The Woman in the Mirror

She used the metaphor several times during panels and interviews on this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair: “It is as if you see yourself in the mirror – from behind”. Prize-winning Basque author Karmele Jaio talked about almost having two different identities when writing in her two different languages, Basque and Spanish.

Her works have already found wider international appraisal: Her short stories has been published in Best European Fiction 2017 anthology and in many other anthologies. The English translation of “Amaren Eskuak”  (“Her mother’s hands”) was presentated in the Edinburgh Book Festival 2018. The book won the English Pen Translation Award. The novel “Aitaren etxea” won the Euskadi Prize of Literature. 

The “poetic condition” she often describes, is more than a mere act of reflecting on one’s own language. It describes in tendency a virtual dissociation of one’s world. For Karmele Jaio there is a Basque world and a Spanish one, and in translating their own works into Spanish she creates, as it were, her own partly different image – in a language close, not foreign, but second to her mother-tongue – Basque.

It is our “world” that forms our identity, and our first languages form the “inner home” in which we live. These are the places of belonging, the places of first and immediate orientation, and most of all, the places and people we actively identify with. Identity in this sense is identification. It is something we perform, something we do and subsequently become.

Identity goes far beyond “culture”. It has to do with the people we share our lives with. Identity is a mediation only in certain phases, phases in which we “become” what we later “are”. Matured identity is immediate, not mediated. It can be implicitly felt in a person, and it finally penetrates everything we think, do and are.

And melting several languages and “inner homes” into one authentic appearance is strenuous an endeavor, a lot of work. In Karmele Jaio’s case the process of finding, reflection and formulating her homes seems to have, to a certain extent, been completed in a very successful manner: Her works became famous, she is read and acclaimed in both of her worlds. And hopefully very soon in other languages, as well. Her voice is clear and very valuable.

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