An encounter with Svetlana Alexievich through the eyes of her Spanish translator: an essay in World Literature Today

Jorge Ferrer and his English translator Jacqueline Loss, writing for World Literature Today, offer us an interesting glimpse of Svetlana Alexievich’s reception in Spain. Ferrer was born in Havana and now lives in Barcelona and translates Russian-language writers, including Svetlana Alexievich, into Spanish. I love knowing that a character from Secondhand Time has a life of her own on the stage of a Barcelona theatre.

I’m just going to simplify the problem for us to understand: (1) A Belarusian writer who operates by means of a method usually called “novel of voices” includes in a book a woman’s testimony; (2) An actress reads that testimony in Spanish translation, falls in love with the witness, takes that text to the theater, and constructs, in a parallel manner, a life in the real and digital worlds; (3) The actress asks the translator of the original text into the language in which she represents the character to write a new monologue for the witness, that is, to take her out of the realm of reality and transport her into fiction—from being a person, to turn her into a character and, instead of translating the life transcribed for her, write a future life for her.

https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2019/autumn/date-svetlana-alexievich-berlin-or-smuggling-bugs-soviet-moscow-jorge-ferrer

Beyond the encounter with Alexievich herself, Ferrer takes us on several delightful tangents in this essay. This piece feels particularly appropriate this week, when we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.