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Ricardo Menéndez Salmón

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Ricardo Menéndez Salmón was born in Gijón, Asturias in 1971 and has been hailed as one of the most interesting and profound writers of contemporary Spanish fiction. He writes for newspapers such as El País and a range of literary journals as well as having published an unconventional travel book, a play, poetry, short stories and eight novels to date. Menéndez Salmón has won numerous literary prizes and been widely translated although – perhaps surprisingly – none of his work has yet been made available in English.  La noche feroz/The Savage Night (KRK Ediciones, 2006, re-edited Seix Barral 2011) was selected by New Spanish Books for their UK Panel’s Choice in 2012 and La luz es más antigua que el amor/Light is Older than Love (Seix Barral, 2010) was chosen in 2011.

Menéndez Salmón is best known for the so-called Trilogy of Evil, comprised of La ofensa/The Offence (Seix Barral, 2007), Derrumbe/Tremor (Seix Barral, 2008) and El corrector/The Proof Reader (Seix Barral, 2009). In the year of its publication, La ofensa won the Qwerty Barcelona Televisión prize, the Librería Sintagma prize for Best Book of the Year, as well as being chosen by the literary journal Quimera as Best Spanish Narrative of 2007.

 

Featured Reading Group Title

La ofensa (The Offence)

Kurt Crüwell expects little more from life than to one day take over the family tailoring business in the German city of Bielefeld. With the outbreak of the Second World War, however, Kurt is drafted into the German army and everything is turned upside down. Despite his father’s advice to avoid attracting the attention of his superiors, Kurt is chosen as a driver for an SS officer and their lives become grimly entangled from that moment on.

Divided into three very different parts (described by the author respectively as journalistic reportage, philosophical treatise and a conversation between the dead), the book follows Kurt’s life and devastating wartime journey through three countries, finishing up in London in 1946. Narrated in a curiously detached third person style, the novel is an intense reflection on morality, suffering and the human capacity for evil. Examined through the prism of Nazism, the issues raised could apply equally well to any situation in which the usual barriers have broken down and man’s instinct for cruelty is permitted to take free rein. Menéndez Salmón delicately dissects not just pain and fear, but notions of love, redemption and expiation, as well as the limits of the human psyche and body.

 

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5 Comments

  1. [Written as I read.]

    A garbled first sentence-paragraph that I had to read three times to capture – and I suspect it’s not the draft translation but the amount of information chucked into it that is the problem. The same lack of a fluent “voice” is a continual obstacle to any hope of disappearing into the pleasure of reading. There seems to be a desperation to stuff information into the sentences, rather than letting the story unfold naturally, and a lot of this information seems irrelevant to the focus, reading as a kind of “showing off”, to me. I’m thinking all the time about the author instead of the story. For example:

    “Once they had shared a raspberry tart, and after somewhat clumsily communicating the object of his visit…”, is an example of a missed opportunity to let us in on something of interest: why not describe/let the dialogue between them describe vividly something of the character of each, particularly the narrator, who is here simply a statement of facts I have to reject or accept as I’m told.

    The fourth section has the narrator “revealing to us” the meaning of the things his father says. Somewhat of a last straw for me, this kind of writing. It may be the point of the story, to see and hear only the narrator’s view of things, but I find it an irritating way to narrate. Indeed, I dislike the kind of “know-it-all” narrative tone. It keeps me at a distance and I wouldn’t want to read any further.

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  2. Cassie Stafford says:

    This reads like a sketch of a novel rather than the novel itself. It’s hard not to put that down to bad writing – lots of telling instead of showing, as the commenter above pointed out. It didn’t make me care – in fact I was bored.

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  3. anna milsom says:

    Hello there, I’m the translator who proposed this novel to the Spanish reading group and translated the short extract that is available here. I am all for the AOS model of making new work in translation available to anyone who wishes to read and comment on it, so let’s see if we can get a bit more dialogue going on this one. I’ve read four of Salmón’s novels so far and been profoundly affected by each of them; this trilogy and La noche feroz/The Savage Night. Each of these books, it seems to me, has its own unique voice(s), but yes, I think there is a deliberate strain of observant detachment in much of the writing. The author has said, ‘In reality, I always write the same book, one which, whether in the guise of a short story or the structure of a novel, revolves around a few fundamental questions: why do pain and evil exist in the world? Does beauty possess the capacity for redemption? How can we survive the absurdity of existence?’ In the context of the story being told in La ofensa, the narratorial distancing – which I think is partly what is being criticized in the previous two posts – seems entirely appropriate to me and I made efforts to maintain it in my sample translation. Kurt’s apparent inability to become engaged in the events going on around him later contrasts vividly with the physical reaction he suffers as a manifestation of devastating emotional damage. In other reading group postings, the difficulty of choosing a sample extract has been mentioned. I decided to translate the opening of the novel because the pivotal event around which the book revolves comes just 20 or so pages in. I didn’t want to give too much away. The novel is divided into three parts, each written in rather distinct styles – it would be great to hear from anyone who has read it all.

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  4. Stefan Tobler says:

    This is the next book on my reading list, Anna.

    At the London Book Fair this year I happened to mention the author and a few others to Jorge Herralde, perhaps Spain’s most astute literary publisher of the last few decades (the founder of Anagrama of course, who have published so many great authors, including Juan Pablo Villalobos).
    His ears pricked up. He was very much a fan of Salmón’s writing.

    So I’m looking forward to it.

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  5. Words Without Borders published a story by this author last year and on staff it was voted one of our 2012 favorites. He’s an interesting author in the sense that he seems to have quite a broad range. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to take a look at this particular title but he is definitely someone to keep an eye on!

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