeria Luiselli as there is no real account of the two poets meeting at the time in New York.

(When I started reading it I couldn’t stop so finished it in one sitting)!

 

 

Against literary machismo in Latin America

Silvia Rothlisberger

A manifesto signed by hundreds of Latin American female and male writers from the region raises awareness of the gender disparity in most of the cultural and literary events in Latin America and of the machismo culture that reigns in the industry.

The most recent example and the one that encouraged this manifesto was The III Mario Vargas Llosa Novel Biennale, which took place on the last week of May in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Biennale awards a Latin American author with US $100,000 and is named after the most recent Nobel Prize winner from the region Mario Vargas Llosa who stirred things up on March 2018 after writing in the Spanish-language newspaper El País that nowadays feminism is the biggest enemy of literature as “it pretends to decontaminate it from misogyny, prejudice and immorality”.

The scarce female presence on this year’s Mario Vargas Llosa Biennale couldn’t be ignored: from the 16 panellists only three were women, from the five shortlisted authors of the literary award only one was a woman. And from the five judges of the prize only one was a woman.

“This year is not different from past years”, states the manifesto. “In 2014 the panellists were 25 men and only six women; in 2015: 22 men and eight women,” it continues. “And in both editions, the panel of judges and the shortlisted authors for the award were equally disproportionate. Also, on both occasions the winners were male. We can guess what gender will be this year’s winner.” As if predicting the near future the winner of the III Mario Vargas Llosa Novel Biennale Award was a male writer.

The Manifesto also raises awareness of the machismo culture in the literary industry. After a scandal that broke on Mexico at the end of March when a journalist denounced on Twitter that a male writer had physically harmed many women and they were afraid to speak up. This unveiled a wave of testimonies of harassment via Twitter from personal accounts under the hashtag #MetooEscritoresMexicanos (#MetooMexicanWriters) and there is now a Twitter account called @MeTooEscritores where women can send their testimonies and they are published on this account. If they want to remain anonymous they can.

#metooescritoresmexicanos (also known as #MujeresjuntasMarabunta) is now a movement and their manifesto states: “In the last couple of weeks, more and more women working in publishing have joined in a collective and subversive action against violence that has been normalized in our workspaces: publishing houses, book fairs, conferences, congresses, universities, workshops, etc. This is not new. We have kept harassment, humiliation, segregation and sexual assault to ourselves far too long, in fear that our accusations would be dismissed and our work excluded.” The manifesto also states how their “mission is to underscore impunity, which in Mexico stands at an alarming rate of 95% -an absolute imbalance of power that benefits perpetrators”.

The movement has ten demands as an initial stage to stop the harassment and gender imparity. To highlight a few: That the development of public policy guarantee gender parity in the different levels of cultural institutions, as well as in juries and selection committees for all state and national contests. That all publicly funded magazines and publications include at least 50% of female authors in their catalogue. That there be an alternation between men and women in decision-making positions.

This movement in Mexico is the latest of an increasing number of feminist movements in the literary sphere throughout Latin America that wants to change the industry into a more balanced and fair environment for women.

Comando Plath is a collective from Peru of women writers, artists and intellectuals who are tired of being “stereotyped, ignored, treated violently and being ridiculed”. The collective Comando Plath created a successful petition on Change.org asking the president of Peru to withdraw the National poetry award given to the poet Reynaldo Naranjo. This petition came after an award winning investigation by journalists Gabriella Wiener and Diego Salazar exposed the laureate poet of sexually abusing his daughter and stepdaughter in the 70s.

#EscribimosPublicamosExistimos | #Colombiatieneescritoras

 

Photo: Katherine Hanlon

Podcast: Alia Trabucco Zeran & Yara Rodrigues Fowler at Rich Mix London #FLAWAfestival

This month’s episode was recorded in Rich Mix London in front of an audience as part of FLAWA festival where Silvia talks to the authors Alia Trabucco Zerán and Yara Rodrigues Fowler about their novels The Remainder and Stubborn Archivist.

Transcript:

Silvia Rothlisberger: Welcome Alia and welcome Yara!

I’m going to start by introducing the two books and then we will talk about them:

The Remainder is Alia Trabucco Zerán’s debut novel. Written originally in Spanish and translated into English by Sophie Hughes. It won an English PEN award. And it has been nominated for The 2019 Man Booker International Prize.

The Remainder is set in Chile and tells the story of three young adults, Iquela, Felipe and Paloma whose parents were anti-Pinochet militants. The three of them carry their parents past, as something they can neither remember nor forget. It is an obstacle for them to move on with their own lives.

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. And here is where the road trip begins… as they rent a hearse and drive to Argentina to repatriate the dead body.

Stubborn Archivist is Yara Rodrigues Fowler’s debut novel. Long listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize. It is an experimental novel narrated in third person and through conversations. A blend of prose and poetry… the book tells the story of a young woman from south London who was born to a Brazilian mother and a British father.  Hers is a story of growing up between two cultures, and how her Brazilian background defines the way other people sees her and treats her.

Silvia Rothlisberger: Both books are based on your own family’s history. Why don’t you tell us about which part of your family history inspired the Remainder and Stubborn Archivist?

Alia Trabucco Zerán: Interesting premise because in many ways La Resta/The Remainder is based in my personal history, in my family’s in and my country’s but in many ways it is not an autobiographical novel. Sorry to disappoint you… I haven’t been across the cordillera finding the dead body of anyone… that’s fiction.

And yet the affective landscape of the novel is something that is deeply rooted in me and in my family and in my country’s history. So in that sense it is a personal book that was with me for long before I felt I was able to write it. My parents were active left-wing militants against the dictatorship. I was born during the dictatorship so all of my early memories are very much intertwined with very confusing violent images of that time. So, that somehow shapes the imagination of the book. And the games they play when they were kids and how they see the past and how they want to see the future.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler: I really like the phrase affective landscape. The world of the book [Stubborn Archivist] is very much the world that I grew up in South London and obviously mixed British and Brazilian household like that was very much the world that I grew up in. The languages I grew up in speaking at home. I was really keen to recreate all of those things again but with different events and making things much netter and more sort of pointed. I guess telling a fictional story inside a landscape that was not just familiar to me but also that I hadn’t seen written anywhere else.

SR: There is a parallel in both books between the main characters and the writers’ age. I’m not saying it is autobiographical. But In The Remainder we don’t know how old the characters are but you can tell that they are young adults.

In the case of Stubborn Archivist we know that the main character was born in 1991. So there is a parallel between your own ages and the ages of the characters.

Is there something generational that you wanted to transmit through the book?

Yara Rodrigues Fowler: Definitely. In so many ways! But I wanted to get across what it was like be growing up, not just British and Brazilian but also in London and at a time when the Brazilian diaspora was way less visible and there were actually less Brazilians in London. Because the number of Latin Americans has increased so much. So it was partly writing that thing of growing up in London, but also being able to follow Brazilian news on Facebook or like seeing all of you family’s Facebook statuses all the time. And like being able to have that immediacy.  And there is a bit where someone dies and they are calling on Whatsapp. There is definitely that generational thing that is really different to when my mum was here.

SR: communications took ages

Yara: yeah totally! Another thing that is really generational of the book is that it uses a lot of poetry, blank space and not that much punctuation. And the way it is punctuated: we are not sure if its someone thought, speech or conversation and I think that for me that is something very influenced by being on the internet all the time.

 

Alia Trabucco Zerán: I want to comment about Yara’s book that when I read it, I really liked it. I thought it was really interesting how there was something very deeply contemporary about it which is generational but at the same time it creates a nice bridge and a nice dialogue with the experience of being both in your own home and abroad at the same time. In your case being the daughter of a Brazilian and a British, that creates nice bridges with the experience that really is something that you can trace back a lot. I think literature relates to the present in ways that are sometimes less direct.

So, in the case of The Remainder there is a generational element but at the same time the experience of a dictatorship is not exclusive of Chile it’s not even exclusive of Latin America. So you can trace also some connections that are a bit more oblique but of course I would say that the book when it was published in Spanish it was immediately framed as what has been called literatura de los hijos, so this is literature of the children. Which is literature that has been written by the next generation. The generation that lived a part of their childhood on the dictatorship but then the memories are blurry and they weren’t directly involved in the fight against the dictatorship.

And there are also great authors like Alejandra Costamagna, Lina Meruane, Alejandro Zambra only to mention some Chilean ones and there are tons in Argentina as well that have been framed under this kind of umbrella. But at the same time I would say all of these authors also relate to literature and to a tradition that is deeper and longer so it is important to make broader connections as well.

SR: The dictatorships of Brazil and Chile in the 70s and 80s are addressed in both books. Of course it is at the core of the Remainder but also in Stubborn Archivist Isadora, the Brazilian mum of the main character, was an anti dictatorship militant printing clandestine material in a church because quote from the book: “people were disappeared. My friends were tortured. I didn’t see my family for years. I was very young.”

My question to Yara is What was the aim of sharing this experience of political exile in your book?

Yara Rodrigues Fowler: I have two perspective on this, one is the perspective I had when I was writing this in 2014 and 2015 and why I put it in there. And now, after the election of Bolsonaro like how I feel about those parts of the book and when I was writing it. I would not have predicted that Brazil would be in the political situation that it is now. If I had, I might have made those bits louder of harder to miss. So it’s weird looking back and feeling the comfort in which I approached that topic that things wouldn’t go in that direction necessarily again.

But having said that why was it important for me to include them… because at the heart of this book I guess is the story of this Brazilian family that has this big rupture, political rupture which is around the dictatorship and around part of the family being very right-wing and Isadora who moves to the UK…  being on the other side. So, when I was writing about this Brazilian family and I guess writing about Brazil I guess it was important for me to show these two elements of Brazilian society and that there’s certainly this right wing, white supremacist very elite element of white upper class Brazil. It was very important for me to show that and that it was rooted in this very violently history and yeah that this trauma that this mum carries around. I guess the incompleteness of the stories is testament to the impossibility of transferring all your experience or knowledge of a situation on to the next generation and potentially also like a desire to leave it behind and that being part of why she migrates and comes to the UK.

SR [Question to Alia]: Chile’s political history is at the core of the Remainder. How important was it to you to write about Chile’s dictatorship in your first novel? As a writer was it something that you had to get of your shoulders to move on…

Alia Trabucco Zerán: I guess I couldn’t have written a different book. It’s something that I wanted to write about the dictatorship but at the same time I did not wanted to write a book that would talk about the dictatorship as a grand narrative of the dictatorship. The Remainder is not that!

It’s basically this younger generation trying to put together small fragments, small pieces. More of a whisper than a loud narrative. Sometimes a crazy whisper, sometimes a beginning, middle, end whisper but it’s something that for me it was part of the background. The way the book refers to the dictatorship even though its in the core of it, it’s kind of indirect.

SR: Yara, you mentioned trauma; and Alia mentions the way the characters were because of what they were dealing.  The Remainder and Stubborn Archivist address trauma. Trauma that runs in the veins of the family & trauma from an abusive relationship, from sexual violence to be more precise. Tell us about how your characters deal with trauma…

The Stubborn Archivist and Felipe & Iquela.

Alia Trabucco Zerán: trauma is a very difficult thing to write because I think it moves in this strange tension of being unable to remember and being unable to forget. That’s at least what happens to these characters of The Remainder but the way I wanted to deal with that traumatic past of their parents was through games, through memories of childhood that are strange, that are crossed by an imagination that is also a violent imagination. Their relationship with animals -for example- and also their relationship with language. And which words they choose to talk about that past, and moments when they decide to stop listening. For example in the part that I read, Iquela leaves the room over and over to stop listening. I think are -in a way- strategies to deal with trauma.

SR: and Felipe who is always imagining bodies.

Alia: Yes, and I think in the case of Felipe is a very violent imagination. He is seeing these dead bodies and counting them. And he is constantly laughing also, in a very sad way. He is the one that has a violent story with a parrot in the book. And with animals in general. But for me in the case of Felipe it’s his relationship with rhythm as well and with language. How he can’t stop being unable to stop is a way of dealing with a violent past. Like a compulsion.

SR: Both books have non-conventional structures.

The Remainder has two narrators… and chapters are numbered from 11 and go all the way down to zero, but other chapters rather than numbers are signalled with parenthesis. The numbered chapters are narrated by Felipe and the chapters with parenthesis are narrated by Iquela.

Stubborn Archivist is narrated in third person and through conversations.

How did you conceive these structures and narrators?

Yara Rodrigues Fowler: I guess it’s very related to the question about trauma so like you said trauma is an unwillingness to forget or to remember. I can’t write like a traditional British realist text about this sexual violence, even about the violence that the protagonist hears about second hand. It would be disingenuous not to show the secondhandness of the violence that happens in, for example, the mother’s stories of the dictatorship but also some of the bedtime stories she gets from her grandma.

So that’s part of why it was conversations, I wanted it to be like this is how we receive these stories. This is how our archive of our history is constructed like it’s full of gaps and it’s oral. And I wanted to make a novel that was felt really oral. As oral as possible. And then the other thing particularly when it comes to sexual violence is that I wanted to create a text that was for survivors.  And that the point of this book is not to convince you that sexual violence is bad or that the protagonist really did experienced sexual violence or an abusive relationship. Is not really clear. The book only works if your starting point is that you believe her. And I didn’t want to write a text that had like a graphic violent scene in it. Again, just because sometimes you just want to read a book to relax. So, I wanted to create a text that had gaps in it because sometimes we don’t choose what we remember and what we forget. And sometimes things come in pieces and also I wanted t create a text that was oral and about healing and joy and those things aren’t linear. There isn’t a point when is like you are good now, it never happened.

Alia Trabucco Zerán: I have a very similar answer actually. Because of the topics that I was dealing with it was simply impossible to do like a beginning, middle, end novel. I couldn’t tell this story without any cracks, without any craziness so first I started crafting Iquela’s voice which came first and I knew it would have more than one narrator and I started working and working until I felt I had found Felipe’s voice which would be a voice that would be constantly questioning the other. Constantly making little holes. Constantly showing the silences, the cracks, the noise as well. That is necessarily engraved in such a violent history. So, the question of the form for me and the content where completely packed together I didn’t have the novel until I didn’t have these two voices. And then I had the characters. And then I had the book.

SR : the name of the protagonist in Stubborn Archivist is unknown. We know it’s a foreign name that people find hard to pronounce but we never learn her name. We do know her mother’s and father’s name. Her best friend’s name. Everyone’s name but hers. Why did you decide to keep her name a secret?

YARA Rodrigues Fowler: we do know probably one of her last names. We know one of her last names which is Amado. It’s almost like a running joke in the book because people can’t pronounce her name but also her name is like – I don’t know if other people can relate to – but her name is a springboard into like ‘oooh! Where are you from? mmmm!’.

You know, it’s so boring! so I guess that’s just a little gift to her. To keep that private.

SR : In The Remainder on the contrary we learn the names of the main characters and also the names of their parents. It seems like the names and last names are quite important. To the point that when Iquela hears Paloma’s mum’s complete name, it opens an entire new world to her… maybe you can read this paragraph from the book and talk about this…

Alia Trabucco Zerán: it’s hard to give name to characters. It’s hard because the moment they feel fake until you actually have a subjectivity and until you actually have a character in the page. The names are symbolic. More relevant because of the lists of the names of the death [in Chile during the dictatorship]. And the lists of the people who were banned to come back to the country, and the disappeared, and the long list of the people who were tortured. in Chile, people tend to have two names and two surnames so is this very formal long way of having a name. Which gives them this weigh, so the moment Iquela finds out of Aguirre, [Ingrid’s] last name it becomes also part of something else. Part of that history part of that list. The whole book is filled with reflections on language and names are also a deep part of our language and of our identity.

As Yara was saying you get asked ‘where are you from?’ I get this question wherever I go. It doesn’t matter where I am.

SR: In Chile!

Alia Trabucco Zerán: of course, in Chile. Alia! Is not a Chilean name. it’s a foreign name. it’s an Arabic name. So, I get that question in Chile. I get it here. I get it everywhere. So, it’s something that is important for the identity of the character. Also it’s important for language itself, I think.

SR: The use of language is quite beautiful in both books. Stubborn Archivist was written in English but it has a lot of words in Portuguese

and The Remainder having been written is Spanish also has a brilliant treatment of the language. Which is perfectly captured by translator Sophie Hughes.

[Question to Yara]: Maybe you can tell us about your decision to include words in Portuguese throughout the book…

Yara Rodrigues Fowler: Yeah! I mean, I don’t think I can write without doing that. When I was a child and I was like I would like to be a writer one day, I would think about ‘but how would I write dialogue!’ because how do people even write. Do I switch language? I just didn’t read books that had fluency in two languages. And something that is really hald in each language would not really be marketable. Maybe now there is opening up a Spanish-English market for that kind of thing. So that was something that always worried me as a child: how would I write the dialogue of families like mine when books don’t exist that are one line in English, one line in Portuguese. So, it was just what I had to do when I was writing that family. That is the way we talk to children, we talk to children like you talk to them, you mix your words. They reply in English always and it was really important to me not to italicise like ‘Ooh! Foreign work coming out!’. Because that is not how we speak, we just don’t use the words. We don’t necessarily go like, you know is not like when you use a pretentious French word or a Latin word.

The other thing also about that is like for example the passage I read Coragem Alfredo, I try and read it more just to talk about Brazil’s political situation.

But often poeple stare at me like ‘Ok, what does that mean?’ when I read it. And that’s part of the fun is that there is a special text here for the people who speak Portuguese and English and that’s us. We don’t share it with the Anglophones.

SR: and Spanish, cause I got it too!

Yara: yeah, cause when I was in university I started reading mostly texts by Sandra Cisneros and she has Spanish in the house of Mango street. I felt included in that even though it was Spanish. So, yeah I wanted to create a text that was a place where some people would be disorientated and you know the language exclusion that we see everyday, migrants everyday would be inverted in the life of this text.

[Question to Alia]: tell us about the translation process, how did the rhythm of the book was so brilliantly captured in English…

Alia Trabucco Zerán: Sophie Hughes is a very smart, very talented translator and the moment she grabbed the book she called me, I sort of new that she had captured what I wanted to do. And she translated the book in many levels and when I say many levels I mean she was able to really capture a rhythm that for me is crucial when writing and also the funny bits, the sad bits. And she – I know this because I’ve read some of her interviews actually- many times didn’t translate literally. There are many word games and many reflections about language: about Chilean-Spanish versus other Spanishes. And Chilean-Spanish and that older version of Chilean-Spanish that comes from the 70s generation.  All of this she needed to translate into something that was readable in English which was something remarkable to see.

And then we became good friends and the process was really beautiful because we got together to read excerpts so I would read some bits in Spanish as I read them which is really fast. Because that’s the pace for me of the book, specially Felipe’s bits. And then she would read them as fast in English. It was like ‘you got it!’.

So it was really fun and it is weird because The Remainder is of course my book and yet it’s hers. We talk about La Resta, I chose every single word of that book, I know it almost by heart. But The Remainder feels slightly more far away from me in a very nice way that makes me see the novel in a new light so it’s been really quite an experience. Very unexpected and very much fun as well.

SR: thank you. So, now I have one last question for Alia and for Yara and then we are going to open the panel to the audience.  

[Question to Alia]: In the last years, there have been an array of Women writers in Latin America. For example since the Man Booker created the international prize: the nominated writers from the region have been women / until this year when apart from you and the Argentinian Samantha Shweblin, Juan Gabriel Vazquez was also nominated. Why do you think this strong wave of women writers is emerging in the region?

Alia Trabucco Zerán: It also has to do with the fact that this festival exists this year. I think feminism has been playing a very important role in the region and you can see in Argentina for example with the movement called Ni Una Menos. With the movement trying to legalise abortion in Chile as well. A whole movement in 2018 was trying to stop sexist education in universities. So is a very active time.

And this has meant that in the cultural and the literary sphere women have been gaining a stronger voice which has meant not only reading more contemporary writers that are writing amazing literature from every single Latin American country. But also re-reading and recovering women writers that because of a sexist cultural sphere were basically forgotten. So our role is very interesting because we have been organising as well. I’ve been taking part of a Chilean group of women writers and we are trying to also question what has been read in the past. Why there are so many female writers of the 20th century have been forgotten. So, it’s a big chorus of very good Latin American women who are writing experimental, very strong and very powerful books. So, it’s quite thrilling to see that recognised as well and I’m very proud of being a part of that. And also I think that this FLAWA Festival is a part of that as well.

Of that feminist movement that is gaining its strength. Its always been there but it has moments when it’s a bit louder and it’s good to be a part of that moment.

[Question to Yara]: I read an interview with you on The Observer where you said that you’ll love it if your book helped to make Latin Americans in the UK more visible. How do you think your book would help to make more visible the Latin American diaspora in London?

Yara Rodrigues Fowler: The context in which I said that was like this book cannot represent everybody and I hope there are more artists and more writers that become more visible.

And I was at a play at the weekend that is called Fuck you pay me! At the Bonker [Theatre] which is really brilliant. It’s by Joana Nastari who is second generation Brazilian and it’s about a striper unionising, a stripper organising and it’s brilliant and everyone should go see it. And it has bits in Portuguese and I was like crying.

There’s also a collective called Invisible Presence which is Latinx Poets which is quite new. So, that’s just the art side and I’m the trustee of an organisation called Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA) who are here tonight and LAWA is like the most amazing organization and it has been around for 30 years but we recently opened a second refuge. So LAWA runs the only two refuges for and by Latin American women in the UK.

I guess visibility is the main demand that I see coming out of a lot of Latin American activist groups in the UK. We don’t even know how many people there are, we don’t know how they are living, there are some studies now and is really important also to recognise like the heterogeneity in our community in terms of class and race and obviously gender.

I mean, for example my book is coming out in the US in July and you would never have a headline in the US like oh! Latin American book because…

SR: It happens all the time there.

Yara: I want more attention to be paid to the Latin American diaspora here what they are asking for. So Seven Sisters market

Silvia: and Elephant [and castle].

Yara: a lot of the things that community need. A lot of it has to do with gentrification. That’s what I was hoping with that.

 

Thank you Yara and Alia!

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.

 

#33 Chile! Author Gonzalo C. Garcia and poet & singer-songwriter Violeta Parra

Sound engineer: Oscar Perez

On the first half of this episode we interviewed the Chilean author Gonzalo C. Garcia about his debut novel, shortlisted for the Edinburgh First Book Award, We are the end.

We Are The End, is a book heavily influenced by Gonzalo C. Garcia’s marked interest in Santiago de Chile, the relationship between video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative.

In the interview, Gonzalo C. Garcia talks about how music triggered his interest in writing, the music scene in Santiago de Chile, the process of writing his first novel, being a lecturer in creative writing; while sharing some tunes from his We-are-the-end-playlist.

Gonzalo C. Garcia currently teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick. We Are the End is his debut novel.

On the second half of the episode and celebrating the 100 birthday of the poet and singer-songwriter Violeta Parra, we invited the academic, poet and author Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes to talk about the remarkable woman that Violeta Parra was.

Mentioned in this episode:

Indy publisher: Galley Beggar Press

Music band: Miss Garrison

Author: Sherman Alexie

Gonzalo C. Garcia’s playlist 

Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist Violeta Parra

Décimas

Academic, writer, poet and publisher Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes was featured on episode 9!

Songs of Violeta Parra shared in this episode:

Gracias a la vida

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