El Polígamo Solitario Comes to Town

Guest post by Ángel Chaparro Sáinz

I have this friend who works in the security staff of a Spanish professional soccer team. One of the midfielders got some invitations for an exhibition that he didn’t want to visit. So this friend of mine invited me and my girlfriend to go visit the museum. We were looking forward to it. This is one of the most successful exhibitions ever. Antonio López is probably the most important artist at work in Spain after the Civil War. His paintings and drawings have classed him as a realist painter, but there is something more than realism in his views of Madrid, in how he needs so many years to paint the interior of a shabby room from different angles. He tries to catch perfection. The light over a quince tree. Light as the voice of nature. One thing is clear: professional soccer players are not interested in painting.

After the exhibition, we were walking around and the night was warm and welcoming. Christmas were almost over but it was still time for presents. The streets were quiet and the traffic almost gone. Probably, everybody was gathering in the malls. We chatted about the exhibition. I confessed that there was something invisible in Antonio López’s paintings that made them captivating. It reminded me of when I saw Edward Hopper’s for the first time. Hopper invites you to make up stories. His paintings force you to think twice about what you see once. In López, it isn’t a story, but an emotion, an emotion that goes beyond the simple feeling that his paintings look like a photograph.

We went for a coffee. We talked about certain things that made us laugh. My friend said that he needed a geological map. While this guy was showing him the maps he had in store, I couldn’t help it but think that maps are fun. It is fun how all is reduced to a folded paper. It is fun how we are out there somewhere. If I had to choose between being on a map or being on one of Antonio López’s paintings, I concluded, I would go for the painting.

Then we didn’t know what to do so I proposed to go to Fnac. I guess you still don’t have Fnacs in the States, but wait. Ikea finally made it through to you, so why would it be different for the French? Fnac (as a side note, I don’t have shares or anything like that) are malls with all kind of technology, movies, music and books. It’s kind of a labyrinth in which you can waste your whole life deciding how many things you would love to buy but you won’t. We wandered through the movies section. My friend took one dvd case from the television shows shelf. Look, these are your friends, aren’t they? And he was pointing to Big Love’s last season dvd. They are, they are, I grinned, but I haven’t watched this one. My girlfriend was just behind us, so she joined the conversation: we’d rather go for this other. And she chose the third season from The Big Bang Theory. I’m still wondering which one would seem weirder to my friend.

My girlfriend went to check the music section. She wanted to find this new album by Imelda May. We men we went for the books on the second floor. In the books in English section there wasn’t anything new. My friend was checking the historical novels. I went for poetry. My girlfriend came back without Imelda May and she picked a book from the novels section: it was the third book in Haruki Murakami’s recent trilogy. She is almost done with the first two books and she is pretty much haunted by them. She said she better buy it in any of the only two little bookshops that we still have in the hood. I smiled at her and she nodded and then we chose to go and have a last drink before taking the subway and going back home. She went to look for my friend and I took a last peek to the table with the newest books.

And that was the moment when I became paralyzed.

I don’t want to sound as if I am trying to belittle the reach of Mormon literature. In fact, some of you know me from before. You know I wrote a dissertation on Mormon literature. You may even know that what I consider to be Mormon literature needs a roomy space, a wide range, an expanded frame, if I have any right to have any consideration about what Mormon literature is or could be. In the last few years, I have been asserting in different international conferences that there are many Mormon writers who deserve attention. Next June, I’ll be traveling to Tenerife; in November, to Málaga; in a few weeks, to La Coruña. That means that I will be visiting three very distant places across Spain and in all of them I will be proposing new names to Spanish scholars researching (Western) American Literature. And all of them will be Mormons. Many scholars here are familiar with Terry Tempest Williams. Orson Scott Card is widely read in a specific genre. Almost everybody knows who Anne Perry is the same that they know about Stephenie Meyer’s vampires, but they don’t even care about the fact that they are Mormons.

Still, I didn’t expect to find Brady Udall’s book being translated into Spanish. I know that The Lonely Polygamist won the 2010 AML Award but I had to open my mouth when I saw it translated into Spanish, published by a major Spanish publishing house and placed on the table, among the newest books, those that enjoy a privileged spot. El polígamo solitario.

I didn’t even touch it. My girlfriend and my friend were already by the electric stairs but they had stopped to check some comics when they saw that I was reluctant to go. I took a step aside and pretended that I was taking a look to the books on the shelves. A couple persons were scanning the books on the table. One was close to Udall’s. A man in his forties with a tired look in his eyes and the spooky hairstyle of someone who has been the whole windy day looking for Christmas presents from mall to mall and he ended up in a bookshop as if it was the keel of a capsized boat. That was what I was fantasizing when he got to Udall. I held my breath. He took it. He caressed the cover. He grimaced, turned it around and read the blurb. I reckoned that he didn’t even finish reading the blurb. He put it back in its place and sighed.

Me? I smiled. I heard my name being shouted with a certain degree of desperation and I saw how they were already taking the electric stairs. The man was already gone but I took a last look to the book. There it was, Golden Richards translated into Spanish. I wanted to take a picture of it. And I did, but mental. I wanted Antonio López to paint that man grimacing at it. And he did, but in my dreams. To me, there was something more. There was a light. A quince tree. A poplar tree.

When we made it to home, my girlfriend began getting ready some pizzas and I went to check the email. I came across this email saying that the deadline for submissions to the AML conference was extended. I focused on one sentence: Going Forth Into All the World. I whispered: Going Forth Into All Fnacs. They have twenty malls all over Spain. I typed El polígamo solitario  in google. There was no review yet. I saw that Udall’s Edgar Mint also had his own version in Spanish. I felt sort of stupid. I found the blurb in Spanish and one specific sentence grabbed my attention: “mezcla tragedia y comedia para ofrecernos una hermosa, entrañable y divertida novela, que sorprende por su sencillez y atrapa por la riqueza de este universo particular por el que desfilan numerosos personajes que cualquier lector hace inmediatamente suyos.” In short, that Udall combines tragedy and comedy to offer a beautiful, intimate and funny novel, one that surprises for its simplicity and that captures for the richness of a particular universe in which readers find a parade of characters that they immediately make theirs.

Particular universe. That is what I felt when I perceived how Antonio López was trying to capture in his paintings those places in which I had been before. His personal view alters those places with a particular light that looks universal. A particular universe but a universal particle. Will anybody enter Big House that way? Is that only my intimate reading? I still don’t have it quite clear. In fact, the only thing I keep clear in mind is that… you know, professional soccer players don’t like painting.

But I’ve got a new plan: I’m gonna go back to Fnac and buy a couple copies of Udall’s book, then I will ask a couple friends to read them, to caress the cover, to visit Big House, to paint the closet from a particular angle so it looks different to Golden, universal for us. I’ll let you know the conclusions, if there is any.

Biographical Blurb: My name is Ángel Chaparro Sáinz and, at the present time, I’m a professor of English at the University of the Basque Country. I earn a degree in English Philology from the same university and I have recently accomplished my doctorate studies with a final dissertation on Phyllis Barber’s writing which got a final mark of summa cum laude. In the last few years I have been attending conferences and publishing papers on topics dealing with Barber, Mormon literature and Western American literature in different parts of Spain and Portugal. I am a member of the research group REWEST, founded by the Spanish government, which aims at analyzing different representations of the West in literature and other artistic fields. Besides, I live in Barakaldo, in the outskirts of Bilbao, I love writing, reading, listening to music, nature, soccer, basketball, running and traveling. My first language is Spanish but I also speak English and Basque.

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3 Responses to El Polígamo Solitario Comes to Town

  1. Jessie says:

    Thanks for this guest post–it is a nice peek into Mormon literature making it beyond our borders. I served a mission in Madrid in 1999-2000 and have been to Fnac a few times :) I would also be very happy to see El poligamo solitario hanging out there. Now we just need to get some Mormons in Spain to write novels (and managed to get them translated into English and sold over here–no small order)

  2. Th. says:

    .

    Yes. Reading nonAmerican Mormon lit would be terrific.

    Angel—you also will have to tell us about the quality of the translation. Also, I’m curious how people judge translation quality (or if they even care) in Spain.

  3. Ángel says:

    Hi, Jessie, Th., thanks for your responses. Jessie, I guess you would visit the Fnac in Callao. Every time I go down to Madrid I take some time to wander around Callao and Princesa, watching people living their lives. Fnac is always a good place to get rid of the cold outside if it is wintertime. I guess it would be nice to see Mormon people writing novels in Spanish (or even basque) but I have no news about that around here so far. Th., I’ll let you know about the translation. I’ve been really busy since I came back from holiday. So my plan is still a project. I haven’t read the translation yet. But I’ll do it. So far, the only thing I can tell you is that Alberto Coscarelli, the translator, has a good reputation and a long resume. And I guess that we care about translations, but not that much if we are talking about standard readers. Bear in mind that Spain is not one of the best examples for this issue of languages and translations, everybody keeps going to theaters and watching dubbed movies while in some other places in Europe they usually take their time to learn English and watch movies or TV shows with subtitles.
    By the way, talking about subtitles, just let me explain that it is not for free that in this piece, I mention Imelda May, Big Love, Antonio López, Edward Hopper, Haruki Murakami or The Big Bang Theory all at once, it was sort of my purpose to show how interesting it was to see that Mormon literature could get its place among other cultural items for an outsider audience.
    Again, thanks for your responses, I really appreciate it.
    Need go. I’ve got to commute and drive while snowing out there. Coldest winter ever!
    Ángel

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