There was a time when I often gazed at the factory chimneys. Each morning they were the same height and their colour resembled zinzolin, a kind of purple that, lacklustre as it is, blended with the red of daybreak. Those details were important to me: they let me know that between night and day nothing had changed. The rain, for example, had not made one chimney grow taller than the other or effaced or discoloured the enamel. It soothed me to note that the black clouds that rose from the chimneys, though unrelenting, would never darken the rest of the sky; the smoke billowed and it seemed to me that I was watching a giant’s fingers as he twirled his hair.
On those occasions I spent hours waiting for the blind man to wake. Between the white eyes of sleep and the white eyes of waking I learned to distinguish a rift: the sun hastened the contours of the chimneys and shortly after his hands began to shake as if they were drowning in the light; after this, now with his whole body shaking and his eyes rolled back, he groped his way towards where I was watching him and, with a couple of blows to my head, cried:
“Open your eyes, Lázaro! With no energy there’s no voice, and with no voice there’s no appetite…”
You can read a longer extract online at The Lifted Brow.
You can also get a copy of the print quarterly over here. It’s our tenth birthday issue, hooray!
And here is the translator’s note:
Peruvian writer Carlos Yushimito (1977) burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the collection Las islas [The Islands]. This story is from his third collection, Los bosques tienen sus propias puertas [Forests Have Their Own Doors], published in 2013. His atmospheric narratives, told by means of subtle and imagistic language, often inhabit dreamlike or foreign spaces and in this way hinge on displacement. The worlds they evoke are as concrete as they are strange and our view of them is almost always slightly unsure, our footing unstable.
Readers of the translation will note the echoes that play out suggestively in this dystopian story—the twirling hair, the piano playing—and a brief outline of some of its literary genealogy will add others. Foremost among its textual forebears is The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities, an anonymous, subversive Spanish Golden Age novella published in 1554, which tells the story of Lázaro, who, after his stepfather is accused of thievery, is taken in by a blind beggar.
It is also an homage to Uruguayan writer’s writer Felisberto Hernández (1902–1964), who published sparsely and died penniless. He was a pianist as well as a writer and his third wife, Africa Las Heras, was a Soviet spy. He made memory his subject and his stories resonated with unknown things. Here, her deception and his obscurity is avenged through a talking frog, and through the characters’ reverence for his work, in contrast to Yushimito’s sly lampooning of the poetry of Mario Benedetti (1920–2009), a gentle joke at the expense of the immensely popular fellow Uruguayan.
Yushimito’s beautiful sentences are the greatest pleasure to translate. I’ve made sure to maintain vocabulary that hints at an archaic world—zinzolin, an old literary colour that usually describes vestments; pallet, a crude bed—and especially the parlance of apothecaries: ampoules, vials, alembics. This last one, which describes a certain type of alchemical still, came into Middle English in the fourteenth century from Old French, via Old Spanish, from the Arabic al-inbīq, via Persian, from the Greek ἄμβιξ, which was in turn a word of possibly Semitic origin: its etymology is a striking reflection of the age-old, and cyclical, exchange of ideas between East and West. I think of the first syllable of the word we have today in English, that little ‘al-’ (the Arabic definitive article, the equivalent of ‘the’), as a modest intervention, smuggled and secreted into the English language along with the concept and the technology; a reminder that what I’m doing has been going on for as long as we’ve been talking to each other.