WLT Student Translation Prize – Prose
to Cristina Peri Rossi,
for the structure
It’s difficult sometimes, but we have learned. We make acts of contrition each night with liturgical reverence for the memories we had that day, involuntarily or deliberately.
People come to see us from abroad as if we were a strange or exotic species, yet we don’t know why. We, in turn, don’t understand how they, the others, can live that way. Their barbarity frightens us.
Our society, our civilization, is modern. No looking back—every day is a brand-new day, no exceptions. According to our order, reading books and remembering are prohibited. We can only read the daily newspapers and watch television: nothing more. Tomorrow we’ll wrap our trash in those newspapers and they’ll cease to carry meaning.
According to our order, reading books and remembering are prohibited.
Our people obey and are happy. How can we not be when each day we are born again for the first time and each night we fall asleep as adults and dreamers of a future that is—oddly enough—the same as the day that has just passed.
We know (it’s said behind closed doors) that there are some rebels who stray from the perfect, established order and brazenly dare not only to remember but also to share those memories with other lowlifes of their persuasion. Can you believe it! Neanderthals. Imbeciles. Terrorists.
I must admit that a few times I’ve felt uneasy about the way things are myself, but only a few.
May the Order of the State forgive me, but I remember (what a terrifying vulgarity) a certain time when a young woman stopped me in the street. She took me by the arms, hugged me, and called me “Mom.”
It’s odd, I don’t know if I had children once—I cannot and must not remember. She shook me by the shoulders and begged me to ignore the law, to rise up and revolt, to remember.
She shook me by the shoulders and begged me to ignore the law, to rise up and revolt, to remember.
For a moment, her face, her voice, her hands seemed familiar to me. But television has taught us the thousand tricks of evil, the voices of sin.
I don’t know why—may the Order of the State forgive me—I remember that sometimes. It must be so I can learn to flee from those memory terrorists.
We are a modern people, happy, safe: we don’t know how to remember.
Translation from the Spanish
Translator’s note: “Prohibitions” is from a 2006 collection of flash fictions titled Llamadas perdidas (Missed calls). “Prohibitions” is a perfect example of the way Barros maintains a sharp, critical focus in her writing while pushing the boundaries of narrative in subtle and playful ways. The story focuses on themes of political and literary memory that remain important today; the recent political protests in Chile have roots in the lack of official retribution for crimes committed by authority figures under Pinochet’s regime, something Barros critiques through her fictional society’s policy of intentional forgetting. The simple language in which the piece is written strikingly contrasts with the complexity of the social issues that make up the story’s content, and this contrast gives the short piece its depth and emotional richness. I would like to give special thanks to Bill Johnston and Oscar Sarmiento for their guidance throughout the translation process.