160218: at community bookstore! álvaro enrigue is funny and charming and smart and has many ideas about what the novel should be, and natasha wimmer is a translator with bolaño under her belt.
natasha wimmer: one of the challenges of translating sudden death was translating the tennis vocabulary. the tennis they're playing is not tennis as we know it today. as i was struggling to get my head around this, i got my second email from álvaro, and here's the email: "we have to talk, dear natasha."
- NW: the initial contact between translator and author is always a little bit fraught.
- álvaro enrigue: it's true. before we made contact, natasha had given an interview -- of course i googled natasha immediately after i found out she was going to translate -- and she described the situation as "i have never worked with a living author before."
- NW: (in the e-mail, enrigue describes a letter he got about the type of tennis played at the time.) he had decided we needed to put this letter itself into the book. to me, that perfectly sums up the fun we had working together -- the english version is not the same as the spanish -- just to sum up, that curiosity is at the heart of the book. sudden death is the opposite of serious, but it's also serious, too.
- NW: i think it's the humor that enables the seriousness.
NW puts AE up the challenge of summarizing his book and telling the audience what it's about.
- AE: i've been writing books like [sudden death] always, maybe not with as much luck as i did this time.
- AE: i published in these incredibly fancy publishing houses in spanish where they do everything for you somehow, and they would publish the book whenever they wanted, however they wanted, you didn't have an opinion. when i moved to another prestigious publishing house in spain that involved more of the author, they involved the author more in the publicity and packaging of the book. so the editor told me to write what the book is about to put on the back of the book, so i said, why don't you just print the book in tiny print.
- AE: the idea i always have is that a book should be difficult to be defined, and i don't think the rules should ever be respected, so why should you break the rules and explain how you did it?
NW: do you want to tell us a little bit about quevedo?
- AE: he's not very well-known in the english tradition; i don't know why. he was a very samrt poet.
- AE: he was an incredible writer of sonnets. he wrote, i think, one of the best collections of erotic sonnets ever written.
- AE: i think he's still the best critic of the imperial morals of spain.
- AE: i have the impression that poetry stays in your brain somehow. it wraps itself around your cerebral cortex. there are many circumstances when you see something, and a poem returns.
NW: my original reaction to the novel was that, at the same time, it was an intensely cerebral book but it was also an intensely physical book. i'm curious about how you balanced the two things and whether, because you're writing about historical figures who can be dry, whether you used the physical to make them come to life?
- AE: no, i never think about it when i'm writing.
- AE: i am interested in the ability the novel has to hurt the preconceptions about many things that, in this specific case, included the modern spanish empire and the vatican and those things. and you cannot become enemies of these things if they haven't first done anything.
- AE: i think the novel should always be a little destructive about the means that explain ourselves as human beings. i think of the carnality of my characters as bringing them down. [as in, taking them off any pedestal and bringing them down to the human level.]
- AE: why would you write a novel in which the characters look like, i don't know, the supreme court building in washington, dc?
NW: i think the novel is a lot about imperfections. in a way, you're building up and taking it [the novel] down at the same time.
- AE: the novel is a register. it's a register about the life of someone.
- AE: i think it would be a little dishonest to ask the reader to suspend their credibility. the thing about cervantes -- and i swear this is my last seventeenth-century reference -- is that you can put anything in a novel.
- AE: a novel is about the novel. a novel is about how that novel was written. we live in this world full of fantastic things and to think that you can still write like jane austen, i would feel silly doing it.
- AE: what i enjoy as a reader is to follow the mental process of someone ... what a person that is my sister or brother or is my contemporary can do with that material.
NW: let's get to the new world. were you trying to say that something positive can come out of the clash between the old world and the new world?
- AE: i think there is always some sort of redemption in everything. if you're mexican, you have this official story of mexico -- it's very similar to americans.
- the figure of cortez is so grotesque to mexicans that he doesn't really show up in mexican literature.
- [he went on to talk about how, as he researched and read, he found these cool connections between old mexico and new mexico and how they threaded through spain and to the philippines. it was cool. i'm sorry i couldn't get any of it down.]
audience Q: do you play tennis?
- AE: no. two of my kids play tennis. that's enough.
- AE: i played baseball as a kid. they're very close. there's a ball.
- AE: it was not love for tennis; it was love for caravaggio.
- AE: i think the novel should also try to break the definition of what makes a novel. the idea should always be to expand the definition of a novel according to your powers.
audience Q about the english edition and adding things to it.
- AE: to publish the novel in english, having known english myself, would be silly. you learn in the first few pages that you're reading a translation. why pretend that what's impure about translation -- why should we hide that?
- AE: translation is an itinerary through which literature moves.
audience Q about the strong women in the book.
- AE: it's in general not recognized by the critic, the role of the model in the painting.
- AE: in one sense, the artist gets freedom through fame.
- AE: i have many beliefs about novels. if you're a novelist, you can go to the sources that sustain historical discourses and have theories about them without having to legitimize them.
audience Q about whether the reception of the book is different in spanish and english.
- AE: i have another book that's a novel in spanish and short stories in english.
- AE: the reception of books is always different, and you have to consider that the spanish-speaking world is so vast.
another Q that i didn't write down.
- AE: i think a novel shouldn't make you suspend your credibility. i think the novel should offer you a way in as a contemporary of the story.
- AE: a novel is a question; it should never be an answer.