On translating The Neruda Case

Happy Publication Day to Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case! I am so utterly pleased that this book is finally available in English. Ampuero has been enchanting readers around the world with his bestselling novels for nineteen years now, and it’s just not fair that English-language readers have had to wait so long.

I spent last spring translating this novel, enraptured with the process, utterly absorbed.

The cover of THE NERUDA CASE, out today from Riverhead Books.

I’m honored to have been part of it. One more wonderful Latin American novel breaks the linguistic glass ceiling. Book lovers everywhere, rejoice.

What, you ask, is The Neruda Case about, and why read it? Here’s Publishers Weekly’s

starred review of it:

Chilean author Ampuero’s first novel published in English, a moving fictional interpretation of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda’s final days in 1973, appropriately enough sings with poetic metaphor. Neruda, who’s ill with cancer as Chile teeters toward upheaval because of his friend President Allende’s reform platform, seeks out unemployed Cuban Cayetano Brulé in Valparaíso and hires him to investigate the whereabouts of a former acquaintance, Dr. Ángel Bracamonte. Never mind that Brulé is no detective…The plot twists from Mexico City to East Germany, from lies to truth, from uneasy peace to political coup, from life to death. Read this one as much for the story as for the wonderful way Ampuero has with words.

The Daily Beast picked the book as a Hot Read of the Week, and had this to say:

Pablo Neruda gets the detective treatment, and a character straight out of film noir helps the poet navigate through some international intrigue involving Allende and the Stasi…A superb translation by Carolina De Robertis whips [this novel] into a pulsing, panting work.

I’ve also just published an essay with Publishers Weekly on how translation gives me joy and makes me a better writer, what I love about this book, and what may startle some readers about its take on Neruda’s private life. If you wish, you can read the essay here.

Congratulations to Roberto Ampuero, who is celebrating this day in Mexico City, where he’s currently the Chilean ambassador to Mexico. If you toast with champagne, querido Roberto, I hope you enjoy every drop.

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On PERLA’s launch – and being very pregnant

It’s been exactly two months now since Perla was published in the United States. During those two months, I’ve had the joy of meeting readers at events in Berkeley, Oakland, Corte Madera, Seattle, Houston, San Diego, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. There were beautiful receptions for the book in three cities.

A very pregnant author reads at Mrs. Dalloways, Berkeley, CA

And, all over the country, Argentineans came out of the woodwork to tell the crowd their own stories with the disappeared: their own exile or incarceration, the loss of friends to disappearance, their experience of not knowing what was happening in their society until it was over, and even one man in an impeccable suit who’d been in the military at the time (this confession was not in public, but one-on-one to me). There were also many in the audience who talked about discovering this piece of history for the first time through the novel, and various immigrants who connected Perla to themes in their own homelands of Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, or Puerto Rico. It was an incredibly rich journey that, for me, spoke to the power of fiction to open a dazzling range of portals for readers.

I’ve been humbled by some of the messages I’ve received from readers, chronicling their experience with Perla, as well as the reviews in newspapers, magazines, and blogs (for a few really wonderful blog reviews, look here, here, or here). There’s a strange sort of shock to hearing people have a rich, immediate experience with a text you spent years toiling over in slow solitude. The fictional world is held inside for so long, and comes from such a profoundly personal source within, that its exposure to complete strangers feels rather startling. Intimate. Almost magical.

And now, I am home. Perla will continue to be in the world, but that initial noise of a book’s launch is slowing down.

And just in time.

Because I’m almost eight months pregnant. I breathe hard when I’m putting on my shoes. I’ve become keenly interested in staring at the wall, preferably with my feet up, and listening to my daughter’s kicks with my hands. There is my third novel, too, clamoring for me to come back and keep writing it; I do so when I can; but even that drive to write is beginning to fade in the face of birth and those incomparable days that come right after it.

In the past, I’ve sometimes felt a tension between the pull of family life and that of writing. I am passionate about both of them, I want room for both, and, like the rest of us, I live in a society that posits work and motherhood as two separate and competing realms. But today, right now, it all seems part of one harmonious picture. These are different forms of birth, and there is room for all of them in a full, large-hearted life. Not only that: these elements can nourish each other, make for a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

I am going inward, dear friends and readers. Wish me luck on the journey, as I wish beautiful things on yours.

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PERLA now released in the U.S.

It’s official: Perla is now a published book, available in bookstores throughout the U.S. For all the preparations, it still amazes me that it now exists as a physical thing – though of course, in our digital times, it’s also available more virtually, as an ebook and an audio book (which I had the pleasure of recording myself).

I wrote the very first sketch of this novel six years ago, as a response to reading The Flight, by Horacio Verbitsky, which chronicles the confession of Adolfo Scilingo, a Navy officer haunted by his role in disappearances in Argentina. Scilingo’s story was the first to reveal that some of the disappeared were “disposed of” by being thrown, naked and alive, from airplanes into the sea. The image of these bodies, lost in the water between Argentina and Uruguay, stirred in me. I wrote a two-page story in which the spirits of the disappeared rose out of the water, years after their deaths, to visit their torturers and their loved ones. This tiny story was never published, though it did win an honorable mention in a contest judged by Margaret Atwood. It became the seed of Perla.

In April, I’ll be reading from Perla in ten U.S. cities – click here for details on events.

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PERLA to be published in the UK

A title from Haus Publishing's imprint specializing in Arabic literature, Arabia books.

I’ve just learned that Perla has found its way to a British publisher. HAUS Publishing of London has bought the rights to the novel, and anticipates releasing it as early as this July.

HAUS was founded in 2002 by Barbara Haus Schwepke, inspired by the suggestion of W.G. Sebald, who urged more space for translations of world literature into English. (As a translator myself, that’s enough to make my heart sing.)

HAUS has published in-depth bigraphies and histories, and in 2008 launched Arabia Books, which includes some of the biggest names in Arabic fiction, many translated into English for the first time.

At the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair, HAUS announced Swallow Editions, an initiative to support emerging writers from the Middle East, the voices of the Arab Spring.

I’m incredibly honored to join a press with such an inspiring commitment to globally significant literature.


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Oprah Magazine + the Norwegian Foreign Ministry

What do these two fine institutions – O Magazine and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry – have in common? For one thing, they’ve both just covered my novel Perla and the overall issue of Argentina’s disappeared.

The April issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, now on newsstands, features an eloquent and generous review of Perla, calling it “mesmerizing…a moving, poetic novel about the costs of revolution and the evolutionary process that is identity.” This is the first official non-advance review for Perla, which launches here in the U.S. on March 27. (Read the full review here.)

Meanwhile, during my beautiful trip to Norway this month for the world premiere of Perla, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry created a video interview with me (with the talented journalist  journalist Carina Wint), a sensitive exploration of the disappearances of Argentina and their aftermath, and an effective primer for anyone seeking an introduction to the issue:

Meanwhile, my April book tour is just inches away from being fully set and confirmed. I’ll continue to put up details as they become solid (see here for what I have so far). I’ll be in San Diego, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Corte Madera, Oakland, and Berkeley, reading from and talking about Perla. And six months pregnant by then. Have baby belly, will travel.

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Flying to Norway

This afternoon, I’ll board a plane to Norway, the very first country to release my novel Perla, where we’ll be celebrating with a range of public events in Oslo. I’m truly and profoundly excited to share this book with a corner of the world that is so far from Argentina and Uruguay, where the book is set, and that has such a rich and graceful culture of its own.

The Norwegian cover of PERLA

Norway, of course, has made incredible contributions to global literature: Sigrid Undset, Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, to name a few. And the Norwegians I’ve had the chance to meet so far have given me glimpses of a culture of kindness and gentle strength.

I’ll never forget what my Norwegian editor wrote to me after the tragic 2011 Norway attacks: “There are flowers and silence all over Oslo.” If more cultures responded this way to mass violence, surely our world would be very different.

Perla is a book about, among other things, how to live in the wake of tragic violence, and the possibilities for resilience, rebirth, and even love in such circumstances. What a humbling opportunity it is to share this book in Norway, and to not only present Perla, but to listen and learn as well.

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PERLA’s publication: five week countdown

Perla will be released in the United States on March 27, exactly five weeks from today. In Norway, the book launches next week, and I will soon be flying to Oslo to celebrate with Norwegian readers. Even though this day has long been coming, it feels strange to suddenly feel it around the corner.

Novels are a long, slow affair. The idea for this book cooked for a year before I started writing it in earnest, in January of 2007. Since then, it has accompanied me through all the other changes in my life – including launching my first novel and becoming a mother. A novel demands that you work on it, and with it, over the years, growing alongside it, stretching your own limits to meet its evolving demands. You devote yourself to its invisible world, day after day, season after season. Few people, if any, see the fruits of your labors along the way. It’s like painting a secret mural on the back of an enormous building, where only you have access. Every day you get up and add paint to that gargantuan surface, brushstroke after brushstroke, for what seems like forever. Then somehow, at some time, you are finished, you submit the work into another’s care, and before you know it the building turns 180 degrees and your work is exposed to the street.

The exposure is both exciting and startling.

With Perla, I’ve been deeply moved to hear early readers talk about the way the book opens gates for them to discover recent Argentinean history, specifically the aftermath of disappearances and their intimate effects on families and the nation as a whole. These are stories, not only of pain, but of immense human courage, and of love’s survival against the odds – stories as universally resonant as they are particular. I have been honored to swim through these stories to write Perla.

Here are two recent starred reviews of Perla, both very kind, in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.


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PERLA profiled in Library Journal

A very kind advance description of PERLA by Barbara Hoffert, an editor at Library Journal, as part of her picks among upcoming book releases for March 2012. A highlight: “Expect richly observed detail and real human drama from this award-winning author.”

Read the full review here.

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The Invisible Mountain now available in Spain and Latin America

la montana invisiblePlaneta has published La Montaña Invisible in Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Spain.
The author will be presenting the book in Uruguay and Argentina in late June and early July. Read more here.

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PERLA, De Robertis’s second novel, to be published in March 2012

Rights have sold to Knopf (U.S.), as well as publishers in Germany, Italy, and Norway.
Read more here.

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