“What we call masterpieces of literature manage to weave a very particular toxin into their letters”

Martel experienced “a crazed euphoria, like a ravenously barking dog that’s finally eating,” when she finished the novel [Zama] for the first time. As she wrote in El País last year:

What we call masterpieces of literature manage to weave a very particular toxin into their letters, one that sickens, maddens, and then transforms humans into better animals. It’s not something you can explain by describing events or characters. It’s something that happens in the writing. In the order and selection of the words… The particular way Di Benedetto makes use of language in Zama allows us to see something we’d never seen before. A region of the planet only made visible by passing through those letters.

There was no edition of Zama in the English-language book world until August 2016, when my translation of the novel was published. […] Martel’s Kabbalistic understanding of Zama’s original language – the sorcerous power of the exact sequence of those letters and words in that particular order – is entirely betrayed by any translation, which has no option but to present different letters and words in different sequences. As I adapted the novel from Spanish to English, though, what I struggled with most were not words but silences: the imperative that the translation not say what the original leaves unsaid. Each sentence of the story’s first-person narration constitutes a self-portrait of its narrator; the silences between them are the blinkered, beleaguered being of Don Diego de Zama.

Esther Allen, The Crazed Euphoria of Lucrecia Martel’s ‘Zama’

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