In this installment of Page 69,
we put Carmen Boullosa's Before to the test.
What is Before about?
I published Antes (translated now as Before) in 1989. I remember with precision where and how I (hand)wrote every line. Some at the theater bar we ran then, at the small space where we stored our provisions, a mini-attic; the ceiling was so slow that it was impossible to stand up; I set the wine boxes to be used as my desk and chair (movable both, for we had full house almost daily), and wrote while the play or the show was on stage, and ran down the ladder the minute the applause began, ran up after I closed the cashier, while the last customers were still sitting around their drinks and having fun. Other lines I wrote when we closed the place (at 2am) and arrived at home; I stayed awake working till my children woke up (at 6 or 7). I had it clear it was a ghost story told by the ghost herself, written by a poet (me) in the voice of a female of my generation but whose life had stopped short two decades before, a girl who would have been a poet, for she cared most of all about words. Now, for me today, Before is still a ghost story, and it is my remembrances of the years I wrote it. It is my children when they were very small, my then compañero who rests in peace, my friends, the artists that worked with us, the plays I wrote, the packed place, the smell of it all (a mix of tobacco, alcohol, fried Mexican goodies that Chabela the cook, who also rests in peace, prepared for the customers)... And because the ghost’s my generation, it is also my city’s childhood. Too much, I guess.
Please set up Page 69 for us. What are we about to read?
In the first couple of lines, a ghost, who is the main character and the narrator of the book, ends talking about a treasured memory she has, makes a break and starts presenting to our eyes what dreams are, and were, for her. We learn something interesting: ghosts sleep and dream. Lucky her: I sleep so badly, insomnia is my thing...
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the books is all about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
Yes, and no. The "theme" might be "fear." And here we don’t have fear but a bit of oxygen. It’s a breath inside the book, a breath of words, words give her the only way to be alive.
Carmen Boullosa is one of Mexico's leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. The translation of her novel Texas: The Great Theft (Deep Vellum, 2014) was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Prize, nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award, and won Typographical Era's Translation Award. She lives in Brooklyn and Mexico City.