28 September 09 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our review section is a piece on Dream of Reason by Rosa Chacel, translated from the Spanish by Carol Maier and recently published by the University of Nebraska Press as part of their European Women Writers Series.

I’ve written about this book on a few occasions, mainly because of the Javier Marias quote on the back, but there’s also a strong endorsement from Barbara Probst Solomon, who states, “Dream of Reason confirms Rosa Chacel as a major Modernist writer, the equivalent of a new-found Proust meditating on memory and selfhood, an image-driven Woolf with a profound philosophical bent. But reading Chacel is its own unforgettable experience.”

This review is written by Grant Barber, who, in his own words, is “an Episcopal priest living on the south shore of Boston and a keen bibliophile. Maybe by the time he retires his Spanish will be good enough to try his own translations of Latin American fiction.”

Rosa Chacel (1898-1994) sculptor, novelist, poet, essayist, feminist was born and died in Spain, with Brazil as a second home. She was a contemporary with the Generation of ’27, which included Garcia Lorca and Ramon Jaminez, and she was familiar with the writings of Freud and James Joyce and the philosophies of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. She claimed La sinrazón (Dream of Reason) (1960) to be her masterpiece and culmination of her fiction writing. This and much more can be found in Carol Maier’s helpful, thorough introduction. Maier is not only the translator of this Chacel book, which is appearing in English translation for the first time; she is the translator of two other Chacel novels that appear in the University of Nebraska’s European Women Writers Series; she is a scholar of Chacel’s entire writings, and she had the chance to know and explore the writer’s thought with Chacel before the end of her life.

This business of introductions presents a possible dilemma to the reader. To read the introduction first? In works of translation, or in bringing back into print a novel that has dropped out of sight (as with the excellent New York Review of Books) this decision is common. Often the introduction gives away more of the plot than one might want, or it takes away some of the enjoyment of discovery of style and thought. Why not begin reading the novel, skip the introduction; after all, if it is a worthy work of art then it should stand on its own, right?

Dream of Reason places this dilemma front and center. The writer is still a relative unknown to English speakers. At the outset the reader realizes that this novel is not plot driven. In her introduction, Maier gives a cogent explanation of Chacel’s intellectual project, that the novel tries to represent will and thought intimately joined to a person’s circumstances, a philosophical perspective from Ortega y Gasset. The voice of the narrator Santiago Hernandez is agreeable, but at times the ruminations can tax patience, unless the reader enters the novel forearmed. Not until page 268 of the novel does Hernandez explain, “One of our contemporary philosophers has said that the intimate life of ideas should be novelized. That is definitely what’s needed: the creation of a genre, a series of biographies of ideas, a thing very different from a novel of ideas.”

Click here for the full review.

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