Ángela Pradelli was born in Buenos Aires in 1959. As a professor and teacher, she heads the Plan Provincial de Lectura that helps institute and promote reading education in the Province of Buenos Aires. As a writer, she’s published stories, poems and essays in various newspapers and anthologies. She is the author of five award-winning novels: ‘Las cosas ocultas’ (1996), ‘Amigas mías’ (2002), ‘Turdera’ (2003), ‘El lugar del padre’ (2004) and ‘Combi’ (2008). A book of poetry, ‘Un dia entero’, appeared in 2008 and a collection of essays, ‘La busqueda del lenguaje’, came out earlier this year.
‘Amigas mías’, which we’ve excerpted here in its first-ever translation into English (executed by the masterful Andrea G. Labinger), won the Premio Emecé de Novela in 2002. Pradelli also received First Prize in the Inter-American Story Contest run by the Fundación Avón in 1999 and the Premio Clarín de Novela in 2004. She spoke to us via e-mail from her home outside Buenos Aires to tell us a bit about her fiction, her fascination for small spaces, and what was inspiring about her old commute.
Your story is actually part of a novel. Can you tell us a bit about the larger work and how this excerpt fits into it?
‘Amigas mías’ (My Friends) tells the stories of four women who have known each other since childhood and have shared experiences that, over the years, have deeply impacted their lives in many ways. Together, they traverse not just childhood, but also adolescence–a special moment in our lives when, like at birth, many worlds open before us, we create new universes and we lose ourselves in an intense self-examination that never really is repeated in adulthood. As they grow up, the friends go their separate ways, but to keep their friendship alive decide on a ritual. Every year, no matter what happens, they get together on December 30th, just the four of them, no husbands, no boyfriends, no kids, and celebrate. No sadness, no nostalgia, they get together to enjoy themselves. The excerpt published here is a story that one of the women experiences without the company of the others. It´s set on a train, where she witnesses a situation that perturbs her. However, in her reaction, we see something of our human complexity: it´s probably far from the reaction you´d expect from an average person.
We´d like to give our readers an idea of who you are as a writer. This isn´t your first book. How many have you written? How does this book differ from or continue the aims of the rest of your work?
I began writing poetry. Poetry, as a genre of writing, has a very different dimension. In 2008, I published a collection of poems, ‘Un día entero’, that I had been writing for more than ten years. But poetry exists in its own time, I could spent ten years working on a book of poems just a few pages long. After I began as a poet, I wrote a book of stories that, in reality, was the first book I published, since aside from a few stand-alone poems in anthologies, I didn’t published any collected poetry before 2008.
The writing of ‘Amigas mías’ was a great joy for me and a great learning experience. I lived for almost six years–the time it took to write the book–with the characters, their ghosts, their frustrations, their wishes. Afterwards, I wrote other novels, and another book of poetry that I´m working on right now, and two books of essays. Into each of the subsequent novels I incorporate one character from each of the previous novels. Perhaps partly because I refuse to accept the idea that characters die after the last page of the book.
In ´The Train Robber,´ the main character sees a criminal act but doesn´t denounce it. What is it about the act that interests Olga, the protagonist? Is her reaction a comment on crime, or the way we accept it in our midst? Or something else altogether?
I live 20km from Buenos Aires, and the commute on the train was a something I made frequently over many years. I especially like small set pieces; to me, everything has more power in an intimate scene. I’m fascinated, for example, by hallways of intensive care units, by kitchens, by waiting rooms, by gardens when they’re small. The traincar is one of those small scenes where so many things happen. On top of that, most of the time, people in traincars don’t know each other, and yet they share a certain complicity born of the situation–the trip, the transport. And if this story can be said to take off from a moment of crime, after that moment, it clearly goes in another direction. Which, as you point out, is not the direction of denouncing the perpetrator.
The protagonist, through this experience, comes to know something about herself that she hadn’t known before and that she wouldn’t ever have guessed at. I love writing characters who go through certain experiences and come out changed somehow. And I love, as a writer, when in some way I can show this change, even if it’s small, as something permanent, for forever.
Read ‘The Train Robber‘ an excerpt from Ángela Pradelli’s award-winning novel ‘Amigas mías’, translated into English by Andrea G. Labinger, exclusively for The Argentina Independent.
Lead Image: Tren es progreso by Federico Casares