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From Buk Clab to International Booker Prize

We talk to translators Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh about how it feels to be in the running for one of the world’s leading literary awards with their translation of The Adventures of China Iron.

The Adventures of China Iron has been announced as one of six shortlisted books in the running for this year’s International Booker Prize, chosen from a longlist of 12.

Photo of front cover of China Iron

Originally written in Spanish by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, the book was translated into English by our own Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh, and published by Charco Press, an independent Edinburgh-based publishing house founded by Latin American Literature PhD graduate Carolina Orloff.

It is the second year in a row that the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) has had success in the International Booker Prize; in 2019, novelist Jokha Alharthi (PhD in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, 2011) and translator Marilyn Booth (a former LLC staff member) won the prize for the translation of Alharthi’s novel, Celestial Bodies.

In this short interview, Iona and Fiona join us from their homes, where they are remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, to tell us what the news means to them.

A labour of love that became a global hit

Iona and Fiona
Iona (left) and Fiona (right)

In a joint statement, Iona and Fiona have described the shortlisting as a “huge thrill”, adding “we both research and teach Argentinian literature, and Cabezón Cámara is a writer we adore. 

“It’s amazing to think that this endeavour can be traced back to our little Edinburgh-based Latin American book club. ‘Buk Clab’, as we refer to it, is in its tenth year now and has only ever had a rotating membership of about three people!”

“It's true that our research into nineteenth and twentieth century and contemporary literature informed the creation of the English-language translation - the original is steeped in Argentinian literature and history - but the work we did with Charco Press was a labour of love; it comes from having a passion for reading, for talking about books, and for translating them. We hope all this comes across to our readers!”

A novel of discovery and liberation

Praise for The Adventures of China Iron has come from many quarters, not least our own community of staff, students and alumni.

Commenting on the translation, graduate Andrew McDougall (who is now working as a translator from Spanish and Portuguese, including on a book by Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa and a short story by Brazilian writer Clodie Vasli) writes: “The novel is sensorially rich and full of powerful, raw emotions and desires. One of my favourite reads of 2019 and one that will stay with me for some time.”

Andrew goes on to to describe The Adventures of China Iron as a “multifaceted work that offers plenty to think about and is, above all, an absolute pleasure to read. It is a novel of discovery and liberation on various levels. It shows us how the world simultaneously appears vaster and shrinks as our understanding of it grows, exploring the idea of interconnectedness, with our fellow humans and with nature.”

Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh teach on our undergraduate programmes in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies and on our taught MSc programmes in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies. They also supervise postgraduate students.

When it comes to Latin American literature,  it is important to allow yourself to be immersed in a different culture to make the most of the experience, to read and understand a text beyond the plot itself, to allow for the entire world it presents to open itself before us. If we do, we will be transporting ourselves to a different universe that will only enrich the vision of our own, allowing us to grow as students but also as people in general.

Carolina Orloff speaking to LLC in 2017A Latin American Literature PhD graduate, Carolina is the co-founder of Charco Press

Related links

Find out more about Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies

Read an International Booker Prize interview with Gabriela, Iona and Fiona

Visit Andrew McDougall’s A View from the Book blog