Three translators of Silvina Ocampo’s work come together to discuss their recent translations of her fiction: Ocampo’s first work of fiction, a collection of short stories, and her last, a novella Ocampo spent twenty-five years perfecting.
With Forgotten Journey, Silvina Ocampo’s first book of stories and her fiction debut, the poet initiated a personal, idiosyncratic exploration of the politics of memory, a theme to which she would return again and again over the course of her unconventional life and productive career. Forgotten Journey takes its title from the story of a girl who struggles to recall the events of her birth in order to remember her identity. Another story follows a friendship between two girls, one poor and one wealthy, who grow up to appear identical to one another, enabling them to trade lives and families. In “The Enmity of Things,” a young man begins to suspect that his mundane possessions are conspiring against him. When he flees to his rural childhood home, the silent countryside proves only more sinister and mysterious.
The Promise showcases Silvina Ocampo at her most feminist, idiosyncratic and subversive. Ocampo worked quietly to perfect this novella over the course of twenty-five years, nearly up until the time of her death in 1993. The narrator’s conflicted memory, as well as the intrusion of memories that are not her own, illustrate Ocampo’s struggle with dementia in the last years of her life, and much like the author herself, here we find a narrator writing “against a world of conventional ideas.”
“Of all the words that could define her, the most accurate is, I think, ingenious.“—Jorge Luis Borges
“I don’t know of another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don’t show us.“—Italo Calvino
“Silvina Ocampo’s prose is made of elegant pleasures and delicate terrors. Her stories take place in a liquid, viscous reality, where innocence quietly bleeds into cruelty, and the mundane seeps, unnoticed, into the bizarre. Revered by some of the masters of fantastic literature, such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, Ocampo is beyond great—she is necessary.“—Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance and Associate Director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University
“Like William Blake, Ocampo’s first voice was that of a visual artist; in her writing she retains the will to unveil immaterial so that we might at least look at it if not touch it.“—Helen Oyeyemi, author of Gingerbread
About the translators:
Suzanne Jill Levine is General Editor of Penguin’s paperback classics of Jorge Luis Borges’ poetry and essays, and a noted translator of Latin American prose and poetry by distinguished writers such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Jose Donoso, Manuel Puig, Severo Sarduy and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Director of Translation Studies at UCSB, Levine is author of several books including The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction, Manuel Puig and the Spiderwoman: His Life and Fictions. Her most recent published translation is Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Taiga Syndrome (The Dorothy Project, 2018).
Jessica Powell has published dozens of translations of literary works by a wide variety of Latin American writers. She was the recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship in support of her translation of Antonio Benítez Rojo’s novel, Woman in Battle Dress(City Lights, 2015), which was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Translation. Her translation of Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya (Mandel Vilar Press, 2016), was named a finalist for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award and made the longlist for the 2017 National Translation Award. Her translation of Pablo Neruda’s book-length poem, venture of the infinite man, was published by City Lights Books in October 2017. Her most recent translation, of Edna Iturralde’s award-winning book, Green Was My Forest, was published by Mandel Vilar Press in September, 2018.
Katie Lateef-Jan is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Comparative Literature with a doctoral emphasis in Translation Studies. Her research focuses on twentieth-century Latin American literature, specifically Argentine fantastic fiction. She is the co-editor with Suzanne Jill Levine of Untranslatability Goes Global: The Translator’s Dilemma (2018). Her translations from the Spanish have appeared in Granta; Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas; and ZYZZYVA.