Not European, not Mediterranean, neither Latin nor Caribbean. The Canary Islands are all and none of these things at the same time. Their solitary sands, their abrupt landscapes –a face hardened by the eternal wind-, their tropical rainforests, all together, might sometimes resemble the wilderness from Africa, the nature from the Caribbean, and the culture from Europe, Cuba and Venezuela. This whole cocktail, however, has evolved and matured in the people, changing the ways they feel about life, and embedding a perspective of the land and the sea in their hearts which I am sure is different from any other in the world.

The culture in the Canary Islands has been defined in many different ways, which explains just how many things they bring together and evoke as a result of being the natural and historical bridge between Europe, Africa and South America. And this is perfectly conveyed in the novel we are reviewing in today’s post: Mararía, by Rafael Arozarena.

Rafael Arozarena was born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1923. He wrote six novels and had a prolific work of poetry, but his most internationally acclaimed work ever is the novel Mararía.

This is good example of literature from the Canary Islands which has indeed achieved a wider audience both in Spain and other countries. As we have already commented in a previous post, the book has been translated into German by the translator Gerta Neuroth, and published by Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke. In Spain, it is currently published by Ediciones Ideas.

 

Cover from Konkursbuch’s Mararía

The novel tells the story of Mararía, an old bewitched woman in a small, isolated coastal village in Lanzarote called Femés. Seen from the eyes of a stranger, we get to know more and more about her as the neighbours from the village narrate their own particular part of her story. Many years before the narrative moment of the novel, Mararía was a beauty and many men from the village would fall in love with her, which provoked jealousy among them and finally tragedy, as no one would give her what she really needed: an escape from a natural jail bordered by sea everywhere. The problems that would arise around her, together with the loss of loved ones, would finally carve her into who she is in the actual time of the novel- someone who wishes not to be seen, who wishes not to be a prisoner of that limited and abrupt land, a land which means only grief and pain to her memory. And that is what the strangers can see in her now – someone that spends her days and nights only wandering around, looking for everything that has been taken from her in her youth, and carrying out magic rituals to bring those things back, still knowing that they will never really happen.

Mararía became really popular in Spain after the release of the movie in 1998, directed by the Canarian, Antonio Betancor. Starring the Spanish actor Carmelo Gómez, the Canarian actress Goya Toledo, the Englishman Iain Glen and the Cuban Mirtha Ibarra, the cast clearly reflects the ethnic mix of the Islands. Despite having completely adapted the story to the big screen, whereby many parts of the plot were changed into quite a different tale, the movie was still able to recreate that mystic atmosphere of the book. Actors and landscapes melt to express the sadness, the solitude and the passion of Mararía and a land which, even if sometimes might be paradisiacal, can at other times be extremely hard on us.

The soundtrack was composed by the acclaimed musician and singer from Tenerife, Pedro Guerra. The main song of the soundtrack also helps to recreate that atmosphere of deserted landscapes, solitude, and the natural sea-boundary that limits ourselves so much on the islands.

This is, above all, a story of a great literary work reaching the general public and gaining the place in history that it rightly deserves. For those who have not read the book or watched the film yet, I completely recommend them. The book is a must-read that will transport you to different place where you will be able to feel the passion of our forgotten land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

In my previous post, I posed the question of why literature from the Canary Islands hasn’t captivated a wider audience in Spain and other Spanish speaking countries yet, even though there is an extensive list of writers with so much to offer and say.

Based on the example of Félix Francisco Casanova’s Vorace Gift from my previous post, I have been doing some research in order to find out to what extent literature from the Islands gets translated into other languages, especially taking into account that we receive about 10 million tourists every year, and almost 15% of the population is foreign.

Truth be told, even for a small region such as the Canary Islands, there has already been some work done on this topic. The example I will be bringing up in today’s post is Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, an independent German publishing house with a broad and interesting program of publications.

Founded in 1978 in Tübingen, Konkursbuch has a publishing program based mainly on four pillars: “Travelling between cultures”, “Novel Series”, “Konkursbuch” and “Erotic books”. Their published works range from art and photography books to poems and novels, as well as erotic and annual lifestyle magazines. Their catalogue is extensive and I am sure you will be delighted to spend hours checking their website, reading about their publications and the original ideas they have to offer. If you check, Konkursbuch focuses on arts and literature from a really different perspective.

What struck me most about their publications is that they have an entire section about the Canary Islands, and in particular La Palma, which is well known for its rich and wild nature, and its calm, slow-paced way of life that attracts so many Germans every year. In this section, they offer a selection of travel books, novels, and poetry anthologies, some of them in bilingual editions. The design of the publications is carried out beautifully. A good example is Geheimnise der Insel La Palma. Ein Reiseführer durch 12 Monate von Ines Dietrich, which is translated roughly as Secrets of the Island of La Palma. A 12-Month Travel Guide by Ines Dietrich.

Geheimnise der Insel La Palma. Ein Reiseführer durch 12 Monate von Ines Dietrich

Cover of Geheimnisse der Insel La Palma

To my surprise, I also discovered that Rafael Arozarena’s Mararía, one of the most famous novels from the Canaries, has also been translated into German and published by Konkursbuch! This is definitely good news for the literature from the Canary Islands and we can only thank Konkursbuch for having contributed to this step forward. Danke schön, Claudia!

I recently came across Marianne Millon’s French translation of Felix Francisco Casanova’s El don de Vorace (Vorace’s Gift) published by Les Allusifs, a Canadian publishing house. Even if you are familiar with Spanish literature, you most likely have never heard this name before. In Spain, Casanova’s works started being rediscovered and recognized in the last decade thanks to Demipage, who edited and republished his works in 2000.

Felix Francisco Casanova was born in 1956 in La Palma, Canary Islands. His father was the poet and dentist Félix Casanova de Ayala. His mother was a breathtaking, green-eyed beauty from whom he inherited a hypnotizing, almost angelical look. In the afternoon she would play the piano and people from the neighborhood would come to listen. So Casanova was brought up in a very cultural environment. That is why he wrote brilliant poems and won many literary prizes at a very young age, spending all that money on vinyl records. Psychedelic rock and jazz music were his passions; Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane, his idols. He adored the freedom that these musicians expressed through their music, a freedom that could turn the entire world upside down.

Félix Francisco Casanova

Félix Francisco Casanova

Casanova’s career was really fast-forwarded. At the age of 15, he had already formed his own rock band and belonged to a literary movement called Hovnos, which literally means “shit” in Czech. He soon moved to Tenerife, where he applied for Spanish Studies at the University of La Laguna. At the age of 17, he won the most important poetry contest in the Canary Islands―Premio Julio Tovar―with a collection of poems called El invernadero (The Greenhouse). A year after, he won the Pérez Armas novel contest with Vorace’s Gift. Casanova wrote it in just 44 days as he did not have much time to hand it in to the contest.

Vorace’s Gift tells the story of Bernardo Vorace, a writer who constantly tries to commit suicide until he finally discovers he is immortal. That immortality will make him see life and the people around him with a very skeptical and satirical eye, which is actually what makes him great. Like the enfant terrible Casanova was, Vorace makes fun of all the solemnity and seriousness of some poets and people he runs into, for they all seem stupid behind the masks of the prude society of that time.

Casanova died in 1976 at the age of 19. The family and official version states he died because of a gas leak while he was having a shower in his apartment. Others say he committed suicide, following the same fate as Bernardo Vorace. Either way, he died in water, which he had always felt threatened by, as we can read in his poems. This may seem an allusion to our water boundaries in the Canaries. Water shuns us away from the rest of the world and somehow functions as some sort of tomb. His mind and imagination needed to go beyond the limitations of physical boundaries and other boundaries reality imposed on him. That might be the way he felt in a small island with a provincial society.

Some say that he reached immortality through death. I disagree. We can find his immortality in his poems and prose. If he were still alive, he surely would have achieved a well-deserved place among the greatest authors of the Spanish literature. Death is never a way to immortality; it is only a tragic event.

The reason I wrote this post is that learning of this French translation made me think of two things. First, it is fantastic news that Vorace’ s Gift has been translated into French, although there is still more works to translate. I am really grateful Casanova’s work has finally been made available for the international public. However, it is still limited. French, although an incredibly beautiful language, is only the 16th most spoken language in the world. Which brings me to my second point: why not English? English is the third most spoken language in the world―after Chinese and Spanish. And, let’s face it, it is the international language. This is something that I will go through in a post soon: Why has not Canarian literature captivated a broader public in Spain? And why is it that many potentially successful novels are often not translated?

 

Demipage’s Spanish cover and Les Allusifs French one. They both look great!

In this case, having Casanova translated into English would be a fantastic idea. And I really believe that, with the right kind of publicity, Casanova´s works would achieve great success.

I first read Casanova’s works at the age of 16 when my Spanish teacher recommended them to me. I have admired Felix Francisco Casanova and his imaginative and striking poems every since. When I heard there was a French translation, I did some research to see what was available in English. Unfortunately, there was very little info and it was mostly inaccurate. So, taking into account the absence of English translations of his work, our poet is most likely unknown to the English-speaking world. That is the reason I started all this research. I hope someday a publishing firm decides to get him translated into English. For the literary translator it sure will be an amazing challenge!

Last June, a very long-expected college project culminated with the printing of a self-edition of Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy. The project consisted of translating the book by the Scottish writer into Spanish for a Literary Translation class (with just ten students) to put into practice our translation techniques and imagination, as well as to explore in depth our mastery of the Spanish language.

When I first heard of the project I felt really enthusiastic about it, since I have always been interested in editing and publishing literary works. So when our Professor, Ricardo Muñoz Martín, suggested the idea of actually designing the book and printing it, I just went head over heels.

The translation process took over four months and the students in the project were divided into three groups―one for each of the three short novels included in the book―and each group had a project coordinator. In my case, it was José Luis Castillo Flores, who did a great job at evenly distributing tasks and managing time and deadlines. The project involved a great deal of work and it developed into a huge challenge because of Welsh’s use of the English language, with funny phonetic adaptations, such as “Ye just like tae have yir cake n eat it.” Despite the difficulty of the language at times, the project was great fun, incredibly entertaining and certainly hilarious to translate.

Once the translation was finished, we were advised to proofread and edit it; a task that could only involve two students. Otherwise, constant disagreements would arise easily among more proofreaders, which would have hindered and considerably slowed down the process. So we voted among ourselves to choose who would be in charge of proofreading. Finally, the writer and translator, José Cardona, and I were assigned the task. We voted Cardona because of his incredible knowledge of the Spanish language and culture. And I was told I had been chosen because of my interest in the publishing industry. This would be a fantastic opportunity for me to have a first look into this fascinating world.

When the proofreading was over three months later―the both of us were really busy with seminars and other projects―, we started thinking about the design of the book. Darío Cedrés came up with the idea of having pictures taken of us all―including Professor Ricardo Muñoz―with a pill in our mouths, and editing them Warhol-like for the front cover. We all agreed it was a great idea so José Luis got us all together and took the pictures. They looked great and, once Ana Lesmes edited them with Photoshop, they looked even better! We were getting excited as we were feeling the project was starting to take shape.

  

Have a look at one of the official covers, and our own.

Then, it was time for the designing of the book. I used Adobe’s InDesign, an amazing application, and I got to do things with it I never had thought of. I had some previous notions of it, but even so, I had to learn new features and the whole process helped me learn how to use the program very well.

Finally, we took the book to the print office of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. After several weeks of further work on the cover and the design, we had it printed. Of course, the short print run would be only for the members of the Literary Translation Course and there would be only one copy for the University’s Library. It was intended only for academic purposes. Anyhow, the first time I held it in my hands felt amazing. It really did. Like artists often say of their work, the final result is like some sort of son. It is yours. And in this case, it was ours!

In my humble point of view, I daresay we all did a great job. You can check it out yourself at the library of the School of Translation & Interpreting at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at any time.

Last but not least, I would like to thank my colleagues―and friends―for being able to work with them and for the great job they all did. I also want to thank Professor Ricardo Muñoz for his invaluable advice and support during the whole process.

Please check out the teaser of the recent movie based on the third story of the book as an appetizer before reading this great novel! Enjoy!

Hello, everyone! I would like to give you my warmest welcome to my new blog on translation and publishing. I will be posting some interesting aspects I deal with everyday on translation, localization, editorial and web design which I hope you will find useful and entertaining. I would love to get some feedback so do not hesitate to contact me at any time. Have a good read!