Burgués Spoke to Us About Navigating Disease Through Prose

Pilar Burgués | Photo courtesy of the writer
Pilar Burgués | Photo courtesy of the writer
Photo of Michael Barron
Books And Digest Editor8 August 2017

The Andorran writer discussed the work that made up her lauded short story collection Flaixos de llum blanca (Flashes of White Light), including the excerpt “White or Blue?”, which appears in our Global Anthology.

For a country as tiny as Andorra, which is roughly the size of Brooklyn and Queens combined, it boasts a lively arts and literary heritage that begins in the 13th century and continues to the present day. Among its biggest contemporary names is Pilar Burgués, a former literary review editor and archivist, and now accomplished short story writer. Her biggest work to date is Flaixos de llum blanca (Flashes of White Light), a collection of memoiristic prose fragments written about (and often under the duress of) a lifelong battle with diabetes that has resulted in numerous hospital visits and intense surgeries. As one Andorran reviewer wrote: “These narratives, while often no more than four pages long, are intense, sincere, deeply personal and raw… Burgués documents her experiences without fear, at once allowing herself to dream of strolling through a park while acknowledging the reality of being wheelchair-bound… But she also writes with humor and optimism even as she documents her struggles.”

Through an email exchange, Burgués spoke a bit more about writing Flashes of White Light.

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Cover courtesy of Editorial Andorra

Could you talk about how you came to write Flashes of White Light?
I started writing these micro stories, or fragments, in 2011, with no intention of publishing them. I couldn’t get certain memories out of my head; they haunted me time and again. These moments illustrated the last 15 years of my life, particularly during a time when I suffered the most severe complications and sequeala from diabetes, which I’ve had since I was a teenager.

I wrote the draft of this fragment “White or Blue?” in tears. After wiping away these tears, I was able to consider writing a few more. It was a relief to explain what I’d experienced at a time that to me was traumatic and, to my friends, worrying. To express my suffering in solitude, in front of a computer, and relive my emotional and physical pain without shame was a kind of therapy no doctor could prescribe.

Flashes of White Light, which contains 34 texts in all, was finally published by Editorial Andorra in 2015.

What inspired you to choose this piece to be translated?
My disease causes many complications, including vascular problems, and leads to necrosis and the amputation of part of my feet. This is why most of these pieces are set in a hospital. “White or Blue?”, the fragment Julia Sanches translated, is about the constant trips I made from my hospital bed to the operating room.

I chose “White or Blue?” because it is the first of these pieces I wrote and is a starting point for understanding the rest of the book. The narration in the present helped me understand how I could relive these moments of great intensity in order to better express my feelings.

What are some of the differences in how you approach writing fiction and compose autobiographical pieces?
So far, in everything that I have written, I have mixed personal experience with fiction. The autobiographical aspect ends up having more weight and requires me to be very careful with my language and accurate with my imagery. This is, perhaps, why I prefer writing shorter pieces.

Could you describe the contemporary literary culture of Andorra?
In recent years, our literary scene has undergone considerable enrichment. A variety of fiction and literary genres has emerged in the recent past. Before this, the region’s literature was comprised primarily of poetry and historical novels. Authors like Albert Villaró, Joan Peruga, Iñaki Rubio are doing interesting things with narrative; poets such as Manel Gibert and Teresa Colom, Ester Fenoll are similarly doing interesting things with verse.

What are you currently working on?
Another collection of stories, this one a return to my childhood. I wanted to rekindle the summers I spent in the small town where my family had its home.

Read Pilar Burgués’s short story “White or Blue?” from our Global Anthology here.

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