NEA Literature Fellowships

María José Giménez

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(2016 - Translation)

from Rojo, amarillo y verde by Alejandro Saravia

[Translated from the Spanish]

Eating Italian-inspired noodles made by Guatemalan cooks at a restaurant on Boulevard St-Denis, Marcelle Meyer told you with no dramatic gestures or signs of frustration, rather with an air of impassive calm, that she wanted to stop seeing you, that she had grown tired of you. You listened to her, feigning calm, and secretly regretted the absence of wine on your table, even a cheap one, to wash down that damn mouthful of potatoes that all of a sudden got stuck in your throat as if even your digestive tract was emotionally stunned by such a stabbing phrase: “Je ne veux plus te revoir, Alfredo. Il faut se quitter. Je casse.” Her voice glided with ease as it pushed the blade of separation between two ribs.

The next day, knowing perfectly well that it was utopian and like a bad joke no one would understand, you decided to start your absurd Quechuistic project on the metro. To break the norm, risk a possible arrest and even a not-so-unlikely prison sentence. Maybe even a few blows, as Peruvian in verse as they are heavy upon the ribs. That’s how you started your day. Monsieur, vous dérangez affreusement! A thick moustache under a cap, the uniformed metro police. Severe blue. Everything imagined. The string of metro cars stops at Jean-Talon station. The sliding doors open, fed by the powerful pulse of electricity that runs from the rivers of the cold north of Québec down into the underground belly of this island. Passengers on a permanent journey—from the Ogowe Basin, the Coronilla de Cochabamba, the ruins of Pompeii, the knives of Toledo and the bazaars of Marrakesh—board the cars of the endless metallic intestine of the Montreal metro. They go in and out, they cross paths and take in each other’s eyes, coats, diurnal and nocturnal hairdos, mouths, trousers, Turkish and Mozarabic tongues, shared air, sweat, and lotions. Shoes, sandals, winter boots. Over the bustle and noise, someone is singing the way one sings at the age of twenty.

You board the train and instinctively seek contact with the other passengers’ pupils. Iris to nerve, circular birds that take flight when they sense your gaze, dissolve into the absence of other faces and lose themselves in the epistemological depths of ads for creams, cigarettes, tickets for the baseball season, trips to lands of beaches and beach balls and palm trees, sun-block, and last-vintage wines from Arabized France. In the subways of the world, people don’t make eye contact. Desires without a price tag are threatening.

Original in Spanish

About Alejandro Saravia

Bolivian-Canadian writer Alejandro Saravia is one of the most prolific and celebrated authors in Hispanic-Canadian letters. He writes in Spanish, English, and French and has published six books of poetry, a short fiction collection, and a novel. Anthologized and extensively studied by scholars, his prose and poetry have seldom appeared in English. Red, Yellow, and Green (Biblioasis, 2016) is a cross-genre interweaving of love stories and political violence that mirrors the multilingual and polyvocal complexity of Montreal. It was published in Spanish in Canada, a country whose official languages are French and English.

María José Giménez is a Venezuelan-Canadian poet and translator currently based in Western Massachusetts. Her original work and translations have appeared in The Fourth River, The Apostles Review, Drunken Boat, and Cactus Heart, and in the anthologies Cloudburst: An Anthology of Hispanic Canadian Short Stories (University of Ottawa Press, 2013) and Cuentos de nuestra palabra en Canadá: Primera hornada (Editorial nuestra palabra, 2009). Translations include poetry, short fiction, essays, technical documents, academic articles, textbooks, screenplays, and a mountaineering memoir. She has worked as a freelance translator for almost 15 years in English, Spanish, and French. Since 2008, she has been part of Montreal's collective The Apostles Review, and she currently serves as Assistant Translation Editor and Production Associate for Drunken Boat.

Photo by B. Westbrook

Translator's Statement

My introduction to literary translation, as a student of Hugh Hazelton at Concordia University over ten years ago, was a turning point. I started translating Alejandro Saravia’s short stories and poetry, and since then I have been a passionate promoter of Latino-Canadian literature. This award is a giant step toward making Saravia’s ebullient body of work available to English readers and bringing Latino-Canadian letters the attention they deserve outside the Spanish-speaking community. In addition to granting me the tremendous honour of joining a roster of literary translators I admire, this award is an incredible reassurance. More than simply a career—I am also a freelance translator and copyeditor—translation is a path I have chosen, and it has become inextricably woven into my own creative writing. As an emerging translator with a small number of journal and anthology publications and only one book-length publication, I am deeply grateful to be awarded, with this NEA fellowship, the time I need to devote myself to Rojo, amarillo y verde, a poetic, complex, cross-genre novel, without distractions.