Spanish writer's act of faith

Updated: 2013-11-19 07:50

By Shi Xi (China Daily)

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Samanta Schweblin, one of the best young Spanish language novelists as nominated by British literary magazine Granta, has visited Beijing to promote the first Chinese edition of a collection of her short stories.

The collection, Birds in the Mouth, has been translated and published by Shanghai-based publisher 99reader.

"Sometimes I hold the Chinese edition and choose a story at random and try to guess which one it is. But it is almost impossible for me; even the length is different," says Schweblin.

"When a book is translated into a Western language, I can at least understand some parts of my stories, and therefore suffer some doubt about the quality of the translation. But my Chinese edition is more like an act of faith."

Schweblin's works have been translated into 10 languages including English, French and German.

"Samanta's stories are daring and have a disconcerting beauty to them. Like a poet, she traffics in images," said Daniel Alarcon, the English translator of Schweblin's works in 2010 when the author was included in Granta's list of best young Spanish language novelists.

Spanish writer's act of faith

A Yi, a budding novelist in China, compares Schweblin's stories to Chinese paintings. "Both of them leave a lot of open space for readers' imagination."

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1978, Schweblin says she is influenced by the literary traditions of the La Plata area, which is the home to many famous Latin-American novelists, such as Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Schweblin says she is interested in writing stories of ordinary lives where suddenly something extraordinary happens, something new, strange or unknown.

"The stranger and the unknown are not always related to zombies, ghosts or aliens, the stranger and unknown can be something related to the known world, something that actually could happen," she says.

In the title story of Schweblin's Chinese edition, Birds in the Mouth, the narrator is a divorced father who worries about his 13-year-old daughter and her mysterious appetites. His daughter, it turns out, eats live birds.

The idea for this story came to Schweblin when she was browsing the Internet, "Click, click, click, a picture of a little girl who looks frightened with her hands covering her mouth came to my eyes," says Schweblin.

"But after taking a closer look, I found her mouth under her hands was actually smiling. It was so intriguing to me that I started to think about what happened to the girl, who she is, and what she just had done. Little by little, I developed the story in my mind, and then wrote it down."

Although there are elements of violence and bloodiness in Schweblin's stories, she skillfully hides them. Schweblin says she thinks the trick to writing a thrilling story is to stop the monster from appearing, while maintaining a frightening and mysterious atmosphere.

When asked about her experience in China, Schweblin says the unfamiliar language and cities have allowed her to have more interaction with the local people, which is valuable for a writer.

"Due to the language barrier, I encountered some difficulties when getting the door pass at the place where I am staying," says Schweblin. "But now every time I pass the door, the guard will smile and give me a victory gesture."

Schweblin is currently a fellow of the DAAD Artists' Program and lives in Berlin.

Xing Yi contributed to this story.

Spanish writer's act of faith

(China Daily 11/19/2013 page22)