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May 23, 2017
On Publishing San Mao
by Iolanda Batallé

What were my reasons for publishing Diarios del Sáhara (Stories from the Sahara) by San Mao? Two years later, as I look back on the event, the question itself seems strange because I don’t remember the decision being a conscious one. I had acted directly, as if motivated by intuition. A strong curiosity, shared by those who understand Taiwanese literature well, arose in me: how could one of Taiwan’s most popular authors still be unpublished in Europe? Curiosity has this in common with desire: if it is not satisfied, it will grow endlessly. Thus it grew in me, as I discovered that San Mao’s work did not exist in any of the languages I spoke, neither in Spanish, English, French, nor in Italian.

 

Though I could read no more than a few pages translated into English, I soon found myself captivated by the intense and tragic life of Echo Chen (the name San Mao used in the West). I too had lived far from my native country at a young age. My life had also been interwoven with love stories that did not always end well. I too felt that living and writing were one and the same. I quickly perceived all these similarities between her life and mine, and my decision to become her editor quickly solidified into an unquestionable resolve. I no longer needed mere reasons to publish her, as the decision was not something I could re-examine or re-assess. It was something I would do, full stop; whatever the cost, I would be the person to restore life to San Mao. I wanted to publish her books then for the same reason I do now – to read them. The vast majority of the pages she wrote remained a mystery to me. I want to experience this part of her life as though I had lived alongside her during her days in the Sahara.

 

Over the years, I have crossed paths with the people who loved her. In Madrid, I met the family of José Quero (her husband), including his sisters-in-law and nieces, with whom Echo had cohabitated and corresponded frequently. I met César, José’s brother, and could sense in his expression a bit of the peace and sweetness that Echo saw in her beloved’s eyes. I met her friend Nancy from the Canary Islands, who was at her side when José died. I travelled to Taipei to meet her sister, Mona, and her younger brother, Henry. They were both very kind to me. I also met the director of Crown Publishing, the son of the editor who offered Echo her first chance to be published. I recall Henry speaking to me of the young, rebellious Echo, of her difficulties at school, her happiness when telling stories, of her return to her homeland, and of her last years.

 

The slow and meticulous process of translating and editing this precious book into Spanish and Catalan has confirmed a thousand times what I felt the first time someone (a young woman with blue hair) spoke to me of San Mao: it was an absolute necessity. And the project that became Diarios del Sáhara has truly been a pleasant labor. Yet the most wonderful part of the story has been finding San Mao, not only in her words, or in the people who knew and loved her, but also in the eyes of a twenty-year-old young woman, a student of Spanish who read San Mao in Chinese. Her gratitude and joy moved me deeply. This young lady, a traveler just like Echo, was Echo’s new incarnation. There are hundres, thousands, hundres of thousands of San Maos roaming the world. I discovered the immense capacity of San Mao’s work to stand the tests of time, just like the works of Kerouac, Bowles, or Conrad, Dickenson or McCullers, authors one wants to discover when one begins to live.

 

What was my motive for publishing San Mao? Only one, which is the sum of everything: life.