Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
This week, we’ll look at Licorice Candies (Scrambler Books), by Cecilia Pavón, translated from the Spanish by Jacob Steinberg. Pavón is an Argentinian poet and short story writer who lives in Buenos Aires. Licorice Candies collects both poems and short stories, and is the second volume in a three-volume collection of Pavón’s oeuvre. The first, A Hotel With My Name, collects poetry written during Argentina’s economic crisis in the late 1990s.
Scrambler Books has a long history of publishing works in translation, especially from Latin America. In a recent article for Real Pants, publisher Jeremy Spencer elaborates on why works in translation, especially from Latin America, are more important than ever: “Looking south, writers from Central and South America have a long history of writing in opposition to social and political events sprouting from totalitarian (usually military) governments, especially in the twentieth century.”
Argentina was home to the “Dirty War,” a period of state terrorism directed against political dissidents and socialists. Twenty-two thousand people “disappeared” or were killed in the late 1970s (Pavón was born in 1973).
Pavón’s work isn’t strictly political—she explores desire, intimacy, travel, and the way the Internet has brought us all closer together. This is another reason works in translation are important; they allow us to see other perspectives, other ways of life. Pavón, who grew up in the medium-sized city of Mendoza, will perceive Berlin differently than someone who grew up in New York City or a small town in Iowa. It’s easy to isolate our reading habits to books that reaffirm what we already know or feel. Even on the Internet, where we have the world at our fingertips, we tend to visit the same websites, talk to the same people. Stepping outside those boundaries allows us to grow as people and global citizens.
The stories and poems in Licorice Candies are described as “experimental and frenzied.” Jacob Steinberg, who is translating all three volumes of Pavón’s work, first discovered her in Buenos Aires when he was nineteen. In the preface to A Hotel With My Name, he writes:
I owe more than I can express to Cecilia. Her vision of the world and the brave way in which she can open up and share that vision—revealing both vulnerabilities and moments of selfishness, extreme doubts followed by the strength to take extreme risks—have taught me what it means to be human. What it means to incorporate the experiences of life in a meaningful way and grow from them. What it means to be hurt and heal and return to the world and try again. What it means to fall in love.
Logo art by Max Winter.