NOVELIST, SHORT-STORY WRITER AND JOURNALIST
I came upon Haroldo Conti’s name in 2010, while walking the shelves of the public library in 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.
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 the translator about coming upon Conti’s Spanish-language novel Sudeste (1962) in a small-town library in Spain, and who relates the story of its journey to English through rights negotiations, translation, publication and promotion. He also describes the experience of his visit to 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 the UK will be filming an episode of their travelogue series Great Canal Journeys on the Delta in January 2018, using selected passages from Conti’s novel to illustrate life on the rivers and islands.
Haroldo Conti wrote short stories in addition to his novels until his kidnapping from the streets in May 1976 and subsequent listing amongst those “disappeared” during the political repression which followed a military coup in Argentina.
I have just 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. This is the first of several projects which will bring more of Conti’s work and life to English-language readers. The second will be…
In Life by Haroldo Conti
The third of Conti’s four novels exchanges the natural landscape of the Delta for the urban landscape of Buenos Aires, but his protagonist is another solitary, moving on the cinematic stage of city life without hurry and perhaps without direction – but always with Conti’s still, clear eye for the ubiquitous poetry of human life.
Oreste’s dreams are of an end to the indolent days of desultory employment and the disappointments of family life. His hopes are raised when he meets Margarita; and even if she comes and goes and never seems entirely his, the promise of her return might make tomorrow possible.
In Life was awarded the Spanish Barral Prize in 1971 by a jury including Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez. A first translation into English of this fierce look at a man’s life will become the third volume on the Immigrant Library of Translation shelf in early 2018.
Translating Haroldo Conti
I began work in Buenos Aires in the southern winter of 2017 on a study of Conti’s life as it unfolds in his decade or so of mature writing. It will see the light of day some time after the publication of In Life.
While in Conti’s home town, I spoke to local radio station La Posta Chacabuco about the work, and my relationship with his writing.