Special Prize: Soul’s Infarct, translated by Ronald Christ from the Spanish of Diamela Eltit and Paz Errázuriz
JUDGE: Sean Cotter
The PEN Southwest Book Awards recognize excellence in writing from PEN members in the Southwest, and members and friends of PEN Texas. Because the prize is limited to this select group, occasionally a category will have only one submission, as occurred this year in the category of Translation. On reviewing the submission, however, the members decided the book merited a special prize.
Ronald Christ has translated an extraordinary book, a collaboration between the esteemed Chilean author Diamela Eltit and the photographer Paz Errázuriz, entitled El infarcto del alma or Soul’s Infarct. The odd title makes a good introduction to the narrative of the author’s encounter with residents of an asylum for the mentally ill, two hours’ drive from Santiago. Part novel, part essay, Eltit’s book examines the love-lives of the terminally insane, the couples formed among people who will live in the asylum the rest of their lives. Her text celebrates the desire of those abandoned by society, those whose madness does not prevent them from experiencing the madness of love. Interlaced with photographs of the couples holding hands, embracing, undressing, and sharing cigarettes, Eltit’s novel describes the inmates’ anniversary parties and bedrooms, records their dreams and declarations of love. Christ’s translation highlights the strangeness of Eltit’s language, follows her contrasts of medical vocabulary and Romantic poetry. Christ has brought into English an arresting document, offering English readers the chance to see patients at the margins of society and human experience as the people that they are.