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Book Launch 'Uncertain Glory: Paul Preston in conversation with Peter Bush'

Friday 14 November 2014
MacLehose Press and Institut Ramon Llull
Paul Preston  in conversation with Peter Bush (literary translator)
Launch of Peter Bush's English translation of Incerta Glòria  by Joan Sales
Time: 18 h.
Place: The British Library, Conference Centre, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB
In collaboration with the Catalan Observatory

Uncertain Glory

Originally published in Catalan, in a heavily censored version in 1956, Uncertain Glory was the first novel to tell the story of the Spanish Civil War from the losing republican side. It is a thrilling epic that has drawn comparisons with the works of Dostoevsky and Stendhal, providing an authentic, home-grown counterpoint to classics such as Homage to Catalonia (Orwell,1938) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway, 1940). Like these authors, Joan Sales, who fought on the Madrid and Aragon fronts before fleeing into exile, also draws on his own experiences of the Spanish Civil War in his work. However, despite his allegiances, Sales avoids a simplistic division between good and evil in the novel.

A fictional tale split into three parts, Uncertain Glory revolves around the story of three men who are in love the same woman, Trini: Lluís, a young lawyer who has left Trini in Barcelona to join the Aragonese front; Juli, a friend of both Trini and Lluís, who is also situated on the Aragonese front with Lluís; and Cruells, an assistant to a Brigade doctor. The novel’s perceived hero, Juli Soleràs, can also be viewed as an ‘anti-hero’: half philosopher, half cynic, locked in a never-ending internal struggle. After Uncertain Glory’s initial publication in 1956, the text was later released in a much fuller, uncensored version in 1971, which Peter Bush translates from.

Paul Preston and Peter Bush
Prof. Paul Preston and Peter Bush

During the event, Prof. Paul Preston and Peter Bush discussed Uncertain Glory’s important literary value, highlighting its original format and experimental writing style. Prof. Preston argued that its fractured structure would help to give the reader a better understanding of the wider context of the Spanish Civil War, using the differences between the three main characters as an example of this analysis.

According to both Prof. Preston and Bush, Uncertain Glory offers a complex depiction of warfare in Catalonia, rather than providing clichéd characters typical of war literature, attributing the depiction of anarchist disorder in Catalonia throughout the novel to the personal experience of the author during the first period of the conflict. It was also argued that the absence of Francoist repression in the novel does not serve as an expression of sympathy for the dictatorial regime that followed the war, although this line of interpretation has been taken by other critiques of the novel.

Prof. Preston went on to compare Uncertain Glory with Luis García Berlanga’s La Vaquilla (1985), as both share aspects of humour mixed with tragedy. Peter Bush explained that it was these type of attractive elements of the novel that convinced him that the book would be successful in the English-speaking world. He also stated that the novel would provide a new literary gaze of the Spanish Civil War for this readership, which continues to be dominated by George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway’s accounts on the subject. Prof. Preston concluded that although Uncertain Glory was not indispensable in understanding the conflict that devastated Spain from 1936 to 1939, reading the novel would significantly contribute to its comprehension.

Paul Preston and Peter Bush with audience
Prof. Paul Preston and Peter Bush with audience members

Peter Bush studied French and Spanish at Cambridge University before gaining a PhD in Spanish history and fiction from Oxford University. After teaching at London schools, he became Professor of Literary Translation at Middlesex University and was subsequently Professor of Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, also directing the British Centre for Literary Translation there. He has translated more than 50 novels and screenplays from Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan to English, including the work of Juan Carlos Onetti, Juan Goytisolo and Fernando de Rojas.

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