In Conversation with Curtis Bauer, Translator of Home Reading Service, a Novel by Fabio Morábito
The video edition. An audio-only podcast version is also available, if you prefer.
I’m so pleased to now share that video with you here!
Home Reading Service is a quirky novella. I can’t say as I loved the main character; actually, Eduardo kind of drove me crazy. But I loved the premise and the writing, and the more I thought about various aspects in preparation for this conversation with Curtis, the more I appreciated it. And that only grew by the time our chat was done.
In the novel, the protagonist, Eduardo, has had an “unfortunate accident” involving a car and been assigned community service, reading to members of the community in their homes. These include two brothers (older bachelors), an entire family (from grandmother to parents to children), a middle-aged woman (an attractive woman in a wheelchair) and a colonel (retired).
Eduardo is not annoyed at having been assigned this task —at least compared to cleaning bathrooms in some hospital or prison— but nor is he exactly engaged. He reads like an automaton, with no depth or emotion and zero understanding or interest in any work of prose, be it Jules Verne, Daphne du Maurier or Henry James.
He comes alive only when he reads a poem, one particular work by a little-known Mexican poet by the name of Isabel Freire. This poem was Morábito’s inspiration for the novel, is the core around which the story evolves and the catalyst that leads every character who reads it to be transformed.
Unsurprisingly, Fabio and Curtis are both poets, so that’s where our conversation began, and in particular Curtis’s translation of this particular poem.
"I think we've got poetry around us all the time. And when we think about the normal cadence of our everyday speech, I think that's something we need to listen to or that I need to listen to.
So I'm thinking, Okay, well, how does this sound? Does it sound natural? Does it sound natural in Spanish? Where does it sound like capital P poetry in Spanish? You know? What are the what are the different tonal qualities to keep in mind?
And then, I’m also thinking, how does that all fit with the context of the novel? Right?
This is a poem that has captivated this main character, and it captivated his father. And it captivated the helper, and one of the women Eduardo reads to, and then all of the audience at the soiree. So it's like everyone who hears the poem is taken in; they're drawn into something about it. I think there's a certain mystery there." -Curtis Bauer
As I said, Eduardo is an odd duck, but so are his clients. One of the old bachelors is a ventriloquist; the family is deaf, except for the children, who don’t even realize they can hear; and the old colonel sleeps through every reading, then sleeps with Eduardo’s father’s caregiver.
“[Oddities and ironies] are everywhere in this story, and that's Fabio, that's what he loves, the odd occurrences in everyday life that aren't often written about, talked about, or focused on." -Curtis Bauer
We also talked about social commentary in the novel, the lack of back story and lots about the translation, of individual words, the poems in the book and the process as a whole.
Fun aside: Curtis’s story of how this book came to life in English closely parallels how my own first book translation came to be! Curtis found this novel in a bookstore, knew he just had to buy it, read it and fell in love with it. His wife then encouraged him to reach out to Fabio, and they went on to establish a great friendship and working relationship. My story couldn’t be more similar. :)
The whole conversation with Curtis, Heidi and Cathy was an absolute delight, but my favorite part comes right at the end.
In an interview I had found in preparation, Curtis said that we must react to a poem or it’s just scribbles on a page.
To me, this is true of prose, and art, and life. The magic lies in our interaction with each of these. So I asked everyone what their reaction was to this novel. Jump to 52 minutes above if you want to hear their answers, all of which extend far beyond what we read on the page.
I do hope you enjoy the conversation and settle in with a copy of Home Reading Service to savor Fabio’s work in Curtis’s translation.
Please do share your reaction to either/both in a comment!
Lisa Carter is Founder and Creative Director of Intralingo, helping authors and translators write and readers explore stories. Lisa brings two decades of professional literary experience, including nine books and multiple other pieces published in translation, and nearly as many years of contemplative and compassion practices to her work. Her inclusive, engaged, caring presence inspires people to share their stories, create new ones and feel truly heard.
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