“The Spaniards read very little story”

The normal should be that the books will last. The most important titles in the history of universal literature have maintained their validity, with greater or lesser intensity, throughout the centuries. However, the speed of the publishing market today is dragging us down a fierce situation: rare is the book that takes flight if in its launch phase it has not had the expected impact. Seven empty houses, the compendium of stories by Samanta Schweblin (Buenos Aires, 1978), contradicts this tendency. It has more lives than a cat, or at least the same ones, following the number that announces its title.

Awarded with the Ribera del Duero Award siete años ago—again the happy number—when it was still an unedited embryo, the stamp Foam pages took charge of its publication. And his promotion. It is necessary to highlight this last point, because it is assumed to be decisive in the success that Schweblin’s book of stories has achieved in this period. Last November 17 we learned that the Argentinian writer won the prestigious American National Book Award in the category of translated literature.

Seven Empty Houses —the English translation of Megan McDowell that has catapulted the prize—has landed in the North American market by the large door. 17 editions after its launch in Spain in 2015, it has received praise from media like The Washington Post or The New York Times. Eight days after receiving the award, what we are interested in knowing is the opinion of Schweblin, translated into more than 25 languages ​​and author of novels Rescue distance (2015), which achieved the Tigre Juan Award and it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2017, and Kentucky, both published in Random House. His first books of stories were The core of the disturbance (2002) and Birds in the mouth (2009).

question What feelings did you have when you received the news of the National Book Award?

answer When I entered the longlist I was having dinner with a friend, and I confess that even we googled the prize, because we didn’t quite understand what it was about, and we couldn’t believe it either. Then the book went to the shortlist a month later, and there I celebrated with a toast among friends. I didn’t think the book was going to be awarded, because Seven empty houses in a book of stories, and in general it is difficult for storybooks to reach this type of awardsthat’s why I celebrated, because it’s for me shortlist it was already the prize. Then you find out whether or not you were the winner at the time. A ceremony is held in New York attended by the finalists.

p. Why is this award, and in this category, so important?

R. The United States continues to have a central place in the publishing market, and this is the most important prize that a foreign author can win in that country. I don’t know the final impact this will have on the books, but I guess it will give more visibility and make the book reach more and new readers.

“The National Book Award is the most important prize that a foreign author can win in that country”

p. What does he think he has? Seven empty houses so that, seven years after its publication, it continues to be so successful?

R. That would have to be asked of the jury, it’s really hard for me to think about this, I’m sorry I don’t have enough distance. I do think that, among many other things that unite the stories in this book, there is a special focus on “the houses”. Houses like these are rigid, unique structures, under which we live, but also like the idea of ​​home and family. We have changed a lot these years, we have discovered new ways to form families, to fall in love, even our fears and the threats that torment us have changed, our ideas of society, and even how the spaces and cities in which we live should be.

>>But we continue to live under the same rigid houses from decades ago. The symbolic and the real are both structures that bother us, they are too big or too small. What is the secret to rearm? How do we learn to move the body and the soul in other ways, if we remain locked in these structures? These questions cross all stories, they crossed me seven years ago when I wrote this book, but I think they are still very contemporary, perhaps even more urgent than before.

p. Which of the “seven houses” has aged better since 2015?

R. maybe “Cave Breath”. This story comes to mind because it is mostly about aging problem, and perhaps it is one of the most universal and timeless problems with which we have been dealing since we have been aware of death. Or maybe “Unlucky Man”which is a story that, as it particularly draws attention, has been translated and published beyond the space it occupies in the book.

p. Since receiving the Ribera del Duero Award for a volume of short stories, he has published two novels. In which genre are you most comfortable at the moment?

R. I’m always writing short stories, it’s the genre I go to by instinct. Sometimes a story grows and grows, as happened to me with the story that ended up being my first novel, Collection distance. And sometimes stories appear that from the beginning do not work as stories, because of the very essence of what is being told, as happened to me with the second novel, Kentucky.

“Spanish and Latin American authors now share much more reading than previous generations”

p. The frequency of her publications, slow, and the length of her works, short, make us think of an unprolific author, a circumstance that we do not interpret as something negative, of course. But how is your relationship with writing?

R. I write slowly, yes, but also I publish much less than I write. Not everything I write ends up in a book. I have hundreds and hundreds of notes, many unfinished stories, a lot of play, test and essay writing. I also spend time teaching creative writing. I like it, and it serves me, because I feel that I learn a lot, and I learn the most valuable and difficult thing to learn in writing, which is to theorize the processes that we generally go through intuitively, to order them as formally as possible, in order to transmit them, and then manage to apply them in literatures, traditions and voices very different from mine.

>>All these processes seem fascinating to me, and I suppose that my writing is also slow because of this, because many times I distract myself from my own writing to take notes on processes, problems, intuitions, and even failures. The construction of fiction fascinates me sometimes even more than fiction. It is as if he intuited there a truth still more necessary than the one that can be constructed by fiction.

p. Are you looking for the good moment that goes through the story? What authors are you interested in?

R. There are some new and young voices in English literature, like the North American one David James Poissantor the English one Julia Armfield, which I love. And to this year I also add my discovery of the great Deborah Eisenberg, which I hadn’t read before because it wasn’t translated and I think it’s wonderful. But in Latin America, and very much in Argentina, we have a very strong storytelling tradition, to such an extent that the vast majority of novelists also have a book of short stories, which is much rarer here in Spain. I think now of some wonderful stories that I sometimes even use in my classes, by Pedro Mairal, Vera Giaconni, Marcelo Cohen, Liliana Hecker.

“In the most literary publications, I would say that Spaniards read more in Latin America than vice versa”

p. How are Spanish and Latin American authors related? Are they read? Do they share readings?

R. We share readings, yes. And if we talk about contemporary readings, I think we share much more than previous generations, because it is published more quickly, the distribution between countries is a little more diverse and effectiveyou read a lot digitally, and it even happens to me with some authors that we practically read live, that is to say, that we share manuscripts even before publishing. I don’t know how, because it’s not my field of interest, but I’m sure we’ll read more about it it must also have some impact on what we writethere must be something of this that maybe later, with more distance, could be visible in the readings.

p. How do Spaniards read Latin American authors?

R. In the most literary publications, I would say that Spaniards read more in Latin America than vice versa. Although it’s just a personal feeling, I don’t know who or how to evaluate the subject. Yes, I believe that Spanish people read very little short stories, and I don’t think it’s because they’re not interested, but because they’re not interested I believe that there is a market that does not finish reaching its potential readers. I think that if they read more contemporary short stories they would be surprised by the quality, power and innovation with which some short story writers have been working these years.

p. Are you currently working on a new literary project?

R. I’m working on a new book of stories, but there’s still work to be done, and I’m always a little scared to talk about what isn’t finished yet. I like to think that I have all the freedom to work until the last moment, and if instead I tell a little about what the projects are about, I feel that there is something that crystallizes, that is lost. I am also working on a new novel, which will come after the book of stories, and it is set in Argentina, where I keep returning, at least mentally, every time I sit down to write.

p. By the way, we were used to a literature of the unusual in her works, something that other authors have maintained. Are you still in this line or are you exploring other styles?

R. Of course that I keep working around the stranger, and that delicate line between the possible and the impossible. As David Lynch said, every work of art, to be considered a work of art, must be saying the same and unique sentence all the time: This world is a very strange place. And I love to keep thinking from that place.


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