Gig Review: Ariana Harwicz in Bath

On Wednesday of this week I travelled to Bath for an unusual but very much enjoyed literary event. Hosted by Toppings Bookshop, Ariana Harwicz, author of Die My Love and Feebleminded, was there to talk about her writing and her books. These are available in English from the fabulous Charco Press who are based in Edinburgh and publish books in translation, several from South America. Born in Buenos Aires, Ariana currently lives in France and writes in Spanish. She spoke to the audience in her mother tongue and was ably translated by Carolina Orloff. Carolina is co-founder of Charco Press and co-translated both of Ariana’s books. As someone who speaks only English, I was impressed that so many in the audience appeared to understand all that was being said.

The evening opened with an introduction by Matt, one of Toppings’ booksellers, who spoke of how viscerally he had been affected reading Die My Love. Ariana then gave a reading from the original version of Feebleminded. This was followed by the same section read from the English translation by Carolina.

“if we don’t suffer there’s no passion”

“falling in love is the ultimate curse”

Matt asked a series of pertinent questions that enabled an interesting discourse on the creation of Ariana’s trilogy (the third book will be published in English next year). The following summary is produced from notes I took on the night. Some of the responses are translations of Ariana’s answers and some are additional comments from Carolina. My aim is to reflect the gist of what was said. I hope it will be of interest.

Q: What is the purpose of the trilogy?

When asked this question an author tries to go back in time. This process happens later, when the author becomes a reader of their own work. It is a deconstruction process. The more truthful answer is the writing comes from a mystery. I don’t know where it comes from.

What unites the three books is a feeling of desperation in the main character. There is a certain style, perhaps like musicians creating a triad. It is the punctuation that unites the books.

Q: How does it feel to revisit your published books that are only now coming out in English?

To write a book is a miracle. To see a translation is another miracle. It is as if I have written another book. Translation is like two people making music. It has to work together. There can be slight changes – politically, ideologically. Some authors hand over their work to a translator and don’t get involved – beyond their responsibility. I am not like that. The involvement comes from the dialectics. Writing is an act of translation.

C: Ariana was recently told her books were thought in French but written in Spanish. This was said as a criticism but she thinks it is a good thing.

Q: Has there been variation in response from Spanish and English readers?

To be here is a political act. It is expected that a Latin American author will write about certain things. I have an eight year old son who is Franco-Argentinean. All he gets from television is: sexist, stereotypical, poverty, dictatorship. I am not interested in these clichés.

It was through the English translation that Die My Love came to be translated into fifteen languages. Now it cannot be so easily pigeonholed. I write literature, not just feminist Latin American.

C: One of the biggest aims as publisher is to do away with such limitations. Charco launched with five Argentinean writers from the same generation yet all are different. It is good to break preconceptions.

A: Reactions of different readerships stems from cultural history. The Hebrew version is getting very different reactions from the English. Some regard the writing as akin to science fiction, others recognise it as realism.

C: These social constructs and clichés exist because Latin American authors are not widely read. Charco wishes to change this.

A: The true political act is to step away from expectations and write what I want.

Q: What was it about the English translation that particularly resonated?

I live in a small French village, write from the margins, produce cryptic literature. English being such a massive language it opens work up to so many readers. What I want to do is break language, undo and then remake, add new meaning. I was told when the books came out they would be impossible to translate.

The challenge of translation is to get across something of that which is broken. The translation had to be hidden, quiet, convoluted – whatever the original conveyed. To leave the bare minimum of image or colour or feeling.

I would not wish to live without writing – inventing language. It is the language that is the main character.

After a second reading, the audience were invited to ask questions.

Q: Characters are never named. Do they recur in the trilogy?

C: Ariana has a background in drama and film.

I am interested in the idea that characters have no names, that it is up to the reader to assign them. I would even prefer books to have no titles, preferring to keep things as pure as possible. There are darker elements. Each character is condoned to their role in society. It is this that defines them.

Q: The ‘mad woman’ – are they thrust into this role? Do they embrace it?

Having to name people, reducing them, creates a misunderstanding. When Die My Love came out many readers understood it was a woman suffering post partum depression. But I never thought of this pathologically. I wanted to give a wider perspective.

Q: The language moves as though alive. Does Ariana edit to achieve this?

Consider artists who paint outside, trying to find an image but the image cannot exist without surrounding sound. Feebleminded comes from an image of a female village idiot. I then saw her again on a train and realised it was not idiocy but obsession.

I also observed the relationships between mothers and daughters. I found something disturbing. There were two bodies that looked alike. What was going on there, between them?

Sound matters more than realism. I just write, uninterrupted. The language comes out.

Q: When you picture the people who love your books are you surprised that they look like me? (a young, white, male)

That they are normal? To answer I go back to my first novel. Being a foreigner is a lonely experience. I wrote for myself, out of desperation. I didn’t know it would become a novel. When I heard it was to be published I went into the forest and cried. It was a way of saving myself.

C: In Argentina the book has been adapted for the stage yet uses the same words as in the novel – it is striking.

I am interested in writing from deep solitude, sorrow, tortuous loneliness.

Matt: The power of good writers is that they evoke situations the reader has been unable to express themselves.

Indie publishers are great because they are places of discovery. And unlike some, Charco has not published a bad book.

As audience members queued to have their purchases signed by both Ariana and Carolina, I left to catch my train home. The evening offered much to consider about both the power of writing and of quality translation.

Die My Love and Feebleminded are available to buy from good bookshops such as Toppings, and direct from Charco Press.

 

Author Interview: Ariana Harwicz

As part of my feature on the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses I invited publishers and authors whose books were selected for the longlist to answer a few questions or write a guest post for my blog. Today I am delighted to welcome Ariana Harwicz, author of Die, My Love.

My thanks to Carolina Orloff from Charco Press for translating my questions and Ariana’s answers.

 

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background?

I always say that I was born when I wrote Die, My Love. Before then, I was alive, in the same way that everybody is alive, yet for me that is not really being alive. I had recently had a baby, I had moved to live in the countryside next to a forest. I would watch the thunderstorms, I would go horse-riding, but that was not life for me. And then I wrote Die, My Love, immersed in that desperation between death and desire. Die, My Love comes from that. I wasn’t aware I was writing a novel. I was not a writer, rather, I was saving myself, slowly lifting my head out of the swamp with each line.

2. Can you tell us about Die, My Love?

I think I’ve said it all before, but if I had to add something, I’d say that in addition to being a novel, it is also a mournful poem, a song, a sonata by Schubert or Rachmaninov mixed with ‘Stronger than me’ by Amy Winehouse. I believe that this story about a woman who is apparently foreign, who doesn’t speak the local language, who gets corrected when she talks, married to a man born in the country and with a newborn son, plus a lover who lives nearby with his wife, is a molotov cocktail. This is the story of a woman faced with two possible fates: being a mother/wife/lover or walking the riskier, marshy path of simply Being.

3. What inspired the book?

Motherhood as a form of prison, a trap, an ordinary destiny. Writing the novel was a chance to escape that.

4. George RR Martin has said there are two types of writers – the architect, who plans everything in advance, and the gardener, who plants an idea and allows it to develop organically. Which are you?

Without a doubt, I am the second kind of writer, a gardener, not at all disciplined. I don’t plan anything in advance, for me that would be comparable to trying to plan a kiss, a certain look, the shot of a gun. No, that’s not how I write. There may be a tone, a universe, a given violence before the writing begins, but then the novel has to be lived. You have to be brave enough to live through it and see what happens.

5. What is your favourite part of being a writer?

It is not a matter of having a favourite part but rather the crucial difference between a life with writing and a life without. Being a writer allows you to live more, to live twice, to live always on two different stages. It is a fatality rather than a choice.

6. And your least favourite?

Nothing.

7. Do you enjoy social media?

I post literary texts, some comments on literature, but all in all social media seems to me to be politically useless. It is the weapon given to you by the system that you are out to criticise. It is like drinking water from the enemy’s hands, or ranting and raving in the owner’s mansion. It seems to me that providing a space for the most rebellious to complain as long as they do it within the system’s language restrictions and general terms and conditions, is a cynical and very smart gesture.

8. Do you seek out reviews of your books?

It depends. Whether I do or not, I am always interested in the reader. The reader is everything, is a sacred figure, is the one who will tell me whether what I write is dead or alive.

9. What do you do when you wish to treat yourself?

I go for a drive out into the woods where there are no speed control cameras!

10. What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

The Diaries of Emilio Renzi by Ricardo Piglia,

Castle to Castle by Louis-Ferdinand Céline,

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.

11. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction?

With Frank Sinatra so that he sings while we eat, or with Gerard Depardieu, even though I am sure he’d try and get me drunk.

12. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would?

What would I be willing to do in order to write?

 

Thank you Ariana for providing such interesting answers to my questions. You may follow Ariana on Twitter: @ArianaHar

Click on the book cover above to find out more about Die, My Love. 

Keep up with all the news on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses by following on Twitter: @PrizeRofc

 

Guest post by independent publisher, Charco Press

As part of my feature on the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses I invited publishers and authors whose books were selected for the longlist to answer a few questions or write a guest post for my blog. Today I am delighted to welcome Carolina Orloff from Charco Press, which published Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz.

 

Charco Press was founded at the end of 2016 by myself, Carolina Orloff, and my partner Samuel McDowell. We were spurred into action by what we saw as a stagnated landscape with regards to Latin American literature available in English. ‘Oh I love Latin American writers’, was the usual refrain when we asked friends and colleagues, before the usual names would be rattled off: García Marquez, Isabel Allende, maybe Borges, and very seldom a more contemporary name such as Bolaño; and always ‘magic realism’. In other words, although all these writers are iconic and still very much referential, the general view we encountered of the literature from this part of the world tended to be dated by 30 or more years.

Meanwhile, across Latin America, scores of extremely talented writers have been emerging in the last decades, with stories and perspectives that have captured the attention of readers not just in Latin America and Spain, but across the world. These are voices that have been shaped by a very different experience of recent history, politically and socio-economically speaking. They have stories to tell that are fuelled by experiences that can be touching, funny and, at times, brutal. Why should English language readers be left out? Why should they be denied the discovery of these award-winning authors?

So, we started Charco Press. The name itself is a nod to our mission – charco is Spanish for ‘puddle’, and ‘crossing the puddle’ is a colloquial euphemism in some parts of Latin America for heading overseas, going to new territory. That is what we are doing with these titles – bringing them across the puddle into the territory of the English-speaking readership.

We are both new to publishing, although not new to literature, and it is fair to say we have been learning the ropes as we go. Our first three books were released in September 2017. Three very different titles, by three very different authors, each with a very distinct style, and none of them have been translated into English before. All three are from Argentina, a way of us demonstrating our point, of demonstrating the breadth of originality coming out of just that one country alone. In 2018, we are publishing authors from a broad array of countries: Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil.

Upon embarking on this venture, we were buoyed to quickly discover that we are not alone in our mission to put forward new voices in literature, to take some risks and put some faith in the reading public. There is a sturdy group of proud independent publishers that are forging their way in the literary world, and making a radically positive change. That is what makes prizes like the Republic of Consciousness invaluable, highlighting the amazing work being put in, and the incredible writing being unearthed by these publishers. We are thrilled that one of our first titles, Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, has been selected as part of such a high-calibre longlist. It is a wild ride, bruising and inescapable, very much the epitome of Ariana’s style of writing, which is definitely impactful and quite unique.

Gradually, and in unison with this group of likeminded publishers, we hope to enrich the literary landscape for the English-speaking reader. To provide them with new and exciting options – whether they choose to take them or not!

 

My thanks to Carolina for participating in this feature. You may follow Charco Press on Twitter: @CharcoPress

Click on the book cover above to find out more about Die, My Love. 

Keep up with all the news on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses by following on Twitter: @PrizeRofc

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, published by Charco Press

As part of my feature on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses I am posting a number of guest reviews written by a couple of my fellow judges. Today I welcome back Paul Fulcher who provides his thoughts on Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff), published by Charco Press.

 

“People here prepare for winter like animals. Nothing distinguishes us from them. Take me, an educated woman, a university graduate – I’m more of an animal than those half-dead foxes, their faces stained red, sticks propping their mouths wide open.”

My 2017 reading year has focused on the UK’s small independent press scene, source of the most exciting literary fiction. Many were already familiar to me (Fitzcarraldo, Tramp Press, Peirene, Galley Beggar, And Other Stories) but Charco Press is new, not just to me, but to the publishing scene generally. Their name is taken from the colloquial expression ‘cruzar el charco’ meaning ‘crossing the puddle’, a way of referring to when someone is going overseas, or travelling between continents, and their mission is to bring exciting Latin American literature, via translation, to the UK. Their mission statement is worth quoting in full:

“Charco Press was born from a desire to do something a little out of the ordinary. To bring you, the reader, books from a different part of the world. Outstanding books. Books you want to read. Maybe even books you need to read.

Charco Press is ambitious. We aim to change the current literary scene and make room for a kind of literature that has been overlooked. We want to be that bridge between a world of talented contemporary writers and yourself.

We select authors whose works feed the imagination, challenge perspective and spark debate. Authors that are shining lights in the world of contemporary literature. Authors whose works have won awards and received critical acclaim. Bestselling authors. Yet authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English.

Until now.”

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz was one of their two launch books last Summer and tells the story of an unnamed new mother and her – strikingly also unnamed in her narration – husband and first born child, six months old as the novel opens. It is a visceral and haunting story of post-partum depression which begins:

“I lay back in the grass among fallen trees and the sun on my palm felt like a knife I could use to bleed myself dry with one swift cut to the jugular. Behind me, against the backdrop of a house somewhere between dilapidated and homely, I could hear the voices of my son and my husband. Both of them naked. Both of them splashing around in the blue paddling pool, the water thirty-five degrees. It was the Sunday before a bank holiday. I was a few steps away, hidden in the underbrush. Spying on them. How could a weak, perverse woman like me, someone who dreams of a knife in her hand, be the mother and wife of those two individuals?”

This is not a mother who is sentimental for her child or the mystery of birth:

“If I’d closed my legs and grabbed his dick, I wouldn’t have to go to the bakery for cream cake or chocolate cake and candles, half a year already. The moment other women give birth they usually say, I can’t imagine my life without him now, it’s as though he’s always been here. I’m coming, baby! I want to scream, but I sink deeper into the cracked earth.”

University educated and from urban surrounds, the French countryside where she lives also depresses her:

“These people are going to make me lose it. I wish I had Egon Schiele, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon for neighbours; then my son could grow up and develop intellectually by learning that there’s more to the world I brought him into than opening old skylights you can’t see out of anyway. As soon as all the others had escaped to their rooms to digest their meals, I heard my father-in-law cutting the grass beneath the snow with his new green tractor and thought that if I could lynch my whole family to be alone for one minute with Glenn Gould, I’d do it.”

Harwicz wrote the book listening ‘obsessively’ to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata n. 13 in E flat major, Op. 27 n. 1 and Glenn Gould‘s rendition of part of the Sonata captures the book’s mood.

As the novel progresses, in a stream of fevered thoughts, it is not always clear what actually takes place and what – notably an affair with another parent in the locality – is imagined:

“My baby was practically asleep on his feet but he still went on stumbling through the house, holding onto the curtains and the century-old coffee tables and throwing whatever he found to the floor. Ashtrays, cutlery. Maybe he was staying awake to make sure I didn’t spend the night in another man’s arms. It was a long time before I was finally able to put him in the cot, stop his crying, turn the pages of one of his books about astronauts or sea captains and convince him that the best thing you can do at night is sleep. Mummy’s telling lies.
[…]
As soon I stepped outside, I saw him and forgot about everything that had come before, about the smouldering house, about my little soldier sleeping with his eyes open like a rabbit, about all those days of anguished anticipation. And I devoured him. Because that, my dear son, is what the night is for.”

But her relationship with her, even in her account, remarkably patient husband is characterised by an extreme form of love-hate:

“We’re one of those couples who mechanise the word ‘love’, who use it even when they despise each other. I never want to see you again, my love.”

(and some years later at her son’s birthday party)

“Something made me rush inside and shut myself in my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I hope you all die, every last one of you. As usual, he came knocking on my door. Darling, honey, sugar, sweetheart, my bunny rabbit, my love, I can’t remember all the names he called me. And I said nothing. Are you okay? And I still said nothing. Come out, all the guests are leaving, don’t ruin this. Where are the party bags? And I said, Why don’t you leave me the hell alone and die. Just die, my love.”

The contemporary translation by Sarah Moses (Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina) and Carolina Orioff (Editor and Co-Director of Charco Press) adds to the power of the work.

It has, as other reviewers have noted, a flavour of Fever Dream meets Sorry to Disrupt the Peace. A striking novel, and I was immediately prompted to subscribe to Charco Press’s forthcoming releases.

PF

 

You may read my review of Die, My Love here.

Coming later this week, a guest post from the publisher and an interview with the author of this book.

Keep up with all the news on The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses by following on Twitter: @PrizeRofc

Book Review: Die, My Love

Die, My Love, by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff), is a raw and unflinching journey through the mind of a new wife and mother whose feelings of entrapment are driving her over the edge. Her thoughts are brutal and increasingly desperate as she seeks to find a way to satiate her personal needs. The mind-numbing banality of her day to day existence is proving more than she can take. Her erratic behaviour verges on the dangerous, including for her child.

Over the course of eighteen months the woman struggles through each day in a state of rage against her circumstances. She rails against her husband’s inability to satisfy her, including sexually. She hides in woodland near their home leaving the child with his grandmother or, at times, abandoned. She screams into the void when unable to articulate her needs in a way those close to her find acceptable. She recognises that her actions are beyond the pale but cannot quell the demons stifling her from within.

The narrative exposes the grotesque in the actions of people going about their quotidian lives. Observations of the ordinary are harsh in their candour. The woman displays little moral compass as she searches for a way to survive. She cannot retain the composure needed to present herself to the world as is expected, frequently angering or embarrassing her husband and then proving incandescent at his reactions.

The woman knows that her behaviour is unacceptable and yearns to act in the way others do when confronted with the needs of family. She observes her husband with their son and ponders if they would be better off without her. She suppresses the longing she feels for the freedom this would give her. There is pent up anger towards the man she chose to share her life with for coping whilst her needs remain unmet.

Although competently written this is not a comfortable book to read. Its prose pierces the armour most people don in order to maintain the illusions of happy families. Occasional thoughts, quickly suppressed as horrific, are here given free rein. A passionate, intense and disturbing acknowledgement of the stripping of self that parenthood can bring.

Die, My Love, is published by Charco Press.