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Recherche littéraire/Literary Research

Fall 2019


Edited By Marc Maufort

Daniel Acke, Mark Anderson, Eugene L. Arva, Franca Bellarsi, Valérie-Anne Belleflamme, Thomas Buffet, Ipshita Chanda, Mateusz Chmurski, Wiebke Denecke, Christophe Den Tandt, Lieven D’hulst, César Domínguez, Manfred Engel, Dorothy Figueira, John B. Forster, Massimo Fusillo, Gerald Gillespie, Marie Herbillon, S. Satish Kumar, François Lecercle, Ursula Lindqvist, Jocelyn Martin, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Sam McCracken, Isabelle Meuret, Delphine Munos, Daniel-Henri Pageaux, Danielle Perrot-Corpet, Frank Schulze-Engler, Monica Spiridon, Jüri Talvet, Daria Tunca, Cyril Vettorato, Hein Viljoen, Jenny Webb

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César Domínguez: Genres as Gateways to the World for Minor Literature: The Case of Crime Fiction in Galicia

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Genres as Gateways to the World for Minor Literature: The Case of Crime Fiction in Galicia

César Domínguez

In his 1978 lecture “El cuento policial” (“The Detective Story”), Jorge Luis Borges foresaw what world literature scholars (see King, “Crime Fiction”; Nilsson, Damrosch, and D’haen) have recently been discussing, namely, that crime fiction may claim to be world literature – at least in one of its several dimensions – when he stated that “There exists a certain species of contemporary reader: the reader of detective fiction. This reader […] may be found in every country in the world and … numbers in millions” (Borges 492). Arguably, it would have been much more difficult for Borges to imagine that one day crime fiction would be so powerful as to make possible the international academic recognition of a peripheral literature, i.e. Galician literature. On May 13, 2014, the Modern Language Association of America approved the creation of a Section of Galician Studies. In their request letter, the signatories made several arguments, among which translations of Galician literary works played a prominent role. The list of translations includes several poetry anthologies – either individual or collective – in accordance with the central role played by this genre in Galician literature since the Middle Ages, while contemporary narratives are mainly represented by two best-selling writers, both in Galicia and abroad, Manuel Rivas and Domingo Villar. Rivas has forayed into crime fiction only occasionally, with one short story (“O muíño” [“The Mill”]) and the 2010 novel Todo é silencio (All Is Silence). Villar, in turn, is a crime fiction writer who has been awarded several crime fiction prizes and has been included by the novelist Ann Cleeves in her list of the top ten crime writers in translation.

Such international recognition, however, is at odds with the situation of crime fiction in both Galician literature and Galician studies. As for the former, Galician crime fiction has met a wide readership whose taste goes beyond Villar’s novels and includes other successful writers such as Carlos G. Reigosa (King, “Reconstructing the Nation”) and, most ←81 | 82→especially, Diego Ameixeiras, despite the fact that their works have not been translated into other non-Iberian languages. Furthermore, the success of these writers has resulted in older examples of the genre being republished, along with the translation into Galician of crime fiction from other languages (Ameixeiras, for instance, is a translator into Galician of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler). As for academic attention, with the notable exceptions of the overviews of Stewart King (2003) and Dolores Vilavedra (2010), crime fiction has not been thoroughly analysed, nor have any preliminary or basic steps in this direction been undertaken, for example in the form of a compilation of a list of crime fiction works. The marketplace and academia symbolically meet, then, at what I will call the “May 17 void.” May 17 is the “Día das Letras Galegas,” the celebration of Galician language and literature that has taken place every year since 1963. The 1989 special issue of Cadernos “A Nosa Terra,” which was devoted to crime fiction, included a foreword in which it was asked: “If major sales in Galician literature are represented by crime fiction, why not a May 17th devoted to crime fiction?” (“Presentación” 3, my translation). Thirty years after this question was first posed, the reply is still pending.

In this essay, I will focus on Domingo Villar, who is undeniably the most international Galician contemporary writer. His work has been translated into over fifteen languages besides Spanish-Castilian, a number close to that of Manuel Rivas (with twenty languages) and to that of the most widely circulated Galician work, Memorias dun neno labrego (1961) by Xosé Neira Vilas, which has been translated into sixteen languages.1 My analysis will be restricted to the three main translations of Villar’s work, namely, Galician, Spanish-Castilian, and English. It may come as a surprise to talk of a Galician “translation” instead of a Galician original. A key feature of Villar’s writing, however, is that there is no version that may be called “original,” unless, by original, one understands the source language upon which translations into non-Iberian languages are based. In this case, Villar’s originals are in Spanish-Castilian and not in Galician.

As Villar is exclusively a crime fiction writer, his novels are a representative example of what Eva Erdmann has described as a genre which “is developing into the dominating literary discourse of a global ←82 | 83→local knowledge” (278–79). Yet, I do not completely agree with her when she states, on the one hand, that “the genre of the crime novel fulfils the function of a world literature in the sense in which literary history determined this concept in the early nineteenth century” (278) and, on the other hand, that it is assumed that “the internationality of the crime novel, unlike that of world literature classics of single works of genius … applies to the entire genre” (278). Both statements result, in my opinion, from overlooking the fact that some crime fiction novels come from “minor literatures” (see Domínguez, Di Rosario, and Ciastellardi) and that an opposition between “works of genius” and crime fiction writers is no longer tenable – if it ever was.

In the first part of this essay, I will discuss the treatment of crime fiction in Galician studies and the role it has played within the mainstream narrative of Galician literature. Obviously, my account cannot claim to be comprehensive. Rather, it will be restricted to some key issues which, nonetheless, become essential when the “dissemiNational” systemic constitution of Galician literature is taken into account.2 In the second part of my essay, I will examine how Domingo Villar negotiates the basic set of crime fiction rules within the Galician context. The case of Villar is exemplary, not only given his role as the most internationally acclaimed Galician crime fiction writer, but also, and more importantly, as a writer who requires to be approached dissemiNationally rather than nationally. Some concluding remarks will follow these two parts, in which I will apply some insights derived from my Galician case study to the understanding of crime fiction as world literature.

1. “A bazaar in Vigo, one of those where authentic English objects are sold.”

For the mainstream narrative of Galician literature, the first example of Galician crime fiction was published in 1984 – i.e. Carlos G. Reigosa’s Crime en Compostela [Crime in Compostela] –, though some critics opt for Xosé Fernández Ferreiro’s Corrupción e morte de Brigitte Bardot [Brigitte Bardot’s Corruption and Death] (1981). Fernández Ferreiro is ←83 | 84→also credited with having written the first Western novel in Galician: A morte de Frank González [Frank González’s Death] (1975). In either case, the foundations of crime fiction in Galician literature must have been laid in the early 1980s, a hypothesis based upon (at least) two implicit assumptions. First, there are no previous examples of crime fiction in Galicia or, if they exist, they do not comply with the defining rules of the genre and fail to correspond to what is generally understood by “Galician literature.” Second, crime fiction in Galician literature emerges later than in Spanish-Castilian literature. I will briefly and separately survey each of these assumptions for the sake of clarity, although they are evidently interlinked.

As for the non-existence of crime fiction in Galicia before the 1980s, my arguments will mainly draw from Maurizio Ascari, who advocates the need for a “counter-history” of crime fiction on the basis that current definitions of the genre are indebted to the foundational 1920s–1930s theoretical and historical approach, which “tended to consign it [the genre] to a space of rigid rules. In their attempt to assert the dignity of the genre, writers and critics emphasised its rational elements at the expense of other components and consequently pushed the more sensational aspects into the background” (3). On the contrary, for Ascari, crime fiction entails a “centuries-long process” of “interaction between realism and fantasy” (xi), the latter having been erased from the definition of the genre for, as suggested by Tzvetan Todorov’s reading of the fantastic, fantasy literature reflects “the uneasy conscience of the positivist nineteenth century” (xi).

Interestingly, a Galician female writer, Emilia Pardo Bazán, argued for the relevance of the sensational in crime fiction already in the early twentieth century on the occasion of surveying the reception of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels in Spain. Her opinion on Conan Doyle’s realism deserves to be quoted in full:

No cabe lectura más adecuada para girls y boys. Allí ni por casualidad se desliza una frase, un pormenor escabroso. El terrible elemento pasional, tan frecuente en el crimen, ni asoma, o asoma tan envuelto en pudibundez, que no hay mejor disfrazada máscara. Al lado de este idealismo que produce impresión de falsedad, muestra Conan Doyle un realismo que halaga los instintos de sus compatriotas; realismo puramente epidérmico, local…. En las novelas de Conan Doyle el fondo, los tipos, los personajes, las decoraciones, lugares, muebles, armas (¡qué de armería!) son genuinos y castizos de Albión, y sin embargo, al acabar de leer, no ha penetrado en nosotros ni un átomo ←84 | 85→del sentido íntimo del alma inglesa. Creemos salir de un bazar de Vigo, de esos donde se expenden objetos ingleses auténticos. (Pardo Bazán, “Conan Doyle’s Novels” 122)

[There is no more adequate reading for girls and boys. One cannot find a single lurid sentence or event. The horrific passionate element, so frequent in crime, does not show up, or, if it does, it is wrapped up in a mask of prudish decency. Along with this idealism, which produces a feeling of falseness, Conan Doyle uses a realism that satisfies his fellow compatriots’ instincts; a purely epidermal realism, a local one…. In Conan Doyle’s novels, the background, the types, the characters, the decoration, the settings, the furniture, the arms (what an armoury!) are genuinely from Albion; and yet, when one finishes reading the book, there is not a single atom of the English soul. It is like exiting from a bazaar in Vigo, one of those where authentic English objects are sold.] (my translation)

Pardo Bazán not only despises Conan Doyle’s “purely epidermal realism,” which she relates to the wrong “idea that for solving a crime, it is only necessary to have a lot of activity, great power of reflection and insight” (“idea de que para descubrir un crimen hace falta, no solo mucha actividad, sino gran reflexión y penetración”): she also sees in other examples of crime fiction the re-emergence of the Gothic, a “wild power of creation” (“desenfreno inventivo”), a “new form of old horrifying stories in the mood of the English novelist, Ann Radcliffe” (“nueva forma de los viejos relatos espeluznantes de la novelista inglesa Ana Radcliffe”; Pardo Bazán, “Detective Novels” 254, my translation). In short, realism does not clash with the sensational within masterpieces of crime fiction. Realism, on the one hand, is enshrined in the attention to detail that is characteristic of the genre, while sensationalism, on the other hand, is derived from crime itself. Imposing realism over the sensational results in “invented crimes” (“crímenes inventados”) similar to those found in Conan Doyle’s works, i.e. “cerebral or, better, geometric and mathematical [crimes] – so different from human reality and so similar to chess problems” (“cerebrales, o mejor, geométricos y matemáticos – tan distintos de la realidad humana y tan parecidos a problemas de ajedrez”; Pardo Bazán, “Conan Doyle’s Novels” 122, my translation).

In view of this counter-genealogy of crime fiction, the scholar approaching the Galician case faces an additional problem. Indeed, the existence of fantasy as a genre has been denied not only in Galicia but in the whole of Spain in accordance with the centuries-long ideology of realism, as epitomised by Cervantes, which informs mainstream ←85 | 86→literary history. Suffice it to mention here that the reconstruction of crime fiction in Galicia during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century would require researching its presence in journalism, both in terms of its rhetorical emplotment as news and the publication of short stories or serial novels. As Pardo Bazán mentions, “[when] I read the story of a crime in a newspaper, I want to see everything, the places, the furniture, for, if I could, I would discover a lot and find the clue to the true criminal” (“leo en la prensa el relato de un crimen, experimento deseos de verlo todo, los sitios, los muebles, suponiendo que, de poder hacerlo así, averiguaría mucho y encontraría la pista del criminal verdadero”; “Conan Doyle’s Novels” 122, my translation). In her contributions to La Ilustración Artística between 1909 and 1912, Pardo Bazán evokes famous crimes that took place in both Madrid (the slitting of Vicenta Verdier’s throat) and Paris (Marguerite Steinhek’s murder of her stepmother and husband). Strangely, Pardo Bazán never refers to one of the most brutal crimes in the country’s history which took place in Galicia, near Vilalba, in 1911: Ángel Castro Cabarcos was killed after having his facial skin torn away from him while alive. This specific murder would probably have interested her as result of its blend of realism and fantasy on the one hand, and the fact it took place in her homeland on the other. While some attributed the facial abrasion to an attempt at making the victim unrecognisable, others linked it to folk medicine practices according to which the face skin of a beardless man possesses curative effects. Pardo Bazán, president of the Galician Folklore Society, cherished these combinations of realism and fantasy, as shown by several of her crime fiction works, such as the short story “Rabeno,” in which the inhabitants of a small Galician village kill a man they identify with Rabeno, the criminal who, in Galician folklore, kidnaps and attacks young women to extract their fat. Needless to say, for a feminist such as Pardo Bazán, female revenge against sexual crimes should not be punished in the same way as in the case of men insofar as “women do not completely enjoy their civil rights” (“la mujer no disfrute de la plenitud de los derechos civiles”; “Contemporary Crimes” 762, my translation).

As far as I know, no research has been carried out about the presence of crime fiction in newspapers and periodical publications. Such research should arguably start with El Heraldo Gallego, the literary journal founded by Valentín Lamas Carvajal, which played an essential role in the Rexurdimento (Galician Renaissance) and to which key literary figures ←86 | 87→contributed, such as Rosalía de Castro and Pardo Bazán herself.3 Published in two instalments in January 1880, the short story “O demo das Rías Baixas” [“The Devil from the Rías Baixas”] – written in Spanish-Castilian by Víctor G. Candamo – offers a perfect example of crime fiction set in Galicia, including a sea storm, a sexual murder, and the revenge of the victim’s brother fifteen years later. Interestingly, Domingo Villar also used all these elements in A praia dos afogados (Death on a Galician Shore). The case of “O demo das Rías Baixas,” of course, constitutes only an isolated example. Further research would be necessary in order to draw more general conclusions about crime fiction in Galicia.

Pardo Bazán perfectly illustrates the first assumption I mentioned above – there exist no examples of crime fiction in Galicia before the 1980s or, if they exist, they fail to correspond to what is generally understood by “Galician literature.” According to an enduring definition, Spanish crime fiction comprises stories “written by a Spaniard in which some or all of the characters are Spanish, and which [are] usually set at least in part in Spain” (Hart 13). However problematic this definition may sound, let me apply it, for a moment, to the Galician case, so that it would read as follows: Galician crime fiction is written by a Galician in which some or all of the characters are Galician, and which is usually set at least in part in Galicia. Though many works of Pardo Bazán’s crime fiction comply with all these requirements, none of them could be fully considered as belonging to Galician literature for the simple fact that they were written in Spanish-Castilian rather than in Galician. And yet, Pardo Bazán’s criminal stories perfectly portray the Galician Ancien Régime geography of crime, to which contemporary crime fiction is indebted: they move from the border between Galicia and Portugal (the setting of smuggling and criminals running away from national laws, as in her short story “Santiago el Mudo” [“Santiago, the Mute”]), to a depiction of the increasing number of thefts in the Atlantic cities (as in “La cana” [“The White Hair”]), and the sexual violence of inner Galicia (as in the above mentioned “Rabeno”). All these settings were permeated by the factor which Pardo Bazán identified as quintessential for crime, ←87 | 88→passion, at least from the perspective of the chroniclers of the period. In his 1846–50 Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España y sus posesiones de Ultramar, Pascual Madoz stated that Galician people “are so vengeful that anybody who causes offence to them may be sure they will be harassed by the eternal revenge of both the offended and their relatives” (qtd. in Iglesias Estepa 415, my translation).

Nevertheless, the exclusion of works from Galician literature on the basis of a philological-national definition (see González-Millán) still dominates mainstream criticism and continues to affect the crime fiction genre. This is illustrated in the omission of Marina Mayoral’s Cándida, otra vez [Cándida, Again] (1979) – in contrast to her other crime fiction novel, Case perfecto [Almost Perfect], written in Galician – and of Alfredo Conde’s Huesos de santo [The Saint’s Bones] (2010).

This assumption I have just dealt with influences the second one, namely, the belated emergence of crime fiction in Galicia in comparison with Spanish-Castilian literature. There is a general consensus about the existence of two groups of crime fiction writings in Spanish-Castilian. The first one includes works from the 1970s, when the genre experienced a boom after the end of Franco’s regime, and works from the transition period to democracy (see Craig-Odders). A defining feature of the works created during this time is that the police have no role at all in conducting an investigation, a logical consequence of the suspicion this symbol of the totalitarian establishment still raised. Furthermore, these works aim to rewrite official history. The second group of crime fiction emerged as the result of the metamorphosis of the hard-boiled model that took place in Spain in the mid-1990s. It addresses issues of the current era of globalisation, including the unprecedented migration flows and global events, such as the Olympic Games in Barcelona as well as drug trafficking and real estate speculation.

Against this background, 1980s Galician crime fiction included a limited number of works that reflected the social and political changes of Galicia. A discussion of the possibilities of creating an authentic Galician crime fiction then ensued. Some critics, such as Silvia Gaspar, doubt that the emergence of crime fiction in Galicia constitutes something “natural” or that it results from publishing strategies (26). Other critics, such as Xesús González Gómez, consider “there does not exist a Galician crime fiction novel as of yet. There are some titles. The number is limited, and quality is nowhere. And this is so because almost all Galician Noir novels are full of stereotypes; they do not know how to avoid clichés” (27, my ←88 | 89→translation). Dolores Vilavedra has described the new re-emergence of the genre, of which Domingo Villar’s novels are a key example, as “a reaction against the disintegration of the model; hence the success of the new works that are faithful to the traditional hermeneutics of crime fiction” (136, my translation).

2. “I don’t know from where it got translated.”

Domingo Villar’s crime fiction novels belong to world literature, at least if one considers that, on the occasion of the 2008 Edinburgh International Book Festival, his novel Ollos de auga (Water-Blue Eyes) was included in the category “World Literature,” reserved for those writers who neither come from an English-speaking country nor write in English. In an interview, Xabier Cid called Villar’s attention to the fact that the English translation does not make any reference to the original in Galician. Villar then replied: “I don’t know from where it got translated” (Cid 91, my translation). Such a reply accurately describes not only the translation into English, but also Villar’s writing process as a whole. So far, his crime fiction works include the 2006 novel Ollos de auga/Ojos de agua, the first to introduce the inspector Leo Caldas and his deputy Rafael Estévez; the 2009 novel A praia dos afogados/La playa de los ahogados, the second book in the Leo Caldas series; the 2009 short story “Las hojas secas” [“Dry Leaves”], which does not feature Caldas; the 2010 short story “El último verano de Paula Ris” [“Paula Ris’ Last Summer”], which provides a prequel to the Caldas series; the 2010 short story “Die Bestie von Oelde” [“The Beast from Oelde”] and the 2016 short story “El Lobo” [“The Wolf”], neither of which feature Caldas. In 2015, a third novel in the Caldas series under the title of Cruces de pedra/Cruces de piedra was announced and finally dismissed, while in 2019 his true third novel was published under the title O último barco/El último barco [The Last Ship]. His fiction includes, therefore, three novels in Galician/Spanish-Castilian, three short stories in Spanish-Castilian, and one short story in German.

Interestingly, Villar’s novels were published almost simultaneously in Galician and in Spanish-Castilian: around one month apart (see Sánchez Zapatero 808–09). While the Spanish-Castilian version of Ollos de auga comes with a paratext reading “Traducido del gallego por el autor” [Translated from the Galician by the author], the Spanish-Castilian versions of A praia dos afogados and O último barco do not ←89 | 90→include such information and present themselves as originals. Thus, one might consider that a Galician original has been translated into Spanish-Castilian in the case of Ollos de auga/Ojos de agua or that we are dealing with four originals – in Galician and in Spanish-Castilian – in the case of A praia dos afogados/La playa de los ahogados and O último barco/El último barco. However, the writing process becomes more complicated, if one takes Villar’s own description into account. In an interview with María Míguez in October 2010, Villar explains: “I start writing in Galician and translating into Spanish-Castilian the very same day. I finish at the same time in both languages because I use translation to correct.… translating does not consist of switching one word with another. It is about dismantling the text, going down to the substrate and assembling it again, something which makes it possible to see the inner architecture, the details, from a wider perspective” (n.p., my translation.).

Whereas self-translation is usually associated with a consecutive translation, in which the authority of the original survives only in temporal terms, Villar’s writing process involves a simultaneous self-translation. In this process, the distinction (even temporal) between the original and the self-translation collapses insofar as the result comprises two variants of a non-existent original. Interestingly, the consecutive translation into a non-Iberian language transforms both variants – in Galician and in Spanish-Castilian – into originals. The paratext informs the reader of both Water-Blue Eyes and Death on a Galician Shore that the English version has been “Translated from Spanish.” Textually, however, the equally important role of the Galician version is undeniable, for, as Rainier Grutman puts it, “each monolingual part calls for its counterpart in the other language” (20). This transfer process has also been reproduced in translations other than the English one.

However creative this kind of rewriting might be, it retains its own contradictions. They strike one as especially acute when the asymmetries of minority situations are taken into account. While the translation into a non-Iberian language (here, English) is based upon a Spanish-Castilian version calling for its counterpart in Galician, such a translation does not rely upon a Galician version claiming a Spanish-Castilian equivalent. Thus, I wish to stress the prevalence of the mediating role of the dominant language (here Spanish-Castilian), in typically bilateral translation flows. In this regard, Stewart King’s argument about the sales of originals and translations needs to be qualified when applied to minority cultures. According to King, “Whereas the Spanish original [of ←90 | 91→Rosa Ribas’ Entre dos aguas] has sold between 3,000 and 4,000 copies, the German translation is currently in its third print run and has sold between 15,000 and 17,000 copies, which suggests that her works have had a greater resonance among German readers” (“Don’t Forget” 76). The higher sales of Villar’s Spanish-Castilian version, however, do not indicate that Spanish-Castilian readers received his works better than the Galician readers. Indeed, that would imply overlooking both the higher number of Spanish-Castilian readers (some of them also Galician), the different sizes of each market, and the monopoly of Spanish publishing houses in Latin America.

Self-translation constitutes a double-edged sword in minority contexts (see Dasilva for the Iberian context). While some minority writers revert to consecutive self-translation to reach a wider audience and gain institutional recognition from the hegemonic culture, they prefer to entrust it to outside translators once their careers have been established in the major culture. This enables them to consolidate their positions within the minority culture. This has been the case of Manuel Rivas in Galicia and Bernardo Atxaga in the Basque country. The fact that Villar has opted for simultaneous self-translation may indicate that the Galician literary system has entered a new phase in which bi-literariness is acceptable. Alternatively, it may suggest that Villar has developed a strategy meant to compensate for the lack of “linguistic visibility” of the minority culture resulting from translation flows not predicated on Galician as a source language.

To conclude this second part, let me briefly touch upon how bilingualism and diglossia are thematically represented in Villar’s work, for these issues precisely stand at the core of his writing process. Every chapter of both Ollos de auga/Ojos de agua and A praia dos afogados/La playa de los ahogados begins with the definition of a term which, either as such or in a derivative form, reappears in the following pages. If one compares the definitions provided by the writer with those found in standard dictionaries, it becomes clear that Villar introduces additional meanings. If one performs such a comparison for a single term in both languages, one can conclude that the consecutive self-translation process I have described above does not affect the linguistic identity of each language. Indeed, the number of meanings attached to a single term in Galician and in Spanish-Castilian varies considerably. As already stated, crime fiction has created a reader of its own that replicates the procedures of investigation. By initiating every chapter with the definition of a term, ←91 | 92→Villar transforms the reader into a “linguistic investigator,” who has to trace this specific term within the chapter and evaluate the accuracy of the several meanings applied to the specific situation. In this regard, the suitability of the crime fiction genre for normalisation should not be overlooked, both in linguistic and political terms, especially in the case of minority languages/societies.4 Interestingly, Ollos de auga/Ojos de agua and A praia dos afogados/La playa de los ahogados have been translated into English by two different translators – respectively Martin Schifino and Sonia Soto – and, yet, in both cases, the definitions have been deleted. Though I do not know the exact reasons for this choice, one can only read it as a reminder that all languages – Spanish-Castilian included – are potentially minority languages.5

The couple comprised of Inspector Caldas and his deputy Estévez further posits bilingualism and diglossia as a major feature of Villar’s novels. In Ollos de auga, the reader learns that Rafael Estévez has been transferred from Saragossa, his place of birth, to Vigo only a few months ago. The Galician cultural character, therefore, constitutes an excellent tool for exploring the divergent views on Galicia and its language held by Caldas (a Galician and, hence, a bilingual) and Estévez (an Aragonese and a Spanish-Castilian monoglot).6 Nowhere in the novels can one find evidence that Estévez has learned Galician. So, the reader has to assume ←92 | 93→that the officer somehow can understand people speaking in Galician, while he only interacts with them in Spanish-Castilian. As all the dialogues in Ollos de auga and A praia dos afogados are transcribed in Galician, the possibility of linguistic conflict is not foregrounded. Instead, the Galician character becomes visible through language:

O axente aceptara sen especial desagrado traballar en Vigo, aínda que había varias cousas ás que lle estaba a custar un pouco máis tempo do previsto acostumarse. Unha era o impredícibel do clima, en variación constante, outra a continua pendente das rúas da cidade, a terceira era a ambigüidade. Na recia cachola aragonesa de Rafael Estévez as cousas eran ou non eran, facíanse ou deixábanse sen facer, e supoñíalle un esforzo considerábel desenlear as expresións cargadas de vaguidades dos seus novos veciños. (Villar, Ollos de auga 16-17)

The officer had accepted his job in the town of Vigo without any visible displeasure, but he was finding it difficult to adjust to some things here. One was the unpredictable, ever-changing nature of the weather; another the steepness of the streets. The third was ambiguity. To Rafael Estévez’s stern Aragonese mind, things were this way or that, got done or didn’t, so it was only with considerable effort that he managed to decipher the ambiguous expressions of his new fellow citizens. (Villar, Water-Blue Eyes 6)

Conversely, the reader of the Spanish-Castilian versions will likely assume that, though all the dialogues are couched in Spanish-Castilian, Inspector Caldas and most characters speak Galician, except for Officer Estévez. An important question, however, still remains: which language will the English-speaking reader assume most of the characters in the novel speak, as the information concerning the “original language” of the work is concealed?


Whereas Manuel Rivas has been presented to the English audience as a Galician writer who writes in Galician and whose works have been translated into English from the Galician, Domingo Villar has been introduced to the English readership as a Galician writer who now lives in Madrid.7 While Villar’s original language cannot be determined, his works have been translated into English from the Spanish-Castilian. Both Villar’s presentation and the choice of the source language for translations ←93 | 94→are strongly influenced by his writing techniques. Consecutive self-translation makes the Spanish-Castilian version an authoritative one for translations into non-Iberian languages.

Whether consecutive self-translation has been instrumental in securing a wide international readership for Villar or not remains a matter for speculation. Much more influential has been his genre choice – crime fiction – both in terms of artistic emergence and development in post-Larsson times. The Nordic Noir as a global phenomenon (Hedberg; Berglund) seems to be responsible for what Eva Erdmann has described as the evolution from “enigmatic bodies, murders and crime scenes” into “a geopolitical genre that conveys primarily one thing to the general public: an extensive knowledge of geographical orientation” (274). Villar has put Galicia on the map, both literally – as the map of Galicia for English-speaking readers in Death on a Galician Shore indicates – and symbolically – by providing the reader with a detailed description of the Galician weather, landscape, cuisine, and character.

However, this leads to a contradiction. Indeed, such a detailed description may have a voyeuristic appeal for foreign and non-Galician readers. But will it affect Galician readers in the same way? Consider here the case of Donna Leon, who has forbidden the translation of her novels into Italian. “That’s my choice,” she says, “because I do not want to live where I am famous.… I don’t like being approached by people in a differential way” (Petrocelli n.p.). I cannot avoid wondering, though, whether the detailed “Italian thickness” of Leon’s novels has played any role in her rejection of translations into Italian. When such a thickness does not constitute the focus of interest for the reader, the success of the work depends only on the uniqueness of the plot. Be this as it may in the case of Leon, the minority situation of Villar’s Galician novels should not be overlooked. In his case, the appeal of his works for the Galician audience may be due to both the gratification of “presentativity,” highlighted by the “external” vision of Officer Estévez, and the return to the “traditional hermeneutics of the Noir” detected by some critics (Vilavedra 136, my translation).8

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Yet, it is important not to forget the caveat about crime fiction identified by Pardo Bazán. Crime fiction’s traditional hermeneutics corresponds precisely to what the Galician writer characterised as “something very listless, elaborated with the technique of childish monotony” (“una cosa muy lánguida, desarrollada con procedimientos de monotonía infantil”), while detailed description may result in “a purely epidermal realism, a local one” (Pardo Bazán, “Conan Doyle’s Novels” 122, my translation). Therefore, this dangerously encodes a typical paradox of the globalisation process. Indeed, the undoing of crime fiction for worlding Galicia confronts the reader not with a bazaar in Vigo, but rather with Vigo as a bazaar.


César Domínguez

Universidade de Santiago de Compostela

Works Cited

Ascari, Maurizio. A Counter-History of Crime Fiction. Supernatural, Gothic, Sensational. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Berglund, Karl. “With a Global Market in Mind: Agents, Authors, and the Dissemination of Contemporary Swedish Crime Fiction.” Nilsson, Damrosch, and D’haen. 77–89.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Detective Story.” Selected Non-Fictions. Ed. Eliot Weinberger. Trans. Ester Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, and Eliot Weinberger. London: Penguin, 2000.491–99.

Cid, Xabier. “Interview. Domingo Villar, autor de Water-Blue Eyes (2008).” Galicia 21: Journal of Contemporary Galician Studies 1 (2009): 90–94.

Cleeves, Ann. “The Top Ten Crime Writers in Translation.” The Guardian (22 Jan. 2014): n.p.

Colmeiro, José. “Visións periféricas, posicións globais. Resituando a cultura galega contemporánea.” Grial: Revista galega de cultura, 198 (April-June 2013) : 131–43.

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Craig-Odders, Renée W. “Introduction.” Crime Scene Spain: Essays on Post-Franco Crime Fiction. Eds. Renée W. Craig-Odders and Jacky Collins. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 1–9.

Dasilva, Xosé Manuel. Estudios sobre la autotraducción en el espacio ibérico. Bern: Peter Lang, 2013.

Domínguez, César, Giovanna Di Rosario and Matteo Ciastellardi. “On Writing a Comparative Literary History: Delocalising Minor Literatures in European Languages in the Age of ‘Big Data’.” Arcadia: Internationale Zeitschrift für literarische Kultur, 53. 2 (2018): 278–307.

Ďurišin, Dionýz. Notions et principes. Trans. Alena Anettová. Vol. 6 of Communautés interlittéraires spécifiques, Bratislava : Institut de Littérature Mondiale/Académie Slovaque des Sciences, 1993.

Erdmann, Eva. “Topographical Fiction: A World Map of International Crime Fiction.” The Cartographic Journal 48.4 (2011): 274–84.

Gaspar, Silvia. “Crime Fiction in Galicia.” Anima+l: Revista cultural para tódalas especies 1 (1991):. 26.

González Gómez, Xesús. “Novela policial galega: un policial de cliché.” Anima+l: Revista cultural para tódalas especies 1(1991): 27.

González-Millán, Xoán. “O criterio filolóxico e a configuración dunha literatura nacional: achegas a un novo marco de reflexión.” Cadernos da Lingua 17 (1998): 5–24.

Grutman, Rainier. “Auto-Translation.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. Ed. Mona Baker. New York: Routledge, 2000. 17–20.

Hart, Patricia. The Spanish Sleuth: The Detective in Spanish Fiction. London: Associated University Press, 1987.

Hedberg, Andreas. “The Knife in the Lemon: Nordic Noir and the Glocalisation of Crime Fiction.” Nilsson, Damrosch, and D’haen. 13–22.

Iglesias Estepa, Raquel. “Aproximación a la criminalidad gallega de fines del Antiguo Régimen.” Hispania 65.2 (2005): 409–42.

King, Stewart. “ ‘Condenada a la modernidad’: memoria e identidad cultural en la novela criminal gallega.” Memorias y olvidos: autos y biografías (reales, ficticias) en la cultura hispánica. Eds. J. Pérez Magallón, R. de la Fuente Ballesteros, and K.M. Sibbald. Valladolid: Universitas Castellae, 2003.. 183–93.

—–. “Reconstructing the Nation and the Detective Novel: Carlos G. Reigosa’s Crime en Compostela.” Galician Review 5–6 (2006–2007): 82–96.

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—–. “Peripheral Detectives and Detectives on the Periphery: Crime Fiction in the nacionalidades históricas.” Antípodas: Journal of Hispanic and Galician Studies 18 (2007): 265–85.

—– “ ‘Don’t Forget the Tejedor’: Community and Identity in the Crime Fiction of Rosa Ribas.” The Foreign in International Crime Fiction. Transcultural Representations. Eds. Jean Anderson, Carolina Miranda, and Barbara Pezzotti. London: Continuum, 2012. 75–86.

—–. “Crime Fiction as World Literature.” CLUES: A Journal of Detection 32.2 (Fall 2014): 8–19.

Míguez, María. “Interview with Domingo Villar.” El Mundo (4 October 2010): n.p.

Nilsson, Louise, David Damrosch, and Theo D’haen, eds. Crime Fiction as World Literature. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Pardo Bazán, Emilia. “Conan Doyle’s Novels.” La Ilustración Artística 1.416 (15 February 1909): 122.

—–. “Contemporary Crimes.” La Ilustración Artística 1.456 (22 November 1909): 762.

—–. “Detective Novels.” La Ilustración Artística 1.581 (15 April 1912): 254.

Pearson, Nels and Marc Singer. “Introduction. Open Cases: Detection, (Post)Modernity, and the State.” Detective Fiction in a Postcolonial and Transnational World. Eds. Nels Pearson and Marc Singer. London: Ashgate, 2009. 1–14.

Petrocelli, Elaine. “At Lunch with Donna Leon.” Grove Atlantic. n.p.

“Presentación.” Relato policial. Special issue of Cadernos “A Nosa Terra” de pensamento e cultura 3 (May 1989): 3.

Rivero Grandoso, Javier. “Crímenes y humor en las novelas de Domingo Villar.” Madrygal 14 (2011): 109–16.

Sánchez Zapatero, Javier. “Domingo Villar: novela negra con sabor gallego.” Signa 23 (2014): 805–26.

Soitos, Stephen F. The Blues Detective: A Study of African American Detective Fiction. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

Vilavedra, Dolores. A narrativa galega na fin de século. Unha ollada crítica dende 2010. Vigo : Galaxia, 2010.

Villar, Domingo. Ollos de auga. Vigo : Galaxia, 2006.

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—–. Ojos de agua. Trans. Domingo Villar. Madrid: Siruela, 2006.

—–. A praia dos afogados. Vigo : Galaxia, 2009.

—–. La playa de los ahogados. Madrid : Siruela, 2009.

—–. Water-Blue Eyes. Trans. Martin Schifino. London: Arcadia Books, 2009.

—–. Death on a Galician Shore. Trans. Sonia Soto. London: Abacus, 2011.

—–. O último barco. Vigo: Galaxia, 2019.

—–. El último barco. Madrid: Siruela, 2019.

1 These figures are only tentative, for there are no reliable sources; neither has the Index Translationum an updated register of translation for these Galician writers.

2 I am obviously drawing here from Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of “dissemiNation,” which in the specific case of Galician society needs to be related to “the scattering of the people that in other times and other places, in the nations of others, becomes a time of gathering” (Bhabha 139) as a result of diaspora.

3 Furthermore, it should be noted that during the nineteenth century, the biggest urban concentrations of Galicians were located neither in Galicia nor in the rest of Spain, but in cities such as Buenos Aires, Mexico, and La Habana (Colmeiro 132). As the detective novel can be regarded as an urban genre, this certainly constitutes a relevant issue for its history in Galician literature.

4 In the Galician case, it is telling that Reigosa’s Crime en Compostela was published in 1984, one year after the Law of Linguistic Normalisation. As crime fiction depicts several sociolects, especially those of low and marginal social classes, it becomes a testing ground for a language fighting for its public use and rights. In terms of political normalisation, Nels Pearson and Marc Singer’s argument concerning the link between detective fiction and self-conscious societies proves relevant: “Much of the current criticism views the genre as formally diverse, flourishing in multiple cultures, and engaged with the production of knowledge and transformation of consciousness within and across societies” (2). For a discussion of the role played by the literary character of the detective and the identity and visibility of marginalised societies, see Soitos; for the specific case of Iberian peripheral societies, see King (“Peripheral Detectives”).

5 Here, I am interpreting the elimination of the “Spanish lexicon” in the translations into English as a symbol of the hegemonic position of English globally.

6 “From its inception, the detective genre has been intrinsically engaged with epistemological formations that are not simply those of ‘society’ in the abstract – that is, dominant cultural groups and their hegemonic discourse – but those produced in encounters between nations, between races and cultures, and especially between imperial powers and their colonial territories” (Pearson and Singer 3). Concerning national stereotypes in Villar’s fiction, see Rivero Grandoso.

7 Compare the paratextual information included in Rivas’ All Is Silence and Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore.

8 “Presentativity” is a term coined by the Slovak comparatist Dionýz Ďurišin (61–62) to refer to those situations whereby peripheral literatures are not limited to aesthetic issues but rather give a prominent place to political aims and ambitions. I extend the definition to embrace an inflation of local details, which in the case of Leon I have called “Italian thickness.”