Translated book of the month: Trout, Belly Up by Rodrigo Fuentes, translated by Ellen Jones (Charco Press)
As next book to put on your reading list for this month we suggest Trout, Belly Up by Guatemalan author Rodrigo Fuentes, which we have selected as our first Translated Book of the Month!
Fuentes’ book is a collection of seven troubling short stories, which are interconnected through the character of “Don Henrik”. These are stories of how – quoting the first story’s narrator – “fortunes can change”. The events described are set in the countryside of Guatemala, yet disrupted by the harshness of reality and history. Fuente’s characters are victims of hardship, helplessness, guilt and regret, illegality and violence.
In the first story – in my opinion the most powerful one – which gives the book its title, the collections’ main themes are introduced. Among these, there are family relations and unhappiness. Death, fate and hopelessness, arguably concealed in the image of “trout, belly up” because of lack of oxygen, also recur in the stories, for example clearly in the second one ‘Dive’.
Particularly thought-provoking is how, at times, the boundaries between humans and animals become blurry. In the third story ‘Out of the blue, Perla’, a cow plays an unexpected role. Or, again, in the fourth story ‘Whisky’, a dog means more than foreseen. Finally, I wonder whether trout’s nature, as described in the title story, is not to be metaphorically associated with men’s hidden one. Trout are
“delicate creatures […]. But despite being delicate, they’re completely savage. They eat meat, even their own. Little cannibals […]”
says the story’s protagonist, who ruins his own life and relationships.
Rodrigo Fuentes (1984) is a young but already award-winning short story writer, whose style can easily be associated with that of Hemingway. He was awarded the Juegos Florales of Quetzaltenango Short Story Prize in 2008 and the Carátula Central American Short Story Prize in 2014. Trout, Belly Up is his first publication in English.
This short story collection, originally published in 2016 (as Trucha panza arriba) and already translated into French, was longlisted for the 2018 Gabriel García Márquez Short Story Prize (Premio Hispanoamericano de Cuento Gabriel García Márquez), the most prestigious award for Spanish-speaking short stories writers. It has been translated into English by Ellen Jones, a researcher and translator working on multilingualism and translation of contemporary Latin American fiction, and has been published by the young but already award-winning Edinburgh-based Charco Press, specialising in Latin American fiction in translation. Named after the Latin American colloquial term for the Atlantic Ocean (charco, literally meaning “puddle”), it aims to help talented Latin American authors yet unpublished in English to reach the world’s bookshelves.
Check out Charco Press’ website to learn more about their selection and their mission, Trout, Belly Up and Rodrigo Fuentes.
If this is the type of fiction you enjoy, Charco Press has a lot more to offer. 2018 titles include, for example, The Distance Between Us by Peruvian author Renato Cisneros, translated by Fionn Petch. This is the exploration of a father-son relationship, reminding of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits.
Identity and one’s past are also central in Charco Press’ Resistance by Brazilian writer Julián Fuks, translated by Daniel Hahn, in which a family flees 1970s Argentina and their new life elsewhere is narrated from their youngest child’s perspective.