7 January 11 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our “Reviews Section”: is a piece by Emily Davis on Juan Jose Saer’s The Sixty-Five Years of Washington, which is translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph and was published by Open Letter earlier this year.

As noted in the past, we don’t run a lot of reviews of our own books on this site, but Emily wrote this for her translation class, and since Saer is one of my personal favorites, I think we can make an exception . . .

Emily Davis is one of the MA students in Literary Translation (aka, the MALTS program) here at the University of Rochester. She was an intern with Open Letter last semester, and did a marvelous sample translation of Damián Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography. You may also know her from the 22 Days of Awesome series that ran all last month.

We’re going to be publishing at least three Juan Jose Saer titles, including Cicatrices (Scars), and La Grande (La Grande?). All three of these are translated by Steve Dolph. Sixty-Five Years was also reviewed in the New York Times a couple weeks back . . .

Here’s the opening of Emily’s review:

It is a sunny spring day in the city you have recently moved to, and on your way to work in the morning, you decide on a whim to get off the bus and walk instead. You are on a major boulevard, but at the point where you begin walking, removed from the city center, it is fairly empty. Your thoughts begin to wander, as they tend to do on a walk alone in the city, and soon you run into an acquaintance, the Mathematician. He has just returned from a trip to Europe, and the two of you fall into step and into conversation about the recent birthday party for Jorge Washington Noriega, which neither of you was able to attend, but which the Mathematician heard all about from Botón—“Button,” a nickname whose origin you do not know, and a person you have never met, but whose word you are more or less forced to trust as the Mathematician begins to narrate the story of the celebration of the sixty-five years of Washington.

Such is the premise of Juan José Saer’s novel, only that “you” are in fact Ángel Leto, a young man who has just moved to the small city named Sante Fe and is working a number of bookkeeping jobs. The effect is the same, however, as Leto essentially becomes a reader of the Mathematician’s story (according to Botón): as he listens, he goes forming a picture in his mind of the scene and the people involved, much as you might do when reading a book—some objects incomplete or indefinite, facial features hazy or purely imagined, where those details are left out of the narrative:

“Leto, who is listening now to the Mathematician, has had to add an unforeseen pavilion and a grill he can barely picture, since most of the story takes place under the thatched roof of a generic pavilion, more or less the idea of a pavilion, without an overly defined shape, staked in a patio he can’t picture with absolute clarity, where familiar and unfamiliar people possessing, as the Mathematician mentions them, distinct gradations of reality, drink a kind of beer that Leto has never seen, smelled, touched, or tasted [. . .]”

Click here to read the full piece.

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