Not just a European author but 'a writer of world status'


JOHN McGAHERN wrote the same novel and the same short story "again and again and again", featuring such familiar figures as the violently oppressive father and the devout mother who dies young, an international seminar in his honour was told yesterday.

These characters and recurring themes such as movement from country to city were the tools of his workshop, or McGahern's way of letting the reader see how he created a fictional world, Prof David Malcolm from the University of Gdansk said.

Insisting that McGahern was not just a European writer but a "a writer of world status", he predicted that in time The Barrackswould be viewed as one of the greatest pieces of fiction in English of the 20th century.

Fittingly, the Polish-based British-born academic was joined by an Argentinian poet who learned English from "rock and roll lyrics" to lead the predominant conversation at yesterday's seminar about how a writer steeped in the landscape of Leitrim and north Roscommon could have such international appeal.

McGahern was in the dock, but only in the sense that the summer school continued in the former courthouse in Carrick-on-Shannon, now the bustling riverside Dock arts centre. The international edge to proceedings was hardly needed to convince McGahern lovers to acquit their hero of any lingering charges of parochialism.

Guest speaker Geraldo Gambolini picked up English from listening to Bob Dylan.

And now, having mastered the language, he is set to introduce McGahern to a potentially massive Latin American audience, having recently translated The Collected Storiesinto Spanish.

The collection will be published simultaneously in Barcelona and Buenos Aires next March and the former carpenter, who had never heard of McGahern until he visited Dublin in 2005, hopes to translate That They May Face the Rising Sun.

Using football, as well as various musical references, to illustrate the scale of the challenge he faces, Gambolini said that a translator setting out on his task was already losing six-nil. If he had a good game he would lose three-nil. A draw, not to mention a win, was out of the question.

In a possible helpful intervention to underscore the point, a member of the audience asked a briefly bewildered Gambolini how he would tackle the McGahern characters' gushing platitude to departing visitors: "Don't leave it so long 'til you come again or we will think bad of you."

It would not make sense in Spanish so he would not attempt a literal translation, said the Buenos Aires-based poet.

Belinda McKeon from the University of Columbia, New York, reminded the gathering that McGahern had wry views about how relative a notion "community" is. He liked to tell a story about a neighbour's put-down of another local who was "so hard up that he had to go abroad to get a wife". Fascinated, McGahern had inquired further about the origins of the exotic bride only to be told that she was from Cloone, all of seven miles from her husband's parish.

By contrast Prof Malcolm pointed out that a horrific incident involving the Black and Tans in That They May Face the Rising Sunhad resonance for people all over central Europe, who knew only too well that "very very bad things can happen in beautiful landscapes".