Writers' Corner

Johanna Warren

2013 Translation Projects

Translator's Statement

When I translated On Boundaries in college it tore my chest open, grabbed some part of me I never knew I had, shook it in its teeth, and to this day refuses to let go. As I have further explored Hernández's work, my belief in her genius and its value to the literary world has only deepened. Her unique and brutally powerful voice needs and deserves to be heard—for its own sake, for the generation it speaks for, and to combat the lamentable drought of "notable" female authors that still plagues Spanish literature.

I am so grateful to the NEA (and all you taxpayers out there!) for the opportunity to translate Hernández's complete works. To be able, if just for one year of my life, to devote my days to translating books I love—instead of waiting tables or perfecting my latté art—has been a beautiful and timely gift.

from On Boundaries by Claudia Hernández

The scrawny, multicolored dog's hungry belly growls in the silence. He wants to eat. It is time to eat. He controls himself and waits. He stays at the side of the living woman who will soon be dead. She, who hears the rumbling of his intestines, takes a razor from her purse, cuts the tongue into pieces, and offers it to him. It is still hot; good to eat. She extends the first piece with her right hand while, with the left, she covers her mouth with the rag that the dog handed her.

The dog does not take it. He wants it, but he is ashamed of wanting it. She insists. And he accepts.

The tongue tastes good. Very good. The first piece, the second... all of it. She watches contentedly with her tongueless smile. Then she gets on her feet to start fixing herself up. She changes clothes, washes her face, seals her mouth shut with glue so that, when she dies, no one will see the hollow cavity without a tongue. She seals it in the shape of a smile. She wants to be a happy hanged woman.

The dog observes the ritual. He watches her adjust the rope to fit the beam. He likes how she looks. And he vehemently swears not to leave her alone, to be at her side while she hangs herself, while she kicks, while she fights against strangulation. She sighs. If she had had her mouth free and her tongue in place, she would have thanked him. As she cannot, she caresses him as if he were her pet. She hugs him. She presses him to her body. She climbs on to the toilet to reach the rope.

She hangs herself.

She kicks.

She is motionless.

She does not breathe.

She is dead.

The dog weeps and stays at her side although she no longer knows it. He stays. He watches noisy women who enter and look up, get upset and scream. He does not move, although a lot of people come in. They let him stay because they think he was her pet. They do not throw him out. He would not have allowed it. He keeps her company until the people arrive who are in charge of unhanging her and taking her away. Then he leaves in silence. He does not answer when they ask him what happened. He does not explain, he only watches how they take her away in a truck. He returns to the ladies' bathroom to lick up a bit of blood before they barricade the door with yellow tape, or clean. He is still a little hungry.

Excerpt in Spanish

About Claudia Hernández

Claudia Hernández was born in San Salvador in 1975. Her work has garnered international praise since 1998, when she was the first Central American artist to ever win the Juan Rulfo prize for short stories. In 2004 she was awarded the prestigious Anna Seghers prize, an annual award given to young authors in Germany and Latin America. She was recently the only Salvadoran included in the Bogotá 39, a list of 39 Latin American authors under the age of 39 who represent the voice of their generation.

Johanna Warren graduated from Bard College in 2011, where she majored in Spanish and studio arts. Her two senior thesis projects comprised a "double translation" of Claudia Hernández's On Boundaries—one from Spanish to English and one from words to visual art. She has translated Natalia Carrero's I'm a Box and Juan Valera's A Bit of Everything, and is also the singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the indie band Sticklips.

Photo courtesy of Johanna Warren