‘On the Death of the Author’ by Álvaro Enrigue, translated by Brendan Riley

There’s a lot of layers in this, from the Barthes homage of the title, to the wry humor, to a historical narrative, to down-to-earth reflections on how to write, and why. The story begins with the narrator struggling to tell the story of Ishi, the last living member of an extinct Native American tribe. Oh, the sadness of this story. The sadness of being the only person alive who can speak your language. The fact that the narrator is a Latin American living abroad, estranged from his home country, seems essential. What does it mean to communicate? What can fiction provide that facts don’t? I love the final paragraph in Riley’s translation, in terms of a manifesto for fiction writing:

“Sometimes writing is a job: obliquely tracing the path of certain ideas that seem indispensable to us, that we have to set down. But other times it’s a question of conceding what remains, accepting the museum and contemplating the balance while awaiting death, asking forgiveness of the sea for whatever was fucked up.

From Hypothermia, Dalkey Archive Press, 2013. A different translation by Anna Kushner, published by Words Without Borders, is available to read online here