17 August 12 | Chad W. Post

The 2012 winners of the PEN Center USA Literary Awards were announced Wednesday, and I’m extremely glad to see that Suzanne Jill Levine won in the translation category for her work on José Donoso’s The Lizard’s Tale, which came out late last year from Northwestern University Press.

Unfortunately, we have yet to review this (my fault, seeing that our copy is buried in my “to read!” shelf), but I’m planning on including in a new feature that I’m going to start next week. (Seriously, I will. Summer’s basically over—it’s time to get everything going again.) In the meantime, you should check out this Bookforum review by Lisa Fetchko:

Northwestern University Press, in a fine translation by Suzanne Jill Levine, has just released The Lizard’s Tale, an unfinished novel by José Donoso first published in 1997, eleven years after the author’s death. [. . .]

The lizard’s tail (tale) refers to a key theme in the novel: what happens when you turn your back on something that once defined you? Disillusioned with the commercialization of the art world, Antonio Muñoz-Roa, a fifty-year-old painter from Barcelona, publicly breaks with Informalism, the artistic movement he helped to found. Muñoz-Roa, who also stops painting, likens this break to a lizard shedding its tail (although he isn’t sure “if I were the lizard and the informalists . . . were the severed tail, or if on the contrary, I was the tail that would die and they the lizard that would soon grow another tail”). On an ensuing trip to the coast with his ex-lover Luisa, Muñoz-Roa discovers Dors, an unspoiled town in the mountains. He falls in love with the Dors, restores an old house, and lives there for several years. The town is so important to his post-painterly identity that he becomes obsessed with persuading the locals to preserve it from the crass developments springing up along the coast. Critics have drawn a parallel between Muñoz-Roa’s disillusion with Informalism and Donoso’s feelings about the Boom, but I wouldn’t make too much of this. Donoso likes to isolate his protagonists as a way of having them reflect upon their lives, and for Muñoz-Roa, Dors serves this function.

The book itself sounds interesting, and the reviews all heap praise on Jill’s translation:

There’s plenty to applaud in The Lizard’s Tale. For long stretches of the novel, Donoso’s fluid and agoraphobic prose—which Levine does a marvelous job of following—lures us into the tangled web of Muñoz-Roa’s many contradictions. (Bookforum)

Levine is at once the writer and the interpreter of Donoso’s labyrinthine sentences, and her work is masterful. (Words Without Borders)

Congrats to Suzanne Jill Levine, and be sure and check out The Lizard’s Tale (and Donoso’s other works).


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