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Translating Mario Levrero

levrero It’s amazing to me that Mario Levrero has never been translated into English, although I can think of a few reasons why. While he wrote and published during the so-called “boom” in Latin American literature (70s and 80s, along with García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Donoso, Fuentes, etc.), this eccentric, generous, and modest Uruguayan writer doesn’t really fit. Unlike his peers in the region, Levrero (1940 – 2004) is not particularly motivated by politics. He tends to look inward, placing characters into odd, unlikely situations to see how they react and adapt. Rather than dipping into Latin American history and social struggle for his inspiration, Levrero prefers science fiction, detective novels, John Carter and Philip Marlowe over Sandino and La Malinche. Which is to say, he’s not interested in writing a “national novel” to end up on Uruguayan middle school or university reading lists. His curiosity stretches in a different, maybe more experimental, direction.

The classics of the Levrero bibliography include the so-called “accidental trilogy,” three novels that he wrote over the course of a decade in the 60s and 70s that he later decided form a nice trilogy. I will be publishing my translation of one of those novels – El lugar, The Place – here. A slim little volume of about 200 pages that would probably today be categorized as “speculative fiction,” it has a velocity and mystery about it that place it among the very best novels of its kind, a puzzle with endless solutions and sudden flashes of violence that I find deeply unsettling. I won’t say anything more about it, just that the final few chapters are some of the most intense reading I’ve ever experienced.

I’m publishing these chapters as I finish translating them – in serial, if you will. I plan to put out one a week, so check back often. When I finish, I will compile the full translation into a single HTML file that can be easily dumped to an e-reader or tablet. I like Readability for things like this, but I hear Instapaper is nice too.

Finally, I guess I should say something about copyright. I have no idea who holds the rights to translations of Levrero’s work. (Maybe Random House? Yikes.) I’ll just say that I’m not profiting from this at all, and anyway, digital versions of El lugar litter the Internet. I’m pretty sure Levrero would love this, with his early-adopter devotion to his desktop computer and the World Wide Web, but that’s generally not good enough for lawyers. Anyway, let’s see if anything bad happens. Read on!