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Translator’s Notes

By Kathryn Phillips-Miles

Think of a love story, a ghost story and a gothic horror all mixed together and add in plenty of swashbuckling action, and you’ll get the picture! The Yocci Well is set in two parallel periods (principally in the north-west of Argentina) spanning twenty years, contrasting the War of Independence with the savagery of the civil wars and cross-border skirmishes that followed. 

The author, Juana Manuela Gorriti, was born in Argentina in 1814, in the province of Salta. Her father fought in the War of Independence but was forced into exile in Bolivia in 1831 under the Rosas dictatorship. Juana married an army officer who became Bolivia’s president and was later assassinated in the presidential palace. She was recognised in her time as one of Latin America’s outstanding authors.

Although it’s a relatively short novel, once the translation process was embarked upon, there were quite a few challenges to be found among the pages. The most challenging aspect had nothing to do with syntax, lexis, style or register; it was a simple question of trying to untangle the convoluted historical backdrop to the storyline. A crash course in nineteenth century Argentinian history was an essential prerequisite! For any reader who might be in an equally challenging tight spot, we have included an Introduction and a Timeline in The Yocci Well which we hope will help to put the action into context.

As for the occasionally rather opaque language and sometimes confusing syntax, the overriding aim in the translation process was clarity. Any attempt to try to render the text into nineteenth century provincial English would clearly not be appropriate, but ensuring that a flavour of that period in Argentina’s past was still retained was important. Problems with some lexical items were only to be expected, but these were solved with the usual combination of background research and wider reading.

We had been meaning to return to Argentina for some time, so armed with a first draft of The Yocci Well, we felt there was no better time and, of course, we absolutely had to go to Salta.

A view of Salta from the top of Cerro de San Bernardo

We stayed in a small house in the centre of the city, beneath the Cerro de San Bernardo and right behind the Convento de San Bernardo (built at the beginning of the seventeenth century). It was a good feeling to be able to follow in Juana Manuela Gorriti’s footsteps as we wandered around the lovely, colonial streets of Salta in search of the Yocci Well itself. It had long gone, although we did discover that a well had once been located at the top of calle España, originally called calle Yocsi.  The word yocci, yocsi or llocsi derives from the Quechua word llókhsi, meaning ‘exit.’

The last book Juana Manuela Gorriti published was La cocina ecléctica [Eclectic Cuisine] (1890), a collection of her favourite recipes.  It contains a recipe for pasties or empanadas which is still being used in Salta today!

Cold Meat Pasties (Empanada de fiambre)

These empanadas are delicious straight out of the oven and the advantage is that they can be kept for a few days.

This is how to make them.

Take however much flour is needed for the number of empanadas you are making and tip it out onto a table in a heap.  Make a well in the centre of the heap.

Dissolve some bread yeast in warm water with a little salt.  Gradually trickle the warm, salted water into the well in the heap of flour and mix it in.  Knead the dough until all everything is incorporated.  As you are kneading, add some fried bacon fat.  Knead until the dough becomes soft and elastic.  Cover with a folded cloth and leave for one hour.

Divide the dough into equal portions.  Sprinkle some flour on the tabletop and on top of each portion and roll out into thin circles of the desired size. Place on a cloth ready to be filled.

Take a very sharp knife and slice some large but very thin slices of ham.

Take two slices of ham and spread a layer of stoned black olives between the two slices.  Place this filling in the middle of the rolled out pastry circle.  Fold the pastry over the filling and crimp the edge to seal.  Place the pasties in tins and then put them into the oven.  They will cook quickly.  Remove from the oven when they are golden brown.

La cocina ecléctica Juana Manuela Gorriti

Convento de San Bernardo, Salta
House in Salta

Kathryn Phillips-Miles

The Yocci Well, published by The Clapton Press, June 2020

Work published within the framework of the “Programa Sur” Translation Support Program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Culture of the Argentine Republic.