Wednesday 19 June 2024

Un Amor by Sara Mesa t. Katie Whittemore #UnAmor #SaraMesa #KatieWhittemore @PeirenePress #TranslatedFiction #BookReview


Fleeing from past mistakes, Nat leaves her life in the city for the rural village of La Escapa. 

She rents a small house from a negligent landlord, adopts a dog and begins to work on her first literary translation. 

But nothing is easy: the dog is ill tempered and skittish and misunderstandings with her neighbour’s thrum below the surface. 

When conflict arises over repairs to her house, Nat receives an unusual offer – one that tests her sense of self, challenges her prejudices, and reveals her most unexpected desires. 

As Nat tries to understand her decision, the community of La Escapa comes together in search of a scapegoat.

Un Amor by Sara Mesa was published on 4 June 2024 by Peirene and is translated from the Spanish by Katie Whittemore. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I really enjoy translated fiction, I usually read translated crime so was eager to delve into Un Amor by Sara Mesa for something a little different. Described by the publisher as 'unmissable' and chosen by various Spanish newspapers as their book of the year, I certainly was not disappointed. This is a short novel at around 150 pages and I easily read it in a couple of sittings. 

This is an entrancing, lyrical story about a woman who leaves the city and moves into a run-down shack like house in a small, very rural village in Spain. The reader knows very little about Nat's past, we know that she is a translator, we know that she is fleeing a serious mistake, but other than that, we learn to know her through the author's incredible descriptive prose. 

La Escapa is a small village, populated by a collection of eclectic people. There's a shop and a bar and a few house dotted around. Some of the houses are empty, some are used as weekend retreats, and there are a few permanent residents. 

Initially, Nat's only real company is the bad-tempered dog that her boorish landlord gives to her. The dog doesn't appear to like Nat, and there are many times that she'd like the landlord to take it back. The landlord also seems to take a dislike to his newest tenant, making things feel very awkward, refusing to do repairs and then turning up out of the blue and entering the house. Nat is frightened of him. 

Her nearest neighbour is Píter, known as the hippie; another man who Nat really can't work out. There's also the man called 'The German'; although Nat isn't sure that he is actually German. When Nat's roof needs to be repaired, it is the German who comes to the rescue, but his offer of help come with a strange and unusual request. 

It is this request, and the consequences that carry the novel. It is beautifully written and wonderfully translated into English. The sense of place is so very present and as the tension mounts, page by page, the reader begins to question many things. We can examine the reaction of a small community when a newcomer arrives and their actions may not be the norm. We are privy to Nat's innermost feelings, the way that she battles with her own emotion, the effects that certain people have on her actions. 

This is a disquieting book, with much to savour. The prose is spare, yet quite exquisite, the storyline is compelling, tense and propulsive. A beautiful novel, one to savour and highly recommended.

Published in the UK for the first time by Peirene Press, Sara Mesa is the author of eight works of fiction, including Scar (winner of the Ojo Critico Prize), Four by Four (a finalist for the Herralde Prize), An Invisible Fire (winner of the Premio Málaga de Novela), Among the Hedges, and La Familia. Her works have been translated into eighteen different languages, and she has been widely praised for her concise, sharp writing style.

Katie Whittemore is graduate of the University of NH (BA), Cambridge University (M.Phil), and Middlebury College (MA), and was a 2018 Bread Loaf Translators Conference participant. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming with Two Lines, The Arkansas International, The Common Online, Gulf Coast Magazine Online, The Los Angeles Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and InTranslation.

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