Palestinian-Chilean Novelist Lina Meruane: ‘Seeing Red’ and ‘Becoming Palestine’

Lina Meruane’s 2012 novel Sangre en el ojo is out this year in English as Seeing Red; her memoir/essay Volverse Palestina (Becoming Palestine) is still looking for a publisher, but an excerpt is available online:

meruaneSeeing Red, published by Deep Vellum, is available at a discount through August 31, 2016, in celebration of Women in Translation Month. My review in Electric Literature begins:

Lina Meruane’s semi-autobiographical Seeing Red is full of rhythmical jolts. At times, the reader is thrown to the end of a sentence, where she unexpectedly stops and teeters there, waiting. Then the next sentence reaches out and draws the reader on, plunging her into the smells, sounds, and spatial imbalances of the worlds around our protagonist, sometimes in the New York City where the fictional and real Lina Meruanes both earned their PhDs, and sometimes in Santiago de Chile, where the fictional and real Lina Meruanes both have Arab-Chilean families.

The book, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, opens with a very small, but urgent, explosion:

It was happening. Right then, happening. They’d been warning me for a long time, and yet.

On the first page, blood vessels burst inside Lina’s fragile eyes, submerging her gaze first in blood, then in darkness. This isn’t entirely a surprise. For years, Lina has been having small explosions inside her eyes. Because of the brittleness of her veins, Lina’s doctors had asked her to follow a litany of impossible rules:

Stop smoking, first of all, and then don’t hold your breath, don’t cough, do not for any reason pick up heavy packages, boxes, suitcases. Never lean over, or dive headfirst into water. The carnal throes of passion were forbidden, because even an ardent kiss could cause my veins to burst.

So this explosion is not unexpected, and yet blindness was also impossible until it happened.

From this moment of darkness, the narrative hurtles forward, obsessed by Lina’s physical and emotional pains, which are examined with a vibrant, Kahloesque fascination. The narrative is also interested in how Lina’s pain stretches out, changing her relationships with the objects and people around her. Keep reading on Electric Literature.

Seeing Red hardly mentions Palestinian-ness; the narrator is a generic Arab-Chilean. But in Meruane’s 2014 memoir, Volverse Palestina/Volvernos otros, she examines what it means for her to be Palestinian. An excerpt in Drunken Boat, trans. Andrea Rosenberg, opens:

Return. I am assaulted by that verb every time I think about the possibility of Palestine. I tell myself it wouldn’t really be returning, just visiting a land I’ve never been to before, a land of which I have no images of my own. Palestine has always been a murmur in the background, a story I tell myself to rescue a shared origin from extinction. The return would not be mine, I tell myself. It would be borrowed from someone else, made in someone else’s place. My grandfather’s, maybe. Or my father’s. But my father has had no desire to set foot in those occupied lands. He has been only as far as the border. Once, from Cairo, he turned his already-elderly eyes eastward and let them rest there a moment on the horizon that might be Palestine. Keep reading on Drunken Boat.