lunes, 7 de abril de 2014

The ultimate paradox

Paraísos reseñada para Three Percent por Andrea Reece

Survival is the name of the game, but the two arrive in the city to find it flooding so bad that its inhabitants can only cross the street with the help of a rope to guide them through the rising floodwaters, scenes described by the narrator as a “rehearsal of apocalypse.” With difficulty, they find a cramped room in a seedy hotel and try to adjust to the sudden and bewildering acceleration of the pace of their lives in this utterly foreign city environment. The narrator reacts to the strangeness, as throughout the novel, by taking refuge in the visual and in her acute powers of observation of her surroundings that take in the tiniest detail—here she carefully lists all the items of food in the hotel fridge labeled with their owners’ name, and tries to imagine what the owner is like. She also has a sharp eye for interpreting the physiognomic and gestural signs that people tend to use to appraise others. Her first encounter is with Iris, a Romanian woman, native of Transylvania, who becomes her friend. Iris is described as a woman with
The carnival of bizarre characters descends into the grotesque and the absurd when the narrator gets a job administering morphine to Tosca, a grossly overweight woman who is dying of cancer. The narrator’s environment takes on the nightmarish, ghoulish tinges of a 19th century travelling circus complete with outlandish characters or a hall of mirrors with its endlessly repeated series of misshapen reflections. Meanwhile, and not entirely surprising under the circumstances, the narrator’s sleeping world and waking fears are dominated by snakes, which she tries to obliviate by drawing endless sketches of the reptiles to deaden their symbolism and turn them into mere lines on paper. The reader is drawn into this powerful, and all too real, living nightmare. The narrator herself is conscious of her alienation and the absurdity of her surroundings, and finds the solution in passivity. Not the kind of passivity where one has lost control, but the kind of passivity that never had any control in the first place. Fatality is her answer to the big questions:
The title of the novel is, of course, the ultimate paradox—the narrator’s surroundings are very far from being any kind of paradise, unless paradise can be limited to the snake in the Garden of Eden (and even then . . .). We only discover three-quarters of the way through the book that the title refers to paradise trees that are prevalent in Argentina, have toxic berries and whose bark is believed to supply the antidote to poisoning from the berries. Yet another paradox!
And because I am a translator and believe that no translated work remains entirely that of the original author, but becomes a filter through which we see the original work, and indeed a piece of literature that must stand (or fall) in its own right, a word of praise for the brilliant Beth Fowler. She has produced a sparkling piece, with a grasp of tone, voice and register that captures the paradoxes between the narrator’s thoughtful and evaluative inner world and the rough-edged characters and dire circumstances that surround her. Slang is often particularly hard to translate in a believable way without either overusing the f-and c-words, or, conversely, without toning the whole lot down too much, but here it works wonderfully and there are even some inspired lexical choices. My favorite word in the entire book has got to be “carked,” as produced by Tosca, the cancer sufferer who receives the morphine injections:
“You thought I’d carked it, didn’t you? It’ll come, girl, it’ll come, you need to have a bit of patience.”