Rescue Distance

Distancia de Rescate is the Spanish title for Argentinian Samanta Scweblin’s novel, a current nominee for the Booker International Prize. I don’t know why Megan McDowell thought Fever Dream would be better as the title for her English translation of this novel or why she prefers rescue distance when she uses the repetitive phrase distance of rescue throughout the novel. These are translator decisions, and we have grown to accept them as part of the convention of translating. It’s fitting, I think, that the Booker International Prize is divided between author and translator, a tacit acknowledgment that translation makes a novel accessible, and that it is an art form in and of itself. It does leave an indelible stamp on the novel in ways the English reader cannot know. Things are lost in translation. That’s one of the limitations that non-linguists simply accept.

Certainly, Scweblin’s novel feels like a fever dream. From beginning to end, the reader fights to punch through the fog of fever, to separate the threads of reality from the illusions of dream. Because the reader is firmly grounded in reality beyond the page, she is freed to weigh the clues, to give herself to the understanding of alien experience. The magical realism of the novel provides its own artistic pleasure just as a good mystery rewards the reader with the would-be skills of detection.

Rescue distance is a concept from reality that sums up the invisible bond a mother always wants with her child. She always wants to be close enough to protect a child from harm. At the same time the term figures the ambiguity of distance, that wavering line that resists control. Try as she might, the protagonist is as powerless to protect the daughter within her own reach. The irony is the danger within reach.

While there is the perceived danger of chemically induced eco-imbalance in the novel, the desire to protect the child is the major focus. The varying manifestations of imbalance function metaphorically to embody danger. The death of ducks, dogs, horses, and the disfiguration of children is not nearly as damaging as the dehumanizing rupture of the soul, the fissure that renders everyone less than what he or she can be.

That the entire novel is told in an eerie conversation between two unlikely patients at the point of death is the device that gives this adventure of the mind its hold on the reader’s sensibilities. The newly afflicted adult is led by the prescient child whose understanding has been magnified in dissolution

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