review – Spain’s Great Untranslated

“Javier Aparicio, Aurelio Major & Mercedes Monmany, eds., Spain’s Great Untranslated. 156pp. Words Without Borders. Paperback. 978-0-9889051-0-8

The word ‘untranslated’ in the title of this interesting anthology seems a little strange in reference to some of its authors: Cristina Fernández Cubas, for example, has been, according to her capsule biography, ‘translated into ten languages’. False advertising to one side, this is a collection of poetry and prose by prominent living Spanish authors, brought together with the implicit aim of generating interest in translating them more extensively into English. The three editors have chosen authors with an established track record in their native country, born between 1929 and 1961.
            It is slightly surprising, given the influence of genre tropes on much contemporary Spanish literature, that the editors’ taste runs so strongly towards realism: though the atmosphere of many of these stories is gently desolate, the collapse of society and culture they posit arises from human failings rather than external sci-fi threat. The best example of this is perhaps Fernando Aramburu’s ‘Mangled Flesh’, a story which approximates to an oral history of the Atocha bombings of 2004. But even the forces poised to destroy the district where the inhabitants of Juan Eduardo Zúñiga’s ‘The Last Day on Earth’ live are bulldozers, flattening the land to prepare a Gran Avenida with its ‘victory parades’.
            As this detail suggests, political subtexts are never far away in these works, in particular in some of the poems. Olvido García Valdés’s ‘What do You Expect, Heart’ manages the difficult task of combining delicate lyricism with melancholic social polemic and sounding neither mawkish nor aggressive. Equally, Berta Vias Mahou’s story ‘The Devil Lives in Lisbon’, one of the standout pieces of the anthology, implies much about the economic and social environment of its protagonists via a seemingly straightforward narrative of smalltown life.
            Words Without Borders is explicitly concerned with promoting cultural understanding through translation. Each piece here has been translated by a different translator; the standard of the whole enterprise is extremely high. This may not be an entirely representative selection of what is being produced in Spain, but it would be difficult to better as an introduction to the realist mainstream of Spanish letters.”
published 10th May 2013 in The Times Literary Supplement


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