The New Year sees me continue to host the Read Around the World Bookclub on Goodreads. We are approaching the completion of our third year of reading one female author from a country around the world. I can’t begin to express how much joy this bookclub brings me. I love everything: Researching the books, creating the polls and of course reading and discussing the books.
Have I loved every book so far? No. Has it been worthwhile reading all of them? Absolutely.
And very often you come across a gem. Like The Remainder. This January we travelled to Chile. In fact, no matter which book would have been chosen, we would have read a book from this country, the situation in Chile is far from good and so it felt important to me to read a book from the country.
I am no stranger to Chilean authors, the first Chilean author I ever read was Isabel Allende back in the 1980ies, my boyfriend’s mother gave me The House of Spirits when I was knocked out with tonsillitis and I gobbled the book up. Sadly not something, I was able to recreate with the rest of her work. But back then, I went on a mission to read a lot of South American literature which included some Chilean authors, known quantities such as Neruda, Mistral and Sepulveda and much later also Bolano. I also delved into non-fiction on the topic back then and have been fascinated by the country ever since.
So it is fair to assume that sooner or later I would have gotten to The Remainder on my own steam, but I am glad that it was sooner because this is an incredible book. Told from the viewpoints of Iquela and Felipe, we explore a complex connection between family friends that spans decades right back to the end of the Pinochet regime to almost the present day. Felipe, obsessed with tallying up the official numbers of deaths caused by the regime with the “inoffical” number, the dead he sees everywhere, he tries to get to zero, but he just cannot make it work. Iquela, his friend, whose family partially raised Felipe seems to live in denial about the past, dreams of escape, yet is completely bound to Santiago. Then Paloma arrives in Santiago to bury her mother who had lived in exile most of her life.
For me as a reader, I have certain hot topic buttons when it comes to fiction: Family, grief, belonging, sense of place… all of these make me engage with a piece of fiction if they are well done, then I am yours and you got me hooked and this novel does this so well. The title could have not been chosen better, a mathematical term for “the amount left over after a computation” or generally: something that is left over after having dealt with everything else. Iquela, Felipe and Paloma are what is left behind from the generation before who tried to bring change, to resist, to overthrow and yet who failed. And what is left is a broken second generation. If you look at Chile now, you realise that nothing has been resolved at all and in this book you can feel the anticipation of the conflict we are seeing right now.
The translation is wonderful and I admire the skill shown by Sophie Hughes navigating the no doubt difficult decisions of how to translate the linguistic play between Chile born and bred Felipe and Iquela and Paloma whose Spanish is a bit more flimsy and stilted. It’s these kinds of details that make the difference between a translation and a great translation, so easily lost between the two worlds.