Jacqueline Goldberg, from "The Book of Tremors"

Jacqueline Goldberg is a Venezuelan fiction writer, essayist, editor, and author of children's books. Her novel Las horas claras [The clear hours] received the 2012 Fundación para la Cultura Urbana prize, was the Venezuelan Booksellers’ Book of the Year and a finalist for the Critic’s Award Novel for 2013.  One of the important voices in contemporary Venezuelan poetry and a founding member of La Poeteca Foundation in Caracas, she has had her work anthologized in 15 countries.



Jacqueline Goldberg recalls, in this excerpt from El cuarto de los temblores (published in Caracas in 2018) a difficult childhood and adolescent experience: she had in both hands a profound physiological tremor, an intermittent and unpredictable shaking that imposes a disturbing disability on the afflicted individual. She selected, from the first chapters of the book, the text segments for translation; the portrayed events portend the book’s subsequent, wide-ranging literary exploration of hand tremors.

In respect to the translation itself, the excerpted narration was originally written in the first person present, which can be effective when positioned relative to other content written in past tenses (as is the case in El cuarto). However, in the translation of the excerpt, because there is no adjacent context, the narration was placed in the past tense to better orient the readership. The unusual punctuation in the translation, specifically the brackets enclosing ellipses, are as in the original where they indicate time and thought breaks, not deletions.

The author and I have never met in person. We were introduced by a mutual colleague who brought attention primarily to Goldberg’s poetry, but also her prose. Since then I have had the pleasure of close-reading and translating a considerable volume of Goldberg’s writings across her range of genre. Within the translation community highly diverse relationships develop between author and translator; in our case—here, I think I can speak comfortably for both of us—we have developed a respect for each other’s work, an exceptional collaboration, and a genuine literary friendship.

--William Blair

                                                        From El cuatro de los temblores  [The Book of Tremors]

The tremor precedes me. The tremor comes from a catastrophic design without margins, without a name, without faith.

I’ve yearned for a long time to write about the tremor. Not about the noticeable shaking in my hands. Nor about spilling things, frightening events born of the tremor’s contempt. I’ve yearned to to write about the precarious materiality of the tremor. Its duration. Its vacuousness. An unpronounceable thing that holds on. Because when the tremor appears, it’s already begun to disappear and reappear again.

Trembling has been the most voluntary of my predispositions.

Someone said that the day I write about the tremor, the tremor will stop. That when I engrave in words all my quivering since infancy, nothing could return to shake me.

But I never wrote. A bit incredulous, as much because I fear not trembling. The disappearance of the malady would leave me exposed; it would be an unknown for me.

I begin this task of writing about myself for whoever might someday ask. Perhaps grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. I want to record what the tremor has prevented: the burden, the anticipation, its guile.


In the wide arc of my family tree,
it’s presumed that only I tremble,
only I tremble and write.
Only I write while I tremble.

Will someone tremble later on?
Will a distant relative tremble near the moment of their death?
I will never know.

I am alone on the tree, alone with the tremor.


My parents were the first to see it appear. I was four-years old. We were around the kitchen table. It was enormous. With antlers, a tail, scales like a fish, a snout, wings, hooves, a hump. It purred, barked, howled. They tried to make it back. It didn’t do that. The tremor was wolf, bat, seven- headed monster, panther, snake-haired Medusa.


Always a “normal” result from encephalograms, radiographs, hematologic profiles, careful examinations.


It’s unfortunate.

You hope for unexpected bluntness, a physical defect, something profound, an end.


They drove me to the capital to be examined by an important pediatrician, the first woman in Venezuela to graduate with the title of Doctor of Medical Sciences. Lya Imber de Coronil was a friend of my grandmother, or maybe the daughter of some friend of my grandmother. I was in the Hospital Infantil J. M. de los Ríos, in an airy waiting room, blue. She said I was healthy. She studied my tremor, interrupted it, stimulated it. She repeated that I was healthy.

In this way, trips over the tremor began. Journeys to control me.


I was twelve years old. I traveled with my father. It was essential to find the inner form of the tremor. They hospitalized me at the University of California. They threw me, for the whole afternoon, into a room to do crafts with children with cancer. I didn’t want to eat. My father spirited me away, took me to a restaurant in the medical center. I slept alone next to an empty bed. The following day, my father returned; I was still connected to tubes through which blood dripped in and out. They were doing examinations for growth hormones. In addition to everything else, I was small. This tragedy did not bring answers either. I would go on being small. I would go on trembling.

The rest of the trip was benign, we sped along confusing freeways, we went to movie theaters, to San Francisco and the Japanese gardens.
To the seaside cliffs and the sea.


I was thirteen years old. My father took me to a neurologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami. They injected me with iodine and enclosed me in a computerized tomography machine. They were searching for traces of the tremor. The sounds in this recently invented, technological coffin made me tremor even more. There was also a doctor who asked me to stop moving. He said the machine was not capturing the different sections in my brain. I trembled again. Like before, only more.

The examination generated unknowns, promises that perhaps, in the future, one day, puberty and the years would calm me down. That didn’t happen. In order to compensate for the distress, we walked through the city in the rain, went to the shopping district. I bought clothes to wear for the first time, though for later.


I didn’t want to go to school. I was six years old. The other kids made fun of my yellow teeth, but more than anything my tremor. They said horrible things, pulled down my underpants, closed me in a hall locker.

One morning I announced to my father that I was not going to school. He didn’t try to persuade me. We went to look at our new apartment, still under construction. We climbed six flights of darkened stairs. It smelled of cement and paint. Our home would be immense, luminous, with a bedroom and bathroom for me.

Then my father drove me, obedient, to school. Nothing mattered anymore.

There would be a place to hide, to tremble away, and one day begin to write.


Also, trips to far-away districts took place; they were difficult to return from.

We went to see a shaman on a trip near the border. The physically disabled, lepers, the elderly, and melancholic women waited for him.

We saw a Chinese man who stuck needles into my back and put on suction cups, too. We saw a holistic doctor who prohibited me from eating tomatoes.

We saw a man who measured my chakras with strange gyrating devices. They said I had too much energy, which was the cause of the tremor.

Journeys. So many little journeys.


During a long period of time there were no more expeditions through my hell. Something in my parents fell into emptiness. I didn’t listen to their nighttime conversations. Maybe they cried, felt sorry for themselves, blamed themselves.


The desperation of a mother doesn’t stop at the end of the road. We went to see an oracle. A witch. She detested being called a witch. As remuneration she demanded one red rose.

The first appointment took place early one afternoon. The woman wore a turban. She had us walk through her living room and dining room, arriving at the back of her house, under a covered patio where her treatment station awaited.

She passed her hands over my entire body, without touching it. She said that in another life I was a childhood pianist, and I died tragically one day in this other life, the one I had been born into. For a long time, my mother would not stop talking about it, captivated by the sense of an evil curse.

For my homework, the oracle assigned sleeping next to a glass of water covered by a plate, and in the morning, I should drink it, pray to God and ask for forgiveness. Since then I drink water when I wake up.

The second time we went to the oracle’s house, a green one on tenth street, it was to attend a séance. After walking the same route through the house, we entered a room without windows, with chairs that were being quickly occupied by strangers. I sat down next to my mother, off to one side. They talked, muttered, smoked. Suddenly, that enormous woman, Cuban I learned later, began talking like a man. At the same time monkeys in cages on the patio start shrieking. I pulled at mother, at her floral dress, and crying, very frightened, I prayed to her to let us go. We left.


When I became an adult, I wanted to expose that green house. The Socorros, a brother and sister, neither much disposed to searching out Tarot card readers, in their unhampered affection, took me. One afternoon, we presented at the oracle’s metal-grated door, she came out and said she would not help us. We returned later, but I don’t remember if we entered, if she read the cards for us. At times I believe yes, but that means little to nothing. That visit, to the door, later into the room—if it’s true it happened, Marco says no, Milagros says yes —at least it helped to upend the anxiety I experience at times, asking myself why the monkeys got so wildly excited, why the old witch put me in with a dead pianist, why my mother, Jewish and a college graduate, ended up searching among the dead who belong to someone else.


Describing the tremor.
Giving it proper names.
Making a code word for me to differentiate it
from a headache
from an orgasm.
Making it difficult.
It’s scandalous, but doesn’t hurt,
you don’t hear it,
it doesn’t echo in another part of my body.
It’s involuntary. An animal. A disgusting thing.

Little, minimal movements.
A traitorous impulse.


My first laboratory practicum in a parochial school run by nuns. I was a new student. I was in the fourth year of high school. I was fifteen years old. The nun who teaches Biology asked me to go to the shelf for the test tubes for an experiment. I wanted to refuse. I wanted to ask for help. But I didn’t do that. I trembled. Eight glass test tubes fell to the floor and shattered. My classmates looked at me. I don’t know if they are laughing. I wanted to disintegrate into dust. The nun reprimanded me. I promised it would not happen again.
So, the barriers.

My handwriting is a scrawling disaster, a carry-over from childhood. It will never change. It’s ugly, zigzagging, oblivious to margins. Indecipherable. In elementary school they tortured me with dozens of plans. They believed that I could develop the handwriting imposed by the Palmar Method, restricted between the small lines of my practice book. I was held back for interminable hours on a long list of words that others got in minutes. For that, they kept me from going out for recess. Seldom did I get to finish my exams. I begged for more minutes. I wanted to have another hand, an extension that would put down in ink everything I learned and thought.

Writing by hand was torture. It was painful.

Writing broke me down. At times I bled. When the skin developed a scar, it just split open again. I lived with an open sore. One day callouses developed. They helped me with their excessive thickness, toughness, and prominence. I had a callous on my middle finger, another on my little finger. The first was because of pressure from the pen or pencil. The other because of the intense friction between my hand and journal. They were ugly, they ended up stained, with cracks. My hard bumps.

Before I was ten years old, I wrote perfectly on an electric typewriter. First on an Olivetti under my parents’ observation. Later, on another that was mine and occupied the center of the desk in my own room. Thus, I made myself into a writer. I typed schoolwork and poems. Historical summaries and stories about unrequited love. They made me cry.

The typewriter was my longed-for prosthesis. My teachers didn’t understand. They asked my parents who was writing for me. Explanations were not enough. They insisted on me writing by hand.

One day they permitted typed homework. The classmates who for years had bullied me wanted to be my friends. They argued about forming study groups with me. I was the only one with a typewriter. The only one who possessed a magical machine. I stopped writing in solitude, doing homework for others, offering my little gift.

I was thirteen years old. I was in the third year of high school. It was obligatory to take notes with a pen. Blue ink was the enemy. The tremor made me sweat, the sweat left a trail in my journal, the trails generated reprimands, repeated assignments, frustrations. I was Sisyphus on a hill of smudged lines, lines that seeped outward.

When I thought things had slipped into obscurity, the phantom took off its shoes, made demands, killed everything. During the first year at the university, a professor prohibited me from being exempt from his material and required me to take a final exam. He said that someone like me, with so many difficulties with communication, could not pass material that calls precisely for Communication and Language. I repeated the work, got a low grade, mediocre, foreign to me.

Then, much later, at the culmination of a Social Sciences Doctorate, I failed the English language proficiency exam. They didn’t even read it. I had to carry in a medical directive that obligated the School of Modern Languages to permit me to write the required paper on a portable computer and print it out right in the classroom. My classmates at the exam, all adults, thought they were in the presence of a powerful creature, something to contend with. Finally, I passed, graduated, and I tried not to be resentful.

Teachers were not the only ones who criticized my ugly writing. Every bureaucratic procedure becomes a slap in the face: the expense/outlay of identification cards and passports, banking transactions, immigration and emigration forms, customer receipts.

My signature takes on the character of the tremor. It’s a suspicious signature, one that criminalizes me.


William Blair holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa. His co-translated and published work includes poetry by María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira,Luis Bravo, and Manuel Vilas. Other translations have appeared in Exchanges, Latin American Literature Today, The Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry, Corresponding Voices, and Tupelo Quarterly. In 2020 Blair founded The Song Bridge Project, a nonprofit that aims to advance the translation of world literature, with an emphasis on Spanish-language writing.