Sense of place is paramount in Jennifer Croft’s beautifully woven English translation of August, by Argentine author Romina Paula. The places that find a voice in both Paula’s original and Croft’s translation are shared places, places that exist in the collective Argentine consciousness, yet ones that also hold different meanings for each of us. Thematically, the novel picks up the long-standing Argentine paradigm of civilization and barbarism, of North and South. Paula is so quietly, yet forcefully able to set her tale on this stage—one some might consider overplayed—that August easily stands out amongst the post-Borges trajectory of Argentine fiction.
The novel takes the form of a diary in which Emilia, now a young woman, documents her return to her hometown in Patagonia from Buenos Aires. We as readers know none of this at first, however; we only know that “(i)t was something about wanting to scatter your ashes; something about wanting to scatter you.”
Over the windings and musings of several diary entries, we eventually learn that Emilia has returned to scatter the ashes her best friend from adolescence, Andrea, who committed suicide at sixteen. Life has gone on for Emilia in Buenos Aires as well as for those she left behind: her father is re-married and has new children—Emilia, avoiding him for the most part, comes on an invitation from Andrea’s parents— and her old flame now has a wife and kids of his own, or, as the narrator explains, “[his truck]’s full of snot and traces of child, and in the back seat there’s a car seat scattered with crumbs, one of those seats that you buckle the child into. Oh. A real family man. The worst part is that little seat, just that little seat, which being as dirty as it is, full of life, gives me an idea of the extent of the damage. This, this seat and everything that it represents, is irreparable.”
Croft’s translation not only shows a keen mastery of the formalities of language, but also a true connection to Argentine culture and an understanding of place. In a text replete with references to pop culture, she manages to effectively gloss anything specifically Argentine, while also leaving some of the references up to the reader to divine, including one that I was particularly fond of: “That’s how I end the day, this long day of shock upon shock: crying and eating a sandwich, like Chihiro but sadder, because it’s not even because my mom and dad were turned into pigs that I’m crying, it’s for myself, because I’m nothing now/because I’m such an idiot.”
In this same excerpt is also one of the most interesting aspects of the text: the use of slashes. Commonly used by translators to distinguish between different possibilities for translating a single word or phrase, the slash can, at times in August, read as a vestige of the translation process itself rather than the idiosyncrasy of a diary. Though Croft’s translations of the sections of the actual text on either side of the slash are spot on, I found myself wishing that these bits had been packaged up a bit less perfectly.
It’s obvious that Croft is dedicated to replicating the effect of reading August in its original Spanish, and she thankfully avoids—for the most part—the all-too-easy path of producing a chunky translation for the original. Only in a few minor instances does the language sound a bit too convoluted or formal for a diary. Similarly, some of the light comic relief present in Emilia’s diary does not shine through as well as English as in Spanish.
On the whole, though, Croft has produced an exemplary translation that carries with it not only words, but place, emotion, and memory. August is not only an exciting introduction to new Argentine narrative, but also a fresh take on the perennial backdrop of the South. For Paula to so clearly convey this theme without a direct appellation to Sarmiento or Facundo is impressive, and Croft’s rendering of this literary effort is a feat that should not go unnoticed.
By Romina Paula
Translation by Jennifer Croft
Feminist Press, 2017
Nathan Douglas is a PhD student at Indiana University studying Spanish and Catalan Literatures, as well as critical theory and literary translation. He is currently working on an English translation of Catalan author Lolita Bosch’s first novel, Això que veus és un rostre (2005).