Novelist breaks language barriers
Posted April 7, 2006
Lindsey Gooding
Alicia Steimberg participated in the Engendering Diversity and Community Conference on campus last week. She spoke about the challenges she faced growing up Jewish in Argentina. Steimberg is a professional translator and has written three novels. In 1992, she won the prestigious Premio Planeta Biblioteca del Sur award for her novel Cuando digo Magdalena.

Argentine Novelist Alicia Steimberg addressed the topic of “Argentine Identity Today” last week in the Presidents Dining Room.

Roughly 50 students and faculty members turned out for the talk, which focused on Steimberg’s experiences growing up as a Jew in Argentina.

During the program, which was part of the University’s Engendering Diversity and Community conference, Steimberg displayed black-and-white portraits of family members.

Spanish professor Andrea Labinger read excerpts from her upcoming novel “Conversation of the Saints.”

Audience members got a kick out of the humor in her writing, while some of Steimberg’s experiences left the audience in shock.

She told a humorous story about how her aunt lied to an antisemitic neighbor, when asked about her religion.

Many of the stories highlighted Steimberg’s search for her own identity.

“It was very good,” said Adrianna Gardner, a senior creative writing major. “I think she was very animated. I was absorbing everything she said about Argentine life.”

“Being African-American is different from being Argentine but in fact are the same because of what we all experience in our history of identity,” Gardner said.

“I was thrilled that so many people came,” said Labinger, who coordinated the event.

Labinger also read several excerpts from Steimberg's novel “Call Me Magdalena,” which tells the tale of an Argentine Jewish girl, who is taunted about her heritage – and deals with issues of identity, religion and morality.

In the novel, the girl’s class spends a weekend at a ranch in Buenos Aires, where a murder has occurred. The novel is crafted with Steimberg’s energetic dialogue and personal experiences.

Labinger, who has translated all of Steimberg’s novels from Spanish to English, said her challenge as translator was preserving Steimberg’s personality and humor in the translated version. Labinger hopes to translate Steimberg’s fourth novel, which is due out this fall.

“I love her personality, voice and great sense of humor,” Labinger said.

Students and faculty members who attended were in for a treat when the Los Angeles Argentine Council presented Steimberg with a gift, commending her work as an inspiration for Argentine life. After the presentation, Steimberg presented audience members who bought her novels with signed copies.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1933, Steimberg is regarded in Argentina as one of that country’s best contemporary writers.

She has received numerous literary awards for her, including the Premio Planeta Biblioteca del Sur in 1992 for her novel “Cuando Digo Magdalena,” which was later translated in English by Labinger to “Call Me Magdalena” in 1998.

Steimberg said she was delighted about having her novels translated in English.

“I’m very glad now to be heard and appreciated by people who couldn’t read in Spanish,” Steimberg said.

Jonathan Smith can be reached at

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