Tag: Lost in translations

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Posted July 21, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria LuiselliTitle: Faces in the Crowd (Goodreads)
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Translator: Christina MacSweeney
Published: Coffee House Press, 2011
Pages: 146
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Faces in the Crowd is the story of a young mother living in contemporary Mexico City who is trying to write a novel. She recounts her time living in New York as a translator. Her novel is based on the bohemian life of Mexican poet Gilberto Owen, mainly focusing on his time in Harlem. Valeria Luiselli’s first novel to be published into English, Faces in the Crowd is a spectacular novel dealing with multiple perspectives and a shifting reality.

I have already recorded and released a podcast about this novel, with Lia from Hyde and Seek but I felt that I needed to put in a short review as well. If you are interested, most of my thoughts about this book are better discussed on that episode. Needless to say, I loved this book. Faces in the Crowd is the second Luiselli novel I have read. Having read The Story of My Teeth last year but this one stood out more. This is the novel that turned me into a fan and made me determined to read everything she has written, assuming it has been translated into English.

“…a horizontal novel told vertically”

The different perspectives made for a unique reading experience, one that made me slow down and take my time trying to understand what was going on. This really is a horizontal novel told vertically in the sense that you read down the page but there are so many layers of which you need to keep track. First you have her life as a married woman with a child in modern Mexico. Then you have her time as a translator in New York. The third thread is around Gilberto Owen’s life. However the narrative fractures and reality shifts, and the narrative threads get complicated, leaving the reader to try and decide between reality and fiction, the fiction that this unnamed woman is writing.

I knew I loved this novel from the start because it felt like a real approach to translated literature. “I worked as a reader and translator in a small publishing house dedicated to rescuing ‘foreign gems.’ Nobody bought them, though, because in such an insular culture translation is treated as suspicion. But I liked my work and I believed that for a time I did it well.” This statement happened on page one, and I felt like Valeria Luiselli had captured something real. I often feel that people treat translations as suspicious or something inaccessible.

I treated this novel as a peek into the world of translations and I felt like it captured it well. I think there was so much more going on that helped me fall in love with Faces in the Crowd and I hope that more people pick it up. Like I said earlier, check out the Lost in Translations episode on this book. I do not want to put too many details into my review because I legit want people to listen to the podcast. I have Sidewalks on my shelf, which is also translated by Christina MacSweeney, so I will probably pick that up soon.