Best Translated Book Award 2011
Viscount Emilio Lascano Tegui~Argentina
Bougival is full of old women. Their big faces fill the windowpanes. My God, how old they are! Not even death can get their attention. They’ll only die once they finally tire of listening to the ringing of the village bells.
What is magical about his fictional diary of a man’s slow fall into madness is that he renders it relatable. A man whose prized possessions are sex and elegance, Tegui offers madness and eloquence through his short diary entries. We are witness to his surreal proclamations of love for a goat alongside his wistful musings on the loss of elegance in society. All done with an impeccable writing style that is unique without being verbose or self-conscious. His narrative skill is evident in this passage where he introduces a friend, Raimundo:
December 31, 18–We had a large carriage depot in Bougival. Come evening, these heretofore idle carriages would depart for Paris. They were our town’s only night owls. In a cafe, “Au Rendez-vous des chochers,” the drivers would get together for wine. Among those wide, paunchy men with their flush faces, I met one who was exceptionally wide, paunchy, and flushed: his face was a beet with two little holes that opened to allow his eyes to peer out. On top of that, these eyes hid under a single eyebrow, life the forehead-strap on a muzzle.
The man was a rag torn off some holy cassock. A defrocked priest. He took me along with him until the road to Mont Valerian sometimes, recounting the secrets of his adventurous life as a coachman, enjoying himself immensely, as if he though of himself as one of the Eugene Sue characters that appeared weekly in the newspaper serials.
May 19, 18–“I’m thinking about writing a book,” I said, “a book that would be a sort of symptomatic journal of my disease that could serve as a source of information for doctors and literary types both. This idea came knocking at my door as twilight fell…I let it seduce me as though I were just another conquest…Even though I know that writing a book is the greatest shame than an original mind can bring upon itself.”“But–I want to write a book, Raimundo. A book that will make my illness into an iridescent fantasy…”
November 6, 18–They (writers) publish books for the pleasure of seeing them printed and bound, without remembering the saddest aspects of their lives will end up contained in those pages.
But wouldn’t my book be a result of my desire to commit a crime, and thus be part of it? Wouldn’t every page be a sliver of glass in the daily soup of my fellow citizens?
A book is the vegetal pulp left behind by man. And now, after countless centuries of digging up and studying palimpsests and engraved tablets, they’re saying that we should just allow those dead, abandoned cities to become buried again beneath the windblown sentiment…
A book is a slow, unavoidable catastrophe.
On Elegance While Sleeping
by Viscount Emilio Lascano Tegui
Translated by Indra Novey
Dalkey Archive Press
Paperback, 172 pp.