A New Yorker at heart, Andrea Labinger gave a literary dimension to The Daily Refresher bar last Tuesday.
Labinger, a translator by profession, was invited for the “Reading the World Conversations series” organized by Open Letter, the University’s non-profit translation press.
She was there to present her translation of Argentine author Guillermo Saccomanno’s novel “Cámera Gesell,” or in English, Gesell Dome.
“This book in particular was difficult to translate,” she said. “The dialect is a jargon, a sociolect, pertaining to a particular area.”
She also faced the hurdle of Lunfardo, the Spanish dialect that is spoken in a small part of Argentina, mainly by its Italian immigrants]. Lunfardo gained popularity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and even native Spanish speakers have a hard time deciphering it.
With the support of fellow Argentinian noir writer, Alicia Plante, Labinger finished the translation in two years time. Seeing Labinger being awarded the prestigious PEN Helm Award in 2014 for her translation, Open Letter soon after decided to publish “Gesell Dome.”
Saccamanno, the author of Gesell Dome, also received numerous awards for his literary achievements, including the Premio Nacional de Literatura and the Dashiell Hammett Prize.
The novel is focussed on Villa Gesell, a beach town, south of Buenos Aires in Argentina, on the Atlantic coast. The author has resided there for several decades.
Gesell Dome is an episodic novel that circles back and forth describing the lives of the common people of Gesell.
Villa Gesell is a middle-class resort town whose primary revenue comes from tourism. In the off-season months, the town is filled with poverty, corruption, and crime.
The denizens most times are desperate during this time as their resources start depleting.
There are specific episodes in the book which are taken directly from the author’s personal experiences. One of the protagonists, Dante, shows different facets of Saccamanno, but there are also metaphors for the purgatory culture that the poet by the same name portrayed in his Divine Comedy.
Gesell Dome is written in mosaics, in which ads and newspaper articles are integral. The term “Neo-noir” is coined in order to describe Gesell Dome. This is not the noir genre which encompasses detective fiction—this neo-noir has a broader definition and, according to Labinger, represents the infernal society that Gesell dome depicts.
“Noir in french means dark, as in murky—seamy side of life,”’ Labinger said while describing the neo-ness of this book.
“We put lot of trust in the translators,” Open Letter Editor Kaija Straumanis said.
Frequently, the editors don’t speak the language of the original book, but they have faith in the translator and believe that nothing is written without the consent of the author.
The mission of Open Letter is to make world literature more accessible to the English-speaking population. Over the years, it has published books translated from Spanish and French.
Additionally, the group is considered a pioneer in translating books from Bulgarian to English.
They are limited to publishing ten books a year, which is not a small number, relative to the size of the publishing house. Open Letter started the reading series to promote international books and dissolve cultural borders.
The next event in this series will be held again at The Daily Refresher on Oct. 11.