Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reading the spanish originals

Josef Braun on passing the language barrier, reading in Spanish.
Part of my motivation for reading in Spanish, besides not wanting to feel like a moron, stems from my interest in authors whose works haven't been translated into English. Books in English translation are pathetically rare these days, with only a handful of Spanish-language authors winning the literary sweepstakes that allows them to have their work reach an English readership. It seems just more salt in the wound that the latest author to be regarded as a hot property in English-reading countries is a dead guy. Roberto Bolaño has been receiving generous and totally justified attention by English-readers, thanks in large part to New Directions and the recommendations of certain members of the cross-cultural literati, such as Francisco Goldman. But he's still only one great writer among many, and it will take a long time to get all of his work into English. If you're impatient and really want to delve into Bolaño—or Horacio Castellanos Moya, or Cesar Aira, to name but the most recent benefactors of New Directions' persistence—you need to find this stuff in Spanish, and Mexico is one book-loving country, a place where you can find people selling Borges, or Gabriel García Márquez, or Julio Cortázar or at least Isabel Allende, outside of every subway station. If only Canadian booksellers were so discerning!

In any case, I found myself on the hunt for writers who haven't been translated into English at all, as far as I know. I picked up Sergio González Rodríguez's Huesos en el desierto (Bones in the Desert), a highly caustic work of investigative journalism of enormous importance, concerning the infernal epidemic of female slayings in Ciudad Juarez—González Rodríguez was a friend and advisor to Bolaño, who by his own admission couldn't have written 2666 without González Rodríguez's assistance. It's a book I'm both desperate and kind of dreading to read but, fairly dense in its prose, I'll need to save for later. I picked up a volume of Francisco Tario's stories entitled Algunas Noches, Algunos Fantasmas (Certain Nights, Certain Phantoms), which seemed promising in its concision and simplicity, yet nonetheless frustrated me with its allusive turns of phrase and occasional use of antiquated terms. Strangely, the book's biographical introduction was a breeze. This struck me as an interesting development. Could it be that non-fiction, or at least non-fiction of a more digestible sort than Huesos en el desierto, was the way to go for this impatient novice?
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