In conversation with Uxue Alberdi I/II: FIL Guadalajara, music and rebellion

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


Uxue Alberdi talked with writer Mariño González about her novel ´Jenisjoplin´ (Consonni, 2020) as part of a discussion on ´Literature, music and rebellion´ at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL). Alberdi said that her book was largely based on the experiences of her adolescence. She told listeners at the renowned international book fair in Mexico what the Basque Country of her youth was like. She also talked about the doubts and issues in the Basque Country at that time and which remain today. After all, as a writer, Alberdi is more interested in questions than answers. She comes to promote debate.

-How was your time in Mexico?

-It was very interesting and eventful. I took part in three talks as part of the official programme. One was ´Literature, music and rebellion´, in conversation with Mariño González; another was ´Readers present: Jenisjoplin´, with four local readers, writers and journalists. We talked about their interpretations of the book; finally, I also took part in ´Echoes of the FIL´ and went to the secondary school in the town of Tala to talk to the students there about books and literature.

I also gave three presentations outside the book fair programme. One was with writer Julián Herbert at the Impronta bookshop and publishing house. At the Gandhi bookshop we shared our experiences with Claudia Cabrera, translator of the book ´Tránsito´. I also had an interview about "Jenisjoplin" with writer Yael Weiss. And I had over 15 interviews for local media.

-Was it different from your previous experiences?

-What I was doing was not unfamiliar, except that I usually work in Basque. What was different was the reader. I write for the Basque community, for my readers are Basque speakers. This is the kind of opportunity that comes from translating my work. It allows me to reach new readers, to be read in another time and place. It changes the way you look at the book, which is very interesting. That gives you confidence as a writer.

I’ve talked with other Basque writers about this, and I think we have a complex. We think we write well for our little corner of the world, that our material is good for our community, but we find it hard to imagine our work being successful in other settings. Travelling to another literary system, such as a fair, shows you that you are a writer among other writers, that your book is one among thousands and that it is in dialogue with all of them. In this regard, it’s empowering.

I thought my participation in the Guadalajara International Book Fair would be more anecdotal, but it was really quite ‘normal’ in the best sense of the word: I was very well received and many readers came to the event. I was able to see that by creating from what I am, from my place, I can communicate with readers from any other culture.

-That you can approach universal from individuality.

-We are often pigeonholed as ‘exotic’. Basque is not considered an ‘adult’ language, a language for expressing or really explaining anything, so Basque-speaking creators are often not treated as ‘adults’. When you are translated into a dominant language, you feel that ‘ve been discovered. Much like colonialism did with America and the Americans. They were already there, and so are we.

With the translation of the book ´Reverso´ (Reykjavik Editions, 2021), for example, many people were surprised to see that I could think about machismo through bertsolaritza. The thinking was: How can bertsolaritza, which comes from tradition, bring new things to the table? A discipline which, moreover, lacks counterparts among the dominant languages.

We already know this. I don´t think it´s a question of self-esteem, but of the way we see ourselves. We know that we must go forward with our own, even knowing how we will be viewed. You go forward knowing who you are. I think that´s why you feel empowered to operate on an international level.

-Does writing from that position affect the story?

-Stories from the margins must be told from the margins. There are experiences that cannot be lived from the centre, nor can they be told from that vantage point. Very few people are always in that position, and that’s why it’s so interesting to hear stories from other peripheries (of language, sexuality, gender...). After all, you can write a story in a non-dominant language that, in terms of economic class or race, is very close to power. And a marginal story can be told in a dominant language.

For example, in Mexico I had the opportunity to dialogue with Herbert, as I mentioned earlier. One of his books is ´Canción de tumba´. He describes what it was like to grow up as the son of a prostitute, among other things. It seems to me that living with some kind of oppression helps you to cultivate a sensitivity to other types of oppression.

- The Spanish translation of ´Jennisjoplin´ is being well received, and Consonni will also publish a translation of the book ´Dendaostekoak´ in early 2022: ´Trastienda´.

-Yes, ‘Trastienda´ will be published in February. The work Consonni is doing is crucial. It’s not only about translating books from Basque, especially by women, into Spanish, but also about how and why they do this work; there are many ways of translating from a minority into a dominant language.

I appreciate the context they provide for each translated work, pointing out that they are indeed works originally published in Basque. Until a few years ago, very few books were translated from Basque. As a result, only one or two names reached beyond our borders. Now, the translated works shine a light on each other, creating a more diverse and realistic image of the people and discourses. In addition, the publisher Maria Mur (‘Jenisjoplin’) and Iruña Iriarte from Reykjavik are Basque speakers. I think it is important that the translation be done conscientiously, as there are many decisions to be made when translating a text.

- In recent years we have been able to enjoy the enriching experience of reading world literature translated into Basque. Has the time come for the internationalisation of Basque literature?

-One, two or three voices cannot represent a people, a culture, a collective history. There are many living voices in our literary system. There are plenty of quality texts that can represent themselves.

I went to a talk with Yásnaya Elena Aguilar in Guadalajara. She writes in the Mixe language. I´d like to read her work in Basque. So, it is clear to me that the door to translation must be open both ways. At the same time, It’s important to be clear about where we are translating from, so that we are aware of the opportunities and risks involved. With the arrival of new literary systems, new attractive opportunities can be created. Each system has its own scale and resources, its own advantages and disadvantages. You have to know where your focus lies; Mine is on the Basque language.

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