The Promise & Forgotten Journey, by Silvina Ocampo. With translators Suzanne Jill Levine, Katie Lateef-Jan & Jessica Powell (PRINCE ST)

 

 

 

The Promise 

Silvina Ocampo


Foreword by Ernesto Montequin
Translated by Suzanne Jill LevineJessica Powell
 

A dying woman's attempt to recount the story of her life reveals the fragility of memory and the illusion of identity.

"Of all the words that could define her, the most accurate is, I think, ingenious."—Jorge Luis Borges

"I don't know of another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don't show us."—Italo Calvino

"Few writers have an eye for the small horrors of everyday life; fewer still see the everyday marvelous. Other than Silvina Ocampo, I cannot think of a single writer who, at any time in any language, has chronicled both with such wise and elegant humor."––Alberto Manguel, author of Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

"Silvina Ocampo's prose is made of elegant pleasures and delicate terrors. Her stories take place in a liquid, viscous reality, where innocence quietly bleeds into cruelty, and the mundane seeps, unnoticed, into the bizarre. Revered by some of the masters of fantastic literature, such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, Ocampo is beyond great—she is necessary."—Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance and Associate Director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University

"Like William Blake, Ocampo's first voice was that of a visual artist; in her writing she retains the will to unveil immaterial so that we might at least look at it if not touch it."—Helen Oyeyemi, author of Gingerbread

A woman traveling on a transatlantic ship has fallen overboard. Adrift at sea, she makes a promise to Saint Rita, "arbiter of the impossible," that if she survives, she will write her life story. As she drifts, she wonders what she might include in the story of her life—a repertoire of miracles, threats, and people parade through her mind. Little by little, her imagination begins to commandeer her memories, escaping the strictures of realism.

Translated into English for the very first time, The Promise showcases Silvina Ocampo at her most feminist, idiosyncratic and subversive. Ocampo worked quietly to perfect this novella over the course of twenty-five years, nearly up until the time of her death in 1993. The narrator's conflicted memory, as well as the intrusion of memories that are not her own, illustrate Ocampo's struggle with dementia in the last years of her life, and much like the author herself, here we find a narrator writing "against a world of conventional ideas."

Praise for The Promise:

"Silvina Ocampo's fiction is wondrous, heart-piercing, and fiercely strange. Her fabulism is as charming as Borges's. Her restless sense of invention foregrounds the brilliant feminist work of writers like Clarice Lispector and Samanta Schweblin. It's thrilling to have work of this magnitude finally translated into English, head spinning and thrilling."—Alyson Hagy, author of Scribe

"A woman examines her life piecemeal, putting it together like a puzzle missing half its pieces—but the resulting image is all the more mesmerizing because of it. A deft and subtle novel that holds together as airily as a spider's web."—Brian Evenson, author of Song for the Unraveling of the World: Stories

"Silvina Ocampo's The Promise, which she spent 25 years perfecting, is one of my favorite 2019 books. It's one of the most hopeful novels I've read in a long time, about the necessity of storytelling and the power of the mind."—Gabe Habash, author of Stephen Florida

"Only a masterful storyteller could pull off what Silvina Ocampo does in The Promise; a woman lost at sea drowns in her memories, while the water—never threatening—cradles her with echoes of the past. A novel that is not a novel; a hypnosis, really."—Gabriela Alemán, author of Poso Wells

"Silvina Ocampo was once called the 'the best kept secret of Argentine letters,' and was, through her own work and that of those she championed, a key figure of modernism. Known primarily in the English-speaking world as a friend of Borges and wife to his collaborator Bioy Casares, the translation of more of her work into English is a reason to celebrate her for her own right, as one of the most singular writers of the 20th century."—Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Books, CA

"Translated into English for the first time by Suzanne Jill Levine, one of Latin Americas most gifted translators, and Jessica Powell, The Promise brings to an English-speaking public the work of Silvina Ocampo, a writer of great depth and audacity. The Promise, a novel written and rewritten over a period of 25 years, recounts the story of a woman adrift at sea telling and remembering her own life as well as the lives of others. An exquisite, fantastical, and philosophical novel that dwells about the ways one represents a life without fears or conventions. A masterpiece from an extraordinary author who deserves to be read over and over. A gem."—Marjorie Agosin, author of I Lived On Butterfly Hill

"Silvina Ocampo's richly textured world shimmers with childhood sweetness and sorrow. Her narrator's hyper-observant gaze travels through the multiplying interiors of houses, mirrors, dresses, adult giants, dream figures, and nimble acrobats, in search of love stolen by bad magic. Ocampo inhabits and brings to life a hyper-real, surreal, and resolutely feminine world ruled by unapologetic beauty and pervading sadness. She is a close kin of Remedios Varo and Frida Kahlo, weavers of the magical Latin American art that bewitches us time after time. This beautiful translation fully renders that magic."—Andrei Codrescu, author of No Time Like Now: New Poems

"There is literature that takes the known world (a dinner party or a walk with a dog, first love or a visit to friends) and shows it in a way we've never seen before; there is literature that takes us to a place we’ve never been (early twentieth-century Buenos Aires or adrift in the middle of the ocean) and makes it somehow familiar. The marvel of Silvina Ocampo’s fiction is that it does both things simultaneously, its deepest context the confluence of the things of this world ('a heavy wool dress embroidered with flowers, the sleeves poorly attached,' 'a big box full of nails, newspaper clippings and old pieces of wire,' 'vanity tables without legs . . . old pharmaceutical flasks . . . chess pieces, chandeliers, minatures') and the ineffable mystery of mortality ('I close the windows, shut my eyes and see blue, green, red, yellow, purple, white, white. White foam, blue. Death will be like this, when it drags me from the little room of my hands.')"—Kathryn Davis, author of The Silk Road

 

https://www.newyorker.com/books/flash-fiction/skylight

 

Forgotten Journey 

Silvina Ocampo


Foreword by Carmen Boullosa
Translated by Suzanne Jill LevineKatie Lateef-Jan
 

Delicately crafted, intensely visual, deeply personal stories explore the nature of memory, family ties, and the difficult imbalances of love.

"Silvina Ocampo is one of our best writers. Her stories have no equal in our literature."––Jorge Luis Borges

"I don't know of another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don't show us."—Italo Calvino

"Silvina Ocampo's prose is made of elegant pleasures and delicate terrors. Her stories take place in a liquid, viscous reality, where innocence quietly bleeds into cruelty, and the mundane seeps, unnoticed, into the bizarre. Revered by some of the masters of fantastic literature, such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, Ocampo is beyond great—she is necessary."—Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance and Associate Director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University

"Like William Blake, Ocampo's first voice was that of a visual artist; in her writing she retains the will to unveil immaterial so that we might at least look at it if not touch it."—Helen Oyeyemi, author of Gingerbread

In this, Silvina Ocampo's first book of stories, we discover the purest form of what would become her signature style over the years: lyrical, oneiric, and menacing—and an atmosphere, both mundane and mysterious, bordering on the fantastical.

Forgotten Journey takes its title from the story of a girl who struggles to recall the events of her birth in order to remember her identity. Another story follows a friendship between two girls, one poor and one wealthy, who grow up to appear identical to one another, enabling them to trade lives and families. In "The Enmity of Things," a young man begins to suspect that his mundane possessions are conspiring against him. When he flees to his rural childhood home, the silent countryside proves only more sinister and mysterious.

This collection of 28 short stories, first published in 1937 and now in English translation for the first time, introduced readers to one of Argentina's most original and iconic authors. With this, her fiction debut, poet Silvina Ocampo initiated a personal, idiosyncratic exploration of the politics of memory, a theme to which she would return again and again over the course of her unconventional life and productive career.

 

Praise for Forgotten Journey:

"Silvina Ocampo's fiction is wondrous, heart-piercing, and fiercely strange. Her fabulism is as charming as Borges's. Her restless sense of invention foregrounds the brilliant feminist work of writers like Clarice Lispector and Samanta Schweblin. It's thrilling to have work of this magnitude finally translated into English, head spinning and thrilling."—Alyson Hagy, author of Scribe

"The Southern Cone queen of the short-story, Ocampo displays all her mastery in Forgotten Journey. After finishing the book, you only want more."—Gabriela Alemán, author of Poso Wells

"Ocampo is one of those rare writers who seems to write fiction almost offhandedly, but to still somehow do more in four or five pages than most writers do in twenty. Very little seems to happen and you are quickly lulled to relax, which makes the way these stories creep up behind you even more surprising. Before you know it, the seemingly mundane has bared its surreal teeth and has you cornered."—Brian Evenson, author of Song for the Unraveling of the World: Stories

"There is literature that takes the known world (a dinner party or a walk with a dog, first love or a visit to friends) and shows it in a way we've never seen before; there is literature that takes us to a place we've never been (early twentieth-century Buenos Aires or adrift in the middle of the ocean) and makes it somehow familiar. The marvel of Silvina Ocampo's fiction is that it does both things simultaneously, its deepest context the confluence of the things of this world ('a heavy wool dress embroidered with flowers, the sleeves poorly attached,' 'a big box full of nails, newspaper clippings and old pieces of wire,' 'vanity tables without legs . . . old pharmaceutical flasks . . . chess pieces, chandeliers, minatures') and the ineffable mystery of mortality ('I close the windows, shut my eyes and see blue, green, red, yellow, purple, white, white. White foam, blue. Death will be like this, when it drags me from the little room of my hands.')"—Kathryn Davis, author of The Silk Road

"Readers will delight in this whimsical and fantastical collection of short stories by Silvina Ocampo. Forgotten Journey, her first published collection now in English, is superbly translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan. Through these fantastical tales the narrator explores the life of young girls, their friendships, their inner solitudes, as well as the constant quest to understand the duality of life and the imagination. These stories transport you to a place that perhaps you have known in dreams. Now you can enter them through the lucid and fantastical world and words of Silvina Ocampo."—Marjorie Agosin, author of I Lived On Butterfly Hill

"Silvina Ocampo's richly textured world shimmers with childhood sweetness and sorrow. Her narrator's hyper-observant gaze travels through the multiplying interiors of houses, mirrors, dresses, adult giants, dream figures, and nimble acrobats, in search of love stolen by bad magic. Ocampo inhabits and brings to life a hyper-real, surreal, and resolutely feminine world ruled by unapologetic beauty and pervading sadness. She is a close kin of Remedios Varo and Frida Kahlo, weavers of the magical Latin American art that bewitches us time after time. This beautiful translation fully renders that magic."—Andrei Codrescu, author of No Time Like Now: New Poems

"This translation opens up the wonderful sepia-tinted strangeness of Ocampo's complete first book of stories to a readership that may already know her fiction from Daniel Balderston's anthologies, Leopoldina's Dream (1988), and Thus Were Their Faces (2015), which presented two stories from Forgotten Journey including the title story and 'A Strange Visit.’ Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan's vivid translation of the whole of Forgotten Journey captures well Ocampo's unsettlingly topsy-turvy world, peopled by precocious children who act with the self-possession of adults, and adults cowed by the fears and phobias of childhood. In their carefully crafted version, Ocampo's idiosyncratic governesses, servants, circus performers and children act out intense dramas, influenced by the palpably malignant force of the objects surrounding them. Loss of innocence is a perpetual threat and the translation savours this pervasive unease. With stories like 'The Dead Horse' and 'The Two Houses of Olivos' the reader can place Ocampo in relation to other key figures in Argentinian literature in translation, such as Julio Cortázar in his 'End of the Game', or Jorge Luis Borges and Cortázar's fascination with doubles."—Fiona Mackintosh, author of Childhood in the Works of Silvina Ocampo and Alejandra Pizarnik

Suzanne Jill Levine is a leading translator of Latin American literature and distinguished professor emerita at the University of California in Santa Barbara.  Her books include her literary biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman (Farrar Straus Giroux & Faber & Faber, 2000) and her groundbreaking poetics of translation The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction (1991) ---reissued by Dalkey Archive Press, along with her classic translations of novels by Manuel Puig. Among her honors and grants she has been a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment of Humanities, and the Rockefeller Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, and has won several PEN awards, including the first PEN USA West Prize for Literary Translation and the PEN American Center Career Achievement award in 1996.   Her creative works and translations in the last decade include a five volume edition of the prose and poetry of Jorge Luis Borges for Penguin Classics, and most recently Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Taiga Syndrome has been a finalist for the National Translation Award.

Katie Lateef-Jan, PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is writing her dissertation on Silvina Ocampo. She co-edited with SJ Levine Untranslatability Goes Global: The Translator's Dilemma (Routledge 2018) and her translations have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Two Lines and The Washington Square Review.

Jessica Powell has translated literary works by a variety of Latin American writers. She received a 2011 NEA Translation Fellowship for her translation of Antonio Benítez Rojo's novel, Woman in Battle Dress (City Lights, 2015), which was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Translation. Her Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya (Mandel Vilar Press, 2016) was a finalist for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award and made the longlist for the 2017 National Translation Award.  She has also translated (the first-ever published in English) Pablo Neruda’s early long poem, venture of the infinite man (City Lights Books, 2017).

 

Event date: 

Friday, November 15, 2019 - 7:30pm to 9:00pm

Event address: