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Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Aurora Venturini - Women (Not) In Translation

Have a read of the biography that I’ve put together from a few sources, it alone reads like a fictional character, a resume that sits alongside some of the greatest and celebrated names in world literature. Not only literary names, we have huge historical characters, one name should spring to mind as the inspiration for Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous musical and Alan Parker’s film “Evita”. A stunning background of influences.

Aurora Venturini was born in La Plata Argentina in 1922, the cousin of her paternal grandfather was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the celebrated author of “The Leopard” (‘Il Gattopardo). A novel exploring the Sicilian aristocracy, was originally rejected by two publishers, it was published posthumously after Tomasi di Lampedusa died of lung cancer in 1957. In 1959 the prestigious Strega Prize was awarded for the work and in 1963 Lucchino Visconti directed a film adaptation.

Venturini graduated from the Universidad Nacional La Plata in Philosophy and Education Sciences, but already a teacher to fund her studies she was also a contributor to “the city of poets” by having a number of poetry books published. Her work “El Solitario” won the Premio Iniciacion Award in 1948 (although her bibliography shows it was published in 1951!!) and actually accepted the award in person from Jorge Luis Borges. A speechwriter for Juan Domingo Perón’s Buenos Aires governor Elena Caporale, who later introduced Venturini to Eva Perón, who appears as a character in a number of her works.

Fleeing Argentina in 1956, the year after Perón’s overthrow, Venturini settled in Paris, studying psychology at the Sorbonne, there she became friends with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Eugène Ionesco and Juliette Gréco.

Also a translator she was presented with the Iron Cross medal from the French Government for her work in translating François Villon and Arthur Rimbaud.

Aged eighty-five, in 2007, she was awarded the Premio Neuva Novela Award for her book “Las primas” (‘The Cousins’). It was a book specifically composed for the literary contest arranged by Página/12. She has been dedicating herself recently to earning recognition for her past literary work, and as a result older works are reappearing in newer collections. An example being her 2012 collection “El marido de mi madrastra” is made up of twenty short stories, sixteen of which were previously published in ‘Hadas, brujas y señoritas” in 1997.

The collection “A Thousand Forests in One Acorn” (compiled by Valerie Miles), includes the first English translation of her work, chapter one of “Las primas” (‘The Cousins’). As metioned in my review of this wonderful resource each writer also uses their own words to describe why they have chosen the piece as one of their favourites, they talk about their influences and in some cases answer some questions. Here is the section “Coda” where Venturini is asked a question:

Before leaving for Paris, you received a prize from Borge’s own hands, and later, when you were eighty-five, you won another award form young Argentine writers who considered you one of their own. Narratively, Paris was like and intermezzo between Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires.
I began writing here but I love Paris very much. It was the happiest time of my life, amazing to be in Paris at the height of existentialism. I entered university in 1942 and ended up with a doctorate in Philosophy and Education. Afterward, with the Revolución Libertadora in ’55, I had to leave, and in Paris I specialized in psychology. The French authorities were good enough to give me citizenship and I was able to work. Nothing like what happened to me in Argentina after the fall of Perón, where I was attacked over and over. But no one remembers that and no one talks about it. Because people who went to war don’t talk, the ones who talk are inventing, because if someone told you what actually happened no one would think it was possible. But I went to Paris and that influenced me because I was with the greatest writers. I was with poets like Quasimodo, I took courses with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, I was very close friends with Violette Leduc. We had such beautiful experiences, the nights we’d get together in the Latin Quarter. And now, here, the “youth” prize for Las primas opened the door to many opportunities, the novel has been adapted for the theatre several times and has been translated into many languages.

Sadly, not English. Aurora Venturini’s sole English work available appears in this collection, yes, Chapter one of Las primas. From forty works (the ones mentioned in the ‘bibliography’ of “A Thousand Forests In One Acorn”), and noting the above comments that some works have reappeared in different guises, there is still not a full work of hers available in English!!!

The section of Las primas that we have in the anthology shows deep characterisation, it is the tale of a mentally disabled child, her voice explaining her struggles, her handicapped sister’s woes, and her struggle to be a painter, although recognised as a gifted one. The language is Faulkneresque in style with grammatical errors, these are the words of a child who cannot read nor write but can paint:

I never admitted that I learned to read time when I was twenty. That confession embarrasses and surprises me. It embarrasses and surprises me for reasons you’ll find out later and lots of questions come to mind. One I remember especially: What time is it? Honest truth I couldn’t tell time and clocks frightened me just like the sound of my sister’s wheelchair.
She was even more of an idiot than me but she could read the face of a clock even though she couldn’t read a book. We weren’t typical, never mind normal.

Our translation here was performed by Steve Dolph.

Another shining example of a talented writer, simply ignored by the English speaking world. A writer who was friends with literary greats, a writer who is celebrated in her own country, a writer surely we should know more about. One who is still working, aged 92, isn’t it about time we had access to more than a chapter from a novella?

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