"Profoundly human"—LA Review of Books on Romina Paula's AUGUST
Something About Wanting: On Romina Paula’s “August”
ALTHOUGH ROMINA PAULA’S August tells a profoundly human story, it begins and ends with animals. The epigraph, drawn from Argentine poet Héctor Viel Temperley’s “Hospital Británico,” reads, “The girl returns with a rodent’s face, disfigured by not wanting anything to do with being young.” And throughout this novel of youth, trauma, and return, we are confronted by our animal natures — our bodies, our urges, and our instinctive attachments.
The novel follows a young Argentine woman as she journeys back to her Patagonian hometown, Esquel, to see her friend Andrea’s ashes scattered five years after her death, and to reckon with absences of various kinds. “It was something about wanting to scatter your ashes,” the narrative opens, “something about wanting to scatter you.” Rather than orient us in the mundane texture of daily life only to shatter it with tragedy, our narrator, Emilia, begins in medias res, after the loss. Long — perhaps too long — after the loss. As Emilia admits, “I have been able to say your name for a while now without losing my composure, even been able to talk about what happened, about what happened to you.”
The narrator’s voice is familiar, conversational, somewhere between a friend’s unselfconscious confession over a drink and a loved one’s diary. The reader feels she is listening in, perhaps even prying, and this creates a provocative tension. That tension is deepened by the fact that Emilia addresses her late friend directly; the text is full of references that are obviously intimate, but obscure to us. And she uses the second person to address not only her absent friend, but also — as we all do — to speak about herself, in the guise of the general, impersonal “you.” Emilia is talking, at once, to someone, to herself, and into the void — a fugue of grief. Jennifer Croft’s translation conveys this distinctive voice beautifully, reproducing the narrator’s shifting thoughts, which are sometimes choppy and sometimes overflow in lush sentences, as well as her tendency to pile up adjectives in clashing combinations that aim to express the inexpressible, as in, “Ah. Pain, the most profound/the lowest kind of pain.” Paula’s prose is often rhythmic, even musical...