Julio Cortázar’s “Headache”

A new translation for a centennial anniversary

Julio Cortazar full image

This year has seen a lot of anniversaries in weird fiction. First, there was the centennial anniversary of Robert Aickman, then the bicentennial of Sheridan Le Fanu, and now we’re celebrating the 100th year anniversary of Julio Cortázar (whose birthday was actually before Le Fanu’s birthday last month). Today though, Tor.com is featuring an all new translation from Cortázar. The short story “Cefalea” (or “Headache”) was acquired for Tor.com by Ann VanderMeer and translated by weird fiction author Michael Cisco. From the Tor website:

Cefalea” or “Headache” was originally published in Cortázar’s collection Bestiaro in 1951. This is the first time it has been translated into English. The translator, Michael Cisco, is a writer of surreal and fantastical fiction and he brings the right sensibilities to this story.

As for how Cisco found the story and why he decided to translate it, Cisco writes:

I discovered this story by accident, having mistakenly purchased the Spanish edition of his collection Bestiario.  When I tried to collate its table of contents with my English edition of his stories, I found one tale, “Cefalea” unaccounted for.  I decided to try translating it for my own edification … now here we are.

For those unfamiliar with Cortázar, Julio Cortázar was an Argentine writer who is often considered one of the most influential Latin American writers of the 20th century along with Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Cortázar was born in Belgium to parents who were Argentine nationals; his family moved to Argentina though after World War I.

In 1947, Cortázar published his first short story, “Casa tomada” (“House Taken Over”), in a magazine edited by Jorge Luis Borges. Cortázar moved to Paris in the 1950’s where he worked as a translator and continued to write. In the 1960’s and 70’s, he became a prominent figure in the Latin American boom in Europe and America with works like Los premios (The Winners) and Rayuela (Hopscotch). Cortázar visited Argentinia regularly until his exile by the Argentine junta who had taken offense to several of his stories. He passed away in Paris in 1984.

While he has been known as a master of the short story, Cortázar’s novels and poetry have also received critical acclaim. Cortázar is probably best known though for his short stories, which have influenced countless generations of writers since. One such story, “Axolotl” is featured in The Weird compendium and was the subject of our 101 Weird Writers series entry for Cortázar.

Like “Axolotl,” in “Headache” we also find layered meanings and hidden subtexts. Additionally, it seems to include a partly autobiographical element as Cortázar was a sickly child and spent many hours in bed while growing up. One thing that VanderMeer noted was that while researching “Headache” she found that so few of the many short stories Cortázar wrote have been translated into English. Head over to Tor.com now and check out the new — and only — translation of “Headache.”

Read “Headache” by Julio Cortázar on Tor.com