This week for the Translated Fiction Book Club, we had the pleasure of reading Fate, from Charco Press, written by Jorge Consiglio, and co-translated by Carolina Orloff.
Set in the city of Buenos Aires, Fate follows the lives of a group of very different characters. First, we meet Amer, a taxidermist, who later falls for Carla, a younger member of his therapy group for smokers. Then we meet Marina a meteorologist, and her husband, Karl with whom she only seems to communicate through text or voice message. Karl, a German-born oboist, and Marina have a son together, Simón. On a field trip, Marina meets Zárate, a man she embarks on an affair with. The novel follows this set of characters as they make a series of potentially life-changing decisions that leave us questioning whether the results occur thanks to fate or chance. The novel’s main focus is on the relationships between both Marina and Karl, and Amer and Carla, the former being an established, long term relationship, and the latter being very new. Fate explores decisions made by each of these characters that effectively change the course of their relationships. Marina, for example, decides to enter into a romantic relationship with another man Zárate. This ultimately ends in her deciding to separate from her husband Karl and making him leave the house. Was it fate or chance that led Marina to meet Zárate? Amer first sets eyes on Carla at a smokers group therapy session, attending for a second time only to see her, he is disappointed that she is not there, yet after Amer attends the meeting a few more times, Carla finally reappears, once again, is this fate or chance?
In the last few pages of the book Karl decides to take his son on a trip to a funfair, they take the train to get there, and go on one of the rides, a Ferris wheel. On the Ferris wheel, Simón is watching the clouds in the sky…
“There were a few clouds, maybe five, and one of them, stretching across the horizon, reminded him of his teddy bear’s head. […] This image, both distinctive and fleeting, awakened something undefinable in his body, without knowing quite how, that bought him face to face with uncertainty. Perhaps this was why he quickly looked away, searching for a reference point. His gaze lit upon the sight of a passing train, its progress neither fats nor slow. The railway tracks were so close that he could make out the faces of the passengers through the windows: transient figures that entered his emotional mesh and anchored him to reality.”Jorge Consiglio, Fate
The train that Simón focuses on is the exact train that Amer is travelling on. He is on his way to buy beekeeping equipment for a new property he has inherited, Carla was supposed to join him, however, after cancelling last minute, Amer is left disappointed and alone on the train. He too takes to gazing at the clouds…
“After many years, things had fallen into place for him, and those clouds in the corner of the sky, so limpid and serene, were symbols of his state of mind. He looked at them again – not to decipher anything, but just to confirm that these good things had come to stay. He noticed that one of the clouds, abundant, intricate – was neatly curved, forming a shape much like the head of the grizzly bear he’d recently seen in the documentary. […] When he lowered his gaze, he saw a funfair. A funfair! He was surprised. He stared at the Ferris wheel, struck by its design and stylishness – he mistook slowness for sophistication – as it turned in the air. He was so close to the ride that he could make out the faces of the people on it. […] Yet what was remarkable, truly remarkable, is that he didn’t see Simón, who at that very moment was turning his head – like a tiny satellite – slightly to the left. They missed each other by seven seconds. A mere seven seconds. A trifle, a smidgen, an iota, a fragment of time that, amid the vertigo of the evening that seemed to last forever, was absorbed like any other detail into the imperfections of the day.”Jorge Consiglio, Fate
What is the significance of this almost encounter? Why did they not see each other? Was it fate that they were not meant to lock eyes, or was it simply chance?
To start things off, Carolina Orloff talked about her translation process. Orloff discussed the ‘rule’ of translating into your ‘mother-tongue’ and how she defies this, for many translators, it is not a case of translating into the first language you spoke, but the one you now feel most comfortable with. Speaking specifically about Fate, Orloff said that “some books grab you, and you start hearing them in your target language, this happened with Fate.” On co-translation, Orloff said her and Petch’s method was for Orloff to do a rough first translation into English “attempting to capture as many layers of the Spanish as possible” before passing it on to Petch to edit. This, she says is when “new layers are built” and the “new book begins to form”.
Moving on to the group discussions, we discussed whether fate or chance prevailed in the novel. This was a difficult question to answer, however, we eventually leaned more towards fate, as the characters often seemed to resign themselves, letting fate take its course. We then talked about what we thought of the ending. For myself, upon first reading, the ending left me wanting more, especially as this book is framed by an author’s note discussing that fate and chance often lead to big changes in the course of someone’s life. So, when a big event does not occur in the final pages of the novel, this is unexpected. Upon taking time to reflect on the ending, it is clear that this seemingly ‘eventless’ end is intentional, in fact, this is the point of the entire novel, all of the minute decisions we make, that we barely even think about, can lead to huge consequences, or consequences that are so small we don’t even realise.
I really enjoyed the reading for this week’s Translated Fiction Book Club, and will definitely be ordering some more brilliant books from Charco to see me through the rest of the lockdown. For now, I look forward to reading Restless, from Nordisk Books, written by Kenneth Moe and translated by Alison McCullough for next week!