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Volume 52 / Humanities


CAROL MAIER, Professor of Spanish, Kent State University, Ohio
DAPHNE PATAI, Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts at Amherst


TO THE EXTENT THAT NUMBERS can provide reason for encouragement, the quantity of translations from the Spanish during the current biennium is cause for celebration. With the exception of theater (an area in which the only recent titles fall in the next volume of the Handbook), there has been a notable increase of work in all categories. In addition, this increase includes both significantly more translations of work by women and many translations of works by writers little known or unknown in English. To be sure, there is more than one new book each by Carpentier, Fuentes, García Márquez, Neruda, Paz, and Vargas Llosa. There are also, however, enough titles linked with less familiar names to suggest an alteration in the tendency noted by Michael Scott Doyle (item bi 92015208) and others to publish primarily "a handful of superstars in translation." There have also been several significant reissues which have brought back into print such important titles as Fernando Alegría's Changing centuries (Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1988), Miguel Angel Asturias' Men of maize (London: Verso, 1988), Adolfo Bioy Casares' Plan for escape (St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1988), José Lezama Lima's Paradiso (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1988), Augusto Roa Bastos' Son of man (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988), and Luisa Valenzuela's He who searches (Elmwood Park, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1987).

Nor is it necessary to speak only of the greater number of books published. On the contrary, among those publications one finds highly accomplished work by translators whose names North American readers have seen often (such as Edith Grossman, Suzanne Jill Levine, Margaret Sayers Peden, and Eliot Weinberger) and others whose names they may not recognize (Daniel Balderston, Thomas Christensen, Evelyn Picon Garfield, and Katherine Silver, to name only a few who could be listed here). Many of the anthologies also contain excellent translations, and these collections often introduce translators new to the profession as well as writers hitherto unavailable in English.

Fortunately, it is also possible to report an increase in the quantity and quality of the attention paid to both Hispanic literature in translation and to the activity of translation itself. No doubt this reflects, at least to some extent, the frequent mention of translation in critical discussions within and across diverse disciplines. This trend is exemplified by publications such as Andrew Benjamin's Translation and the nature of philosophy (New York: Routledge, 1989), Vicente L. Rafael's Contracting colonialism: translation and Christian conversion in Tagalog society under early Spanish rule (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), and James Boyd White's Justice as translation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990). Works more specific to Hispanic studies are Daphne Patai's introduction to Brazilian women speak: contemporary life stories (item bi 91023446) and Gustavo Pérez Firmat's The Cuban condition: translation and identity in modern Cuban literature (item bi 91003711). Although such discussion frequently explores the negative aspects of translation as "conquest," it also proposes that translation can be what Homi K. Babha noted in "The Commitment to Theory" (in New Formations, 5, Summer 1980) as "a place of hybridity," in which, to use translator's terms, neither source nor target text (or culture) predominates.

With respect to Hispanic literature, a growing interest in this "place of hybridity" has occasioned events like the Latin American Book Fair now held annually in New York City and "Translating Latin America," a conference that took place at SUNY-Binghamton (April, 1990). These conferences, like the annual meeting of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) and special sessions held at other conferences, highlight the activity of translation through commentaries and readings. In addition, several translators of Spanish literature have received recent national recognition: in 1988, for example, Gregory Rabassa was awarded the Wheatland Prize for his contribution to international literary exchange and Cedric Belfrage received a Special Citation from the PEN Translation Committee for his translations of work by Eduardo Galeano (item bi 92012882); Suzanne Jill Levine received the Elinor D. Randall Translation Award in 1990 for her translation of an Adolfo Bioy Casares novel (item bi 90003729); and Eliot Weinberger was featured in press coverage about Octavio Paz in the fall of 1990 when Paz won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Although reviewers of Spanish literature in translation have been notoriously slow to acknowledge this recognition by according translation serious consideration, it is possible to cite several publications in which, with some regularity, the translator's work receives more than a cursory adjective. Thus it is no longer only in Review and World Literature Today that one looks for thoughtful response to work in translation but also to American Book Review, for example, or The Women's Review of Books, The Voice Literary Supplement, or The Nation. Moreover, numerous literary journals and magazines advertise a commitment to publishing original work in translation. American Poetry Review comes to mind most immediately, but many others could be named as well.

A further indication of increased visibility on the part of translation can be noted in the apparently increased frequency with which translators are reflecting in writing on their practice. The sizeable list of entries annotated below under "Bibliography, Theory, and Practice," makes this clear. It is also corroborated by the extensive translator's remarks that accompany some of the books under review here (e.g., Maureen Ahern, item bi 92012841, and Julian Palley, item bi 89005979, writing about their respective translations of Rosario Castellanos; Diana Vélez about Reclaiming Medusa, item bi 92012840; and Robert Mezey's comments about translating Tungsten, item bi 88003207). As might be expected, not all translators, readers, and reviewers agree about the appropriateness of granting translation a space so prominent and so "academic." Their very disagreement, however, especially when presented publicly, serves to problematize the practice of translation and to encourage consideration of the mediation it inevitably involves. See, for example, Dan Bellm's remarks on A Rosario Castellanos reader in "A Woman who Knew Latin" (The Nation, June 26, 1989, p. 135-139) or the comments in Publishers Weekly (July 8, 1989, p. 49) about Reclaiming Medusa.

Lest it seem that all the recent attention to translation makes it unnecessary to reiterate the concerns about accessibility expressed in the last volume of the Handbook (see HLAS 50, p. 590-591), it is important to comment as well on what can only be considered continuing resistance to work in translation. Although manifest in many ways, this resistance is perhaps articulated best in reviewers' appraisals of translation and their responses to translators' comments. Not only is a long translator's preface apt to annoy some readers because of its intrusiveness, a translation bearing lengthy baroque sentences is likely to be judged harshly by a reviewer not familiar with the stylistics of the original. Or conversely, and this is more often the case, the translations described as "fluent," "readable," and "idiomatic" are those in which the sentence structure and syntax most resemble those of English.

This preference for "readability," as Lawrence Venuti has argued (item bi 92015283), is integrally related to other factors that continue to predominate in the publication and distribution of Latin American literature in North America. Those factors include translation's marginal place in the publishing industry (summarized succinctly by James Marcus in "Foreign Exchange: How Books Break the Language Barrier," The Voice Literary Supplement, Feb. 1990), the relative lack of information about Latin America and its literatures on the part of editors and reviewers, and an intense but market-dependent demand for translated material from the "Third World." Thus, the short publication runs for translations noted previously are still prevalent, and it is often not the large publishing firms, but the small presses - with budgets frequently linked to funding which is harder and harder to obtain - that take the risks involved in introducing the work of unfamiliar or controversial writers. What is more, there is still no definitive source of information regarding which titles have been translated and by whom. In his A to Z, Jason Wilson offers a praiseworthy attempt to correct this situation single-handedly (item bi 92013263); he also comments on recent trends in the publication of Latin American fiction in English in "Some Here, Some There" (The Times Literary Supplement, 14-20 July 1989). The fact that literary translators continue to be poorly compensated also has a negative effect on accessibility, occasioning hasty work or work that drags on indefinitely because it must be done "on the side."

In short, then, despite the number of books translated from the Spanish, work in translation from Spanish America has not yet been truly "received" in Anglo America, much less received in a context that even approximates its own. Johnny Payne remarks on this with respect to practice (item bi 92013260); it is also expressed cogently in the editor's afterword to Latin Americans in New York City (item bi 92014676) and the comment that "...authors can only sit back and watch while their work, often intended to foment social and political change in their country, is packaged here as aesthetic commodities and read only as universal allegories or exotic travel guides." A further example would be the use by a major university press of "Emergent Literatures" to title a collection that includes work by José Revueltas and Clarice Lispector.

All of the factors discussed above have borne directly on the writing of the reviews in this section, and I hope they will be kept in mind as those reviews are consulted. In particular, I hope that my attention to the practice of translation will be seen as an effort to make translation more visible and more nuanced by encouraging the reading of works in translation as "versions" that are themselves readings. In doing so, I have attempted to be more descriptive than evaluative, although I have not hesitated to indicate work that appears careless or inconsistencies between a translator's stated approach and his or her practice. The Handbook is one of the few publications offering serious consideration to translation itself. For this reason I believe that annotations printed in the "Translation" chapter of the Handbook must serve as short reviews that provide not only bio-bibliographical information but also raise and explore theoretical issues associated with the activity of translation.

In the same spirit, I have quoted from other reviewers with some frequency, often with the purpose of presenting contrasting opinions. If I seem to have made or reported fewer evaluations with respect to anthologies, it has been because I wanted to summarize their contents as fully as possible within the limited space available. My preference, however, is for anthologies that include a clear editorial statement about the criterion or criteria for selection and that provide sufficient bio-bibliographical information for further reading and research. These aspects of an anthology are as much elements of translation as the transferal of words from one language to another.

The reviews in this volume of the Handbook include books published between April 1988 and Aug. 1990. Books received after Sept. 1, 1990 will be reviewed in HLAS 54. Except in a very few cases, I have been able to consult both Spanish and English versions of every title reviewed; exceptions are noted. Finally, although I have referred to several reissues, the large volume of new works in translation makes it impossible for reissues to be annotated here.

Readers will note that the Portuguese section of "Translation into English from Spanish and Portuguese" has been considerably expanded. Not only are there more reviews, there is also a separate essay about Brazilian literature in English translation. These additions should make it possible to provide more thorough coverage of work in both languages, and I am grateful to Daphne Patai for her willingness to join me as a collaborator. She is responsible for the annotations of work translated from the Portuguese and for the essay about Brazilian literature. I have prepared the annotations about translations from the Spanish and the section on "Bibliography, Theory, and Practice."

It is with regret that I conclude this introduction by noting the deaths of two highly esteemed translators of Spanish American literature, Cedric Belfrage and Gregory Kolovakos. Both left numerous outstanding translations and made important contributions to the practice, and praxis, of translation. [CM]


The past few years have seen a small but steady production of translations from Brazilian literature, published by both trade houses and university presses. Although the diversity of outlets, lack of centralization of translation efforts, and inadequate databases make it difficult to become aware of all translations, especially those that are not reviewed in the major newspapers and journals, it seems safe to conclude that there are two main paths by which translations from Brazilian literature originate. One is through trade publishers (with Thomas Colchie acting as agent for many Brazilian writers), the other through university presses responding to individual initiatives by translators (often teachers of Portuguese). The types of books accepted by these two processes naturally differ, since university presses are able to publish small editions of works for which a trade publisher might not see a sufficient market. In both cases, however, a major problem with translations from Brazilian literature - perhaps shared by others literatures perceived as "minor" - is that these translations may have little visibility and short lifespans. A survey of existing translations of Brazilian literature reveals that a great many works have appeared over the years, only to disappear again quickly. Nor do bookshops normally stock even such Brazilian "classics" as Machado de Assis, as they might stock comparable Russian or French writers.

While several series exist (e.g., the Texas Pan American Series, which has kept alive translations of Graciliano Ramos and Rachel de Queiroz, for example; or the Univ. of Minnesota Press' new series on Emergent Literatures), no series specifically devoted to the publication of translations of Brazilian literature has been undertaken by a university press. Such a series - which would make available not only current Brazilian writers but also "classics" like José de Alencar, Lima Barreto, and Júlia Lopes de Almeida - would do much to make the field more visible and, by mutual reinforcement, to keep translations in print.

In the absence of such publishing programs, the small scale and hit-and-miss nature of the current practice of translation in this field mean that the cultural image of Brazil propagated abroad is likely to be distorted, serving North American fads and commercial priorities on the one hand, or the idiosyncratic tastes and contacts of individual translators on the other, rather than adequately representing Brazil's diversity and cultural production. Furthermore, books cannot usually be adopted for classroom use if they are unavailable in reasonably priced paperbacks, which consigns Brazilian literature to continuing neglect even in this period of emphasis on curricular reform and cultural diversity. In such a situation, visibility may depend upon name association. Thus, Susan Sontag's introduction to the Farrar, Straus reprint of Machado's Epitaph of a small winner may bring that "neglected" ("by whom?" one may well ask) masterpiece some much deserved attention, and Grace Paley's brief introduction to Clarice Lispector's Soulstorm (item bi 92012965) is surely intended to serve the same function.

The present crop of books reveals that two writers, in particular, are currently enjoying significant visibility through translation of their works: Moacyr Scliar and Clarice Lispector. The imaginative and captivating Scliar is being brought out primarily by Ballantine Books, which has published many of Scliar's works in the past half dozen years. Lispector's fiction, more difficult and hermetic, is finding diverse outlets in English with both university and trade presses. But it is Jorge Amado who continues to be the Brazilian writer with the highest name-recognition in the US, Bantam Books having paid $250,000 for the English-language rights to Tocaia Grande (item bi 92013145; see also HLAS 50:3920). In conjunction with the publicity attendant upon such an advance, Avon reissued, through its Bard Series, many of its existing Amado translations and undertook, as well, to publish a hitherto untranslated early novel, Capitães da Areia (item bi 92013143).

Several New York publishers have recently brought out other Brazilian works in an on-going effort to hit upon a "big book" that would capture the public eye and wallet. Nélida Piñon, João Ubaldo Ribeiro, and Moacyr Scliar were the lucky authors selected. But Brazilian literature, even when it appears in translation, is seldom widely reviewed or regularly stocked. Thus, victim of a pernicious and hard-to-break cycle, it continues to be little known.

In the brief reviews that follow, I have focused on these works as translations. Because some of my judgments may seem harsh, let me add that almost all the translations are perfectly readable and enjoyable. It is one thing, however, to read a work only in English; it is quite another to compare it with the original. I have done the latter, and this has afforded me a general sense of some of the common failings of these translations. Most damaging, in my judgment, is, in the case of prose, a surprising inattentiveness to details of style. Thus, for example, repetitions crafted into the original are too often ignored by translators, while elsewhere repetitions not found in the original are introduced; lapses occur in euphony and register, where such lapses do not characterize, or serve any function in, the original; and translators, inadvertently or not, take on the role of editors. In some instances, the same translator will do much better with short works than with long ones by the same author, as if the sheer bulk of a novel has led to more hurried work or to a sense that each phrase mattered less. In making these criticisms, I am fully aware of the enormous labors involved in literary translation. But we need not only more translations from Brazilian literature but also better ones, so that we, as translators, at least offer no pretext for its continued marginalization. [DP]

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