Kalpa Imperial

Angélica Gorodischer translated by Ursula K. Le Guin  - published August 2003

paper · 9781931520058 | ebook · 9781618730190

Prix Imaginales winner

Emperors, empresses, storytellers, thieves . . . and the Natural History of Ferrets

Kalpa Imperial is the first of Argentinean writer Angélica Gorodischer’s many award-winning books to be translated into English. In eleven chapters, Kalpa Imperial’s multiple storytellers  relate the story of a fabled nameless empire which has risen and fallen innumerable times. Fairy tales, oral histories and political commentaries are all woven tapestry-style into Kalpa Imperial: beggars become emperors, democracies become dictatorships, and history becomes legends and stories.

But Kalpa Imperial is much more than a simple political allegory or fable. It is also a celebration of the power of storytelling. Gorodischer and acclaimed writer Ursula K. Le Guin, who has translated Kalpa Imperial, are a well-matched, sly and delightful team of magician-storytellers. Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing. Kalpa Imperial is a powerful introduction to the writing of Angélica Gorodischer, a novel which will enthrall readers already familiar with the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.


Selected for the New York Times Summer Reading list.

“1. You should read everything Angélica Gorodischer writes. She is spectacular. 2. This one is a great story of several tellings of a famed empire that rises and falls multiple times. 3. This one is translated by none other than one of the giants of science fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin!”
— Liberty Hardy, Book Riot

“Due to the pandemic, the election, and the numerous other distractions of 2020, reading — and concentrating on reading — has been difficult at times this year. Because of this, I’ve been revisiting old favorites. The one I’m most thankful for is Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial. Published in English translation by the great Ursula K. Le Guin back in 2003, the book is like a warm blanket to me, a perfect little fantasy collection — irreverent, fun, mythical, and a beautiful piece of world building. A truly special book not on most people’s radars.” —Justin Souther, Malaprop’s Bookstore, Buzzfeed: 46 Books Our Favorite Indie Booksellers Were Grateful For This Year

“The history of an imaginary empire in a series of tales that adopt the voice of a marketplace storyteller. . . . While the point of each tale eludes paraphrase, the cumulative burden is the imperfectibility of human society . . . Le Guin’s translation, which ranges from blunt to elegant to oracular, seems like the ideal medium for this grim if inescapable message.”
— New York Times Book Review

“A novel that evokes weighty matters lightly and speaks of self-evident wisdom while itself remaining mysterious.”
— Washington Post

* “This Scheherazade-like collection of linked tales, loosely connected by a storyteller, form the rich history of an imaginary civilization from its hunter-gatherer origins to its peak as a technologically sophisticated empire. Each story is concerned with the use and abuse of power, especially the inequities of power between men and women, the rich and the poor, and the state and the individual. Never heavy-handed, the stories flow like fables and gradually show the futility of seeking power and trying to rule others. The dreamy, ancient voice is not unlike Le Guin’s, and this collection should appeal to her fans as well as to those of literary fantasy and Latin American fiction.”
Library Journal (Starred Review)

“There’s a very modern undercurrent to the Kalpa empire, with tales focusing on power (in a political sense) rather than generic moral lessons. Her mythology is consistent — wide in scope, yet not overwhelming. The myriad names of places and people can be confusing, almost Tolkeinesque in their linguistic originality. But the stories constantly move and keep the book from becoming overwhelming. Gorodischer has a sizeable body of work to be discovered, with eighteen books yet to reach English readers, and this is an impressive introduction.”
Review of Contemporary Fiction

“Those looking for offbeat literary fantasy will welcome Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was, by Argentinean writer Angélica Gorodischer. Translated from the Spanish by Ursula Le Guin, this is the first appearance in English of this prize-winning South American fantasist.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Ursula Le Guin’s translation of Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial is wonderful.”
Jo Walton, Tor.com

“The only thing more amazing than the stories about this nonexistent empire is the fact that it has taken them so long — twenty years — to appear in English.”

“It’s always difficult to wrap up a rave review without babbling redundant praises. This time I’ll simply say “Buy this Book!””

“The elaborate history of an imaginary country . . . is Nabokovian in its accretion of strange and rich detail, making the story seem at once scientific and dreamlike.”
Time Out New York

“These stories — like this empire — are deceptively simple, as they are built from complex components of a deep and richly imagined history.”
Strange Horizons

“This is definitely a book to savour slowly.”
Strange Charm

“[A] remarkable collaboration . . . an engossing escape . . . a useful tonic and reminder that the irascible perspectives of Borges and Cortazar are alive and well.”
— Bridge Magazine

Kalpa Imperial has been awarded the Prize “Más Allá” (1984), the Prize “Sigfrido Radaelli” (1985) and also the Prize Poblet (1986). It has had four editions in Spanish: Minotauro (Buenos Aires), Alcor (Barcelona), Gigamesh (Barcelona), and Planeta Emecé Editions (Buenos Aires).

An excerpt from Kalpa Imperial, The End of a Dynasty, was originally published in the original anthology Starlight 2, (Tor).

About the Author

Angélica Gorodischer, daughter of the writer Angélica de Arcal, was born in 1928 in Buenos Aires and has lived most of her life in Rosario, Argentina. From her first book of stories, she has displayed a mastery of science-fiction themes, handled with her own personal slant, and exemplary of the South American fantasy tradition. Oral narrative techniques are a strong influence in her work, most notably in Kalpa Imperial, which since its publication has been considered a major work of modern fantasy narrative.

Here’s a fuller bio:

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on July 28th 1928, lives in Rosario, Argentina, since 1936. Fifteen books published, novels and short stories. Never a play; never a poem, not even at sixteen when everybody writes poems, out of love or of politics. Elementary and high school at the Escuela Normal no.2 de Profesoras in Rosario. And then School of Arts and Literature, Rosario National University but only for five years. No grade, no academic award, no nothing: wanted to write, not to teach.
Books: Short Stories with Soldiers, 1965; Opus Two, novel, 1967, 1990; The Wigs,short stories, 1968; Under the Yubayas in Bloom, short stories, 1973, 1987; Chaste Electronic Moon, short stories, 1977; Trafalgar, short stories, 1979, 1984 and 1986; Imperial Kalpa, novel, 1983, 1990, 2000, 2001; A Bad Night, short stories, 1983, 1997; Vases of Alabaster, Boukhara Carpets, novel, 1985, 1992; Mango Juice, novel, 1988; The Republics, short stories, 1991; Fable of the Virgin and the Fireman, novel, 1993; Survivorship Techniques, short stories, 1994; The Night of the Innocent, novel, 1996; How to Succeed in Life, short stories, 1998; Mint, short stories, 2000;Everywhere, novel, 2002.
Awards: 1964 “Vea & Lea” award, III contest of detective stories; 1965 “Club del Orden” award; 1984 “Más Allá” award; 1984 “Poblet” award; 1984-85 Emecé award; 1985 “Sigfried Radaelli Club de los Trece”; 1986, 1991 Gigamesh (Spain); 1994 “Platinum Konex” for her work on sci-fi; 1996 “Dignity” award granted by the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights for works and activity in women’s rights; 1998 Silvina Bullrich award, granted by the Argentina Writers’ Society to the best novel written by a woman during the three precedent years; 2000: “Margarita de Ponce” award, granted by the Union of Argentine Women.
Short stories in anthologies in Argentina and other countries. Seminars, conferences, meetings, conventions, etc. in Argentina and other countries. More than 300 lectures (not counting papers at meetings or conferences) especially on fantastic narrative and gender and literature. Judge at literary contests from 1967 to the present. Book presentations, public reading of short stories. Workshops for women who want to write. Articles and short stories in newspapers and magazines in Argentina and other countries.
A husband (for 50 years the same one), two sons, one daughter-in-law, a daughter, a son-in-law, six grandchildren, a house, a garden, many many friends . . . in Argentina and other countries.

Read more of Angélica Gorodischer’s stories in English:

Four short stories including “The Perfect Married Woman” in the anthology Secret Weavers: Stories of the Fantastic by Women of Argentina and Chile.

“Camera Obscura” translated by Diana L. Velez, The Latin American Literary Review, XIX, 37:96-105. Special Issue: Scents of Wood and Silence: Short Stories by Latin American Women Writers.

About the Translator

Ursula Kroeber was born in 1929 in Berkeley, California, where she grew up. Her parents were the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi. She went to Radcliffe College, and did graduate work at Columbia University. She married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in Paris in 1953; they lived in Portland, Oregon, from 1958 on and had three children and three grandchildren.

Ursula K. Le Guin has written poetry and fiction all her life. Her first publications were poems, and in the 1960’s she began to publish short stories and novels. She writes both poetry and prose, and in various modes including realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, young children’s books, books for young adults, screenplays, essays, verbal texts for musicians, and voicetexts for performance or recording. As of 2003 she has published over a hundred short stories (collected in nine volumes), two collections of essays, twelve books for children, five volumes of poetry, two of translation, and nineteen novels. Among the honors her writing has received are a National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, five Hugo Awards, and five Nebula Awards.

In August 2003 the University of New Mexico Press published Ursula’s translation of Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral — “This is the first presentation in English and Spanish of a really substantial selection of the poetry of Mistral — the first Latin American, and the only Latin American woman, to receive the Nobel Prize.”

Praise for the Spanish-language editions of Kalpa Imperial:

“Angélica Gorodischer, both from without and within the novel, accomplishes the indispensable function Salman Rushdie says the storyteller must have: not to let the old tales die out; to constantly renew them. And she well knows, as does that one who met the Great Empress, that storytellers are nothing more and nothing less than free men and women. And even though their freedom might be dangerous, they have to get the total attention of their listeners and, therefore, put the proper value on the art of storytelling, an art that usually gets in the way of those who foster a forceful oblivion and prevent the winds of change.”
—Carmen Perilli, La Gaceta, Tucuman

“At a time when books are conceived and published to be read quickly, with divided attention in the din of the subway or the car, this novel is to be tasted with relish, in peace, in moderation, chewing slowly each and every one of the stories that make it up, and digesting it equally slowly so as to properly assimilate it all.”
—Rodolfo Martinez

“A vast, cyclical filigree . . . Gorodischer reaches much farther than the common run of stories about huge empires, maybe because she wasn’t interested in them to begin with, and enters the realm of fable, legend, and allegory.”
—Luis G. Prado, Gigamesh, Barcelona