Category: Basque

3TimesRebel Press: Mothers Don’t by Katixa Agirre (tr. Kristin Addis)

This is one of the first titles from 3TimesRebel, a small press based in Dundee, who specialise in books by female authors, translated from minority languages (Mothers Don’t is translated from Basque). It’s a compelling book, and quite a statement of intent for the publisher. 

The book begins with one Alice Espanet being found at home with her twins, whom she has apparently killed. Two weeks later, Agirre’s narrator is in the middle of giving birth when she realises that she knew Alice for a time at university, though in those days Alice was named Jade. The narrator comes to find that motherhood is taking over her sense of self. Having found some success as a writer of true crime, she decides the way to get back to herself is to write about Alice Espanet. 

Agirre’s protagonist tries to understand what drove Alice to kill her children. She visits the Espanet house, goes back to an old friend who also knew Jade, attends Alice’s trial… but the answers remain elusive and ambiguous. At the same time, the narrator is questioning her own feelings about motherhood: sometimes it feels beautiful and fulfilling to her; sometimes it pushes aside everything else. 

It seems to me that Mothers Don’t is an example of what Javier Cercas terms a ‘blind-spot novel‘ – a novel searching to answer a question that ultimately can’t be answered, so that the search itself becomes an answer. The narrator’s feelings about being a mother, the competing stories trying to explain Alice Espanet’s actions… These things are not reconciled, but the contradictions in them animate the novel and help give it its power. 

From the Archives: Spanish Lit

Today, for Spanish Lit Month, a look back through my archives. This is a list of all my reviews of books translated from the languages of Spain, in reverse order of posting. It’s not a huge number (in the early years of this blog, I didn’t read many translations), but I wanted to link to everything in one place. So – positive or negative, short or long – it’s all here. Just to clarify a few things: all books are translated from Spanish unless otherwise indicated; some links go to external websites; and anything labelled ‘note’ is a few lineswithin a longer round-up post.

The Vegetarian and Bilbao – New York – Bilbao: Shiny New Books

I have a couple of reviews in the new issue of Shiny New Books, both of novels in translation which I’d heartily recommend to you.

VegetarianFirst up is a Korean novel, The Vegetarian by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith). It’s the story of  Yeong-hye, a woman who first stops eating meat, then refuses all food – seemingly with the ambition to renounce her body and become a tree. But The Vegetarian is also as much about the people around Yeong-hye and how they see her. It’s a superb piece of work (with an excellent cover by Tom Darracott – look more closely and you’ll see it’s not just an arrangement of flowers), which I expect will be a strong contender for the IFFP – but it’ll be eligible for next year’s Prize, so we’ll have to wait a while.

(Speaking of the IFFP, Tony and Stu are looking for new Shadow Panel members; I’m planning to join in again this year, and it’s a lot of fun of you fancy having a go.)

Bilbao

One book that might might come up in this year’s IFFP is the subject of my second review: Bilbao – New York – Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe (translated from the Basque by Elizabeth Macklin). On one level, this is a novel about the author’s father and grandfather, both fishermen. On another, it’s about the process by which Uribe (or at least a character with his name) drew on their lives to write a novel, and about the tensions between life and art.

Go and have a look, do check the books out, and be sure to spend some time exploring the Shiny New Books site – there’s a lot of great stuff on there.

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