Roncagliolo remarked that the award closed a wonderful ‘British season’ for him and his book. ‘During the last twelve months I’ve been to the UK many times to talk at festivals, libraries, bookshops and universities and I am sure that the support of all the people I met during those visits, including my publishers, my agents and my great translator, has been instrumental in my receiving of the Prize.’
The writer shares the honour with his translator, Edith Grossman. Grossman also translated ‘Stars and Stripes’, the story featured in Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.
To celebrate the work of Santiago Roncagliolo and Edith Grossman, we offer an online special: ‘Stars and Stripes’ is free to read. Below, is a response to the story from Nell Freudenberger, and a Q&A with the author that ran online in conjunction with our issue. Enjoy.
One thing I admire about ‘Stars and Stripes’ is its fearlessness. The urgent narration, in a very bald and immediate first-person, tells the story of a friendship. The friend, Carlitos, is strikingly literal, charmless and unattractive, but he’s always himself: “I never knew anyone as authentic.” Santiago Roncagliolo seems utterly unconcerned with whether we like his two characters, and (as in life) that fact makes them irresistible. The other thing that got me about this story is Roncagliolo’s Lima. Writing about a place your readers don’t always know – and Roncagliolo’s audience is international – a writer is tempted by physical description. That description can be of beauty or ugliness or both, but it has to be intense, because the place you’re writing about has to seem temporarily to the reader like the only place on earth. Roncagliolo barely bothers with exterior description – a basset hound has a “melancholy face,” as if a basset hound could have any other – in favour of a kind of interior one. Each city has its peculiar social rhythm, the way that a pair of friends speak, and at a deeper level, relate in moments when they’re alone together. I don’t know the first thing about Lima, but Roncagliolo makes me feel it is a place with the personality of his story: less self-involved, more observant and more apt to enjoy the plain spectacle of life than most fiction from my own country. The final moments of the story, when the two friends meet accidentally in a cafe in California, are less about sharing the past than savouring the present, less about nostalgia than its opposite – something more like tolerance.
– Nell Freudenberger, Best Young American Novelist 2007
Each of the Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists answered a questionnaire on their influences and the role of the writer in public life. Here are Roncagliolo’s answers:
Name the five writers you most admire at the moment (any period, language or genre).
Bertrand Russell, Philip Roth, Yasunari Kawabata, Michel Houellebecq and William Shakespeare.
Have you published literary criticism?
Yes, but I stopped doing it to avoid hurting any of my friends. Sometimes you have to decide whose side you’re on.
Which languages do you read?
English, French, Portuguese and Catalan, as well as Spanish.
Do you have your own web page?
I had a blog while I was on a long promotional tour for two years. When my life became boring again, I shut it down.
Is your fiction your sole source of income? If not, what else do you live off?
I live off my books, but I take on journalism projects, scripts and translations if they interest me. Some of them also become books.
Should writers play a role in public life beyond the publication of their work? If so, in what way?
I used to think so, and wrote political novels. But experience has taught me to keep as far away as possible from public life. My latest book is a thriller about the Japanese sex market.
Photograph by Dimitris Yeros