Haroldo Conti - a novel set in the margins, on the mouth of the delta, a landscape of channels, canals, sandbanks, islands, and reeds, and it tells the story of Boga and his restless movement through this habitat. This is a world of light and water, reeds and birds, fish and currents, boats and tides, sky and wind, guns and knives, life and death

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Haroldo Conti, Southeaster, Trans. by Jon Lindsay Miles, Anad other Stories, 2015.

‘Neither the old man nor Boga ever said more than was needed. And yet they understood each other perfectly.’
Over the course of a season, Boga and the old man work side by side on the sandbanks of the Paraná Delta, cutting reeds to sell to local basketweavers. But when the old man falls sick and dies, Boga abandons himself entirely to the river and the life of solitary drifting he has long yearned for.
Echoes of John Berger sound throughout the evocative prose of this great Argentian writer. A twentieth-century classic, Southeaster is a central work in Haroldo Conti’s oeuvre.

South-East is Conti’s classic first novel, first published in 1962, and set on the Delta of the Paraná River. It follows the wandering, and increasingly dramatic journey of its protagonist Boga around the rivers and the islands in search of fish, of shelter, of the boat of his dreams. It is a rhythmic meditation on the relationship between man and nature, the nature of man and on our time in this world. Conti’s novels won him international prizes, culminating with the Casa de las Américas Prize in 1975 for his final novel, completed before he became another victim of the Argentine military regime in 1976. He has already been translated into French and German. - Jon Lindsay Miles

‘Haroldo Conti was one of the great Argentinian writers.’ - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

‘Haroldo is a river, a delta with many streams that embrace the islands as they pass. His literature is directed at the solitude of others, and it brings a warm embrace, in the same way the river does.’
 Eduardo Galeano

‘The economy of his writing, impregnated with poetry and tenderness, is remarkable . . . Don’t be fooled by the story’s initial, quasi-bucolic, calm. A dramatic crescendo leads to the final roar.’ María Esther de Miguel

‘Readers in English can at last immerse themselves in the subtle, beautifully wrought journey of the voyager …Southeaster is one of the most original contributions to what Conti himself would term, in an interview in 1974, “a stylistically and imaginatively Argentine literature”.’ - John King

‘Haroldo Conti was one of Argentina’s finest prose writers at the time he was “disappeared” by the military junta in the mid 1970s. He was fifty-one years old. This first publication of his work in English introduces us not only to one of South America’s finest twentieth-century writers but to a world view, a landscape and a unique literary vision that is essential to our time.’ - John Burnside

‘What a surprise and a treat. I was swept up in the great murky flow of it. Conti is a writer for whom place is character, not backdrop, and what a place, what a character. He’s a revelation.’ - Tim Winton

‘The river is immense. It is impossible to know of all the things the river does.’
Many visitors to Buenos Aires would be unaware of the Lower Paraná Delta which sits not far from the northern reaches of the city. In my ten visits to Buenos Aires I can confess to only having been to the delta once, and then only as far as Tigre, taken by the little coastal railway. Those who have a more nebulous mental image of Buenos Aires and its environs might also be unaware that the River Plate becomes as wide as a little sea, its brownish waters ploughed by container ships and ferry boats, as it broadens out from the delta towards the Atlantic ocean.
Sudeste by Haroldo Conti is a novel set in the margins, on the mouth of the delta, a landscape of channels, canals, sandbanks, islands, and reeds, and it tells the story of Boga and his restless movement through this habitat. This is a world of light and water, reeds and birds, fish and currents, boats and tides, sky and wind, guns and knives, life and death. Boga is described as having the ‘big eyes of a dying fish’ a description which marks him as a liminal character, an amphibian of sorts, poised between elements, between life and death, his journey taking him in and out of water and mud as he drifts with the river, a part of its ebb and flow. First published in 1962, Sudeste has waited a long time to be translated into English.  Jon Lindsay Miles’s translation was first published in a limited edition as South-East in 2013, by his Immigrant Press. Since then And Other Stories have decided to republish this translation as Southeaster, a title which perhaps better connotes in English the weather phenomenon to which it refers, bringing Conti’s writing to the attention of a wider readership.
The catalyst for Boga’s journey is the death of the old man who Boga has lodged and worked with, assisting him with the harvesting of reeds. Their lives appear lonely, elemental, remote, existences eked out in ‘this green and humming solitude’. Yet civilisation is never far away. It comes with the ‘droning of aeroplanes’, or more dramatically with appearance of low flying fighter jets, or with the ‘Sunday sailors’ whose boats appear ‘white and frail and silent, like a flock of doves along the shore’, and in the spectre of the city itself, ‘towards the south, like a lattice, the planes of grey and white of the highest towers’. Boga takes a leaking row-boat in search of good fishing, up towards the north, fixing it up as he goes. Then, as the seasons change, he rigs the boat up with a mast and a sail, as if in parody of the weekend yachtsmen, and sails around the mouth of the delta until his mast snaps.
Boga’s perspective is Conti’s perspective, that of the outsider looking in at Buenos Aires, a place in the distance, his world one of fish and boats, water and light. The delta is a place where time and distance melt, the passing of time described as ‘a constant and deliberate moving of the light.’ Time and distance are experienced on the river’s terms, as rise and fall, as current, as movement, as constant change. It is a liminality that comes further to the fore in the descriptions of Boga’s voyages in his boat, so that as Boga sails into a sunrise, the water is described as disappearing, replaced by ‘a hard metallic framing that reduced him to  blindness’, or on a winter’s day, ‘the river and sky were one, a grey and muddy wall’.
There is an attention in Conti’s prose to the reconstruction of perception, for as much as he is concerned with the precise terminology and names of boats, aeroplanes, and wildlife, this is a novel that feels modernist in its approach to mimesis. There is often something breathtakingly daring in the way he trusts the reader to be able to reconstruct an action, in this case the discarding of a cigarette-end, which is depicted only in its after-effects:
Then he lit a cigarette  and looked out at the night, with that faint little blinking somewhere just before his face. And then this brilliant little point drew a longer line before it sank back  in the darkness and left there behind it just the briefest reddish wake.
It can been seen in the care he shows in reconstructing sound, light, and movement:
The river mouth and open sea were now one and the same, a water that had been stirred up, and folded in a million points in steady movement. And then the water’s sighing and the water itself appeared to separate with all connection broken. The sound was here around his head, a hundred thousand swarming bees, and then there was the water with its movement like a strange machine, a dislocated image.
It is a testament to Jon Lindsay Miles’s abilities as a translator that Conti’s prose style is one that feels fresh and invigorating in English, intensely lyrical at times, and seemingly responsive to the rhythms of the environment it seeks to represent.
Porteños, the residents of Buenos Aires, have a habit of referring to anywhere beyond the coastal reaches their country as “the interior”.  Conti is just one of many writers who have articulated a vision of Argentine experience beyond the sometimes insular bustle of  Capital Federal.  Buenos Aires is after all a port, and contrary to what porteños like to claim has its face to the river and the Atlantic beyond, and its back to the country. This tension between the city and the country, between  visions of Argentine nationalism rooted in either a European past or a regional identity, is one with deep political resonances that extend from the nineteenth century civil wars between the Unitarians and Federalists to the present day tensions between the populist Kirchnerista movement, which has actively promoted a more Latin American national identity, and middle-class urbanites. John King’s informative ‘Afterword’ included in this edition details something of Conti’s biography, literary influences,  and the political situations under which his novels were written and received. Conti’s narrator refers on several occasions to people who have disappeared in the delta in an almost uncanny precognition of the way so many would perish in the extra-judicial killings during the decades that followed, their bodies never to be found, including Haroldo Conti himself in 1976. Southeaster is not an overtly political novel and yet the political context in which it was written in 1962, and the tensions that existed between the populist but divided Peronists, who were banned from political expression and representation, the centrist Radicals, who led a fragile administration, and the military, who increasingly favoured martial rule, never seem far away, so that the sudden violence which eventually manifests itself in the novel, feels a part of the strong currents of the river. Boga’s journey is one which navigates and negotiates these currents of a river whose spirit is described as ‘sly, savage, pitiless’ so that he becomes ‘aware of something bad inhabiting the river’. Boga’s liminality lies partly in this, the idea that the river has hardened him, made him ‘brutish’ so that when he finally realises this malevolent force is ‘in the river and all its things’, including him, he knows that it will ‘drag him with it’ towards something bad.
Despite the obvious romance of the delta, of Conti’s strange, distorting setting, this is not a novel which romanticizes the lives of those who live in it. It leaves the reader with a savage beauty to contemplate, something contradictory, tense, and ultimately self-destructive in a way that seems to correspond with so much of Argentina’s recent history. -
‘The river is immense. It is impossible to know of all the things the river does.’
Many visitors to Buenos Aires would be unaware of the Lower Paraná Delta which sits not far from the northern reaches of the city. In my ten visits to Buenos Aires I can confess to only having been to the delta once, and then only as far as Tigre, taken by the little coastal railway. Those who have a more nebulous mental image of Buenos Aires and its environs might also be unaware that the River Plate becomes as wide as a little sea, its brownish waters ploughed by container ships and ferry boats, as it broadens out from the delta towards the Atlantic ocean.
Sudeste by Haroldo Conti is a novel set in the margins, on the mouth of the delta, a landscape of channels, canals, sandbanks, islands, and reeds, and it tells the story of Boga and his restless movement through this habitat. This is a world of light and water, reeds and birds, fish and currents, boats and tides, sky and wind, guns and knives, life and death. Boga is described as having the ‘big eyes of a dying fish’ a description which marks him as a liminal character, an amphibian of sorts, poised between elements, between life and death, his journey taking him in and out of water and mud as he drifts with the river, a part of its ebb and flow. First published in 1962, Sudeste has waited a long time to be translated into English.  Jon Lindsay Miles’s translation was first published in a limited edition as South-East in 2013, by his Immigrant Press. Since then And Other Stories have decided to republish this translation as Southeaster, a title which perhaps better connotes in English the weather phenomenon to which it refers, bringing Conti’s writing to the attention of a wider readership.
The catalyst for Boga’s journey is the death of the old man who Boga has lodged and worked with, assisting him with the harvesting of reeds. Their lives appear lonely, elemental, remote, existences eked out in ‘this green and humming solitude’. Yet civilisation is never far away. It comes with the ‘droning of aeroplanes’, or more dramatically with appearance of low flying fighter jets, or with the ‘Sunday sailors’ whose boats appear ‘white and frail and silent, like a flock of doves along the shore’, and in the spectre of the city itself, ‘towards the south, like a lattice, the planes of grey and white of the highest towers’. Boga takes a leaking row-boat in search of good fishing, up towards the north, fixing it up as he goes. Then, as the seasons change, he rigs the boat up with a mast and a sail, as if in parody of the weekend yachtsmen, and sails around the mouth of the delta until his mast snaps.
Boga’s perspective is Conti’s perspective, that of the outsider looking in at Buenos Aires, a place in the distance, his world one of fish and boats, water and light. The delta is a place where time and distance melt, the passing of time described as ‘a constant and deliberate moving of the light.’ Time and distance are experienced on the river’s terms, as rise and fall, as current, as movement, as constant change. It is a liminality that comes further to the fore in the descriptions of Boga’s voyages in his boat, so that as Boga sails into a sunrise, the water is described as disappearing, replaced by ‘a hard metallic framing that reduced him to  blindness’, or on a winter’s day, ‘the river and sky were one, a grey and muddy wall’.
There is an attention in Conti’s prose to the reconstruction of perception, for as much as he is concerned with the precise terminology and names of boats, aeroplanes, and wildlife, this is a novel that feels modernist in its approach to mimesis. There is often something breathtakingly daring in the way he trusts the reader to be able to reconstruct an action, in this case the discarding of a cigarette-end, which is depicted only in its after-effects:
Then he lit a cigarette  and looked out at the night, with that faint little blinking somewhere just before his face. And then this brilliant little point drew a longer line before it sank back  in the darkness and left there behind it just the briefest reddish wake.
It can been seen in the care he shows in reconstructing sound, light, and movement:
The river mouth and open sea were now one and the same, a water that had been stirred up, and folded in a million points in steady movement. And then the water’s sighing and the water itself appeared to separate with all connection broken. The sound was here around his head, a hundred thousand swarming bees, and then there was the water with its movement like a strange machine, a dislocated image.
It is a testament to Jon Lindsay Miles’s abilities as a translator that Conti’s prose style is one that feels fresh and invigorating in English, intensely lyrical at times, and seemingly responsive to the rhythms of the environment it seeks to represent.
Porteños, the residents of Buenos Aires, have a habit of referring to anywhere beyond the coastal reaches their country as “the interior”.  Conti is just one of many writers who have articulated a vision of Argentine experience beyond the sometimes insular bustle of  Capital Federal.  Buenos Aires is after all a port, and contrary to what porteños like to claim has its face to the river and the Atlantic beyond, and its back to the country. This tension between the city and the country, between  visions of Argentine nationalism rooted in either a European past or a regional identity, is one with deep political resonances that extend from the nineteenth century civil wars between the Unitarians and Federalists to the present day tensions between the populist Kirchnerista movement, which has actively promoted a more Latin American national identity, and middle-class urbanites. John King’s informative ‘Afterword’ included in this edition details something of Conti’s biography, literary influences,  and the political situations under which his novels were written and received. Conti’s narrator refers on several occasions to people who have disappeared in the delta in an almost uncanny precognition of the way so many would perish in the extra-judicial killings during the decades that followed, their bodies never to be found, including Haroldo Conti himself in 1976. Southeaster is not an overtly political novel and yet the political context in which it was written in 1962, and the tensions that existed between the populist but divided Peronists, who were banned from political expression and representation, the centrist Radicals, who led a fragile administration, and the military, who increasingly favoured martial rule, never seem far away, so that the sudden violence which eventually manifests itself in the novel, feels a part of the strong currents of the river. Boga’s journey is one which navigates and negotiates these currents of a river whose spirit is described as ‘sly, savage, pitiless’ so that he becomes ‘aware of something bad inhabiting the river’. Boga’s liminality lies partly in this, the idea that the river has hardened him, made him ‘brutish’ so that when he finally realises this malevolent force is ‘in the river and all its things’, including him, he knows that it will ‘drag him with it’ towards something bad.
Despite the obvious romance of the delta, of Conti’s strange, distorting setting, this is not a novel which romanticizes the lives of those who live in it. It leaves the reader with a savage beauty to contemplate, something contradictory, tense, and ultimately self-destructive in a way that seems to correspond with so much of Argentina’s recent history. -
‘The river is immense. It is impossible to know of all the things the river does.’
Many visitors to Buenos Aires would be unaware of the Lower Paraná Delta which sits not far from the northern reaches of the city. In my ten visits to Buenos Aires I can confess to only having been to the delta once, and then only as far as Tigre, taken by the little coastal railway. Those who have a more nebulous mental image of Buenos Aires and its environs might also be unaware that the River Plate becomes as wide as a little sea, its brownish waters ploughed by container ships and ferry boats, as it broadens out from the delta towards the Atlantic ocean.
Sudeste by Haroldo Conti is a novel set in the margins, on the mouth of the delta, a landscape of channels, canals, sandbanks, islands, and reeds, and it tells the story of Boga and his restless movement through this habitat. This is a world of light and water, reeds and birds, fish and currents, boats and tides, sky and wind, guns and knives, life and death. Boga is described as having the ‘big eyes of a dying fish’ a description which marks him as a liminal character, an amphibian of sorts, poised between elements, between life and death, his journey taking him in and out of water and mud as he drifts with the river, a part of its ebb and flow. First published in 1962, Sudeste has waited a long time to be translated into English.  Jon Lindsay Miles’s translation was first published in a limited edition as South-East in 2013, by his Immigrant Press. Since then And Other Stories have decided to republish this translation as Southeaster, a title which perhaps better connotes in English the weather phenomenon to which it refers, bringing Conti’s writing to the attention of a wider readership.
The catalyst for Boga’s journey is the death of the old man who Boga has lodged and worked with, assisting him with the harvesting of reeds. Their lives appear lonely, elemental, remote, existences eked out in ‘this green and humming solitude’. Yet civilisation is never far away. It comes with the ‘droning of aeroplanes’, or more dramatically with appearance of low flying fighter jets, or with the ‘Sunday sailors’ whose boats appear ‘white and frail and silent, like a flock of doves along the shore’, and in the spectre of the city itself, ‘towards the south, like a lattice, the planes of grey and white of the highest towers’. Boga takes a leaking row-boat in search of good fishing, up towards the north, fixing it up as he goes. Then, as the seasons change, he rigs the boat up with a mast and a sail, as if in parody of the weekend yachtsmen, and sails around the mouth of the delta until his mast snaps.
Boga’s perspective is Conti’s perspective, that of the outsider looking in at Buenos Aires, a place in the distance, his world one of fish and boats, water and light. The delta is a place where time and distance melt, the passing of time described as ‘a constant and deliberate moving of the light.’ Time and distance are experienced on the river’s terms, as rise and fall, as current, as movement, as constant change. It is a liminality that comes further to the fore in the descriptions of Boga’s voyages in his boat, so that as Boga sails into a sunrise, the water is described as disappearing, replaced by ‘a hard metallic framing that reduced him to  blindness’, or on a winter’s day, ‘the river and sky were one, a grey and muddy wall’.
There is an attention in Conti’s prose to the reconstruction of perception, for as much as he is concerned with the precise terminology and names of boats, aeroplanes, and wildlife, this is a novel that feels modernist in its approach to mimesis. There is often something breathtakingly daring in the way he trusts the reader to be able to reconstruct an action, in this case the discarding of a cigarette-end, which is depicted only in its after-effects:
Then he lit a cigarette  and looked out at the night, with that faint little blinking somewhere just before his face. And then this brilliant little point drew a longer line before it sank back  in the darkness and left there behind it just the briefest reddish wake.
It can been seen in the care he shows in reconstructing sound, light, and movement:
The river mouth and open sea were now one and the same, a water that had been stirred up, and folded in a million points in steady movement. And then the water’s sighing and the water itself appeared to separate with all connection broken. The sound was here around his head, a hundred thousand swarming bees, and then there was the water with its movement like a strange machine, a dislocated image.
It is a testament to Jon Lindsay Miles’s abilities as a translator that Conti’s prose style is one that feels fresh and invigorating in English, intensely lyrical at times, and seemingly responsive to the rhythms of the environment it seeks to represent.
Porteños, the residents of Buenos Aires, have a habit of referring to anywhere beyond the coastal reaches their country as “the interior”.  Conti is just one of many writers who have articulated a vision of Argentine experience beyond the sometimes insular bustle of  Capital Federal.  Buenos Aires is after all a port, and contrary to what porteños like to claim has its face to the river and the Atlantic beyond, and its back to the country. This tension between the city and the country, between  visions of Argentine nationalism rooted in either a European past or a regional identity, is one with deep political resonances that extend from the nineteenth century civil wars between the Unitarians and Federalists to the present day tensions between the populist Kirchnerista movement, which has actively promoted a more Latin American national identity, and middle-class urbanites. John King’s informative ‘Afterword’ included in this edition details something of Conti’s biography, literary influences,  and the political situations under which his novels were written and received. Conti’s narrator refers on several occasions to people who have disappeared in the delta in an almost uncanny precognition of the way so many would perish in the extra-judicial killings during the decades that followed, their bodies never to be found, including Haroldo Conti himself in 1976. Southeaster is not an overtly political novel and yet the political context in which it was written in 1962, and the tensions that existed between the populist but divided Peronists, who were banned from political expression and representation, the centrist Radicals, who led a fragile administration, and the military, who increasingly favoured martial rule, never seem far away, so that the sudden violence which eventually manifests itself in the novel, feels a part of the strong currents of the river. Boga’s journey is one which navigates and negotiates these currents of a river whose spirit is described as ‘sly, savage, pitiless’ so that he becomes ‘aware of something bad inhabiting the river’. Boga’s liminality lies partly in this, the idea that the river has hardened him, made him ‘brutish’ so that when he finally realises this malevolent force is ‘in the river and all its things’, including him, he knows that it will ‘drag him with it’ towards something bad.
Despite the obvious romance of the delta, of Conti’s strange, distorting setting, this is not a novel which romanticizes the lives of those who live in it. It leaves the reader with a savage beauty to contemplate, something contradictory, tense, and ultimately self-destructive in a way that seems to correspond with so much of Argentina’s recent history.  - Iain Robinson

The translation discussed in this article brings the Argentine novelist and short-story writer Haroldo Conti to the attention of English-language readers. The particular “difficult interest, as I describe it in the translator’s note to South-East, “centred on the presentation of [Conti’s] respiration in a language with a quite distinct music”. Respiration is the term I use to identify the particular rhythm in Conti’s novel Sudeste, first published a half-century ago, and the first of his works written into English, a rhythm in the telling, where the punctuated pauses breathe as much life into the narrative as the lyrical quality of his words.
           I first quote from John King’s Afterword to place Conti in the context of the Argentine and broader Hispanic literary moment, before using selected paragraphs from the translator’s note to present the difficult interest in writing Sudeste (the source text) into South-East (the translated text). An illustrative excerpt – from both the source text (ST) and translated text (TT) closes.
John King on Haroldo Conti
While writing South-East, Conti would have been living at a time of both political confusion and also excitement: how should Argentina become more modern and develop (modernisation and “developmentalism” were the terms used at the time); how might it embrace the new; how might it react to the imaginative proximity of revolution, with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959? One of Conti’s answers seems to be to step back from the glitter of the new, and shine a torchlight from the brow of his boat on hitherto unexplored spaces of popular culture. In particular he would look to eschew the notion of writer as celebrity, someone – in Tom Wolfe’s phrase – leading the vanguard march through the lands of the philistines. As Conti remarked in a handwritten note:
No sé si tiene sentido pero me digo cada vez: contá las historia de la gente como si cantaras en medio de un camino, despojate de toda pretensión y cantá, simplemente cantá con todo tu corazón. Que nadie recuerde tu nombre sino toda esa vieja y sencilla historia
[I don’t know if it makes sense, but I tell myself these same words every time: narrate the people’s story as you’d sing along a journey, relinquish all ambition, simply sing with all your heart. Let no one remember your name, but everything there is of this old and simple story].[i]
            The novel that seemed to both represent and guide this optimistic embrace of the new was published one year after South-East: Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (1963). This novel, in its “hopscotch” between the cities of Paris and Buenos Aires, was a playful but also sophisticated search for freedom, both existential and profoundly literary. It stressed the need to “un-write” the novel, to free it from convention and high seriousness – the solemnity and pomposity of much of national literatures – and to play the game with grace and intelligence. It was the novel’s freshness, its limitless cultural breadth and its eroticism that captivated a new audience, who wanted to be Cortázar’s active readers: engaged, modern, experimental and hip. It was one of the first “boom” novels in Latin America, chiming with the literary, modernist experimentation of the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the Mexican Carlos Fuentes and the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez. Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel, La ciudad y los perros (literally: The City and the Dogs, but translated under the title The Time of the Hero) won the Seix Barral Prize in Spain in December 1962, and was published in 1963 to critical acclaim. These were the writers who would be promoted by publishing houses, critics and cultural magazines, and would be translated throughout the world.[ii]
            It would be wrong to argue that the attention given to particular writers distorted the market, because the readership for Latin American literature as a whole grew throughout the sixties, both at home and abroad. But it would be fair to say that, in their excitement to promote the boom, publishers and critics in the sixties paid less attention to the quieter, seemingly less ambitious, narratives like those of Conti.
Moored to Rhythm. From the Translator’s Note
Discussion of the practice of translation is keen in the matter of the basic beliefs, policies, or procedures – the theory – a translator works from; it requires the study of a fiction-translation alongside the novel in its first language to suggest where the work of translation has been moored, to which aspects of the source text it shows “fidelity”. But a translator is firstly a reader, and Marcel Proust has something to say about the unfaithfulness of readers:
Saddening too was the thought that my love, to which I had clung so tenaciously, would in my book be so detached from any individual that different readers would apply it, even in detail, to what they had felt for other women.[iii]
            Were the reading translator able to feel sure of any such ascribed authorial intention, writing its exact reproduction into a new language would still be the commonly argued “impossibility” of translation.
            The concern of the practising translator might better be seen as that of an honest dealer in the work of bringing the source text into a new tongue. It may be of interest to signal where I moored my point of honest dealing in this translation of Haroldo Conti’s Castillian-Spanish-language text Sudeste.
            It was the rhythmic sensibility that drew me into the novel, and from its first lines:
            Entre el Pajarito y el río abierto, curvándose bruscamente hacia el norte, primero más y más angosto, casi hasta la mitad, luego abriéndose y contorneándose suavemente hasta la desembocadura, serpea, oculto en las primeras islas, el arroyo Anguilas.
Nicolas Abraham describes rhythm as the origin of the “fascinated consciousness” that projects a story forward, and produces the sense of enchantment we know when reading the best of stories.[iv]
My reading of Sudeste was formed by this immediately intuited aspect, the rhythms ever-present in the novel’s written style, and which are reinforced and intensified by the cycle of the seasons and the movements of nature, the intervals of the protagonist Boga’s journeys and the laconic dialogues with those he comes across around the rivers of the Paraná Delta. Mooring a translation to this stylistic feature of the novel was for me the natural choice, but it required the identification of suitable points of anchorage.
            Conti’s use of punctuation forms a distinctive “respiration” in his text, a rhythmic feature that is also pronounced in well-known authors such as Isabel Allende – and often cancelled in the translation of their texts. The difficult interest in writing Sudeste into English centred on the presentation of this respiration in a language with a quite distinct music. The work of translating the poetic quality of a text is housed in the selection of words and phrases with appropriate sounds to convey the relevant meaning; but the flexibility required when structuring such phrases into sentences that present the rhythmic style of Conti’s writing, brings word size into play.
            The register of Conti’s text is poetic, but at the same time its narrative is simple and direct in its presentation of the particular world of its characters. Shorter words are not only more flexible bricks in the building of lines of rhythmised text, they also lend themselves to such a plain- speaking register. It is at the level of this bricking that South-East is anchored to Sudeste.
            Not that I was aware of this for many months into the writing: while reading lends itself to the analytical act of interpreting the textual surface at this level, writing is rather more intuitive work. It was the rhythmic sensibility of the work at both its underlying, narrative level, and at the surface level of its respiration, that formed the enchantment through which the writing of the translation found its form.
            I have retained terms from the Spanish text to name particular features of the geography of the Delta where the use of an English term might mislead in what it suggested. The most important of these terms is related to the spectacular movements in the water-level in the rivers and streams that are the principal influence on the lives of those who live here. The bajante is the fiercest of these, when the rivers can literally empty themselves of water, but the crecientes – which can reasonably be translated as the surges experienced in other environments – under the influence of winds from the south or east, are also impressive, and intervene in the novel with particular force. I do not use italic print when the word bajante occurs in the text, but do for the occasional English-language terms Conti uses in Sudeste, and italicised in his text.
            Local geographical names are also retained, despite the obvious temptation of signalling the Terror Shallows [Bajo del Temor], for instance. The reminder that the source text of South-East is outside the English language is also present in the contextual framing of the translation.
            The success or failure of a translation might be decided by reference to Proust’s concern: A text that releases in the reader’s mind the riches of an additional and quite personal material, and that liberates it from the particular textual world of the author, strikes this reader, at least, as the signal of a job well done.
            I would be pleased to read further translations of Sudeste, for it is through a return to the source text that a classic work continues to renew its vitality. - Jon Lindasy Miles

excerpt:

   One early morning, he went out on the river at last, looking for the silverside, as if going out to fight. Although the fight was with the season and the water and foul luck, because the silverside’s a harmless fish. And it’s not a fight at all, if you consider it a little, because the river weaves its story and a man is just a single thread, woven in with ten thousand others.
  He’d made the preparations on the boat the previous evening, and the kid’s concern to help him was completely overdone. He didn’t like him helping much, these were things he liked to do alone, if truth be told, doing them unhurriedly, his pleasure in the details, in the way of older men. He put the trammel in the stern, folded in a way that meant he only had to take the tin, painted in bright yellow and that acted as a float, and throw it overboard for the net to follow on; the Primus and the kettle, a litre-bottle filled with kerosene, and a lantern, some rope, a bit of cold food, and his maté things and caked bread, all went in the bow and were covered with the canvas; the tip knocked of the boat-hook with its new bamboo handle went on one side in the bottom, and the machete on the other, where he hung it on its strap, and for whatever need arose; some matches in his pocket and some more inside the maté tin, very tightly closed; and this and that and other things.
  He was wondering if he’d take the kid. It helped if you could count on having someone in the boat, to hold it in position while you gathered in the nets. It was a big help for all kinds of things, even with a dog in tow. But he wouldn’t say a word of this unless it came from him, his plan had been to go alone and now he was too wedded to it. And then, he hadn’t decided if he liked the kid or not, he likely never would decide, for things would run their course and he wasn’t a man to stop them, which was why it had to come from him, entirely from the kid, if he came or if he stayed, and maybe it was better if he didn’t come after all, because he still found him freakish or at least a very odd bloke, and because there was that thing behind him, something like a hidden trap that might move on elsewhere if he left the kid behind, although he didn’t think he would, it was as close as being certain, at least not for the moment and, even if he did, it wouldn’t change the slightest part of what was written down already, if this was how things are, and whether good or bad or otherwise.
  The kid saw him jump aboard and seemed to be expecting that he’d say something to him, but he didn’t even look, just pushed the boat out from the shore and rowed away hard. The night still hadn’t lifted, but he caught sight of his silhouette, standing on the shoreline by the white patch of the dog. At last they disappeared behind the first bend on the stream and he felt a little sorry then, as if he’d let them down against his wishes.
  Before he reached the river, he folded up his coat lapels and then put out the lamp. A chilly breeze was blowing and he listened to the reed-bed as it shivered in the half-light, close on either side of him, as if an unseen animal were creeping through the reeds. He saw, as if through curtains, the river’s pallid surface and the rhythm of its swaying in the dawning of the light, which seemed to rise straight out from it, cold and rather thick. The sky was high above him, it had almost disappeared out to the east, and in the west, what remained of it was sinking as if soaked up by a storm, with its mouth away behind the horizon. He looked up at the morning star, a drop of gold that trembled there amongst the other lights, before it fell. He blew into his hands and then he rubbed them on his legs. Then he took the oars in hand, and went on to the river. [pp. 165-168]


Haroldo Conti was born in the province of Buenos Aires in 1925. He studied at a Salesian school and a Jesuit seminary before graduating with a degree in philosophy from the University of Buenos Aires. In his professional life, Conti was variously employed as an actor, bank clerk, Latin teacher and screenwriter.
Conti was arrested in his apartment after the military coup of 1976, and is currently included on the list of permanently disappeared. After the publication of Southeaster in 1962, he went on to write three more novels as well as several short story collections. He is the recipient of several important literary prizes, including the Casa de las Américas Prize.

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