Eleusis and the Spanish-language LDS Novel

Some years ago I learned of and became fascinated with a 1976 Venezuelan LDS novel, La Puerta Azul, o Georgina Altamirano, La Venezuelana que se convirtió en Mormona. This autobiographical novel was written by the granddaughter of the “patriarch of Meridan Letters,” Tulio Febres Cordero. It also was the first long-form Latter-day Saint literary work I knew of that was written in another language1. But, although I have a copy, I haven’t yet read it.

Since then I’ve kept an eye out for other works, and I’ve found some2. Recently, I’ve seen some activity in Mexico, most notably the literary association “La Cofradía de Letras Mormonas“ and its periodical “El Pregonero de Deseret”3. And I learned of a recently-published Mexican Latter-day Saint novel: Eleusis [The Long and Winding Road] by R. de la Lanza.

I believe that a Mexican Latter-day Saint literature is developing.

A Short Review

I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Eleusis, which is available as an ebook from Amazon. Given the average book in the Wasatch-front based LDS market, I expected a fairly traditional work—a genre work written for entertainment, perhaps with a thriller or romantic plot with a Latter-day Saint setting. But I think Eleusis has higher aspirations.

The novel tells the story of multiple generations of a Mexican family as they work through their relationship with the Church over a century. Shifting back and forth through time, the family members join the church, then fall away, and then become active again. Their struggles aren’t really about belief, but rather about the struggle with commitment, and with the Mexican culture around them.

Since it covers multiple generations, Eleusis has a kind of epic feel, But it isn’t a whitewashed epic. Not only do the family members struggle, the Church struggles also. The novel shows the Third Convention schism, for example, along with something about the central-Mexican polygamous colony that remained even after the schism was healed.

The language of Eleusis isn’t all that easy. My Spanish is perhaps a bit better than the average LDS returned missionary (i.e., reasonable for every day use, but limited when it comes to challenging texts and vocabulary.) While I could read the novel just fine, I did need to look up the definition of a word or two on each page. I think it will be a minor challenge for those of us who aren’t completely fluent.

Of course, my Spanish is perhaps a significant limitation in this review. I’m not familiar with Mexican literature, nor the literary styles in vogue. Compared to English novels, it seemed to be recounting events more than showing those events. And the novel’s characters seemed always successful in their life ventures — perpetually upper middle class. But I can easily imagine that these may be typical in Mexican novels.

Overall, I think that Eleusis is worth taking seriously. It’s relatively short, and rather inexpensive in ebook format. So if you read Spanish and are up to the challenge, please give it a try.

Should Eleusis Be Translated into English?

For those who can’t read Spanish, or don’t feel up to trying it, I wish I could say that a translation is available. The public in the United States is notably shy when it comes to reading books in translation — just 3% of books published in the United States are translations from another language, which is a stunningly small proportion compared to most other countries. But in the case of Mormon literature, I suggest that it is important to the development of Latter-day Saint literature for Church members outside of the U.S.

Mexico is a good example. Distributing LDS books in Mexico is a huge challenge — the average member’s ability to purchase books is limited, and the number of books that a publisher can distribute is small, which raises the price it must charge for the books. As a result, authors get little or nothing for their effort. Translating books into English can make a big difference, especially because the book will earn more per sale in the US than it will in Mexico, in addition to potentially selling more copies because the market in the US is larger.

Simply put, even if the book doesn’t sell all that well in the US, the few sales can have a big impact there. So as long as the book is reasonably good compared to the average book in the LDS market, I think it should be translated.

Show 3 footnotes
  1. There could well be others. The first non-English Mormon literary work was published in 1846, so there has been plenty of time for such works to be written
  2. See, for example, La Piedra Ente La Ñieve
  3. Now on its 10th quarterly number. See https://mormosofia.wordpress.com/about/

2 comments for “Eleusis and the Spanish-language LDS Novel

  1. Michael H.
    May 26, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    Good news: James Goldberg is working on a translation of Eleusis into English!

    https://twitter.com/JamesGoldberg/status/1203556289290416128

  2. May 30, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you, Kent, for reviewing this. I know we’ve discussed some of this in the past, but in case readers are interested, here’s some additional insights:

    Regarding translations into English: http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2020/01/oh-let-us-translate/

    Regarding Mormon Literature in Spanish:
    http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2017/03/the-beginning-of-a-mormon-in-literature-in-spanish/
    http://associationmormonletters.org/blog/2017/03/the-beginning-of-a-mormon-literature-in-spanish-part-2-mexico-uruguay-and-elsewhere/

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