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Saturday, January 09, 2016

A Story's Story (La Salud de los Enfermos, 1966)

(image source: Universos paralelos)
no copyright infringement intended

Pero un cariño no vive de palabras bonitas y promesas a la distancia. I found this sentence on the web, and it had a flavor of its own, some kind of intrinsic elegance. I was wondering about its larger context, but firstly I needed to understand one of the words: cariño. Being definitely a beginner in Spanish, I didn't know what it meant. I looked in dictionaries for the word. Shame to me, it was so close to Italian (caro, carissimo)! A gentle way of naming a romance. Thus, a romance does not live with nice words and remote promises (or maybe better, nice words and remote promises do not feed the romance).

It was a quote pulled from a story by Julio Cortázar. The title was not mentioned, but to my amazement I found that story quite easily: La Salud de los Enfermos. To read it in original seemed to me impossible, as I was too aware of my poor knowledge of Spanish. I looked for an English translation, without success. What I found in English were only some references. They didn't offer though a satisfactory explanation, rather giving some disparate pieces. I took my courage to look for references in Spanish, and putting some patience to my reading I started to link together the pieces and to understand what it was about: a large family where the accidental death of one of the sons is kept hidden to the old mother, as an extreme protection due to her very fragile health; a very elaborate lie built to explain the prolonged absence of the son; as time goes by, the lie evolving into a crazy parallel universe (la vida de una familia es alterada al afrontar la pérdida de un integrante y la imposibilidad de dar la noticia a su madre - quien no debia recibir malas noticias - para cuidar la "salud de la enferma"; todos crean una trama de mentiras y cartas hasta que terminan creyéndoselas ellos mismos - wikipedia).

This reminded me of two movies that I had seen some years ago (also mentioned on the wikipedia page of Cortázar's story): Depuis qu'Otar est parti, and Good Bye Lenin. Both were making use of the same idea (the need to hide a tragic novelty from a very fragile mother), but each one was built in a very distinct tonality - and I wondered in which tonality was the story of Cortázar?

Eventually I decided to try my hand with the original story, so I started reading it in Spanish. And I found out that I knew much more words than I thought. Of course, there were many words still unknown by me, but I was trying to guess their meaning from the logic of the whole sentence. I was glad when, somewhere in the middle of the story, I came on that pero un cariño no vive de palabras bonitas y promesas a la distancia, that had triggered my quest. And so I arrived at the end of the story, and I realized that I had got this way the big picture, also something more: even if not understanding all words, not getting all details, a page written by such an author has a music of its own, an amazing beauty, impossible to explain.

Here is the story by Julio Cortázar:

Having the big picture of the story and not all details meant, say, sixty or seventy percent. The problem with the prose of Cortázar is that in any story by him el diablo se esconde detrás de los detalles, the devil is hidden in the details (maybe because each detail keeps for you a small indulgence).

Well, there is a god of those who are just beginners in Spanish: after some research I found a Romanian translation of the story!

And this Romanian translation is together with all other stories from Cortázar's collection Todos los fuegos el fuego. Wow!

Cada cuento con sua historia y cada loco con su tema, for each reader the stories they read have parallel stories unfolding.

(Julio Cortázar)



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