Hebe Uhart’s “A Trip to La Paz” is delightfully misleading in that we never arrive at our destination; we never see the city that touches the clouds. This essay is concerned with a different kind of beauty—the getting there, the buzzing potential of travel. It encapsulates why we embark on grueling car rides, on flights, on long train journeys, in the first place.
These poems and versions are from Claudia Prado’s El Interior de la Ballena (Editorial Nusud, 2000), a novel-in-verse based on Prado’s agrarian family legacy in Patagonia. Prado is an Argentinian poet and filmmaker known for making groundbreaking, socially progressive art. El Interior de la Ballena was her debut, a poetry collection that received the bronze Concurso Régimen de Fomento a la Producción Literaria Nacional y Estímulo a la Industria Editorial del Fondo nacional de las Artes (this is the third place award for the biggest literature prize in Argentina). Mixing fiction with oral history, Prado imagines her ancestors’ 19th century migration from the Basque Country into Argentina and, ultimately, southward into the oceanic desert. These poems offer a rare look at the Patagonian plateau between 1892 and 1963, years of intense immigration and population growth, written through a feminist lens. In addition to poems written in the poet’s own voice, the book also makes wide use of monologue and persona techniques, weaving together this intergenerational story through a multiplicity of voices: here speaks a woman who, against her will, is taken to that desert; here is revealed the thoughts of an orphan laborer; here, a chicken thief celebrates his sad prize. In El Interior de la Ballena, Prado uses her page to privilege the often unseen and unheard, composing in silence as much as sound, and in so doing creates a poetics of Patagonia itself. When read together, the poems quilt a place, time, and lineage through a story of strong women, wounded and wounding men, and a rural and unforgiving landscape from which hard-scrabble labor is the origin of survival.
On December 5, 1976, I arrived in Madrid from Argentina. I flew Iberia airlines, caught the plane in Montevideo because I was afraid of the disappearances happening at the border. I left wearing summer clothes, as if I were a tourist heading for the beaches of Uruguay, then, two or three days later, landed in Madrid, where it was winter. My father and sister saw me off. It took me six years—the years of the dictatorship—to return.
Edurne Portela’s novel, Formas de estar lejos, recounts the story of the slow disintegration of a marriage, worn down by apparently small acts of emotional violence (invisible, even) which, taken together, gradually destroy not only the protagonist, Alicia, but also the perpetrator of those acts of violence: her husband, Matty. The title of the novel itself, as is often the case, is virtually untranslatable. A literal rendering might be Ways of Being Distant although, as I worked on my translation, I found myself thinking of it, in a nod to Gabriel García Márquez, as Chronicle of a Divorce Foretold, one in which the breakdown of the relationship can be attributed not so much to the inherent incompatibility of the partners (whatever that might mean) but rather to the alienation they experience in their personal and professional lives, and the way they respectively succumb to and exploit wider social forces such as patriarchy, male violence, social conservatism and racism. I don’t think it is giving too much away to say that this situation gradually transforms the narrator of the novel into a prisoner and her partner becomes her unhappy jailor.