SmallStations - Jonathan Dunne

After the death of his father in a caving accident, Hadrián is forced to move to Galicia with his mother and start at a new school. His mother gives him a medallion that belonged to his father, showing a dragon in a threatening posture on one side and the same dragon incubating an egg on the other. When the dragon’s tails move, the boy realizes this is no ordinary medallion. Meanwhile, he has noticed the stone effigy of a dragon on the cornice of St Peter’s Church, which winks at him and infiltrates his thoughts. The boy’s destiny, it seems, is to sacrifice himself so that the dragon can come back to life after an interval of a thousand years, during which it has been protected in the catacombs under the church. The boy and his classmate Mónica will first have to locate the catacombs with the help of the parish priest, Father Xurxo, before they can ascertain whether the dragon’s existence is for real.

A teenage boy is sent by his mother to spend a few days in the country as a way of getting him out of trouble. In the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, one hour north of Paris, the boy finds life with his great-aunt unbearable – that is until the arrival of the painter Vincent van Gogh, who has come to escape difficulties in the south. It is the summer of 1890 and already eight months have passed since the boy left his mother. He begins a friendship with the painter, taking him to places he hasn’t seen and engaging in conversations that open his eyes to a different way of viewing the world, bringing to an end his turbulent past. He also struggles with the reasons for his mother’s disappearance from the town where she grew up and experiences the first embers of romantic love when he develops an interest in the daughter of van Gogh’s innkeeper, Adeline. Based on real events, this imaginative story of a teenage boy’s friendship with an inspired painter and participation in the events of a provincial town, where he meets the local doctor, a war hero, and railway pointsman, as well as the man who could turn out to be his real father, rushes to its inevitable conclusion like the trains that slice through the countryside on their way to Paris.

André Santomé Lobeira is a teenager whose parents divorced when he was five. He puts on a front at school to defend himself against the bullies Raúl Pernas and Héctor Solla, who do everything they can to make his life miserable. He starts deliberately getting low marks in the hope they will ignore him. This encourages his grandfather to intervene, and André goes to live with his grandparents, who run a restaurant, The Birdhouse, in the garden of which his grandfather has an orphanage for birds. André finds a baby cut-throat finch, a finch with a red line across its neck, and keeps it as a pet. He is torn between two girls – Halima, a Moroccan girl in his class whose mother died as they were crossing into Spain, who helps him stand up to the bullies; and Dove, a girl he meets on the Internet, who helps him with his homework and when his grandfather falls ill. Dove arranges for them to meet in person, but André is afraid this will ruin their friendship and feels a strange sense of betrayal to the other girl in his life, Halima. He almost wishes Dove had never arranged their meeting…

Víctor Moldes is an outstanding psychiatry student, looking to test his knowledge on patients. He is given a job at the prestigious Beira Verde Clinic in Galicia, near the Portuguese border, and handed a patient, Laura Novo, who is capable only of writing her name on blank sheets of paper. Slowly he draws her out of herself and she agrees to tell him her story, how she left Madrid in order to work on her thesis and escape a difficult relationship that was going nowhere. Her return to the land where she grew up, to stay in a guest house run by a schoolteacher she had fallen passionately in love with when she was a teenager, has fatal consequences. Her presence in the remote area of Terra Chá awakens the Great Beast, who up until that moment had been slumbering in the depths of the earth. Once awake, the Great Beast has one year to achieve its objective. Dr Moldes finds himself drawn into a conflict he is barely able to understand, let alone control, and, having finally pieced together the fragments of the narrative, he is in a race against time to save his patient.

How are English words connected? Is there a consistent set of rules by which words in the English language are connected not according to their etymology, their evolution over time, but according to their letters? These letters may be rearranged, read back to front, altered according to the laws of phonetics, their position in the alphabet, their physical appearance, their numerical value. So while the reverse of live is evil, we can count down from I to O and find love instead (as sin gives son). The ego, by taking a step back in the alphabet, can be turned into God. Using the laws of phonetics, we can realize that the true purpose of the self is to serve. In The Life of a Translator, Jonathan Dunne offers a clear, direct introduction to the ways in which English words can be connected according to their DNA, arguing that words have something to tell us about human life, but their meaning is hidden and must be deciphered (God is code). In this sense, language is similar to the environment. We think we see what is around us, but we are spiritually blind even after we have opened our eyes, and it is this spiritual blindness causing a crisis in the world because of how we treat our world, the environment, each other and, ultimately, ourselves.

This volume brings together, for the first time in English translation, all three books of poetry by this author, two of them published in his lifetime (Poems 1981/1991 and Last Poetry of Love and Illness 1992-1995) and one posthumously (Poems for a Skylark). Like any true poet, Lois Pereiro lived on the edge, between cultures, spending time outside his native Galicia in Madrid, learning foreign languages, travelling as much as he could. He was also the victim of toxic oil syndrome at an early age, which was followed by a heroin addiction and the contraction of AIDS. He died at 38, having been forced to write “with delicacy in a Pandora’s box of pain”.

From Unknown to Unknown is a selection of eighty poems by Manuel Rivas in Jonathan Dunne’s English translation. The poems are taken from the Galician book Do descoñecido ao descoñecido, which contains the author’s collected poems from 1980 to 2003, a total of six poetry books and some recent poems. In 2009, the author brought out a further collection, The Disappearance of Snow, which was published in English by Shearsman Books. Manuel Rivas is Galicia’s most international author. Much of his fiction has appeared in English, and three films have been made of his work (Butterfly’s Tongue, The Carpenter’s Pencil, All Is Silence).

This revolutionary book sets out to persuade the reader that the English language is not the result of years of haphazard evolution, a chaotic atom-like conglomeration of words, but a carefully planned whole in which each word has its place and is connected by a consistent set of rules. It is not a coincidence that earth is heart or soil is soul, for instance, or that salt makes us last (‘You are the salt of the earth’) but last is in fact lst. This book journeys from the Book of Genesis and Creation to Revelation and the Last Judgement through the English language, suggesting that language has something to tell us about the environment and that he who would be true to himself is inexorably pushed out on to the margins.

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