Chilean book chosen for Bocas 2018

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A report by Melissa Doughty for T&T’s Newsday.

“Adults are strange animals: they kiss on the lips, they spend their lives working, and they never have time to play. I’d like to know what they have in their heads…” –excerpt from Tito by Marcelo Simonetti.

This story is not dissimilar from coming of age stories such as C Everard Palmer’s the Wooing of Beppo Tate and Michael Anthony’s Green Days by the River. Human experiences are the same no matter the language. One’s first kiss, one’s first love are things all human beings feel at some point in their lives. But the things felt in childhood, often translate into adulthood.

It is this passage Chilean author and journalist Marcelo Simonetti shares with readers. Through the eyes of his central character, Tito, Simonetti tells of what it once was like to be a child and what life’s experiences looked like to childhood. The book’s blurb reads, “In opening the pages of Tito’s secret diary, Marcelo Simonetti reveals Tito’s most intimate thoughts, his fears and his dreams. It is a coming of age story with universal themes of boyhood, innocence, adolescent fantasies and the magic of first love.”

Although originally done in Spanish, the novel has been translated to English by Jamaican-based Ian Randle Publishers and it is one of those rare times a translated book is marketed from the Caribbean to the wider English-speaking world. The reverse usually occurs, where translated books are marketed to the Caribbean from other parts of the world. The translated book will feature at next year’s Bocas Lit Fest.

The book’s translation was made possible by a grant from the Chilean Government to the people of TT and was facilitated through TT’s Chilean embassy. The journalist, scriptwriter and professor has written four novels, his first entitled La Traicion de Borges (2005) [Betrayed by Borges] which won him the sixth Casa de America Narrative Award in the same year.

But Tito is the first time, Simonetti has written for children and young adults. At an interview at the Chilean Embassy’s Alexandra Street, St Clair office, Simonetti told Newsday, the book came as a result of experiences his sons had with a Serbian teacher. He explained that one of his sons practised water polo and had a Serbian trainer who had difficulty communicating with the children. The children had to try to decipher what he was trying to say to them. It was from this that the book’s main character Tito was born.

But Simonetti does more than just explain the experiences in the book, through the publication he “travelled to [his]own childhood.”

He said, “I had forgotten some things from my childhood and this situation brought me back. It was not because of any illness. There were things I asked myself, because my children wanted to know and I did not know how to answer.” Through Tito he was able to provide them with answers.

Written in 2012 and published in 2013, the book has been recommended in some Chilean schools. Simonetti has made visits to several schools and colleges throughout Chile talking about it. The book has also gained popularity with Chile’s children because it is written from a child’s perspective. He said it has also drawn children, who were initially apprehensive about reading, back into the fold again.

The book even highlights one of Simonetti’s first loves: football. “For me football was my first hug, my first feelings…my first moments of happiness and disillusionment were felt through football.” Football, he added, made him understand the concept of teamwork, a central tenet in relationships. It is no surprise then that football features prominently in Tito. It even leads to Tito finding his first love, Pipina, a girl, who plays football.

Although Simonetti knew that the book’s translation might mean some of its essence would be lost, he felt the story was strong enough to transcend the linguistic change. He hopes to take the book to Italy next year and have it translated there as well.

For Simonetti this is the start of greater ties to come with the Caribbean. His first translation being done in the Caribbean and to be launched at the Bocas Lit Fest 2018 is an important step for any Chilean writer.

He said, “It is a very important step, not everyday the Chilean authors are given the opportunity to translate to another language. The fact that the book has been firstly translated in the Caribbean countries…is important. They always overlook the Caribbean and this step is a very important one and I am happy to be starting this trend.”

Simonetti visited TT, meeting with Boca Lit fest founder Marina Salandy-Brown, Ministry of Education officials and officials at the University of the West Indies to prepare for next year’s cultural programme.

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