Legna Rodríguez Iglesias is the author of My Favorite Girlfriend was a French Bulldog (McSweeney’s 2020), named a July selection by Ms. Magazine, Lambda Literary, The A/V Club, World Literature Today,Chicago Review of Books, and Publishers Weekly, which said, in a starred review, “Iglesias’s voice is too sure, too fresh, and too in command of form to be overlooked….a breathtaking exploration of identity, country, art, and family.” Rodríguez Iglesias spoke to Amanda Uhle from McSweeney’s. Translated by Alvaro Villanueva.
AU: Your book portrays many characters, and you slide between personas with each new section. Tell us about the challenges that were posed for you as a writer.
LR: The obstacles are delicious. Writing a book is like running a 100 meters obstacle race. If there are no hurdles, puddles, hills across the middle, tree trunks, scraps, there’s no grace to it. It gets boring. In fact, as a writer I am number one in setting obstacles. I am interested in the simple and getting to the simple also has obstacles. So I thought of a landscape where what was important was the place, the inhabited or uninhabited space. The characters, in that sense, are mere objects within the story. So they have no name, only age. It is a book that talks about time and space. And one as much as the other, in that space, are in paths to extinction. The characters as such, the talking heads, are there to fill a gap, to shape it. I find sympathetic several characters in the book, others less, others are abhorrent.
AU: As a reader, I found that even the sad, strange parts of this book were suffused with pure joy. It’s hard to pin it down, but happiness seeps out in the language again and again. Were you happy while writing this book?
LR: No. If an antonym for joy exists (I know it exists) that was me. But I don’t think a book I write depends on my mood. I use my state of mind just as I use my memory. I put everything at the behest of the writing. Writing is my job and the equation is the other way around. There is a direct influence on me that comes from what I am writing. I realize, it is not intuitive. On the other hand, I cannot conceive a piece without laughter or play. In that laugh and in that game is all the sadness, all the restlessness, all the anguish in the world.
AU: You wrote the book before the Covid crisis. How do you feel the book connects to what we are experiencing now?
LR: Imagine. The book presents a decomposing society, a decaying society, where the virus is the institution, the institutional, ranging from traditions, sex, language, to the prevailing political system. The book is a disease of the body and the mind, but it is not contagious. I wrote it in the last months of 2014, six years ago already. I wrote it as a farewell, to say goodbye in a less crude way.
AU: The book was translated by Megan McDowell. Did you two keep in correspondence as she worked on her translation of the book?
LR: I am very proud and grateful to Megan McDowell. She is one of the most important and prestigious translators in the publishing world and the fact that she translated it will be an affirmation for many readers, it is for me. I was immensely amazed when they told me: yes, the translator of the book will be Megan McDowell. It gave me relief as well, because that meant I could breathe easy. Megan wrote to me every time she finished translating a part. She always had a lot of questions to ask me, some seemed obvious but I’m sure Megan needed to understand my head beyond the linear meaning of an expression. I remember an anecdote that I love, about the “Poem” chapter, when I write to Megan to tell her to please not translate the word mami, but leave the word like this, in marginal Spanish, because this is what we ironically say to someone who actually causes us repulsion: I don’t love you anymore, mami. Megan’s answer to me was: of course, Legna, mami stays mami. I loved receiving each of her emails full of doubts about Cuban idioms. I loved to realize, again, the wealth of Spanish. I loved Megan McDowell.
AU: What do you hope readers will take from the text?
LR: My ideal reader is myself, because only I know, with complete accuracy, the weight of one word over the other. Sometimes I don’t think about readers too much. Sometimes I think of the closest readers, those who know me and who know what I can do when writing. Literature is cruel and lazy. I’m not interested in hurting anyone but I’m also not responsible for giving them pleasure. Readers are unaware of something, but I can show them that, built with great dedication, with effort. Those interested will come out like me, with a sad-sweet smile: half relieved, half fatigued, dead with laughter and dead with sadness at the same time.