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Kathleen Heil

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(2016 - Translation)

"The Narrative Mechanism" by Patricio Pron

[Translated from the Spanish]

During my time on the small island of Juist, a trivial incident—I was eating in a restaurant and although the place was empty, it took the waiter a good ten minutes to bring me the check—caused me to miss the last ferry back to the continent. I'd arrived that morning with the intention of writing an article for a travel magazine about this North Sea region the Germans call East Frisia, but before I even set foot on the island, while still in Norddeich, I realized that not even embellishment and deceit—invaluable tools of the travel writing trade—could make what I'd seen the previous day seem attractive: towns that all looked the same, and even had similar names, straight from a story by Poe or Lovecraft—Wiesmoor, Neermoor; Hooksiel, Harlesiel, Bensersiel; Eilsum, Pewsum, Wybelsum—they sounded like places where only the worst could happen; even the stores were all the same, unreasonably sized, the people bitter and hostile. I knew these towns came to life in the summer with the arrival of thousands of tourists who couldn't afford vacations in Mallorca, or simply didn't want to deny themselves their fine German newspaper and their fine German pastry and their fine German rain, which is why I'd wanted to visit in the off-season, thinking the absence of tourists would make it possible to get a sense of what the towns were really like, but I only found bushes and sand and little lighthouses painted red and blue—nothing worth writing about. And yet, as I watched the last ferry of the day leave the Juist pier, surrounded by the few passengers who had just debarked and were still getting their bearings, and several locals who had come to send someone off and seemed to want to delay returning home as long as possible, I thought that the only way to make up for all the inconvenience and wasted time that this trip had meant for me was to go ahead and write the article, write about the breathtaking, windswept German islands and the white sea, and then afterward I could stop and imagine those wretches who in that same moment would be packing their suitcases. This is the sort of thing that gives travel writers a kick; this, and the paychecks, and going home.

Originally published in Chicago Review Issue 58.3/4, Fall 2014

Original in Spanish

About Patricio Pron

Patricio Pron (Rosario, Argentina, 1975) is the author of five story collections, a book of essays, and six novels, among them El comienzo de la primavera [The Beginning of Spring] (2008), winner of the Premio Jaén for the Novel and named by the the José Manuel Lara Foundation one of the five best books published that year in Spain, and El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia [My Fathers' Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain] (2011), also published in English, French, Norwegian, German, Italian, Dutch, and Chinese translations. His short fiction has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Juan Rulfo Short Story award (2004), and has been published in journals and anthologies in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S. He was named by Granta one of the best young contemporary writers in Spanish in 2010. Pron has a PhD in literature from the University of Göttingen, Germany, and lives in Madrid, where he is a frequent contributor to El País, among numerous other publications.

Kathleen Heil's translations, poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in FENCE, Gigantic, Vintage Shorts,Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Hayden's Ferry Review, Guernica, BOMB, Quarterly West, and The Barcelona Review, among others. Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Heil studied Italian at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia, Italy, and holds a Master's degree in Creación Literaria from the Escuela Contemporánea de Humanidades in Madrid, as well as an MFA from the Program in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. She is a 2015-2016 Sturgis International Fellow in Berlin. Her website is

Photo by Kathleen Heil

Translator's Statement

Literary translation is, for me, a joy when I feel I am able to truly "hear" an author's words without the mediation of foreignness or distance, as with Patricio Pron's 2010 story collection El mundo sin las personas que lo afean y lo arruinan [The World Without People Who Ruin It and Make It Ugly].

In my translations, in order to accurately render the tone and voice of the work, I look not for equivalent word order or cognates, which can create inconsistencies in tone as well as awkward moments in the syntax, but rather for equivalent effect. I also place a high priority on capturing an author's priorities and idiosyncrasies in terms of style, while making sure that the phrases read well syntactically in English (that is, avoiding the dreaded "translationese"). This approach, not surprisingly, involves much thought and revision, but it is one I love.

Having recently completed my MFA in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, it is a huge honor to receive recognition for my work in literary translation, and I am tremendously grateful for this NEA Translation Fellowship, which will allow me to continue to share Patricio Pron's remarkable short fiction with Anglophone readers.