Last year I discovered Basque writer Katixa Agirre thanks to Editorial Tránsito, an independent publisher based in Madrid that publishes Spanish women’s writing, as well as women in translation. My first encounter with Agirre was her self-translation from Basque into Spanish of Las Madres No, which I then read in Katie Whittemore’s translation from the Spanish, published earlier this year as Mother’s Don’t by Open Letter. Having loved Las Madres No so much, I was delighted to hear that Tránsito were publishing her latest book, De nuevo centauro, this time translated from Katixa’s original Basque by Aixa de la Cruz, an author from the Basque country who writes in Castilian.
Although the book is written in Katixa’s unmistakeable unfaltering and precise style, De nuevo centauro couldn’t be more different from her previous book. Set in the near future we see a world in which there are climate refugees all over the globe, and in which virtual reality and avatars have taken over everyone’s lives.
The protagonist is Paula Pagaldai, a designer working for a metaverse company who creates ‘modules’ – worlds, stories and journeys that people can visit in a metaverse known as Delphi. Although the tourism we know today is virtually non-existent, people are able to travel through virtual reality from the comfort of their own home. Paula heads to Paris in search of inspiration for a module she is creating on Mary Wollstonecraft. Here, she meets Max Dox, an expert on Wollstonecraft, who forces Paula into some difficult realisations about the life she has come to know.
As she follows in Wollstonecraft’s footsteps, led by Max, Paula begins to experience reality in a variety of new ways. She starts to reflect on virtual reality and the impact it has on her relationships with her husband and children, and, more importantly, on the relationship she has with herself, and this leads her to question the world that she plays a part in building.
Whilst Paula’s life is quite different to ours, it is not so far off that we can’t see elements of her struggles in our own difficulties with the technology and social media that we use every day – and in our fears for the tech that is very likely coming our way.
Agirre also writes in an incredibly thought-provoking way about gender and sexual relationships in the virtual world, examining how, in the digital sphere, they become far more fluid, and using subtle irony to reflect on parallel realities, the need to escape, self-deception and sexuality.
This is an original novel that speaks to two themes that are becoming ever more relevant: climate change, and the impact that technology is having on our personal lives, making the reader question the thin line between reality and virtual reality. I hope we will soon see it translated into English.
By Alice Banks (aka ‘La Española’)
Alice Banks is a creative and literary translator from French and Spanish based in Madrid. After studying the MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, Alice began working with the European Literature Network as an Editorial Assistant. She also volunteers as a copy editor for Asymptote Journal and is a publishing assistant at Fum d’Estampa Press.
Read previous posts in La Española series: