‘Strategies Against Sleeping’ by Liliana Heker, translated by Alberto Manguel and Miranda France

Another Latin American – from Argentina this time – and not even one who has lived in Spain, but Heker’s short story ‘Strategies Against Sleeping’ was inspired by a long car journey the author took from Segovia to Madrid, and since it was the first short story of hers I ever translated, it has a special place in my heart. The story starts with the narrator setting off on her journey and looking forward to nodding off on the back seat, but the driver – who is himself fighting an urge to sleep – keeps asking her to talk to him (“Please, Talk to Me” provides the title for this collection). The woman makes some half-hearted attempts at conversation but, as is often the case with Heker’s work, what seems like a fairly straightforward situation gradually reveals itself to be charged with unexpected menace, taking an extraordinary turn at the end. The Argentine writer and intellectual Alberto Manguel asked me to translate Heker’s stories with him for this collection and I was grateful to be introduced to a woman is unusual and engaging, both on the page and in person. Her writing, recalling both Saki and Roald Dahl, can be devilishly difficult to translate, though. Once when I asked her what she had meant by a particular phrase she said “I don’t really know, put whatever you think.

First published as ‘Maniobras contra el sueño’, in La crueldad de la vida, Alfaguara, 2001, translation in Please Talk to Me, Yale University Press, 2015