A striking example of translation and its many layers—of language, of myth, of tradition—Mexican author Carmen Boullosa’s The Book of Eve (El libro de Eva) twists, challenges, and ultimately revises a classic tale for a contemporary moment. As Eve, fueled by “fiery disobedience,” tells her own version of the Book of Genesis, she brazenly rejects the stories that have oppressed women across millennia. No, she was not created from Adam’s rib; no, she was not expelled from the Garden of Eden for nibbling a forbidden apple; and no, humanity was not deluged by a great flood. We joined translator Samantha Schnee and Boullosa for a conversation about translation twice (and sometimes thrice) over.
The Book of Eve
By Carmen Boullosa
Published by Deep Vellum
Translated by Samantha Schnee
What if everything they’ve told us about the Garden of Eden was wrong? Faced with what appears to be an apocryphal manuscript containing ten books and 91 chapters, Eve decides to tell her version of the story of Genesis: she was not created from Adam’s rib, nor is it correct that she was expelled for taking the apple from the serpent; the story of Abel and Cain isn’t true, neither are those of the Flood and the Tower of Babel…
In brilliant prose, Carmen Boullosa offers a twist on the Book of Genesis that dismantles patriarchy and rebuilds our understanding of the world—from the origin of gastronomy, to the domestication of animals, to the cultivation of land and pleasure—all through the feminine gaze. Based on this exploration, at times both joyful and painful, The Book of Eve takes a tour through the stories we’ve been told since childhood, which have helped to foster (and cement) the absurd idea that woman is the companion, complement, and even accessory to man, opening the door to criminal violence against women. Boullosa refutes this entrenched, dangerous perspective in her foundational and brazen feminist novel.
Carmen Boullosa is one of Mexico’s leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. She has published over a dozen novels, two of which were designated the Best Novel Published in Mexico by the prestigious magazine Reforma—her second novel, Before, also won the renowned Xavier Villaurrutia Prize for Best Mexican Novel; and her novel La otra mano de Lepanto was also selected as one of the Top 100 Novels Published in Spanish in the past 25 years. Her most recent novel, Texas: The Great Theft won the 2014 Typographical Era Translation Award, was shortlisted for the 2015 PEN Translation Award, and has been nominated for the 2015 International Dublin Literary Award. Boullosa has received numerous prizes and honors, including a Guggenheim fellowship. Also a poet, playwright, essayist, and cultural critic, Boullosa is a Distinguished Lecturer at City College of New York, and her books have been translated into Italian, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Russian.
Samantha Schnee is a 2023 National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellow in Translation, supporting her work to render Boullosa’s Gijon Prize winning novel, El complot de los románticos, into English as Dante Hits the Road. Her translation of Boullosa’s Texas: The Great Theft was shortlisted for the PEN America Translation Prize. She is the founding editor of Words Without Borders.
Photo Credit: Anita Staff