Translator’s note to Blood of the Dawn

Edited by Will Evans

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In an article in El País, Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina noted contemporary Peruvian novelists’ aptitude for creating narratives infused with historical and political reality: novels that set out to capture the real. Blood of the Dawn’s allusions to events of the recent past—some oblique, others named, but all with real-world equivalents unmistakable for Peruvian readers—make it not out of place, I don’t think, to name those events here so readers of the translation are better equipped to find out more.

There is another reason to do so. Historian Cecilia Méndez G. has argued that, while the Shining Path insurrection has had an indelible effect on Peruvian society, it is a period that many Peruvians, especially those who live in the capital, do their utmost to forget. Dwelling on this “time of fear,”—or, for Quechua speakers, the “sasachakuy [difficult] time”—which claimed at least 70,000 lives, is too painful. The urgency of representation present in Blood of the Dawn is a courageous response to this amnesia, a demand to remember as much as an attempt to represent, a pointing toward the real as well as a transformation of that real by means of the imagination.

So, a list: the 1983 Lucanamarca massacre, the 1985 Accomarca massacre, the 1986 prison riots and massacres (including at the women’s prison in Santa Mónica), the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre and the 1992 Tarata bombing. Reference is also made to a 1989 video that features the Shining Path leader dancing to “Zorba the Greek” with the high command.

The Quechua words I decided not to gloss mostly represent complex ideas from the Andean cosmovision, where features of the landscape are invested with spirit. Some rough approximations: Apus are sacred mountains or powerful mountain spirits; Pachamama is something like Mother Earth; and Pachacuti is a space-time turnover, a chaotic time where everything is turned on its head after a thousand-year cycle of the earth ends and the next begins. Another Quechua term derives from Andean experiences of colonialism: the Pishtaco is a mythological bogeyman, often a white stranger, who kills Andean individuals to steal their body fat. Body fat is a sign of vitality and beauty in the Andes. Add to this the Andeans’ horror on observing the way Spanish conquistadores treated their wounds with the fat of their enemies’ corpses and you have the makings of a myth set to endure. Its modern incarnations include the belief that sugar-mill machinery uses human fat as grease—a critique of Western capitalism if ever there were one.

Blood of the Dawn manages to compress a great deal into very little space, which has made translating it an absorbing and sometimes daunting challenge. One remarkable feature is the way a single idea is expressed twofold through content and form. For example, the plot’s focus on women as drivers of history is reflected in how their stories are told: Salazar Jiménez reminds us that language is a means of articulating systems of domination, patriarchy among them, through her steadfast refusal to use the full sentences dictated by standard grammar. In another example, Blood of the Dawn wrestles with how we might begin to represent violence in light of the physical and psychic damage it wreaks. The fragmentary nature of the narrative—its rapid switching among scenes, perspectives, grammatical tenses and persons, and especially the sections that turn away from grammatical organization almost completely—articulates the near impossibility of relating trauma while at the same time offering up an ambitious attempt to do the same.

A key challenge in bringing across all this compressed complexity was trying to reflect the different voices of the protagonists. These voices are painted with Quechua-inflected Spanish (in sentence structure as much as vocabulary), Maoist ideology, echoes of Catholic catechism, the language of elitist prejudice and racism, and much more besides. Through the rhythm of Modesta’s voice, I hope I have conveyed something of the repetitions that call to mind predominantly oral cultures, where lodgment in the listener’s memory is often favored over economy of expression. With Marcela/Marta, I have tried to emphasize the sense of indoctrination into Shining Path ideology. For example, when the word “encarnado” (“in the flesh,” “embodied,” “personified”) is used to describe the way she exemplifies the revolution, I opted to include a biblical allusion by translating “revolución encarnada” as “the revolution made flesh” in an echo of both the 1611 and standard versions of the King James Bible, “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14).

Read the rest by purchasing a copy of Blood of the Dawn in Australia or elsewhere in the world.

‘Journey to…’ companion essays

Edited by Gillian Terzis

The-Lifted-Brow-Issue-30-CoverEXTRACT

It’s the year 921 and Ibn Fadlān, a theologian in the court of Abbasid Caliphate al-Muqtadir, is making a 4000-kilometre journey from Baghdād to the encampment of the semi-nomadic Bulghār khan on the Volga River. He is serving as secretary to the caliph’s envoy.

Rare for his time and later—fabulator Marco Polo will come centuries afterwards—he doesn’t invent wonders in the account he jots down in spare moments.

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Illustration by Nancy Liang

The party comes across people with a language like the cries of starlings. The Amu River freezes, and horses and carts slide over the ice as if on roads. They reach a land so cold that beggars don’t wait at the door but step inside, a land where his beard turns into a block of ice. His face freezes to his pillow. The cold splits trees in two.

When the ice melts, they buy camels and boats made from camel skin, three months’ supply of millet, bread and salted meat. Each of them wears plain trousers, padded trousers, a tunic, a caftan, a cloak of sheepskin, a felt outer garment and head covering, and two pairs—one over the other—of horse-hair boots. They can hardly move because of all the clothing. The camels flounder in snow up to their knees.

Read the rest of the essays by purchasing a copy of The Brow #30 or viewing it online.

 

In this fruitful darkness

Edited by Catriona Menzies-Pike

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[…] ‘In this betwixt-and-between period, in this fruitful darkness’, wrote Victor Turner of liminality, the ambiguity or disorientation of the middle stage of rituals. Don’t look down; there’s an abyss yawning just before your toes. Don’t force it, let the words come. Shift, make it fluid, back and forth. The Latin ‘translatio’: a ‘carrying across’: just a simple relocation, no labour of transformation, no alchemy involved here. Likewise the metaphor of the translator as a bridge: so passive! But the liminal space of translation as a fruitful darkness, now that bears greater reflection.

In the middle of this fruitful darkness, you could take the unusual privilege of looking to the work’s protagonist for advice. Makina herself has to contend with equivalence and the unstable nature of isomorphism; she too must try to fix routes between words. She packs what she calls a ‘latin–anglo dictionary’, which she describes as ‘by old men and for old men’ but still useful, ‘like people who don’t really know where a street is and yet point you in the right direction’. Routes between words are more rivers than highways in that their course is always shifting. Revise, and revise again. Make sure you keep up. Maybe all a translator can do, in the end, is point the reader in the right direction.

Makina muses on Spanglish, that language-between-languages, dependent on the existence of both Spanish and English and also on a large enough community of speakers who know both; it is a manner of communicating that is, of course, a kind of language-in-translation. She names it ‘a nebulous territory between what is dying out and what is not yet born’, which recalls, again, liminality, the point at which the old self is dead and the new self, not yet birthed. There are creative possibilities in this space; translational decisions can reinvigorate the world, can make it new: ‘if you say Give me fire when they say Give me a light, what is not to be learned about fire, light and the act of giving? It’s not another way of saying things: these are new things’.

Read the rest of the essay online at Sydney Review of Books.