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 AUTHOR’s NOTE

 Jorge CONSIGLIO


   Translated by Carolina ORLOFF
   & Fionn PETCH 

‘...understand that this world is not ruled by immutable laws;
that it is vulnerable, uncertain.
Understand that fate replaces destiny.


E.M. Estrada


Ahead of a novel called Fate (Charco Press, 2020)


The key question is: fate or chance? Life presents itself as a series of events, and we will never know if we are fulfilling a pre-established path or if fortuitousness—the accidental in the strictest sense of the word—is the decisive factor. When tragedy strikes, there is always someone who is spared by some tiny detail. As a result, triviality takes on monumental dimensions. A few years ago, there was an accident in the main railway station in Buenos Aires: the brakes failed on a suburban train and fifty-one people died. I heard the account of a woman who missed the train because she slept in. And of someone else who hadn’t caught it because he lost a contact lens on his way to work.Their lives were saved. It’s that simple: they saved their lives. Fate or chance? Science addresses the question through variables and proportions: what is the probability that a given event will actually occur? As we know, quantifying the world brings peace to the soul. But mathematical arguments never satisfy anyone.

Beyond all the precautions taken, beyond everything we do to protect ourselves in society, beyond personal defence mechanisms, every human being stands face-to-face with the unknown. This is the distinctive and most genuine characteristic of our species. This idea lies at the core of Fate. There are four characters: a taxidermist, a meteorologist, a musician and a child.

Their paths cross. They move through a city that seems to force them to take decisions: speed, in this day and age, is a value. The characters deploy infinite tenderness, yet at the same time appear implacable, as if on the very brink of themselves. They are in constant motion. They catch glimpses of beauty and love, and these inklings justify them somehow, spurring them to act. All four unknowingly make their way into the eye of a hurricane. Each of them, with both desperation and enchantment, advances towards a personal understanding of the future.

The plot of Fate is simple, the prose straightforward. Yet beneath this simplicity, a turbulent ocean swells. In this novel, each action is what it is—and is also somethingelse. Or more precisely, each action is many things at once. Each sentence (the English translation is impeccable and captures every nuance of the original) reverberates, seeks to expand and transform itself into both a proposition and an enigma. When I wrote the book, one of the things I was mulling over was how to capture the intimacy of poetry. I mean the imagery: the meshing of meanings evoked by the opacity of language. That was my idea. I had other intentions, too: I imagined, for example, that the characters would find themselves in a state of solitude, would be defined by it—yet would also fight tirelessly to make that modest leap of exceptionality and intensity.

I wrote Fate over the course of a single scorching summer. Not a soul was left in Buenos Aires. I spent the evenings, the air conditioning on full blast, watching 1950s noir films, and discovered The Third Man by Carol Reed. I became fascinated by it and watched it three times over. In one scene, the two main characters, played by Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, are talking inside a Ferris wheel cabin as it climbs into the sky.They say terrible things to each other. Welles is pitiless. I found a certain essence in this dialogue, a particular quality I sought to reproduce in the text. I don’t mean the specific content of the conversation, but rather an atmosphere. I started writing with this detail in mind: in the sequence I discovered the sound that would allow the story to take form. In other words, the scene helped me finish devising the plot.This element may not even be visible on the surface, but it remains the most significant aspect of the text. The image of Cotten and Welles, arguing at the top of the wheel, gave me the tone that I imagined as the ideal acoustics of my story.

Without question, writing is a blind endeavour. Yet sometimes, when luck is on our side, we chance on signs that are enormously useful in orienting us amid this nebulous universe of possibilities.





MARINA KEZELMAN
AND ZÁRATE
WAITED AT THE DOOR
OF THE HOTEL
...

AN EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL




Marina Kezelman and Zárate waited at the door of the hotel. The night refined them, polishing their features, turning them sharp and beautiful. Their faces looked like portraits by El Greco.They talked about banal things: TV series, tourism, sport. They glanced at their phones out of the corners of their eyes, as if it were a duty. Neither of them was partial to the cold, but they were grateful for the four-degree temperature drop. I forgot my shawl, she said.

At the agreed time, the same guy came to fetch them in the same van. The trip lasted exactly eight minutes. This time, Zárate—calm and clean—decided to be more sociable. He asked the driver what his name was, and proceeded to include him in the conversation. The guy raised his eyebrows. He was cautious, as if his words were being taken as evidence in a trial. His name was Juan. He had been born in a town near Quito and he’d emigrated to Argentina not long before. Marina Kezelman said: You can’t really tell you’re not from round here. Her phone rang right after her remark. It was Karl. Simón hadn’t been feeling well, he’d been somewhat ill. What do you mean, somewhat ill? she yelled. Karl replied and Marina Kezelman hung up without saying goodbye. The German was always putting his foot in it. Malapropos: that was the word for him.

The hosts were a pair of civil servants: the woman was an engineer and the man a lawyer. They met at the best steak restaurant in town, a vast place with rustic décor. Traditional songs played in the background. The ambience of the get-together was relaxed from the outset. A sommelier wearing a tight suit and sporting a tiny moustache presented them with the wine list. They drank parsimoniously from large glasses, adjusting quickly to the situation. Each movement fastened to the one that followed; they were carried along on an undulating wave of comfort. They inhabited a present that was weightless, fickle even,and yet at the same time effortlessly assembled; it was the very embodiment of something sound, something firm and tangible: a space of utter certainty. They felt they’d known each other forever. That was the temperature of the evening. The meat—tender, cooked to perfection—was another element in this equilibrium. It appeared on a cast iron griddle pan. Marina Kezelman ordered a tonic water to alternate with the wine, and they brought her a Schweppes in a miniature ice bucket. A nice detail, she thought.

They finished well after midnight. There was hardly any movement in the street. Occasionally a car would appear, but it would pass without urgency, trailing drowsiness in its wake. Everything was translucent, crystal clear. The night echoed over the landscape: the animals, the wind in the trees, and all that rich and compact mass of grassland. Marina Kezelman and Zárate bid farewell to their companions as if they were old friends. There were promises of future encounters and slaps on the back, all four of them following the rites of sociability to a T. Marina Kezelman and Zárate climbed into the van through the same door and began their journey back. For both, the car felt like an observatory. They dissolved into their thoughts as they were driven in silence. On the other side of the glass, the city—a colony of dormant buildings—was well-defined and alien. They reached the hotel in a blink of an eye. The concierge—whose face was smooth and hairless—told them the bar was still open and gestured for them to make the most of their complimentary welcome drink. Marina Kezelman ordered a Campari, Zárate, a gin and tonic. They talked about the research institute they had in common and told stories from university. Zárate, emboldened and slightly nostalgic, placed his elbows on the table. He ordered a second round of drinks, but the bar had just closed. Marina Kezelman took the opportunity to withdraw. The light from above accentuated her cheekbones. It was clearly time to call it a night. They had to get up early: the return flight left at 7:12 a.m.

They stepped into the lift. Their rooms were both on the third floor. They took twenty steps down the corridor and, when the moment came to say goodnight, the shift occurred, the change that they had both anticipated. There was a brush between them, the slightest graze that served them both—in the same instant—as proof, and precisely because they couldn’t ignore the force of the truth contained in this apparent insignificance, they had to act on it. Their hands touched first, then their lips. There were no words, nor was there time to take in all the details that would make an eternal image of the scene. In haste, tangled, furtive, they made their way into Zárate’s room. He stumbled. Then it was all a frenzied rolling on the bed that left them gasping for air. They halted to sip water from a small bottle. They walked to the window and looked out. The street was deserted; this place belonged to no one. They ended up on the floor. The back of her head against a corner of the wall. He on top of her, exhausted, with a rash on his neck. They slept wrapped in the quilt and left for the airport together. They were united by a certain look: they both wore black sunglasses of comparable design. On the plane, they talked about the future of the research project that had brought them together. Without admitting it to the other, they both saw the previous night’s encounter as an isolated event, an exception, a mere product of their circumstances; something that would never happen again.








 
Consiglio’s Fate focuses on a group of characters who are all in different ways endeavouring to take control of their fate. Their desire to lead a genuine existence forces them to confront difficult decisions, and to break out of comfortable routines. Karl and Marina have been together for ten years and have a young son, Simón. Karl is a German-born oboist at Argentina’s national orchestra, and Marina is a meteorologist. On a field trip, she meets fellow researcher Zárate, and what might have been just a fling starts to erode the foundations of her marriage. Then there is Amer, a dynamic and successful taxidermist. At a group therapy session for smokers, Amer falls for the younger Clara. While the relationship between Karl and Marina disintegrates, the love story between Amer and Clara is just beginning—or is it already at an end? One of Argentina’s leading contemporary writers, Jorge Consiglio portrays the inner worlds of these characters through the minute details of their everyday lives, laying bare their strivings and their frustrations with a wry gaze, and seeking in this close-up texture a deeper truth.

Published by Charco Press in a new translation by Carolina Orloff and Fionn Petch, the novel can bre pre-ordered here.



Jorge Consiglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1962. He has published five novels: El bien (The Good, 2003; Award for Emerging Writers, Opera Prima, Spain), Gramática de la sombra (Grammar of the Shadows, 2007; Third Municipal Prize for Novels), Pequeñas intenciones (Small Intentions, 2011; Second National Prize for Novels, First Municipal Prize for Novels, re-published in 2019), Hospital Posadas (2015) and Tres Monedas (2018), published by Charco Press as Fate (2020). They have all been awarded prizes in Argentina and in Spain. He has also published three collections of short stories, including Villa del Parque (2016), published by Charco Press as Southerly (2018), five books of poems and a book of essays.

Fionn Petch was born in Scotland, lived in Mexico City for twelve years, and is now based in Berlin. He translates fiction, poetry and plays from Spanish and French, and also specialises in books and exhibition catalogues on art and architecture. He has curated multidisciplinary exhibitions, including the Citámbulos urban research project, and worked for several film and literature festivals. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the National University of Mexico (UNAM), on the concept of persuasion in early Greek thought. Fionn can be contacted at
That Elusive Word Translations.

Carolina Orloff is an author, translator and scholar who has been working on research projects studying the literature, politics and culture of contemporary Argentina. At the end of 2016, together with Sam McDowell, Carolina co-founded Charco Press, an independent publishing house focused on the translation into English of contemporary Latin American literature. Carolina acts as director and main editor at Charco Press






The polaroid images are excerpted from Adam Scovell’s essay ‘On Location: Harry Lime’s Vienna in The Third Man’
Little White Lies (September, 2019) 






2020



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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.

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