Dr. Laura Kanost, who teaches Latin American Literature and Translation Studies at K-State, has published an English translation of Cristina Rivera Garza’s groundbreaking study of La Castañeda, an early 20th-century public mental health institution in Mexico City. Rivera Garza’s book was originally published in Spanish in 2010 and titled La Castañeda. Narrativas dolientes desde el Manicomio General, 1910-1930. Dr. Kanost’s new translation — La Castañeda Insane Asylum. Narratives of Pain in Modern Mexico — was published with the University of Oklahoma Press (January 2021). It was also published as an open access monograph thanks to the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sustainable History Monograph Pilot. Because it is open access, you can read the monograph for free online by accessing the PDF of the translation from the University of Oklahoma.
La Castañeda Insane Asylum is the first inside view of the workings of La Castañeda General Insane Asylum—a public mental health institution founded in Mexico City in 1910 only months before the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution. It links life within the asylum’s walls to the radical transformations brought about as Mexico entered the Revolution’s armed phase and then endured under succeeding modernizing regimes.
In her book, Cristina Rivera Garza brings the history of La Castañeda asylum to life as inmates, doctors, relatives, and others engage in dialogues on insanity. They discuss faith, sex, poverty, loss, resentment, envy, love, and politics. Doctors translated what they heard into the emerging language of psychiatry, while inmates conveyed their personal experiences and private histories through expressions of mental suffering. The language of pain—physical and spiritual, mild to excruciating—allowed patients to detail the sources and consequences of their misfortune (via University of Oklahoma press).
Modern Languages: How did you become involved with this project?
Laura Kanost: My involvement in this project grew out of my 2015 co-authored book on Latin American women writers’ representations of mental illness. My co-author, Elvira Sánchez-Blake, has a chapter comparing Rivera Garza’s La Castañeda and its acclaimed sister novel, Nadie me verá llorar (translated by Andrew Hurley as No One Will See Me Cry), which grew out of the same archival research, and Elvira put me in touch with Cristina Rivera Garza.
ML: What was it like working on this particular translation?
LK: I’ve been following this line of Cristina’s work ever since I was a grad student researching literary portrayals of psychiatric hospitals, and I have an article on Nadie me verá llorar, so it was rewarding for me to collaborate with her to bring La Castañeda to English-language readers.
ML: What were some of the challenges in translating this particular work?
LK: It was an unconventional book to translate because it blends academic-style writing with poetic elements and is the result of a long, multilayered bilingual writing process.
Are you interested in learning more about this project or working with Dr. Kanost
as you work towards your Spanish degree, Spanish Translation minor, or MA?
Reach out and send her an email — contact info on her page.