By Oisín Harris and Laura Hasson
Welcome back! It's The Publishing Post's 30th issue!! This week we speak with Oisín Harris and his 'international shelf', focusing on the love Oisín has for women in translation, particularly Argentinian authors. Welcome Oisín!
Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m an avid reader of literary fiction, serious non-fiction, and I'm very interested in translated fiction. I review literary books online and am a librarian at the University of Kent. Besides that, I'm a co-editor and contributor for The Publishing Post’s Books in Translation team and creator of the Translator Spotlight series. During my MA in publishing at Kingston University, I wrote my thesis on the interrelated factors in the lack of women in translation. Argentinian fiction is too often only represented by Borges and Cesar Aira, both great writers, but there’s so many great women in translation too! My work has been published in the 2020 research eBook of the Institute for Translation and Interpreting, entitled Translating Women: Activism in Action, edited by Olga Castro and Helen Vassallo.
Why Argentinian fiction?
I find that Argentinian writing has this really appealing thin line between life and death, normalcy and the uncanny. The only other book (non-Argentine) that I really wanted to mention is Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer, translated by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait.
How do you pick a book?
Serendipity mostly. Doris Lessing’s advice always helps me: “There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag - and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement.”
Nice to [virtually] meet you. I'm excited to add to my shelf, as I've not read any books by Argentinian authors before. Let's explore your shelf:
Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz
Translated by Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff Published by Charco Press.
I came across this one through being part of the unofficial shadow panel of judges for the International Booker Prize as it was longlisted in 2018. It’s on my shelf as a reminder of the poignancy and power words can have when they are written with gloves off. Ostensibly, the book is about a new mother freaking out about her new status as Mother as she spends her days isolated in a house in the French countryside. But the way this novella shatters all pre-conceived notions of Motherhood and how a Mum might relate to her child is pugilistic and so wild and brutal. I think anyone interested in how powerfully emotive and visceral language can be should read it!
Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
Translated by Daniel Balderston Published by NYRB Classics.
Too often overshadowed by her husband Bioy Casares and his best friend Jorge Luis Borges, this anthology displays Ocampo's tremendous writing power. We are presented with fantastic accounts of beautiful seers who write the autobiography of their own death, to lapdogs who record an old woman’s dying dreams. I love this short story collection for the ease with which Ocampo switches between humdrum middle-class life into dark, gothic supernatural realms, and the ways that she gets us to realise that normalcy has only a very thin veneer to it. The two stories I most remember are one about a young girl who locks her mother in a room during a birthday party and sets fire to the house, and another about a ranch hand who meets a ghost.
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin
Translated by Megan McDowell Published by Oneworld.
Another short story collection from an Argentinian author famous for her novella, Fever Dream. This was another shadow panel discovery for me. Much like her predecessors in Ocampo and Pizarnik, Schweblin writes beautifully and without any willingness to reveal the magic behind it. Her stories happen fluidly, and they don’t give up their ghosts or end in clear-cut denouements. The protagonists of these stories must face uncertain realities and confront really challenging behaviours and abnormalities. There are stories about jilted brides, mysterious empty ever-expanding urban holes in the ground, tales of daughters who eat birds and Tony Hancock-like art world tests that seek out the most violent and obscene art it can lay its hands on. I loved the darkly atmospheric creepiness that permeates Schweblin’s writing with her words almost like ripples on the margins of some dangerous submerged whirlpool that as deadly as it is, will suck you in.
Thanks Oisín for that insight; Thus Were Their Faces is going straight into my to-be-read pile. Join us next week when we explore another International Shelf. Happy reading everyone!