Andrés Alfaro

Andrés Alfaro

Photo courtesy of Andrés Alfaro


Andrés Alfaro is a translator and teacher with dual U.S./Costa Rican citizenship. He earned his MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa in 2012, translating Felipe Granados’ book of poetry Soundtrack into English. Since graduating, he has translated two novels by Spanish best-selling author Manel Loureiro. He has also translated such distinguished Costa Rican authors as Carmen Naranjo, Felipe Granados, and Alfredo Trejos. In 2016, he was awarded an NEA fellowship to translate the experimental Costa Rican novel The Most Violent Paradise by Alexánder Obando. Other translations have appeared in journals such as Buenos Aires Review, eXchanges, and Prism International.

At this point in my career, receiving the National Endowment for the Arts award means nothing short of confidence. Confidence in my ability as a reader, and confidence in my ability as a writer and translator.

Literary translators are the guardians who carry existing works of literature into new languages. As such, they are responsible for identifying literary works deserving of a new audience. Unfortunately, what appeals to one eye may be repulsive to another, and the translator must always maintain a macro view of the sensibilities and expectations of the anticipated readership when choosing a work to translate. Only in this way can a translator be successful, if success should be measured by the number of readers who respond positively to a work.

I know I personally struggled in my early days to choose works for translation that would be meaningful to those first readers I engaged. More than anything, this award proves to myself that I have developed a keen eye for strong writing, and that I am able to transfer that writing into English in a way that respects the original and offers it something new in return.

From The Most Violent Paradise by Alexánder Obando

[translated from the Spanish]

20. Ashurbanipal’s Cat

                        Smoking in the Boys’ Room
                        Brownsville Station

The pussycat always reveled in Carmen’s Prelude. She was known in the neighborhood for her swollen belly, having mothered at least one litter of kittens with every tomcat around. She was the kind of feline who would cross the bridge of the moon and disappear into the alleyways, where one by one new kittens greeted the world mewling.

Typically she slept through the day. When she awoke, she would feed on honey, sweetbread, and milk. But sometimes, much to the dismay of her owners, she’d regurgitate a half-digested mouse right next to her milk bowl. Other times, she’d leave these surprises around the house. Once, she left something so massive, you’d think she’d have choked to death. Her owners dreaded the day when she would cross the bridge of the moon for the last time, never to return. But they’d always known she was a big, beautiful cat, and that eventually she would no longer recognize their authority.

That day finally came when war broke out in the neighborhood. It was every cat for itself, with no hiding spot being safe. After watching her kittens perish one after the next, the pussycat retreated onto a ledge running between several of the neighborhood buildings. Her belly torn open from battle, she yowled like an infant that’s just lost a finger. Her persistent wailing carried on for many nights until the neighbors finally sent out a search party to look for a missing baby. For that’s what they thought they heard: a baby slowly starving to death. A baby lost in the coffee fields, completely at the mercy of lurking predators. And although they searched empty lots, ditches, and every hidden corner, the child could not be found. Before long, the pussycat died, her remains left to decompose in the rafters of an abandoned warehouse. Only once, after Lent, did someone remark on the foul odor. It was a curse that lingered long after the missing ghost-child had been forgotten.

About Alexánder Obando

In short, The Most Violent Paradise, originally published in 2001, has emerged as the single most revolutionary novel to be published in Costa Rica. It aggressively breaks the shackles that literary expectations and good manners impose on a novel’s traditional content and form, stretching the imagination alongside. Its author, Alexánder Obando, is one of Latin America’s most influential writers alive today, with many critics marking this work as Central America’s first “postmodern” novel.