NOVELIST, SHORT-STORY WRITER AND JOURNALIST
I came upon Haroldo Conti’s name in 2010, while walking the shelves of the public library in my home town, Úbeda. This copy of his novel Sudeste, first published in 1962, is now out of reach in a box high above the library in the western tower of the Hospital de Santiago; but it led to an English-language translation, South-East, and began a writing project that will keep me out of worse mischief for ten to fifteen years.
The second major publication is Conti’s third novel, En vida, published in 1971 and now in an English-language translation with the title In Life.
Work on the biographical title Letters from the River is advanced, and publication is scheduled for this year.
A selection of Conti’s short stories will follow to complete this short series.
In Life by Haroldo Conti
A translation by Jon Lindsay Miles, published in 2018.
In this footloose novel that stands as the centrepiece of Conti’s works, protagonist Oreste Antonelli goes to the office to put together the articles for the Agricultural Press, preferring the agricultural to the advertising desk even though the countryside is something he doesn’t understand. When he’s not doing the rounds by entertaining the secretary of a client, he goes to a house down by the railway line where a woman who calls herself Margarita comes and goes. Sometimes he returns to the building with its grey walls up to the sky where his wife and children are. And everywhere, he comes on the past.
In Life was by unanimously agreement awarded the Spanish Barral Prize in 1971 by a jury including Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez and Juan García Hortelano.
South-East by Haroldo Conti
A translation by Jon Lindsay Miles, with an afterword by John King. Published in 2013, with a second edition published by And Other Stories as Southeaster in 2015.
A book which has come to be seen as the classic portrayal of life on the Paraná Delta, Conti’s first novel is set in a world of secret islands and secluded streams an hour from Buenos Aires but known to surprisingly few of the Argentine capital’s inhabitants.
South-East/Southeaster is a richly poetic study of Boga, a solitary man with a dream to build a boat and fish the mythical dorado; until he is swept up in a drama as violent as life on the Delta is harsh.
Organised to accompany the publication of Southeaster, Sophie Lewis, And Other Stories’ Editor at the time, talked to me about the path from coming upon Conti’s Spanish-language novel Sudeste (1962) to publishing a first English-language edition. I also describes the experience of visiting the Delta, a world little changed since Conti wrote the novel in the early 1960s, and how the translation itself was, or was not, influenced by his month on the islands.
John Hodgson found reading Southeaster prompted reflections on the nature of the translator’s relationship with the work which reminded him of Brazilian Mário de Andrade’s classic Macunaíma.
British television’s Channel 4 have filmed an episode of their travelogue series Great Canal Journeys on the Delta; broadcast is scheduled for autumn 2018, using selected passages from Conti’s novel to illustrate life on the rivers and islands.
I made a first translation of the story A Brother’s Death, commissioned by Index on Censorship to mark the fortieth anniversary of Haroldo’s “disappearance”, and which appears in their Winter 2016 issue.
Further projects on Conti are planned, the first of which is…
Letters from the River. Translating Haroldo Conti
“I found myself unconvinced by the explanations of his life. Why did he ignore evidence of the threat to his life when others were already vanishing from the streets? How deep was his political involvement? What is he writing about? Having spent eight years writing translations of his work, I sensed better answers lay somewhere in Conti’s own words, and went back to them, and wrote.”
I began work in Buenos Aires in the southern winter of 2017 on a study of Conti’s life during his last, tumultuous years. Not quite a standard biography, it is a response to my reading of the man and the writer.
While in Conti’s home town, I spoke to local radio station La Posta Chacabuco about the work, and my relationship with his writing.
Haroldo Conti wrote short stories in addition to his novels until his kidnapping from the streets in May 1976 and subsequent listing amongst those “permanently disappeared” during the political repression which followed a military coup in Argentina.