Featured Translation: In the Beginning Was the Sea by Tomás González


There were over 450 new translations published this year, and trust us, we know from experience, keeping track of them all can be a maddening exercise. Each weekday from now until the end of the year we’ll highlight a different title that you may have missed. From short story collections to epic novels, from award winning works of the highest literary caliber to trashy romantic beach reads, we’ll feature the very best, and the very worst that 2015 had to offer, one book at a time.

In The Beginning Was The Sea by Tomás González / Translated from the Spanish by Frank WynneOur look back at some of our favorite translations of 2015 continues today with Tomás González’s In the Beginning Was the Sea. In a world that seems dominated by the look-at-me-I’m-so-fascinating focused storytelling approach most recently made famous by Karl Ove Knausgaard in his autobiographical tales of struggle, it’s really refreshing to see an author draw on his real life experiences to create a moving piece of fiction that doesn’t present him or her as the center of the known universe. Granted this particular novel was originally published in 1983, but it benefits from arriving right on time in translation. If you’re at the point where you’re pretty much burned out on Knausgaard (who isn’t), then you’ll want to check out this moving tale of a real life and death struggle from one of Columbia’s best kept secrets. It came as no surprise when the novel landed on this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist.

Back in February we explained:

How is it possible that up until now the work of esteemed Columbian writer Tomas Gonzalez had never been translated into the English language? Written over thirty years ago, In the Beginning Was the Sea is the first of his seven published novels, and perhaps the one that hits closest to home. They often say write what you know, and Gonzalez certainly took that advice to heart for his first go round, fictionalizing the circumstances that led to the tragic real-life death of his brother Juan. What Gonzalez delivers as a result is a surprisingly detached, unsentimental tale that fastidiously explores what happens when idealistic dreams turn into catastrophic nightmares.

Then we gushed:

Aided by a devastatingly evocative translation from Frank Wynne and armed with the skill of a master storyteller, over the course of 200 some odd pages Gonzalez constructs a chilling, brilliantly plotted tale that cautions against chasing after your dreams, while at the same time addresses the inescapable nature of fate. From the very beginning the author, and his translator, transport the reader into a scintillating, unsettling dreamlike world where every sentence comes to life in vibrant detail. At every page turn you can smell the salt air in your nostrils, taste the fried plantains on your tongue, and feel the ever lurking dread seep into your very being.

For more on the tragic real-life events that help shape the novel check out this fascinating interview with author Tomás González in Bookanista.

In the Beginning Was the Sea was translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne and published in February by Pushkin Press.

Like what you’re reading? You can follow all of our Featured Translation posts on Twitter using the hashtag #FeaturedTranslation.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.