I don’t know if is still a feature at Yankee Stadium, but statisticians ran amuck when you attended a baseball game. It became a source of humor with my son to look at the scoreboard to see the latest announcement about how well a player was doing. It wasn’t as if the players did not have legitimate records, but there seemed to be a need to embellish. If a player’s batting average for the season was .225, the scoreboard would announce that he was hitting .425 since the beginning of the month, even if it only started a week ago.
With this in mind I read on the back jacket the biography of Guadalupe Nettel, the author of “The Body Where I Was Born”. Ms. Nettel has received a number of prizes for Spanish literature and her first book in English Natural Histories was well received by the New York Times. What made me laugh was that she was designated a Granta “Best Untranslated Writer”. Granta’s description of the series is understandable: established writers select and showcase fellow writers from their own language who are not yet widely translated or read. Nonetheless, the designation makes me think of the sound a tree makes when it falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it. I am interested in knowing who the “Worst Untranslated Writer” is.
In any event, hopefully this novella is not representative of this “new” Mexican writer’s body of work. The plot description on the book jacket is “that from a psychoanalyst’s couch the narrator looks back on her childhood”. Except for intermittent one line rhetorical questions to the doctor, the reader would not discern that this is other than a memoir or diary. It is a monologue, where the psychoanalysis seems contrived.
The young girl has a deformity in one of her eyes, although this is only a concern raised at the beginning and end of the book. The book otherwise traces the life of a Mexican child of presumably middle class background, who has a dysfunctional family principally composed of a mother who likely did not want the obligation of a child and leaves the young girl with her strict grandmother and a father who is loving but away avoiding capture or in jail. The child suffers from some neurosis (with an allusion to Kafka), but survives, living for a time with her mother in a rough neighborhood in the south of France. There is nothing dramatic or incisive about the story or the prose. I don’t think it would interest a young adult as a coming of age novel, but I might be wrong. On rare occasion, there is some humor.
“I remember so well the time the math teacher, a woman with pronounced lordosis, while teaching us the x-axis and y-axis declared that her own posture was perpendicular to the floor. Camila burst into a loud and contagious laugh. ‘Miss!’ she blurted, ‘how can you say that? Have you looked in the mirror?'”
For me this novella would have been better left untranslated.