From Grave Goods: Fernando Iwasaki. Megan Berkobien, translator.

Translator’s Note: Fernando Iwasaki is a ventriloquist of sorts; one needs only move from his short story collections to his probing literary essays to see that he is not only a talented writer and storyteller, but also a shape-shifter, switching genres and themes so quickly—and masterfully—that his work really cannot be categorized. Having moved to Sevilla, Spain from Peru in 1989, Iwasaki has proved that he can occupy both literary worlds: although his language has not lost its Peruvian shadings, his novels and short stories certainly demonstrate that he has a deep, and often witty, insight into Spanish—and especially Andalusian—culture. Perhaps his most accessible short story collection is Ajuar funerario [Grave Goods], which has been described as a tribute to horror and flash fiction, “concentrating all the shuddering, nausea, and unease of the genre into a mere ten to twelve lines.”

The Domain

When I discovered that the domain name www.infierno.com was unregistered, I thought I’d made a mistake. However, retyping the web address confirmed it as truth: the site belonged to no one. And just like that, I seized the infernal domain for a small fee.

I hadn’t yet finished designing the inferno’s contents when the page already had hundreds of thousands of visits and a similar number of requests to acquire the email address @infierno.com. In less than a week, the most powerful multinationals were offering to advertise with me and thousands of spots from all over the world created direct links to my website, which, according to the best search engines, was now one of the top ten most-visited sites in cyberspace. Amidst that orgy of success, I received a million dollar offer for the website and I sold it without a second thought; money interested me much more than infernal dominion.

Since I made the sale, I haven’t stopped traveling or delighting in all of my orifices, although I recently entered the cybercafé of some Caribbean hotel to visit  the inferno and the program now says that the website doesn’t exist. I entered www.infierno.com once more and got the same response. Dying of laughter, I went to buy the infernal domain, asking myself if the Jesuits or someone from Opus Dei had purchased it from me. The next day I received an email that left me puzzled:

Dear customer, according to our records your soul is already included in our records. Warmest regards.

The sender’s name seems far-fetched.

You Shouldn’t Talk to Strangers

That’s what mama always told me, but Agustin wasn’t a stranger because he offered me candy every day when I walked home from school. Besides, he’d give me a doll each time he took me to his garage. Agustin was really nice, always smothering me in cuddles.

Mama told me awful stories about girls disappearing because the gypsies or the sack man  snatched them up. I knew about the gypsy women taking little girls and making them sell flowers, but I never found out what the sack man did.

I play a game with Agustin where he touches me and I touch him and I always win in the end because he can’t hold himself back. Mama’s a worrywart because she says if I talk to strangers, she’ll surely never see me again.

There are lots of things that cut and burn and pinch in Agustin’s garage. He also has a dismantled airplane that we’ll use one day to fly away on vacation. That’s why he puts the magic scarf over my nose, because airplanes make you queasy and I have to get used to it. I can’t remember anything afterwards: really strong cologne, a dream like coming home from the beach, and lots of things that cut and burn and pinch. Sometimes I leave Agustin’s garage and go back to the school because no one scolds me for it anymore. I like doing as I please and walking around at night, but it worries mama, and she’s always staring sadly out the window. I talk to her but she doesn’t notice me, so I go back to his garage with my foggy playthings. Surely if Agustin weren’t a stranger, momma’d see me again.

Sons-in-Law

I love going through the books on my shelves, to caress their spines, and to take a whiff of their pages as if fulfilling a sinful fantasy. I must have nearly ten thousand books, amassed since adolescence and read continuously over the years. Is there any greater pleasure than putting your name, date, and the place of purchase on the first page of a new book? My library is the atlas of my readings, the memory of my calligraphy, and the itinerary of my knowledge.

When the girls were young, I would take a book off the shelf at random and tell them where I had acquired it, at what age I had read it, and how its reading had influenced my life. They would laugh and promise to take good care of them, but now that they’re grown up, they’ve become quite beautiful and the house is full of creeps. It doesn’t bother me that one of those jerks might put his hands all over my daughter; that’s how life goes. No. What keeps me up at night is the fact that they might make off with my library.

It infuriates me to imagine that within twenty or thirty years one of my sons-in-law will throw out my library to make space for a bigger TV. “How long are we going to keep your nerd father’s library?” he’ll shout. Ah! my books, my travels, my memory. That’s why I grabbed a knife and hid in the garage until those jerks left. They didn’t realize a thing.

Poor girls! They were so beautiful.

Translated from the Spanish. Printed with permission from the author.

About the translator: Megan Berkobien is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the same university, where she founded the school’s undergraduate translation journal, Canon Translation Review. She spent a year as assistant editor for the online magazine Asymptote as well some time as editorial intern at Words Without Borders. Working from Spanish and Catalan, she has published translations in Words Without BordersBODYPalabras Errantes, Asymptote, and Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation. Her first book-length translation—Cristina Peri Rossi’s radiant novella Strange Flying Objects—is forthcoming from Ox and Pigeon in 2015. Visit her website here.

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