After spending a summer filled with books, it’s great to be back with another La Española. A lot has happened in the translation world since the last edition; we’ve seen Women in Translation Month, International Translation Day, and lots of fantastic books have been released. However, the most notable recent event in the world of Spanish literature is the death of Javier Marias, one of Spain’s (and the world’s) most loved writers. Marias is a household name in Spain and has inspired a whole generation of readers and writers. If you want to read more about Marias’ incredible career, Margret Jull Costa wrote a wonderful obituary for the Guardian, which you can read here.
One of the most exciting things in Spanish literature in translation since I last posted La Española happened right at the end of summer, fittingly in Women in Translation month. In August, Open Letter Books released their first Translator Triptych, a fantastic initiative that puts translators at the forefront of the publishing process and highlights the incredible work translators do behind the scenes (work that often goes unpaid). The Translator Triptych sees one translator select three books from a language, country, or region they work with. They then translate them, or even ‘curate’ other translators. The books are then released almost simultaneously, and the translator embarks on the promo. The brilliant and very important idea driving this is that people are made more aware of the work the translator puts into a book outside of working with the actual text – work than can be more time-consuming than translating the words, yet goes unpaid. With the Translator Triptych, Open Letter is championing all of the work the translator puts into getting a book published, and pays them for it!
The inaugural translator for the project is Katie Whittemore, and the first language is Spanish. Katie’s wonderful selection features three of Spain’s most exciting female writers at the moment: Lara Moreno, Katixa Agirre, and Sara Mesa. This selection really is the perfect showcase for what Spanish literature is doing best right now.
Apart from the obvious connecting theme – that each book showcases great contemporary female writing – the books speak to each other in less obvious ways, as all offer reflections (however subtle) on ideas such as motherhood, childhood and adolescence.
The first in the trio is Wolfskin, by Lara Moreno, an intimate meditation on ambivalence and motherhood, eroticism and disappointment, family violence and failure, and ultimately the impact that unspoken and ignored events can have on a person and their family. I absolutely loved this book, and you can read the more detailed review I wrote here for last month’s ELNet reviews.
The next is Bad Handwriting, by Sara Mesa. This is a collection of eleven short stories that approach themes of childhood and adolescence, guilt and redemption, and power and freedom. The stories see rebellious children, children who are forced to grow up far more quickly than they should, and children who are alienated. As with the rest of her work, Mesa perfectly captures a child’s voice and perspective, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the children’s world and see life (however harrowing it may be in some of these stories) through their eyes. While the narrators of many of the stories are children, Mesa also captures the voices of troubled adults in the collection, exploring control, oppression and mental health. Having only read novels from Mesa before, I was interested to see how she dealt with the short story, and I wasn’t disappointed. As she does throughout her work, Mesa confronts us with the undeniable ‘defects’ we have as humans and our inexcusable, yet sometimes unavoidable, failures. By confronting us with this harsh reality, and presenting it in such beautiful prose, Mesa allows readers to reflect on the impact that we can have on others – be that good or bad. Bad Handwriting examines the intricate details of life that on the surface might not mean much, but in reality, mean everything. If you’re interested in reading about one of Mesa’s other works translated into English, you can read my review of Among the Hedges here.
The final book in the collection is Mothers Don’t, by Katixa Agirre. This novel is an incredibly raw reflection on motherhood and infanticide. In the opening pages of the story, we witness a mother calmly kill her two young twins, an incident that becomes an obsession for our narrator, a new mother herself. A writer, she spends her days as a new mother at home, obsessing over the whys and hows of the disturbing event. While the novel certainly has elements of a traditional thriller, it is much more reflective than that, approaching the relationship between motherhood and creativity, and how different the idea of motherhood can feel to each individual woman. It’s refreshing to see a novel that speaks so honestly about motherhood and the wide range of effects that having a child can have on someone. If you want to know more about Mother’s Don’t, you can read about the Spanish-language version in La Española: Basque Focus.
These three books exemplify the shift we are now seeing in literature in Spain: a wave of female writers creating books dealing with important topics that in the past have been swept under the rug – all through the medium of beautiful writing. Hats off to Katie for selecting such an incredible trio of books, and producing a triptych of frankly fantastic translations!
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: