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Additional Information
ISBN: 9781949641011
Pages: 174
Size: 4.5 x 7
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Distributed By: Publishers Group West
Jazmina Barrera was born in Mexico City in 1988. She was a fellow at the Foundation for Mexican Letters. Her book of essays Cuerpo extraño (Foreign Body) was awarded the Latin American Voices prize from Literal Publishing in 2013. She has published her work in various print and digital media, such as Nexos, Este País, Dossier, Vice, El Malpensante, Letras Libres and Tierra Adentro. She has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing in Spanish from New York University, which she completed with the support of a Fulbright grant. She was a grantee of the Young Creators program at FONCA. She is editor and co-founder of Ediciones Antílope. She lives in Mexico City.
Christina MacSweeney received the 2016 Valle Inclan prize for her translation of Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth, and Among Strange Victims(Daniel Saldaña París) was a finalist in the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Among  the other authors she has translated are: Elvira Navarro (A Working Woman), Verónica Gerber Bicecci (Empty Set; Palabras migrantes/Migrant Words), and Julián Herbert (Tomb Song; The House of the Pain of Others). She is currently working on a second novel by Daniel Saldaña París and her translations of short story collection by  Elvira Navarro and Julián Herbert will be published in 2020.

On Lighthouses

by Jazmina Barrera
Translated from Spanish by
Christina MacSweeney
$19.95

“To read Jazmina Barrera’s extraordinary book is to find a little lighthouse inside yourself, one that will go on emitting a roaming, yearning, beckoning, consoling loveliness.”—Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name

“Like a bowerbird constructing its nest, Jazmina Barrera collects microhistories about the hypnotic, geometric light emitted by lighthouses; but when she finds and listens to these histories in the dark intervals, she is a bat hanging upside down in the tower of memory.” —Verónica Gerber Bicecci, author of Empty Set

“After spending sufficient time inside a lighthouse, who wouldn’t begin to hear a song in the sound of the machinery, a voice in the wind or the waves?”

Far from home, in the confines of a dim New York apartment where the oppressive skyscrapers further isolate her, Jazmina Barrera offers a tour of her lighthouses—those structures whose message is “first and foremost, that human beings are here.”

Starting with Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, an engineer charged with illuminating the Scottish coastline, On Lighthouses artfully examines lighthouses from the Spanish to the Oregon coasts and those in the works of Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe, Ingmar Bergman, and many others.

In trying to “collect” lighthouses by obsessively describing them, Barrera begins to question the nature of writing, collecting, and how, by staring so intently at one thing we are only trying to avoid others. Equal parts personal memoir and literary history, On Lighthouses takes the reader on a desperate flight from raging sea to cold stone—from a hopeless isolation to a meaningful one—concluding at last in a place of peace: the home of a selfless, guiding light.

Praise

“Through its fascination with lighthouses: their mythologies, histories, operational minutia, iconic personages (all those anonymous lighthouse keepers of every coast); and also with concise poetic prose about Barrera’s lighthouse-obsessed wanderings, this book will literally enchant you. To read Jazmina Barrera’s extraordinary book is to find a little lighthouse inside yourself, one that will go on emitting a roaming, yearning, beckoning, consoling loveliness.”—Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name

“This is a glorious, beckoning story, catching enlightening glimpses of literature and vivid experience in its flashing beams; beautifully written, it is as evocative and as alluring as a lighthouse glimpsed on a distant headland from a dark and mysterious sea.” —Philip Hoare, author of RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR

“Like a bowerbird constructing its nest, Jazmina Barrera collects microhistories about the hypnotic, geometric light emitted by lighthouses; but when she finds and listens to these histories in the dark intervals, she is a bat hanging upside down in the tower of memory.” —Verónica Gerber Bicecci, author of Empty Set

“Jazmina Barrera’s succeeds in infecting us with her obsession through her unique mix of curiosity and erudition, intimacy and history, autobiography and travel diary. Definitely a book to be read and reread.”—Daniel Saldaña Paris, author of Among Strange Victims

“If my intuition is right, and we are in fact witnessing the emergence of a new encyclopedic passion in Latin American literature, this book will be a benchmark in the future of this movement.”—Patricio Pron, author of My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain

“Jazmina Barrera has woven a narrative that is both poetic and informative, full of bizarre and particular details as well as suggestions that reverberate throughout, much like musical motifs. The lighthouses contained in this notebook are real lighthouses that still light up at night on coasts throughout the world as well as lighthouses that faded centuries ago, and a few lighthouses that never existed, mythological lighthouses and engineers’ projects, lighthouses that are undoubtedly gifted with a symbolism that passed through the history of literature and that seem to be located in a very deep part of our psychological vocabulary, of the catalogue of images that exist just as vividly both in reality and in dreams.”—Antonio Muñoz Molina, author of Sepharad

“This wonderful collection of essays takes a look at lighthouses, venturing into history, literature and so much more. Each essay focuses on a specific lighthouse but veers into unchartered territory, whether it’s birds, books, relationships or vacations. A moving book written in a generous voice.” —Mark Haber, author of Reinhardt’s Garden

“Vivid in its literary, historical, and visual references, On Lighthouses is not reducible to a single category but exists across multiple genres. Intertwining compassionate ruminations on isolation, selfhood, and the different facets of lighthouses, the book is a beautiful expression of how we grow into a life. Jazmina Barrera has crafted a work that reaches a new level of profundity.” —Cristina Rodriguez, Deep Vellum Books (Dallas, TX)

Jazmina Barrera was born in Mexico City in 1988. She was a fellow at the Foundation for Mexican Letters. Her book of essays Cuerpo extraño (Foreign Body) was awarded the Latin American Voices prize from Literal Publishing in 2013. She has published her work in various print and digital media, such as Nexos, Este País, Dossier, Vice, El Malpensante, Letras Libres and Tierra Adentro. She has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing in Spanish from New York University, which she completed with the support of a Fulbright grant. She was a grantee of the Young Creators program at FONCA. She is editor and co-founder of Ediciones Antílope. She lives in Mexico City.
Christina MacSweeney received the 2016 Valle Inclan prize for her translation of Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth, and Among Strange Victims(Daniel Saldaña París) was a finalist in the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Among  the other authors she has translated are: Elvira Navarro (A Working Woman), Verónica Gerber Bicecci (Empty Set; Palabras migrantes/Migrant Words), and Julián Herbert (Tomb Song; The House of the Pain of Others). She is currently working on a second novel by Daniel Saldaña París and her translations of short story collection by  Elvira Navarro and Julián Herbert will be published in 2020.
Excerpt from the book

There are experiences that are lived in a historical present for as long as their memory is evoked, with the full knowledge that the memory will be revisited in the future. It was a twenty-minute drive to the Yaquina Head Light, followed by a ten-minute walk from the parking lot. Formerly known as the Cape Foulweather Lighthouse, it is a twenty-eight-meter white tower with a black tip.

 

The lighthouse comes slowly into view between hills covered by a patchwork of, yellow and white flowers, and those grasses that move in the wind, which Virginia Woolf might say always on the point of fleeing “into some moon country, uninhabited of men.” It grows, closes in, and shows first its tip, then the lens with its copper belly, followed by the observation platform, the tower, and the door to the house beneath. Woolf describes her lighthouse as “distant, austere.” And she goes on to write, “So much depends…upon distance,” From afar, a lighthouse is a ghost, or rather a myth, a symbol. At close quarters it is a beautiful building. Once you’re inside, it ceases to be that, because a lighthouse is direction and never a point of arrival. Even when I was inside, I continued moving, up the iron spiral staircase leading to the tip, where the Fresnel lens, whose light is visible at a distance of thirty-one kilometers, was located.

 

The Pharos, the faro, the phare, the farol, the far: the house that is not only home to and protector of the light, but also transforms it into language. Its light speaks. Gives warning of points of danger, sandbanks, reefs; it signals a nearby port; tells how far away it is and identifies itself by its blink pattern. The Yaquina Head Light flashes two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, fourteen seconds off. The lighthouse that Mrs. Ramsay sees in Woolf’s novel has two short flashes followed by a single long one.

 

We spent only a few minutes inside the lighthouse. Once back in the open air, we were stopped by a sign saying, “Look for Whales!” And scarcely a minute had gone by before we saw two (or were there three or four?) humpbacks. Gray on gray: the whales, the waves. I’ve read that no one knows for certain why they leap from the water, and I’d like that to always remain the case.

 

We then went down to a small beach replete with perfectly smooth black pebbles and strings of green seaweed. There are two photographs of me sitting on a large rock on that beach. My face isn’t visible; I’m looking out toward a horizon outside the frame of the photo. I wonder, now, what was there. Clouds? Ships? I seem to recall some black birds hopping nearby on the rocks.

 

What I definitely remember is turning to look at the lighthouse and having the sensation that it was very distant. As if it had never been there. Because even when you reach the observation deck look out over the vast ocean to the horizon, there by the light source itself, one never reaches the lighthouse. And neither did James, who was disillusioned to find that the one he finally visited didn’t match his childhood imagining. Experience sometimes falls short of memory, and sometimes it’s memory that can’t achieve the heights of experience. The memory of this trip, my words telling what I recall, will fall short of what it was. The preposition in the title to Woolf’s novel contains the whole of story, always approaching the lighthouse, which is above all an ideal, memory, promise: the inaccessible. What moves us.”