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

Volver a los 17

 

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

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

News: Literary South is now a radio show on Resonance 104.4 FM

So exciting to share this!

After 18 months of running as a podcast, we are happy to announce that from September Literary South is a radio show on Resonance 104.4, a radio station I’ve followed and listened to for years. As a podcast there is freedom with how long the episodes are or how frequently you publish them. Yet, to really fulfil our aim of connecting readers from Latin America and Spain with English-speaking readers I believe that being on Resonance 104.4 is going to increase our audience and get more people interested in literature from the region.

Our show is going to be on Resonance 104.4 every fourth Wednesday of the month (repeated the next Thursday) and one hour long.

We have many ideas for future episodes, authors, books that we want to share with you… our listener. So, thank you Resonance 104.4, for celebrating diversity and creativity in your programming.

And by all means, keep listening!

Silvia Rothlisberger

Episode 30: short story writer, poet and singer song-writer Sofia Buchuck

Transcript:

Silvia Rothlisberger: Sofia, you are a poet and a singer-songwriter. What came first the poetry or the music?

Sofia Buchuck: I think music. My grandmother was a Quechuan lady from indigenous background and she used to always sing in the kitchen, in the house, so, from very little age, maybe, I don’t know five, four years old I was already singing for my own entertainment. And then when my dad died, maybe when I was eight years old I started my poetry.

SR: do you remember how this first poem came about?

Sofia Buchuck: Because my dad died and I couldn’t go to the funeral nor my family went and I felt very lonely and I think  it came a lot of feelings altogether that I didn’t know how to express, and the best way for me to express it was by writing poetry. And since then I haven’t stop.

SR: Sofia I noticed that in your music and in your poetry you write in Quechua as well. Tell us a bit about Quechua, about the language and about your connection with it.

Sofia Buchuck: Well, Quechua is not only a language is a culture, it’s a Cosmo vision, is the way how we see everything that surrounds us and we have a different way of thinking, our own philosophy. It also has spirituality, we believe in nature, Mother Moon and Mother Sun, the Mother Earth. It’s a very deep philosophy of life as well. An economy, in a way, because we don’t use money, we work with retribution and I learned the language and the culture from my grandmother, my mother’s mum and then obviously because I lived in Cuzco until I was 12 or 13 years old, I have been involved in the culture from a very early age. And then when I came to London it just emerged naturally because it was already in me. In some of my songs I talk about this cosmo vision, for me is very important as part of my identity and as part of the identity of so many people out there that share this Cosmo vision. Is very present in my singing, is very present in the books and I think is very important to keep it alive because is a living culture.

SR: Your music is going through a path of healing. So why did you go through that change and what is it about?

Sofia Buchuck: I’ve been doing healing for 20 years mainly with Mama Coca, which is a Coca leaf and it’s a sacred ritual where you gather, especially women and with the moonlight and you heal your emotions and music was very much part of that because you know music also in-tunes with your emotions very much. So, from that point of view I was already healing. But this wasn’t public; this was my private thing to do and I was already doing my art separately. It was separate roads.

Then in 2004 when I went to Mexico I started to go more into depth about music and healing, especially with the Huichols. The Huichols in Mexico they use art to heal, mainly painting but also dances. From then on I started to go in depth more into the role of healing and learning more and more. And then all came together I think in 2014 when I go back to Peru for the first time. I started learning more songs about healing. But the songs where mainly with pan pipes, pan flutes, and I thought that people were very attached, especially people who had problems with depression, they feel very attached to the soothing sounds of pan flutes and some other instruments. By now I can say I completely work on both fields. I completely united my healing with the music. So in Peru I was doing lots of ceremonies where I heal people with plants and I sing all through the ceremony or play instruments, sometimes pre-Columbian instruments and here in England too; I’m doing some workshops with singing, healing, workshops with healing.

SR: Your next album Heart Portal to the Cosmos is coming out in July is going to be different from all your past works.

Sofia Buchuck: In a way different, but it has most of the instruments I’ve been using in past albums. I use a lot the guitar, for example the charango, I use pampais, I use flutes. This CD is going to specialize on healing, the songs are for healing, but the instruments are almost the same. We are still using the same instruments and I’m doing two albums: one with Chano Díaz Límaco, who is very well known. He was the director of Killa Raymi my second album. We are using more ocarinas, like clay instruments, singing, maracas; is more tribal in a way. It’s very ethnic. It has very few songs with guitar.

SR: What is the literary collective Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory about?

Sofia Buchuck: This collective of women…well, we were at the beginning four, and then we became six women from different countries, from Chile, I am from Peru, there were some women from Spain, from Mexico. The idea was to share this memory of who we are here in London. Because is so interesting how we build up our identity here in London.

We build, we create our own identity here in London. Because we come from South America with this other identity that is very Peruvian, very Chilean, but here in London we become Latin-Americans. And not only Latin-American, but we also have this Spanish identity that also crosses with other identities; and the English identity, because we’ve been living here, in my case 25 years. So, the memory of who we are, who we become, who we are still, you know? It combines also with some memories of exile, memories of migration which is very interesting as well and memories of home, because home is also England for us, living here for such a long time. Home is also, in my case, Peru.

It was a very interesting… it is a very interesting group of women. Some of them are academics, some of them not, but all of them have very strong ideas, very lovely poems about life in London as well. Which I think is very good to document, to see how Hispano-American people have created this lovely memory of being in London.

SR: Sofía, where and why did you study Ethnomusicology?

Sofia Buchuck: In Mexico at Escuela Nacional de Música at the University of Mexico (UNAM).

I was studying Spanish and Latin-American Studies at the Metropolitan University in London and one of my teachers was Marta Dueñas, a lovely lady from El Salvador, and she knew me very well because I was so passionate about Latin-American studies. I loved the literature, I loved economics and I loved so much Anthropology; Anthropology and Ancestral cultures. I was so passionate about it, and not only about the music, but the history behind the music, the history of the instruments.

And then she said to me: ‘Sofía why don’t you study Ethnomusicology? This would be so good for you.’ And I said ‘What is that?’ And then I did an essay about the music of Tito La Rosa which is a very famous composer in Peru and he does a lot of ritualistic music actually. And I did a research of his music and the silbatos pre-colombinos, which are pre-Columbian, whistles. And then she said: ‘Why don’t you send this to México and apply for a scholarship, maybe you can study there musicology’. And I did! I was awarded a scholarship to study there Ethnomusicology and it was fantastic. I was so grateful to Marta and so grateful to the UNAM as well because they were very generous to me.

SR: And did you introduce what you studied there, what you learned in your poems, in your music or in your short stories?

Sofia Buchuck: Completely; I think it changed my view about everything because before, music was only restricted to ‘oh, yeah, music is to remember this or to remember that or to have an idea about this and that.’ But when you study Ethnomusicology you go deeper than that. You understand the history of music, Latin- American music, where did it start, what is Latin-American music, what is La Nueva Canción, what is ancestral music, what is popular music. You study all of these things in depth. So I had a deeper understanding about music and the new emerging cultures as well, and it really overlapped very well with my other career in oral history. I studied oral history at the Museum of London and it’s very similar to Ethnomusicology because you do a lot of interviewing, and then you allow people to have their own identity. It brought in me ideas, because when you just study Folklore you have this music and it puts people in boxes. But with Oral History and Ethnomusicology you are more open because is like life: We are here, then I am in Peru. You have these crossed identities and that comes in my stories, my poems, even about the time I was in Mexico as well. And I did like ten different albums about Ethnomusicology here in London. I recorded a first album of Latin American musicians in the UK. I recorded young people doing music and their identities in the UK and we did some videos and I worked with the Museum of London collecting the stories of Latin American refugees and we collected their poems, their music, and their stories.

It was a big research, with two lines Oral History and Ethnomusicology, that overlapped very well together. Also, recently last year I was teaching Ethnomusicology in Peru at Universidad Nacional José María Arguedas which is the only university for arts and culture in Lima that does folklore and dance and music.

SR: You are one of the founder members of the literary group Spanish and Latin American Poets and Writers (SLAP). Why did you create this collective and what is it about?

Sofia Buchuck: I knew many poets, obviously after all this time of being here in London. We met at so many places. I knew Isabel del Río for example, who is a very well-known poet, for 25 years. I also knew Eduardo Embry, a very well-known poet from Chile living in Southampton, and so on. And also, I knew emerging poets like Denisse Vargas Bolaños from Bolivia and Soraya Fernandez DF from Ecuador, and so many young poets. And I thought it would be great to create a collective. One day talking with Eduardo he said ‘Why don’t we have a group? It would be so interesting to mix all this poetry, all these different tendencies on poetry, the way we write with different kinds of flavours.’ And then when we got together, we were so many, I think we were like 12. We ended up being I think like 9, but still a big group. Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes is also part of that group, Mabel Encinas, Isabel Ros López. So it was a combined art as well, not only poetry. There were people who do painting, people who do music, like me. Others who do also other things like multimedia art.

And it was a fantastic group. We did a few performances and the idea was to share these mix identities. There were people from different parts of Latin America and people from Spain.

SR: What books do you recommend?

Sofia Buchuck: On poetry: Wonder Makers: Navigators of the Thames the poetry book but also the short stories are really lovely. It’s both in English and Spanish and you can really sense the strong identity they have still about Latin America but also the life in London and how you become a Londoner as well.

Now for understanding poetry I like a lot Sylvia Plath. In Spanish definitely I love Vallejo, it’s my favourite. It’s not an easy poetry but that doesn’t mean that it is not strong and actually one of my teachers of the UCLA, Stephen Hart used to say: ‘To understand Vallejo you have to break the wall.’

But I think for writing poetry is not only learning the technique, is not only learning the language, is a journey as well. It’s a discovery journey. I think it helps when you travel; it helps when you go out of your own boundaries and you see the world with different eyes.

There are great other poets as well like Sandra Cisneros, she writes about identities, about migration. And music is fantastic as well, because music gives you the kick to feel the emotion and then as a poet you can come and write about that. Go out and live the world, live the life, travel, fall in love, fail, win, do everything, and you will write great poetry.

 

 

 

Episode 27: Bookshop stories

 

On episode 27 we decided to do a small homage to bookshops by sharing three bookshop stories:

The first one is a small bookshop and theatre in London called Calder Bookshop & Theatre.

The second one comes from a Cuban musician who discovered a book by Julio Cortazar, in a bookshop in Santiago de Compostela, that would led her to a very ambitious musical project.

The third one is from Spanish author & singer-songwriter Isabel Ros-Lopez who we interviewed on episode 19. Isabel talks about Pepe Negrete’s bookshop during the years of Franco’s dictatorship.

Mentioned in this episode:

Calder Bookshop & Theatre:

Jamila Purofilin

Jamila Purofilin website

Poet and Singer-songwriter Isabel Ros-Lopez

Pepenegrete Bookshop in Malaga

Episode 26: Artist, poet & fiction writer Daniella Valz Gen

Daniella Vals Gen is an artist, poet and fiction writer from Lima, Peru. On this episode Vals Gen shares some of her poetry and talks about her different projects. Including a reading group, and two books she is working on.

Mentioned in this episode:

Daniella Vals Gen website

Poets

Cesar Vallejo

Martin Adan

Jose Maria Eguren

 

Book: Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds

 

 

Sound engineer: Oscar Pérez

Music: Raíz by Bomba Stereo downloaded from the Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Episode 25: Book club edition – Colonel Lágrimas by Carlos Fonseca

Sound engineer Oscar Pérez

We are 25! And coming of age!!!

In episode 25, author Carlos Fonseca answered questions that readers sent throughout the month about his debut novel Colonel Lágrimas.

Colonel Lagrimas is Loosely based on the fascinating life story of the eccentric mathematician Alexander Grothendieck. Using an experimental narrative, Colonel Lágrimas is a collage of information. A film seen through the lens of a camera that transforms the reader into an active observer.

“Nowadays in our information era there is nothing more false than linearity, we don’t live in a linear world. We live in a place where we gather information from here and there constructing collages, so I wanted to experiment with a novel that processes information in the new ways in which we are accustomed through Twitter, Facebook. Like an information saturated society that picks and chooses almost like a rag-picker.”

Carlos Fonseca

 

Mentioned in this episode: