What happens when speech is lost? Two recently published novels explore this theme through two female characters. On the one hand, in At home we have a hymn , by Maria Climent, a mother stops speaking for nine years for unknown reasons, which ends up being one more trait of her peculiar character even when she recovers it. On the other, in the greek class , by Korean Han Kang, a literature teacher loses her language for the second time in her life shortly after losing her mother and custody of her son in a novel that reflects on communication, language, reality and tenderness . We spoke to the two authors.
Maria Climent publishes ‘A casa teníem un hymn’
Three women run away and meet
“Quan jo vaig neixer, ma mare no parlava”, says Marga, one of the three protagonists at the beginning of At home we have a hymn (L’Altra Editorial), the new novel by Maria Climent (Amposta, 1985). And it is that her mother, Erne, stopped talking for nine years, without anyone knowing the cause, and it was not until her little daughter was seven that she did it again.
Climent does not remember where this premise came from, that “it is just one more among the themes that the novel touches on”, but it was clear to him that “he wanted to make a strange mother, who has two daughters and raises them in her own way and how that it affects, conditions them for the rest of their lives”. And it is that when her husband dies, he begins a new life by going to live in Tuscany. There they will arrive, fifteen years later, the daughters, Marga, a single woman who lives in a shared apartment without a defined life or work project, and Remei, the eldest, who until now has had a life defined by everything that is expected: she left from the town to the capital married to the boyfriend of a lifetime, has a son and is a doctor in a hospital.
But life drowns her and unexpectedly drags her sister to visit her mother on a trip that “gives them an opportunity to meet again, to rebuild bridges and to encourage themselves, above all, to dare, to change their lives,” says the author. In the process, the three will remember episodes in their lives that have led them to where they are now, especially the experiences in the town where the girls grew up, Arnes (Terra Alta), on the border with Matarraña, in Aragon. Climent places her here in part because her first work, Gina (L’Altra, 2019), was already moving to La Ràpita “and she wanted to change a little, but not too much. In Arnes there is more distance towards Aragón because it is easier to go to Valderrobres than to go down to Tortosa. It’s funny because you go ten kilometers further and you’re already in Cretas or Beceite, where they speak exactly the same, but they don’t feel Catalan at all, but Aragonese, that freaked me out. In the end, they speak a variant of Tortosa, and I made her mother from Tortosa a bit to heal my health, but I did get a lot of advice on the Terra Alta variant, which has some differences ”. “The people are almost one more protagonist, as a watchman all the time. It happens to many Ebrenses that if you want to study you have to leave and then the idea of returning always hovers over you”.
The novel advances with the voices of the three protagonists, each from their own point of view: “I was interested in capturing how these interfamily relationships of two estranged daughters work with their mother who are different and similar at the same time, what is genetic and what is learned behavior, and how they are related. For Climent, the reader “can identify with anyone, because in the end they are three women at different points in their lives and who have made very different decisions.”
Behind it, there is a very serious story, a great secret: “In many families there are great secrets that have never been discussed, that perhaps everyone in the town knows, but not the person in particular.” But unlike Gina, where part of the plot was based on her life, “here I have had the freedom to make everything up and that has relaxed me.” In the end, the idea remains that everyone has the right to a second chance, to choose to be who they want to be and overcome the past.
Acclaimed Han Kang Presents ‘Greek Class’
Borges, Plato and a Buddhist novel
A woman attends ancient Greek classes in Seoul with a teacher who is progressively losing his sight and who one day asks his student to read aloud. She can not. She herself, a literature teacher, has lost her language again, like years ago, when she was 16. The voice. A loss that coincides with that of her mother, deceased, and that of her son, whose custody has fallen to her father. Fascinated by words since she was a child, she believes that immersing herself in Plato’s Greek, the language that gave birth to the West, can restore her speech. It is the beginning of the novel The Greek Class (Random House/La Magrana), by the Korean writer Han Kang, winner of the International Booker Prize for the acclaimed The Vegetarian. A novel in which Jorge Luis Borges, Plato and Buddhism are mixed to reflect on the power and limits of language, reality and illusion and the possibility of an encounter between humans beyond words or images. Perhaps the fingers are enough. The tenderness.
“Always before writing a novel there are many reasons floating around that intersect. This was born from visualizing a scene. A dark place with no other means of communication than a hand with very short nails that writes on the palm of another hand. A tactile moment, of sensations, in which the hot and the soft are felt. From there the characters were born ”, says Kang in a soft and very low voice, almost a breeze, who presents his novel in Madrid.
A work in which language is omnipresent. A therapist asks the protagonist if her fascination with him is not due to her intuiting as a child that “the bond that unites language and the world is terribly weak.” Kang believes so: “Language is slippery, you always slip with it. It always makes us fail. It is the arrow that always misses. But it is the only means we have to communicate.”
Borges, who like the protagonist gradually lost his sight, is another mainstay of the novel. “His latest works by him have those poetic notes and his way of expressing is similar to a poem,” recalls Kang, also a poet. “When I wrote the novel before The Greek Class, very long, I was tired, I stopped writing for months and I couldn’t read any fiction book. Except Borges, ”he recalls. Now the professor of his new novel, who has read the Argentine’s conference on Buddhism, quotes one of his phrases: “The world is an illusion and life is a dream.” And he reflects on her: “How can it be a dream if blood flows and hot tears flow?” For Kang “what Borges said is the same as the fundamental idea of Buddhism. Since I was twenty years old I have been a fan of Buddhism and I felt that he was. I understand that he liked him a lot because when someone has an arrow stuck in it, people don’t comment why it happened, but what removes the arrow. Buddhism makes us see directly the suffering that is in this world, but from a distance. Not to run away, but to see clearly, but from a distance.”
Curiously, another distance, the one between Spain and your country, has been reduced in the midst of the explosion of South Korean culture in the world: “When I came to Spain after the pandemic, I have found many people who greet me in Korean, who tell me who learn Korean culture, I was very surprised. And more so with literature, which always comes later than the rest because of the translation wall”, he smiles.