In translating the novel Forty Lost Years into English, Fum d’Estampa Press and Peter Bush have gifted Anglophone readers a forgotten gem of twentieth century fiction that not only offers us a fresh view on the effects of the Spanish Civil War, the ensuing exile many were forced into and Franco’s dictatorship, but also a text which remains strikingly relevant and present.
First published in Catalan as Quaranta anys perduts in 1971, and enjoying a second wind when republished in 2016, Forty Lost Years is narrated by Laura Vidal and covers forty years of her life, starting in the 1930s when she is a young adolescent.
Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez,translated by Christina MacSweeney, is a brilliant, intense mystery where the past resurfaces in the present to suggest new possibilities for the future, amidst growing tension and constantly subverted expectations.
Mercedes Rosende is Uruguay’s leading woman crime writer. In 2005 she won the Premio Municipal de Narrativa for Demasiados blues, in 2008 the National Literature Prize for La muerte tendrá tus ojos and in 2019 the LiBeraturpreis in Germany for Crocodile Tears.
The only other literature I have had the good fortune to read in translation from the second-smallest nation in South America, includes the poetry of Mario Benedetti, and the prose of Juan Carlos Onetti, the latter translated by Peter Bush.
“What happens when fear is automated in your mind?” Sergio Bitar, Minister of Mines in the cabinet of Salvador Allende, Chile
This year, European Literature Days, one of my favourite literary festivals, was held in Krems, lower Austria, and posed the question “What defines a good life?” Austrian heavyweight, Robert Menasse (whose satirical novel, The Capital, is translated by Jamie Bulloch and published by MacLehose Press) gave the opening talk and we were introduced to an array of international writers, all with some deep connection to Europe.
“Unlike economic migrants, refugees have no agency; they are no threat. Often, they are so broken they beg to be remade into the image of the native.”
A blend of memoir and reportage, The Ungrateful Refugee packs a powerful punch and should be recommended reading for secondary school aged children.
Dina Nayeri describes her personal experience intertwined with that of the people she interviews as they all flee from persecution and death. Boats are braved and seas crossed by people fuelled by terror, courage and hope. The refugees are rescued and pitied — often by the regimes that created the trouble and strife they are escaping from in the first place. This small but important fact is invariably overlooked as the new arrivals are demonised by populist rhetoric that is bolstered by polices that reek of organised selfishness. Refugees “need friendship, not salvation.”
Nayeri revisits her own chaotic past in 2016 when she becomes a mother. “I had changed my face and hair, my friends, my education, my country and job so often, that my skin felt raw.” The five sections of her narrative — Escape, Camp, Asylum, Assimilation, Cultural Repatriation — recount the fate of individuals from different backgrounds as well as refugee support volunteers, lawyers and other decent human beings. The uniting theme is that refugees be given a voice, an identity, and that their stories be heard. Continue reading Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books