People in the Room

People in the Room


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A young woman in Buenos Aires spies three women in the house across the street from her family’s home. Intrigued, she begins to watch them. She imagines them as accomplices to an unknown crime, as troubled spinsters contemplating suicide, or as players in an affair with dark and mysterious consequences.

Lange’s imaginative excesses and almost hallucinatory images make this uncanny exploration of desire, domestic space, voyeurism and female isolation a twentieth century masterpiece. Too long viewed as Borges’s muse, Lange is today recognized in the Spanish-speaking world as a great writer and is here translated into English for the first time, to be read alongside Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector and Marguerite Duras.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781911508229
Publisher: And Other Stories Publishing
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Born in 1905 to Norwegian parents in Buenos Aires, Norah Lange was a key figure in the Argentinean avant-garde of the early to mid-twentieth century. Though she began her career writing poetry in the ultraísta mode of urban modernism, her first major success came in 1937 with her memoir Notes from Childhood, followed by the companion memoir Before They Die, and the novels People in the Room and The Two Portraits. She contributed to the magazines Proa and Martín Fierro, and was a friend to figures such as Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, and Federico García Lorca. From her teenage years, when her family home became the site of many literary gatherings, Norah was a mainstay of the Buenos Aires literary scene, and was famous for the flamboyant speeches she gave at parties in celebration of her fellow writers. She traveled widely alone and with her husband, the poet Oliverio Girondo, always returning to Buenos Aires, where she wrote in the house they shared, and where they continued to host legendary literary gatherings. She died in 1972.

Charlotte Whittle has translated works by Silvia Goldman, Jorge Comensal, and Rafael Toriz, among others. Her translations, essays, and reviews have appeared in publications including Mantis, The Literary Review, The Los Angeles Times, Guernica, Electric Literature, BOMB, and the Northwest Review of Books. Originally from England and Utah, she has lived in Mexico, Peru, and Chile, and is now based in New York. She is an editor at Cardboard House Press, a bilingual publisher of Spanish and Latin American poetry.

Read an Excerpt

(unedited translation; Chapter 2) My bedroom lit up. The sudden flashes of lightning filled its corners, making them bright and distinct. I watched them, waited for them, trying to go unnoticed, so no one would ask me to close the blinds. I watched, unblinking, my eyes wide open, as they made the shadows shudder, and split the sky with their flickering lines, then lingered on in my mind. If they had seen me while I absorbed as many flashes as I could, so I could preserve them a few seconds longer, they might have told me it was hopeless to resist fate, since soon someone asked me if I wouldn’t mind closing the blinds that faced the street. I stood up, vexed. It troubled me to be shut in. I always thought it was important to gaze at a storm. This time, though, I can’t have been too angry since I forgot all about it, and no one was aware that, just like that, without warning, without turmoil or dead horses, without midnight knocks on the door, nor even a single disturbance during the siesta, for me, the street had begun.

I went slowly toward the gloomy living room. I remember as I passed I saw my reflection in the tall mirror on the dresser, at the very moment a lightning bolt deranged the shadows with its oppressive silence. I don’t know why I was so entranced by the sight of my own reflection cast into the mirror by the lightning. When the mirror darkened, I opened the window and waited for a white flood of light, but there was only a thunderclap that made the things in the cabinet tremble. My favorite tree was shaking, and seemed like less of a tree. I was about to reach out to close the blinds, when my eye was drawn to a window with a light on in the house opposite. I felt a little ashamed to close the blinds when that light was falling boldly onto the street. I lifted my hand, closed the window, and stayed there, spying from behind the curtains. And at that moment, as if everything had been prepared for me to attend this meeting with my appointed destiny, I saw them for the first time, I began to watch them, and as I watched them and slowly examined the row of their three faces, one of them barely higher than the others, it seemed to me that – as in a game of cards – I was holding the pale trio of their faces fanned out in my hand.

They were seated in the living room, one of them somewhat removed from the others. I was always struck by this detail. Each time I saw them, two of them sat close together, with the third at a slight distance. I could only make out the dark outline of their dresses, the pale blurs of their faces and their hands. The one farthest from me was smoking, or at least so it seemed, since I saw her lift and lower her hand monotonously. The other two were still, as if deep in thought, before turning their faces in the direction of her voice. Then I managed to make out the small flame of a match beside one of them. I longed to meet them. There seemed to be long lulls in their conversation, and they appeared to be enjoying the storm. They didn’t seem to mind that someone might be able to see them from the street. I watched them as if I had finally found something I’d been seeking for a long time, though I hadn’t known what it was. They seemed like the opening of an unexpected biography bereft of triumphs, lacking photo albums or glass display cases, but full of the details of dresses and stories, faded, misdirected letters, and the kind of first portraits that last forever. The lightning didn’t reach far enough to illuminate the pale blurs of their faces, or at least I didn’t have time to notice, since the lightning was more appealing. But no sooner did the lightning vanish than I turned back to them, and found them unchanged, arranged in the same order. I was certain now that, at least from that house, it would be hopeless to await the hand that would emerge to encounter the rain, or to separate the house from that beautiful night that twisted the trees and made me long to travel in the dining car of a train. They seemed so passive, so free of futile or capricious desires, that I felt suddenly moved, and I longed to cross the street, knock on their door, and once they had invited me in, to sit in an armchair in that same room, light a cigarette, and wait until one of them said ‘make yourself at home,’ and to feel it so truly that I wouldn’t even need to tell them my name or to learn theirs, but rather just absorb their faces, as if I was bidding them goodbye, and look at them just once, so as never to forget them.

It was then I thought no harm could come to them, as long as they went on sitting there faintly illuminated by the lamp, but that certainty didn’t always accompany them into the living room. They seemed more protected when they sat around the dining table. I also imagined they were hiding some tragedy, that it would be beautiful if they had a secret, or were carrying the memory of something dreadful, momentous, unfathomable, and it seemed that to please me, that something – though I soon thought this absurd – should be some still unpunished crime committed in another house, and that the only one to know would be the one who sat apart from the others, the white blur of her hand lifting the cigarette to the white blur of her face. She wouldn’t be the culprit, but she would know.

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