Last week’s New Yorker (which arrived a week late, so I’m still working my way through it) has an essay by Wyatt Mason on the Spanish novelist Javier Marías, who sounds like a writer I’d enjoy reading; this certainly appeals to me:
Over the years, Marías has translated a vast range of American and English writing, including poetry by John Ashbery, W. H. Auden, Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, Frank O’Hara, and Wallace Stevens; and fiction by Anthony Burgess, Raymond Carver, Thomas Hardy, J. D. Salinger, Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Updike…
This work has had an impact on Marías as a writer. On the most basic level, Marías has made all his narrators in some sense translators; whether they happen to teach translation theory or work as interpreters, ghostwriters, or opera singers, each is giving voice to other people’s stories.
But what brings me to post about it is a reminiscence about his mother:
[My mother] published an anthology titled “España como preocupación” (“Spain as a Preoccupation”), with the subtitle “Literary Anthology.” Her name was Dolores Franco—her surname, which is rather common, being the same as the dictator’s. Dolores… in Spanish means literally pain, or pains. The censorship argued that “Spain as a Preoccupation,” plus Dolores Franco, meaning “pains Franco,” wouldn’t be accepted.
It seems inevitable that the more power you acquire over others, the more you fear retribution (since power over others is always, in a basic sense, undeserved), and fear makes people do foolish things. This particular bit of folly is essentially comic, but the fear and folly of power, it hardly needs saying, often have more serious consequences. The novelist’s father “was denounced by a former friend, who accused him, falsely, of writing for Pravda and of consorting with Communist leaders”; he was jailed and lost his job, which in the context of his time and place, made him a lucky man. The stories are very different, but share this quality: it is difficult for those who haven’t experienced life under a dictatorship to fully credit them. How can men run a country who have so little sense?
Addendum. No sooner did I finish the Mason essay and turn the page than I found a brief review of Richard J. Evans’s The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939, which has the following pertinent sentence: “Evans shows that Nazism was all the more effective for its irrationality and arbitrariness: there was no logic in which to take refuge.” I suppose folly has its rewards.