Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket Books: A short but happy life



PHUKET: The Spanish novelist Susana Fortes has won many literary awards and her latest novel entitled Waiting for Robert Capa (HarperCollins, New York, 2011, 201pp) is set to be made into a film by director Michael Mann.

On the book cover is a photograph of a slender blond woman in beret and military fatigues crouched asleep upon a road marker labeled “PC” – an inside joke for “Partido Communista”, the communist party of the Spanish Civil War. The woman, the central character of the novel, is war photographer Gerda Taro who would be killed outside Madrid a few days before her 27th birthday.

Gerda Taro was famous in her day. With her lover Robert Capa she took many iconic photos of the Spanish Civil War. They had met in Paris, both Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazism, she from Germany, he from Hungary. They would embark upon the world stage with false professional names, his based on the American movie director Frank Capra, hers on Greta Garbo and Japanese artist Taro.

Susana Fortes hews closely to the facts about the two young lovers. She is very good in tracing their first meeting and growing attraction for each other. Their lives in Spain are full of bravery, dash and romance.

“They were nothing more than photographers, people dedicated to looking. Witnesses. And unaware that they were living between two world wars. A good majority were already used to clandestinely crossing borders. They were no longer German, or Hungarian, or Polish, or Czechoslovakian, or Austrian. They were refugees. They belonged to no one. Not to any nation. Nomads, stateless people who gathered almost every week somewhere to read aloud passages from novels, recite poetry, act out plays . . . A certain romanticism united them. Give me a photograph and I’ll build you the world.”

Given such characters and such drama, this novel should be a small masterpiece. But the English prose is just awful. This may well be the fault of the translator Adriana V. Lopez.

The great Latin American writers Jorge Amado and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had the services of the master translator Gregory Rabassa. Susanna Fortes has no such luck. Nearly every page sports a clumsy howler of a sentence.

Here is Gerda’s wildly overwrought reaction to Capa’s jealousy:

“Perhaps it wasn’t entirely jealousy, but complete animal possessiveness. A need to erase the past, an absurd macho pride, a thousand-year-old instinct dating back to when men in hordes howled at the moon at midnight alongside their tribe’s campfire. Selecting their female, separating her from the rest to make her exclusively his. So he would bring her to one of those huge prairies of grain and nail a child into her entrails.” Nail? Entrails?

The author also has a nasty habit of pulling away from her Spanish Civil War narrative to pontificate about the future. Thus we have Capa giving a speech in New York about war photography 10 years later “when Gerda was already within the black outer limits of ether. And she listened to him millions of light years away, out on the balcony of her star.”

Grand passages like this tend to push away the intimacy of two lovers in their final days when she refused his offer of marriage. More clumsiness: “It was impossible to get her out of his head; he was thinking obsessively about every centimeter of her skin, her voice. . . the way she crawled into his tent and pressed up against his body, pouting softly like a saint or an Andalusian virgin.”

The bad writing continues to grate even in great climax of Gerda’s final battle which she covers with another colleague, the Canadian Ted Allen “who would have given her the moon on a silver platter if she had asked him to.”

How much such screaming clichés are the fault of the author or the translator, it is hard to say. But definitely an editor should have been summoned to weed them out. They finally prove a crippling distraction to what should have been a great story.

The book is available online or by ordering through all good bookshops in Phuket.

— James Eckhardt


Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Travel7 hours ago

Where to find underrated international cuisines in Bangkok

Bangkok9 hours ago

Chinatown manhole covers to use art, tech to become cultural map

Transport10 hours ago

Man fights Indian Railways for 22 years for justice (and 9 baht)

Events12 hours ago

Tourism Minister visits Full Moon Party, supports later curfew

Crime12 hours ago

Thais cautioned against fake government websites

Thailand12 hours ago

Another Thai boxer dies from brain injury after fight in Malaysia

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Thailand13 hours ago

Expats in Thailand, Cartoon characters & Letting Loose | Thaiger Bites

Pattaya13 hours ago

VIDEO: Young Thais have a blast at Pattaya Music Festival weekend 2

Pollution14 hours ago

Anti-Corruption Network complains of smelly wastewater in coastal Thai province

Weather14 hours ago

Flooding from overflowing rivers soaks Chiang Rai and the border

Phuket15 hours ago

Phuket police nab 3,373 meth pills from 5 suspects

Pattaya17 hours ago

Pattaya night club owner gives free meals on Thai Mother’s Day

Thailand18 hours ago

Current Thailand Visa Options for Digital Nomads

Central Thailand18 hours ago

Police find fake Covid-19 tests worth millions in central Thailand

World19 hours ago

UPDATE: Rushdie is talking again, attacker pleads not guilty

Thailand11 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism1 year ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11