Ahead of Aleksandra Lun’s The Palimpsests‘ release in October, Godine intern Ethan Resek asked me some great questions about my translation practice; the intricacies of translating Aleksandra Lun’s playful, brilliant novel; the ethics and power dynamics of translation; and my own novel, From Here On, Monsters. He also interviewed Aleksandra Lun, who muses on, among other things, how Wagner would fare in the automotive industry.
I fell hard for this erudite, madcap, astonishingly inventive book. A bookseller in Barcelona pressed it into my hands in February 2016, a few months after it was released by Editorial Minúscula. “If you want to read something that says this much”—he opened his arms wide—“then this is the book for you.” He couldn’t have put it better: Los palimpsestos’s slight dimensions belie how exceptional and ambitious it is.
Polish writer Aleksandra Lun wrote this novella, her debut, in Spanish after living 10 years in Spain. It tells the story of Przęśnicki, an Eastern-European immigrant writer who, having neglected to write his first novel in his mother tongue, is committed to a psychiatric hospital to undergo “Bartlebian linguistic reintegration therapy.” Within the walls of the asylum, he meets other patients likewise afflicted with foreign writer syndrome, including Samuel Beckett, Emil Cioran, and Joseph Conrad.
Los palimpsestos is first and foremost a book about literature: Via a daisy-chain of literary references, it offers backstage access to the phenomena of foreign writers and their decision to switch languages. It portrays Europe as a linguistic playground while offering sly commentary on the politics and privileges of artistic creation and reception, especially when shadowed by nativism.
And it more than lives up to its title: Przęśnicki and his roommate are Polish; they are in francophone Belgium; Przęśnicki wrote his first novel in Antarctic and is writing his second one on the pages of a Dutch-language newspaper; and the book itself is written in Spanish. Yet, while multiple languages are mentioned or presumed throughout, there is no trace of them on the page, with two exceptions: Wampir and Kaskader, the titles of Przęśnicki’s books. He says they are in Antarctic, though readers with a knowledge of Polish will have a head start comprehending this fantastical language. So Lun’s novella exists in a context of polyglossia while almost never providing linguistic evidence of it. In other words, in Los palimpsestos, everything is perfectly translated.
Read the rest at PEN America.
…is now out in the world.
Such a thrill to think that a book I have lived with for the past 3 years can now make its way into the hands of readers. Claudia Salazar Jiménez has, I think, made something very special, and it has been supremely satisfying to get to grapple with some of the creative and intellectual challenges of bringing her powerful debut to life in English.
Here’s the blurb:
The fate of three women intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as the “time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. This powerful and poignant debut novel rewrites the armed conflict through the voice of women with a mixture of politics, desire, and pain told in lucid, brutal prose. Salazar stimulates the reader’s imagination through visual and narrative references that hit us by delving into the personal stories of these three quite different women. The social trauma of Peru is full of personal tragedies like these, and while Salazar’s characters may be fiction, the pain they all endure is completely real and universal.
Blood of the Dawn is a tremendously lyrical and ambitious debut, a highly accomplished, moving, beautiful novel that serves as an example of what art can do to help us not forget.
And the first words of the novel:
blackout total darkness Where was it? all over Where did it come from? high tension towers fell to their knees bombs explode all raze blast burst Were you with the group? cooking at home while I waited for my husband blackout typing up the meeting’s minutes blackout developing some photos blackout get candles I don’t have enough six pages two towers the outskirts of the capital What did you say? you can’t sign comrade darkness excluded from history submit or blow up bomb Did you find out what they did? wow you cleaned your whole plate smile no candles eat three towers they say now more time more towers When will there be light again? candles turn on the radio I can’t find the matches three candles no matches make a spark with flint just kidding bomb we have a generator go to the epicenter where what we can’t see is happening bomb report what’s happening on the other side of the towers see Where were each of the three of them? blackout
They brought me to this jail in the capital not long before our leadership fell. They almost always bring me to this room so Major Romero can interrogate me. Everything is white, whiter than a hospital. The three chairs. The table with the white melamine top. White walls, too. It’s already almost two weeks since I found out they’d caught them. I wonder what they’ve done to Comrade Leader. Fucking dogs. If they touch him, they’re all going to die; one by one we’ll take them down.
The only sound is the clock. Romero hasn’t shown up yet. It’s a bit chilly in this white room. Such a difference from that sandy place where I started my social work. I especially remember one day when the sun tested us. Unbearable, hellish. That’s what the heat felt like on that long stretch of sand settled by so many people. I was there with the engineer who coordinated the construction projects and with Fernanda, the social worker. I’d also taken along my four-year-old daughter. I thought it would be good for her to play with children who had little or nothing.
The sandy ground stretched on and on, a boiling yellow cloak. The heat was stifling. I felt the sweat of my girl’s tiny hand in mine. One of the people in charge of the housing committee handed me a glass of water to relieve her thirst. Water was sold at the price of gold, offloaded from trucks that came barely once a week. The glass that my daughter had just finished meant less water for one of these children.
She was more settled now so I left her with the other little ones and joined the community members to discuss the upcoming projects. They needed a network of potable water, drainage and public lighting to cover at least ten streets. They had also asked the municipality for a health post with basic services and for a school to be built. Education is fundamental to breaking free from the structural inequalities that social organization is founded on; without it, the potential for change Mami!!! is practically non-existent. My years of experience as an educator give me the authority to confirm Mamiiiiiiiiii!!!! that without the appropriate level of Señora Marcela, your daughter!
I ran to where the children were playing. My daughter was stock-still in the middle of the sandy area, her little legs trembling in fright, almost not breathing, hiccupping, her face soaked in tears. She had fallen over in a spot where sand had mixed with compacted earth and it was hard to stay upright. When she saw me, she stretched out her little arms and let fly a loud, distressed wail: Mami, there’s no ground here, carry me!
If you’re in Australia and would like a copy, you can support the good folk at independent bookstore Readings, who will deliver it to your door.
If you’re elsewhere in the world, you can purchase it over at publisher Deep Vellum’s site.