Roberto Bolaño

Ferdydurke in Catalan


All is not lost, Ferdydurkists. A few months ago, almost on tiptoe, one of the most luminous books of this century of shadows became available for purchase. It’s Ferdydurke (Quaderns Crema), the first novel by Witold Gombrowicz, originally published in 1937, and whose translation into Spanish, sponsored by the literary circles of Café Rex in Buenos Aires, surely constitutes a landmark of extravagance and generosity, in other words one of our century’s landmarks of literary joy. That legendary translation, whose main author was the Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera, is difficult if not impossible to find in the bookstores of Spain, which has deprived readers of the key work in the Gombrowiczian oeuvre, unless one could lay hands on the French or Italian or German version. From now on, however, we’ll no longer have to go so far to look for it. Anyone who can read Catalan and who has two thousand pesetas in his pocket will be granted access to one of the key novels of this century, in an excellent translation by Anna Rubió and Jerzy Slawomirski. All of this is made possible thanks to Jaume Vallcorba Plana, a model publisher if ever there was one, in whose catalogues one can find jewels like Lord Byron’s Cain, Hölderlin’s The Death of Empedocles, and Novalis’s Fragments, as well as contemporary Catalan writers like Quim Monzó, Ponç Puigdevall, or Maurici Pla, to name just a few. What was going through Vallcorba’s head when he decided to publish Ferdydurke? I don’t know. Anything, except thoughts of profit. What I do know is that a publisher who sets out to publish Gombrowicz is a publisher to watch and that a language — Catalan — in which it’s possible to reproduce the work of the great Polish writer is certainly a living language, a language in which Filidor can live on and continue to scheme. All is not lost, Ferdydurkists.


SOURCE: Bolaño, Roberto. “Ferdydurke in Catalan,” in Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003; edited by Ignacio Echevarria, translated by Natasha Wimmer (New York: New Directions, 2011), pp. 126-7.


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