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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Translating and Discovering Tree/House

The Tree/House cover was originally of a tiger butterfly, so I always wanted to put butterflies in the post when I finally announced its translation into Spanish. This is a Blue Morpho, which is to say that it looks blue on this side, but on the other side it's a dingy brown with motes and a big spot on each side that's supposed to look like a scary eye. So this butterfly has two different faces, just like Tree/House, now in English and Spanish. This is the kind of parallelism you'll find throughout the book.
When you translate a book, you get intimate with it in a way that's not comparable with anything else, except maybe those uncomfortable times when a relative hugs you too tight, if you know what I mean. I have always wanted Tree/House to be available in Spanish, but because it's already flesh of my flesh, I couldn't translate it myself.

I did, however, edit the translation I had a couple of other people do, and that editing has caused me to experience the book in a new way. I frequently laughed out loud when I came across key phrases, sometimes because they were funnier in Spanish, and sometimes just because it was so exhilarating to see my dream come true.

First cover of the English edition
I always thought the book would make more sense in Spanish. I wasn't sure why, but I felt certain I wouldn't get the odd-stare-type responses I've had from some readers in English. Reading the translation, I think I've figured out why: some of the passages appear to be straight out of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, a surrealist film by Luis Buñuel, a Spaniard. I've written a surrealist masterpiece without even realizing it! I now strongly believe that Tree/House is written on the same foundations as surrealist and absurdist texts. How did it get that way? I blame having been forced to read twentieth century literature in school when all I really wanted was to dig into medieval texts I didn't yet have access to.

One core tenet of both surrealism and absurdism is that the art should disturb the reader or viewer. I'd always wondered where I got that apparent mean-streak-need to disrupt reader expectations. Again, blame twentieth-century literature for teaching me that I need to pay attention to my muse at the expense of reader comfort. Tree/House's disruptive yearning is apparent in its dissected title. The translated title means "A Home in the Trees," which has a lot less disruptive impact and points instead to what I'm trying to do in the book when you get past the weirdness.

The new cover by
Amygdala Design
What I'm trying to do is show through metaphors and Jungian archetypes (see the book club guide) that we've all been asleep and now is the time to awaken to our possibilities for growth, creativity, and, ultimately, empowerment. Those noble intentions probably kept me from seeing the absurdist tendencies of it, because I find most texts in that tradition to lack "redeeming" values. I've also had a surprise recently, when my friend and excellent author Seymour Hamilton read it and kindly reported to me that he didn't "get" it. I directed him to the book club page, and he was then able to fit it into his conceptual framework in a very flattering way -- in its symbolism, he said it was similar to Pans' Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro! Love that film!

In the opposite way the girl in that film navigates a horrifying reality by responding to a complex dream world, Emma in Tree/House has let her dreaminess drag her through situations that negate her personhood. She has to break out of all the weirdness and find either the real world or one of her own making. It doesn't matter a lot, but in either case, Emma's new world must be free of the indecision and lack of confidence that has stood her in such ill stead.

Yup, I wrote this in my early twenties, mostly for myself.

I'm now prepared to do guest lectures on this book in undergraduate absurdism or Jungian criticism seminars. The graduate ones will have to wait a bit longer...

All of this is just to say that Un hogar en los árboles is available in ebook -- at last, at last! It seriously is the realization of a dream for me and I can't emphasize enough how happy I am with the quality of it and with it finally seeing the light of day.

Here's the Kindle version. Paperback coming soon. And the English version is already available for your enlightened enjoyment!

Happy Fourth of July tomorrow!