NEA Literature Fellowships

Katherine Silver

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(2013 - Translation)

Excerpt by Daniel Sada

[translated from Spanish]

The party would start once the plane had arrived. According to the pilot's announcement over the radio, its landing was planned for eleven a.m., but it could be delayed by a few hours, at most. The secret runway was a mile long and instead of asphalt was paved with gravel for a smooth, well-groomed surface. The turboprop aircraft was carrying from Colombia two tons of pure cocaine, divvied up into twenty-pound bags. Whereas one ton would stay in Mexico, the other was destined for the States. At the moment, the weather was worrisome, meaning the pilot might need to carry out some difficult aerial maneuvers. Anxiety? Less and less, for those here below had a fair bit of faith, much more than the pilot, who was less than adept at controlling his own nerves. Now let's talk about vexation in general, but mainly that of the four sombreroed chiefs listening to the scratchy voice coming out of the radio. The closeness of the room contributed to the radio's resonance that spread out into a wide spectrum of strident variations. The pilot seemed to be lopping off his truncated calls: those incisive ways of saying, "I'll arrive on time, hopefully!" Such a need to repeat and despair! But it turned eleven; then eleven thirty; then twelve and -- no!...It was exactly ten minutes to one and ...Not a sound on that gravel. Now's a good time, then, to cast an eye over all that had been ready since early that morning: many tables covered with tablecloths, out in the open air because of the heat. Tables set with silver cutlery, porcelain plates, and Murano glassware: all of it empty, though fine. And as far as the food, suffice it to say that they slaughtered -- also at dawn -- a steer and a hog; killed with a sawed-off shotgun so the beasts would die comfortably, with hardly a hint of pain. Then came the good part: the delicacy of well-seasoned carnitas and fierce salsas: all prepared with care: charros beans and red rice: a side dish. But what people really wanted was the spunky dance party, for which two Norteño bands had been hired: Los Rurales and Los Imprudentes. In the end, only one unpleasant rule was made: nobody could pack a pistol, becauseäó_well, you knowäó_no wild shots! And...well...yes...though...see...then the festivities could carry on for a long time. As far as the women were concerned...ah...there were plenty, and all good-looking; there was also lots of booze: starting with -- of course! -- the blond beers in the ice chests that, obviously -- now to return to the previous -- : if the airplane was late -- ugh! -- the melting ice, or rather: the obligatory replenishing: constantly chipping off more to spread around, right? But no, because smack on the dot of one-ten the aircraft arrived with a lively wobble, though almost calmly, except: its loud noise, its dusty din...And now to what's really important: in addition to the aforementioned coke, the plane was carrying two big honchos: two arrogant capos, with pistols on their belts and very darkly tinted glasses. Then the grand welcome: waves of rowdy excess, loutish chatter, and smiles all around.

Excerpt in Spanish

About Daniel Sada

Considered by many to be the boldest and most innovative writer in Spanish of his generation, Daniel Sada was born in Mexicali, Mexico, in 1953, and died on November 18, 2011, in Mexico City, only hours after being awarded Mexico's most prestigious literary award, the National Prize for Arts and Sciences for Literature, and a few weeks before his novel, Almost Never, was published in English. Sada spent his adult life dedicated almost exclusively to his literary work.

Katherine Silver has been a professional literary translator for more than 30 years, and has translated and published more than 30 books and assorted texts by mostly contemporary Spanish and Latin American authors. Her most recent and forthcoming translations include works by Daniel Sada, Horacio Castellanos Moya, César Aira, Martín Adán, and Marcos Giralt Torrente. This is her third NEA Translation Fellowship; she has been the recipient of numerous other fellowships, awards, and recognitions. She is currently the co-director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in Alberta, Canada. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Photo by Uzi Nitsar

Translator's Statement

This fellowship will allow me to continue to translate the work of Daniel Sada, whose intricate, complex, and wildly inventive prose presents a particular challenge to the translator. It is not hyperbolic to compare his linguistic originality and his radical and redemptive shredding of the complacent use of language -- the subversion of the expectation of the sentence as a unit of thought -- to that of James Joyce. The most pervasive theme of his work is language itself, and on another level, the Spanish language, as preserved from the Golden Age of Spanish letters to that spoken on the streets and in the cities and villages of contemporary Mexico. Many have been the writers, translators, and critics who lament its "untranslatability." I fear, however, that if we admit that anything is untranslatable, we must condemn ourselves to holding that everything is. Sada's prose is the ultimate boon and bane for the translator, demanding all the skill, artistry, experience, and time one is able to muster. Time, here, is what this NEA fellowship affords me with this fellowship, enough of it to attempt to solve puzzle after complex linguistic puzzle that, once "solved," invariably reveal poetic and humanistic messages of stunning originality, as well as a veritable feast of humor, humanity, and a passion for storytelling.