BTBA 2011 First Look-Marias’ Elvis

Best Translated Book Award 2011


Javier Marias~Spain




New Directions

has joined the small works from big authors trend, originally mastered by Melville House, with it’s Pearl series.  A couple of the titles from this series have made their way on to the longlist for the Best Translated Book Award 2011.   First up is Javier Marias’ Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico, a short story that weighs in at a slim sixty pages.This is the story of Roy, a translator from Spain, who ends up with Elvis on location of the movie Fun in Acapulco. Here’s Roy’s take on how he got there and what the scene is:

My own role was certainly not indispensable but resulted from one of Presley’s own caprices: I was hired just for that single occasion.  And there we all were, the regulars of his formulaic movies, all copied from each other–Fun was the thirteenth–and the newcomers, all of present for the indolent shooting of a ridiculous film, without rhyme or reason, at least in my opinion I’m still amazed that the screenwriter was actually paid–a guy named Weiss who was clearly incapable of making the slightest effort, he hung around the set paying no attention to anything but the music, I mean the music Presley sang at the drop of a hat, with his inseparable Jordanaires or another group of vocal accompanists who went by the offensive name of The Four Amigos.  I don’t really know what the plot of the film was supposed to be, and not because it was too complicated; on the contrary, it’s hard to follow a plot when there is no story line and no style to substitute for one or distract you; even later, after seeing the film–before the premiere there was a private screening–I can’t tell you what its excuse for a plot was. 

During filming, Marias takes Roy through couple nights out with Elvis and, as does happen with one too many nights on the town, one night goes horribly wrong. Elvis, a pretty girl, a couple of hangers on, and Roy end up in a seedy bar somewhere in Mexico City.  Sounding like a formulaic movie scene itself, the bar is filled with thugs and underworld types, not too friendly to the likes of outsiders even if one of them is Elvis Presley.  One of Elvis’ claque makes a fool of himself on the dance floor, words are exchanged and Roy is forced to translate.  Things turn insulting and Elvis insults the thugs masculinity and, knowing the result and not wanting to translate, Roy is forced to deliver the insult word for word.   Roy tries to protect Elvis by saying that he is a double for Elvis(which they often do in the movies) and says his friend’s name is Mike, not Elvis:

“Look,” I said, “I didn’t insult you.  It was Mike, he told me what to say to you and all I did as translate.”

“Ah, you didn’t do anything but translate,” the fat one interrupted.  “Too bad we don’t if that’s true, we don’t speak English.  Whatever Elvis said we didn’t understand, but you we understood, you speak very clearly, in a rush like everyone else back in Spain, but we hear you loud and clear, and you can rest assured that we’re listening. Him, no, your boss we couldn’t understand, he was speaking English, right?  We never learned it, we didn’t get much of an education.  Did you understand what the gringo said, Ricardo?” he asked Gilbert or Cesar, who was, in fact, named Ricardo.

I can’t divulge who the hero is or if he survives, but this is tale that is entertaining from start to finish.

There is a insolent, laconic tone that permeates Marias’ style as well as the strong sense of oral storytelling.  Parts of it feel as if it were transcribed verbatim so the reader feels like she were in the bar with Roy as he recalls the story.  This is a short story in scope and form.  The translation by Esther Allen is fluid and pitch perfect.  What we have here is a literary microgem that happens when you combine the masterful efforts of a skilled writer and a skilled translator.  And as good as this story is, does it compare with his trilogy
Your Face Tomorrow or his new collection of stories, While the Women Are Sleeping?  Can this baby of the longlist make it to the short list?  Should it?  Read it and voice your opinion!

Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico

By Javier Marias
Translated by Esther Allen
New Directions Publishing


Paperback, 57 pp.
$9.95
ISBN: 9780811218580

And just for fun…


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