Monday, December 27, 2010

Ena Lucia Portela's "100 BOTTLES" in MIAMI BEACH Dec 29

Last year, I had the pleasure of translating Ena Lucia Portela's Cien Botellas en Una Pared into English. It was finally published last month by the University of Texas Press as One Hundred Bottles.

The job came right after I'd worked on Junot Diaz' Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, creating a Spanish-language version out of a seemingly impossible to translate novel that incorporated not just good chunks of Spanglish but also linguistic cameos by Urdu, Japanese, German, and a smattering of other languages, plus multiple and multi-layered references to pop culture, music and Dominican and American history.

So when Portela's book landed on my desk, I was both exhilarated and apprehensive. Probably none of the current crop of young Cuban writers -- except the word wizard Orlando Luis Pardo -- plays with language as much as Portela. The book had been a big hit in Cuba and gotten critical raves in Europe so there was little question in my mind that my immediate circle and my literary peers would be looking at it particularly closely. To ratchet up the pressure, it's Portela's book-length English-language debut.

What I found in translating Portela was an experience wholly different in every way from translating Diaz. For starters, the material -- crazy doings in Havana in the 90s -- was familiar. And the language, so very Cuban, so very Havanesque, was utterly recognizable in letter and spirit. The translation flowed like water, to be frank.

I'll be reading from the book for the first time Wednesday, Dec. 29 at the Books & Books in Miami Beach at 927 Lincoln Road. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. If you're in town, please stop by and tell me what you think.

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