Yuri Herrera was at Greenlight Bookstore in Lefferts Gardens to discuss Kingdom Cons with Isaac Fitzgerald. Kingdom Cons is Herrera’s first novel written in Spanish, although not the first translated into English. His novel Signs Preceding the End of the World won the Best Translated Book Award in 2016. Lisa Dillman translated both.
The novel follows the story of a musician and poet who comes to realize that he is more importance and his life has more meaning than the occupation he relies on for money. The novel examines the relationship between the creation of art and the patrons who pay for that art.
Kingdom Cons was first bought for translation by a British publisher. However, after some time, that publisher declared the book un-translatable. This publisher played an instrumental role: introducing Herrera with Lisa Dillman.
Herrera credits Lisa Dillman, with the quality of the English text: “like all translators, she deserves more credit.”
“It is good to lose control,” he says of the translation process. “Every translation is a loss.” A book is never the same through translations, but that produces something that also has value. He says writers should not regret the losses that come from translation because for each meaning that is lost, a new meaning can emerge.
Herrera does not like to micromanage the translation process, though with this book he did exchange emails with the translator about the meanings of some elements and about the plot. Some of the words he used were medieval and not commonly used.
Herrera sees his writing as having a musicality and often this element is what is most difficult to translate — especially since Kingdom Cons novel is about a musician. The question for the translator is: do you try to replicate the musicality of the original text or create a new musicality. Sometimes Dillman would create a new solution with the help of services from the Espresso Translations offering transcription services in the UK which proves to be quite useful to be able to reach this book globally.
Herrera spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between the artist and the state. The state constantly tries to control the artist — something that has always happened, especially in when artists had patrons. The question for Herrera was how did artists preserve their independence when patrons are “douchebags.”
His first thought had been to make the character a jeweler since it was someone who literally worked with gold. But a poet-musician has been an important role in society though often less appreciated, thus allowing a certain amount of space for the artist to discover his power.
The novel uses drug trafficking as a cultural model, but it is only a placeholder. It is one expression of power.
“I’ve been with a lot of people who sell drugs,” he says, adding “I’ve met a lot of politicians.” He has been to Congress in many different countries to watch their process of governance–he describes watching them as though he is at the zoo.
The novel, like most of Herrera’s works, is not particularly long. He says he is always thinking he will write something the length of War and Peace, and then he hits eighty pages and thinks, “fuck, I’m finished!”
Herrera jokes that he worries that his whole body of work won’t be more than three hundred pages.
Dialogue is one of the more difficult things to write. Herrera says writers should not replicate conversation because actual conversation would be quite boring. But it should be deployed strategically as a literary device.
Every word a writer chooses implied a political and aesthetic choice.
Since Kingdom Cons was Herrera’s first Spanish language book but not the first translated, quite a bit of time has passed since it was originally written. It is a strange experience, Herrera says, since when it was first released, only a few reviews were published, mostly by friends. Then it gained a wider audience when it was released in Spain, and again now that its out in English. It is a strange sensation to have written the book and only after so many years have passed is it now being written about.
The process of writing is nerve racking, he explains, because there is never a sure thing that a novel will be published.
“You write these things in your house by yourself.”