As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 11 days highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s _“Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. All past and future posts related to this issue can be found by clicking here.
This post marks the half-way point in our “22 Days of Awesome” series . . . It’s an interview of Argentine writer Patricio Pron conducted by Emily Davis. Enjoy!
If you flip through Granta’s new “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” issue, you’ll see a photo of Argentine writer Patricio Pron above a paragraph that begins “At the age of twenty-eight, Pron learned how to ride a bicycle through the snow in Germany, the country where the majority of his favourite childhood authors were born.” Even his biography reads as literature. And when his new story published in this issue is called “A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs,” how can you not turn the page and keep reading?
Here is a taste of the story, translated by Janet Hendrickson.
My situation was relatively different from that of the other writers from the provinces who regularly arrived in the capital, like insects that assault a cadaver and eat it and lay their larvae inside and so obtain some life from death. I hadn’t left any cadaver behind; I had some money and a few assignments — I was a journalist, a relatively bad one but for some reason in demand — and besides, I had a place to sleep. An apartment, I supposed, where I would write my first truly cosmopolitan works, insufflated with an air that I believed only blew in the capital, which for its part bragged about the quality of that air. Naturally, I was an imbecile or a saint.
At that time I wrote stories that were more like farces, stories that were dumb and sadly ridiculous. In one, a boat caught fire along the coast of a city, and its residents gathered to contemplate the spectacle and did nothing to help the crew because the spectacle was so beautiful, and so the boat sank and the crew members died, and when the only survivor of this disaster made it to the coast and asked for help, the city’s inhabitants beat him for ruining the spectacle. In another story, a horse appeared which had been dressed like a man so that he’d be allowed to travel on a train; part of its education took place on this long train trip, and when the train finally reached its destination, the horse — which had somehow learned to talk — demanded to be called ‘Gombrowicz’ from this point forward, and he wouldn’t let himself be saddled; I still don’t understand what I wanted to say by that. I’d also written a story about this guy who invited a girl he liked on an outing to the countryside, but then the girl constantly changed the radio station in the car and ate with her mouth open and did things that made this guy think he could never declare his love to her and maybe it was better that way, and I think everyone died at the end in an accident or something like that. In that story I’d tested my talents for comparison and simile; I’d written things like, ‘He and she had never seen each other before. They were like two little doves that had never seen each other, either’; and ‘The boat peacefully steered itself towards the still pool, just like a car driven by a madman heading towards a group of children.’ Those were the things I was writing: occasionally, certain people have inferred an unambiguous relationship between a person’s imaginative capacity and the quality of his or her fiction, but they leave out the fact that imaginative excess can have catastrophic results for the quality of what one writes, and still, that imaginative capacity is indispensable to every writer’s beginnings; it gives him breath and sustains him and makes him believe that his errors are correct and that he is or can be a writer. Well, I had too much imagination during that time.
The dry and self-deprecating humor here is perfectly tuned (and the backhand pun on Buenos Aires? golden), and the whole story is worth reading for Pron’s narrative voice that feels very genuine, in this piece falling somewhere between storyteller and essayist.
Today we also have a special interview with the author, so allow me to introduce him with a few biographical essentials. Born in Rosario, Argentina in 1975, Patricio Pron is a writer, translator, and critic currently living in Madrid. He earned his doctorate in Romance Philology from the Georg-Autust University in Göttingen, Germany. His three volumes of short stories and four novels include El vuelo magnífico de la noche (2001), Una puta mierda (2007), El comienzo de la primavera (2008) and El mundo sin las personas que lo afean y lo arruinan (2010). He was kind enough to answer our questions about his latest work, the Granta honor, and what it’s like to be a critic and a translator well as a creative writer.
Emily Davis: What does it mean to you to be named one of the best young Spanish-language novelists by Granta?
Patricio Pron: Naturally it is a pleasure, besides being a bit of good news in a year that, at least for me, has been especially generous with good news.
ED: Where did the desire to become a writer come from?
PP: Perhaps from the same place it always does, from the perception that there was something that existed that had not yet been said and that I could say, and from the conviction that I knew how to say it.
ED: Do you have a favorite writer from among the others on the new Granta list?
PP: Yes, I am especially interested in the work of Alejandro Zambra.
ED: What writers have influenced you?
PP: A good hundred living writers and a similar or greater number of dead writers.
ED: You’ve said before that you were influenced by German writers. And the experience itself of having lived and studied in Germany, does that figure in your work in some way?
PP: Yes. My last two books (El comienzo de la primavera and El mundo sin las personas que lo afean y lo arruinan) feature that German experience as a theme, but perhaps the more visible influence of that experience is in the separation that formed there between literary language and everyday language. There was an acceptance of literature as a labor of exploration in language aimed at creating for me and for my books a personal idiom, halfway between Spanish and the other languages that I speak.
ED: Many people are either critics who do not write, or writers who do not practice criticism. What is it like to practice both professions? Does one influence the other, do they complement one another, or do they oppose each other?
PP: Both experiences complement one another well, contrary to what people usually say, since a great number of writers are also readers and we have opinions about what we read. Not all writers read, however (and we may blame that for the worst calamities of recent literature, including literature written in Spanish by writers under thirty-five years old), but those who do, do not see any obstacle to talking about what we read, in particular if we are talking about books that contribute beauty and sense to a world that tends to be lacking in both.
ED: How did you come into a translation career as well? Do you work with a certain metaphor that describes your own way of approaching the act of translation?
PP: My wish when I began working as a writer was basically to act as a bridge between literature in German and literature in Spanish, as a way to enrich as much as possible both literary traditions. I don’t have any specific metaphor to describe what I do when I translate, except maybe that I act as a ventriloquist, making others speak with a voice that is mine.
ED: Your new story, “A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs,” is it autobiographical at all?
PP: Yes. Not exactly in its plot, which is imaginary, but yes with regard to the narrator’s opinions about literature, and to the question that permeates the entire story of why and from where the young writers in Spanish come from, and about what it’s like to become a writer based on interpretation, and the undesirable but at the same time also inevitable misinterpretations of the works of writers that we love.
ED: What are you working on now?
PP: Right now I am taking notes for an extended essay, to be published probably in 2012. In May 2011 my new novel El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia will be published in Spain. Faber & Faber will publish it in the UK, and Knopf in the US. Around that same time, a personal anthology of short stories called Trayéndolo todo de regreso a casa. Relatos 1990-2010 will appear in South America.
Don’t forget that if you subscribe now, the good folks at Granta will throw in a copy of this special issue for free . . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .