Translators were at the foreground at last night’s celebration of Dalkey Archive Press at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York. Organized by the Americas Society, the event brought together four of Dalkey’s brilliant writers and translators: Alejandro Branger, Eduardo Lago, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Álvaro Enrigue.
Venezuelan-born translator Alejandro Branger opened the event with colorful anecdotes from his friendship with Carlos Fuentes. He is the translator with E. Shaskan Bumas of two of Fuentes’s novellas, including the author’s final work, Adam in Eden (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013), from which he read last night. The passage offered a vivid and scathing description of a pervasive criminal class in Mexico, “born, like Venus, from the foam of the sea, or in their case, from the foam of a warm beer spilled in a seedy cantina.” (Read a review of Branger and Shaskan Bumas's translation of Carlos Fuentes's novella, Vlad, here.)
Next to read was Spanish heavyweight Eduardo Lago, who read from the recently released translation of his novel, Call Me Brooklyn (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013), translated by Ernesto Mestre-Reed. He took a moment to lambast the translation of the title of Mexican writer Juan Carlos Villalobos’s latest novel, Si viviéramos en un lugar normal [literally: if we lived somewhere normal] as Quesadillas. He also noted that Call Me Brooklyn, which won Spain’s prestigious Nadal prize seven years ago, was translated into English only last year, lagging behind its appearances in other major languages.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips, winner of the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for his debut poetry collection The Ground (FSG, 2012), gave a riveting reading from his translation (from Catalan) of a collection of Salvador Espriu’s short stories, Ariadne in the Grotesque Labyrinth (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012). (Read an interview with Rowan Ricardo Phillips and poet Nathalie Handel here.)
And Alvaro Enrigue praised the miracles performed by translators, particularly his own translator, Brendan Riley, and his sense of humor. The translator’s subtle humor came through in the piece he read, Riley’s translation of his novel Hypothermia (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013), which had the audience chuckling at the interactions between two co-workers at the World Bank. (Check out two pieces of Enrigue's writing from Words without Borders here.)
The writing we heard was both poignant and irreverent, beautiful and devastating, unsettling and comforting, all made accessible through the work of skilled translators. I don’t know if it was prearranged that each reader would make some insightful comment about translation, but these observations certainly tied the evening together and attested to the great work of Dalkey Archive Press in championing international literary voices and their translators. I can only look forward to more.