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From the Translator: Andrea Labinger on Angela Pradelli’s “The Bather”

By Andrea G. Labinger

In the latest in our "From the Translator" series , translator Andrea Labinger talks about Angela Pradelli's novel Amigas mías, from which "The Bather" is taken.

Amigas mías, from which “The Bather” comes, has been described as  “[a] novel that precisely and subtly portrays the feminine world through simple, yet profound stories about children, husbands, jobs, passions, desires and desperation”  (Spanish Book Distributor). The book tells the story of four friends—Olga, Ema, Patricia, and an unnamed first-person narrator—who meet every thirtieth of December, come what may, to see in the New Year together and reflect on the joys and disappointments of the year that is about to end.  These sacrosanct meetings are never suspended, not even when one woman’s father lies dying in the hospital, or when another of the friends has recently given birth.  The novel pays homage to the solidarity of women’s friendship and to the importance of the rituals that demarcate our lives.  The characters are not famous, or exceptionally beautiful, or paragons of virtue, but Pradelli renders them unforgettable with her Chekhovian eye for detail and for the poetry of the quotidian. Who could ever forget Olga, a working-class woman who makes her living by bathing invalids and is astonished to be invited one day to bathe a store dummy by a man claiming to be the mannequin’s husband? Or Valentín Viau, the centenarian pianist, paralyzed except for his long, skinny fingers constantly drumming in the air as if he were eternally playing some phantom piano?  The point of view changes constantly as Pradelli sweeps the reader along from one character to another, her exquisite, individual worlds dizzyingly impinging on one another to reflect a microcosm of Argentine society.

Latin American art forms have long been influenced by the monumental. In fact, even today the Latin American novels with which North American readers are most familiar tend to be of the larger-than-life variety.  However, while Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Isabel Allende might well be compared to muralists in the epic sweep of their narratives and the neo-Baroque flourishes of their language, Pradelli is best described as a miniaturist.  Her attention is drawn to the minutia of everyday life, which, in her hands, becomes compelling.  If her characters appear to lead circumscribed lives, they are no less interesting for the constriction of their circumstances, for they live mostly in the recesses of their minds. Pradelli’s characters, like García Márquez’s, are essentially lonely, but their soledad is of a more personal variety and does not purport to represent the collective destiny of an entire continent.   Their desolation is private, individual.  There is no hyperbole here.

Even more than Pradelli’s emotional restraint, though, it was the powerful simplicity of her writing that first attracted my attention.  I admire her cultivation of understatement as an art form:  it forces me to become a more careful reader, peering between the lines in search of the ineffable.  To be succinct is to be selective, and in order to capture Pradelli’s voice in translation, I am obliged to monitor my own natural tendency to verbosity.  Her stylistic scrupulousness makes me more aware of my decisions and helps me strive for a cleaner translation in the process.           

Although Pradelli has won many significant literary prizes in her native country and has gained recognition abroad (see her biographical note), this story represents her first appearance in an English-language publication.  I hope many more will follow.

Published Jan 10, 2011   Copyright 2011 Andrea G. Labinger

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