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Volume 56 / Humanities

LITERATURE: TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH FROM THE SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE


CAROL MAIER, Professor of Spanish, Kent State University, Ohio
DAPHNE PATAI, Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
KATHLEEN ROSS, Associate Professor of Spanish, New York University
MAUREEN AHERN, Professor of Spanish, Ohio State University


TRANSLATIONS FROM THE SPANISH

READERS OF THIS SECTION will note changes in its authorship and in the focus of the individual reviews. First Maureen Ahern has joined Carol Maier and Kathleen Ross in the editorship of the Spanish component of the section. She has reviewed many of the titles in fiction; in future volumes she will also be involved with the other genres and she will begin to review significant translations of work published in Latin America before 1900. Editors Maier and Ross have shared the other sections equally, with the exception of "Essays, Interviews, and Reportage," which has been prepared by Ross, and "Bibliography, Theory, and Practice," which has been prepared by Maier. The reviews include titles received between July 1, 1993 and June 30, 1995; authorship is indicated by the reviewer's initials.

The second change concerns the evaluation of the titles reviewed. In previous volumes, reviews primarily offered brief evaluations of the "quality" or "success" of the English versions. This focus was shifted slightly in HLAS 52, when editors Maier and Ross endeavored to "provide information ... most helpful to teachers and scholars." In the present volume it has been altered more definitively. Aware that users of the Handbook constitute a highly specialized readership whose members are not primarily literary scholars and critics, the editors decided that conventional (principally literary) evaluative criteria are not appropriate for most of the Handbook's readers. That decision was based on their experience as practitioners, evaluators, and readers of translations and on discussion occasioned by a session they organized, "Translation as a Scholarly Resource," at the 1995 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting, which occurred shortly after the biennium had ended. In view of the extent to which Handbook readers rely on the introductions, afterwords, glossaries, indexes, notes, and bibliographies that frequently accompany translations used in libraries, studies, and classrooms, the editors decided to emphasize the use of such apparata in the definition of "excellence."

Accordingly, the reviews in this section will note accuracy and omissions only if necessary. The "readability" so important for a translation's appeal to a wide, general readership, will be discussed only when more pertinent than research and classroom needs, when it directly impinges on those needs, or when it is clearly inseparable from them. Even when questions of style and elegance of language are of utmost importance (in the case of poetry and fiction, for instance), the reviews will often focus on what might be termed questions of content and presentation. Given the extreme brevity of the reviews, the three editors believe that it is more important to indicate which works are contained in a collection of poetry or an anthology of short stories, whether or not the edition is bilingual, and which works offer introductions, rather than to comment summarily on the "value" of the translations as works of literature - much less advise readers which translation is the "best" selection available (as did the (Bloomsbury Review of Ken Krabbenhoft's translation of Pablo Neruda's Odes to common things, item bi 96013060). As with "good," "best" often depends principally on a reader's interests and needs. For example, the new critical edition of Men of maize (item bi 97003900) would no doubt overwhelm the general reader, but the forward in the new translation of Pedro Páramo (item bi 97004217) might seem inadequate to teachers. And Debra A. Castillo's long introduction about "borderlining" (item bi 96013113) has been found more valuable by some readers than others. In the case of anthologies, which often contain works by many translators or varied works by a single translator who may excel in one genre or piece but not in others, short reviews are not only inadequate but unjust.

By reorienting the reviews, the editors believe they will better perform a professional service to the field of Latin American studies as a whole. The reviews should also serve to encourage publishers to take a chance on projects they might consider a "luxury" (Herbert R. Lottman, "The Notable Trade Imbalance: The Buying of Book Translations," Publishers Weekly June 5, 1995, p. 12). Furthermore, they should reinforce translators' requests to include useful supporting materials, making literature from Latin America not merely available, but truly accessible. This is especially important when a writer's work has not been published previously in English. The editors' hope that the reviews, despite their brevity, will prompt translators, publishers, and readers to consider the question Jean Franco asks in only a slightly different context at the conclusion of her forward to the translation of Pedro Mir's Countersong to Walt Whitman (item bi 96013057): "[How] can the translation of such a poem do more than offer us a missing element of Latin America's past?"

Both this question and our shift in focus correspond to a trend in the translation of works to English noted in HLAS 52 - an increased interest in the principles that guide translation practice. This trend has continued throughout the biennium on the part of scholars, critics, and translators. It can be seen clearly in both the preparation of the translations themselves and the support of ancillary materials that accompany them (e.g., David Bowen and Juan A. Ascencio's Pyramids of Glass, item bi 96012966, and Debra A. Castillo's translation of Tijuana, item bi 96013113). It is also evident in commentary by translation scholars and critics, some of whom analyze a particular aspect of translation from Latin America in detail (e.g., Johnny Payne, item bi 96149903, and Lawrence Venuti, item bi 96014907). And it is evidenced by the more and more numerous sessions devoted to translation at national conferences, the considerable growth of the American Translators Association's Literary Division, which now publishes a newsletter entitled Source, and the formation of a new Translation Discussion Group within the Modern Language Association or MLA.

Other trends, noted in random order, include the continued translation and retranslation of work by canonical writers such as Neruda (items bi 96013058, bi 96013059, and bi 96013060) and García Márquez (items bi 95014843 and bi 96013559) and the continued absence or near absence of translations of drama. In genres other than drama, there has also been continued attention to significant writers whose work has been long overdue for publication beyond Spanish or whose work in English has received limited distribution or gone out of print. Examples below include Teresa de la Parra (item bi 96014018), María Luisa Bombal (item bi 96013521), and Miguel Angel Asturias (item bi 97003900).

The translation of work by women writers has also continued to increase. Outstanding examples include Alicia Borinsky's Mina cruel (item bi 95000034) Daisy Zamora's Clean slate (item bi 96013070), Marjorie Agosin's These are not sweet girls (item bi 95011916), and the Secret Weavers series Agosin edits for White Pine Press. Translation of work from Mexico, Chile, and Argentina has also remained consistent.

New trends, albeit rather general ones, include a relative decline in translation of work from Central America, although there are exceptions in each genre, especially in poetry. There has been a marked increase, however, in translation of work from the Caribbean, particularly from Puerto Rico, which often presents a translator with specific challenges because of the strong "interference" of English and the mainland. Examples include Magali García Ramís' Happy days, Uncle Sergio (item bi 96013688), Ana Lydia Vega's True and false romances (item bi 97003890), Giannina Braschi's Empire of dreams (item bi 95011914), and Emilio Díaz Valcárcel's Hot soles in Harlem (item bi 95011915). Translator Andrew Hurley is particularly successful with Puerto Rican literature, especially with dialogue. Walsh and Cohen's translation of Pedro Mir's work (item bi 96013057) and Margarite Fernandez Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert's anthology of stories from the Hispanic Caribbean (item bi 95011921) reflect the broader interest in this region.

Finally, it is discouraging to note that not only many commercial presses, but also small presses and university presses - despite their continued willingness to support "unprofitable" translations - continue to highlight aspects of a title that might have market appeal, exoticizing or stressing a work's violent or titillating aspects while providing little or no information about the work or author. One example of this is the cover descriptions and illustration for Alfonso Quijada Urías' The better to see you (item bi 96013147).

Numerous anthologies appeared during the biennium, and they form a heterogeneous group with respect to focus, inclusions, and appropriateness for research and teaching needs. Volumes that stand out include TriQuarterly's special issue on Chiapas (item bi 96013029); the livre d'artiste published by Yolla Bolly Press (item bi 96013011); Poetry like bread from Curbstone, a Pan-American volume of "poets of the political persuasion" (item bi 96012965); and Ilan Stavans's Tropical synagogues (item bi 95000051).

In poetry, notable titles include Krabbenhoft's work with Neruda's Odes to common things (item bi 96013060), Jonathan Cohen's version of Mir's Countersong to Walt Whitman (item bi 96013057), and Renata Treitel's translation of Susana Thénon's Distancias/distances (item bi 97003828). The total or near absence of supporting information in a volume such as Krabbenhoft's, however, leads one to ask if Neruda has truly become so well known in English that readers need no orientation whatsoever to his work. Here, John Lyons' work on Ernesto Cardenal deserves special mention, particularly The doubtful strait (item bi 95011918).

The single item published in theater was not available until the reviews for this volume had been completed, and it will be reviewed in volume 58. The items in brief fiction, like those in anthologies, are highly varied. Highlights include Piano stories, by Felisberto Hernández, translated by Luis Harss (item bi 96013116); Andrew Hurley's translation of Ana Lydia Vega's True and false romances, despite its lack of supporting materials (item bi 97003890); and Selected stories, by Adolfo Bioy Casares, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine (item bi 95011911).

Among the new titles in fiction, Mexico and Argentina are well represented - Argentina with works by Ricardo Piglia (item bi 96014019), Juan José Saer (items bi 96014021 and bi 96014022) and others, and Mexico by novels such as a new translation of Pedro Páramo (item bi 97004217), Sergio Galindo's Otila's body (item bi 97004185), García Ponce's House on the beach (item bi 95000028), and several novels by Taibo (items bi 95000037, bi 95011919, and bi 95011948). Jesús Urzagasti's Land of Silence (item bi 95011909) continues the line started by translator Kay Pritchett (see HLAS 54:5034). Other translations of note include Edith Grossman's version of Alvaro Mutis' short novels (item bi 95011917), Charles Philip Thomas' rendering of Marco Antonio de la Parra's The secret holy war of Santiago de Chile (item bi 96014017), and Peter Bush's translation of The old man who read love stories (item bi 95000043). Many of the fiction titles carry little or no annotation or supplementary information, especially those published by commercial presses. A happy exception to novels with no adaptation is Daniel Balderston's translation of Piglia's Artifical respiration (item bi 96014019).

Essays in translation published during the biennium show a clear emphasis on the memoir, narrated through the various media of letters, chronicles, collage, testimony, biography and autobiography. Several well-known Cuban authors - Reinaldo Arenas (item bi 96014436), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (item bi 96014438), and Severo Sarduy (item bixx-xxxx) - are represented in this area, as are the Chileans Isabel Allende (bi 96014421) and Marjorie Agosin (items bi 96002199 and bi 96013030). From Mexico, we have three books from past eras, all narrated in the first person: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's famous 17th-century Respuesta (item bi 97004244), the 1918 letters of Olga Beatriz Torres written on the Texas border (item bi 96014444), and the personal/political recollections of Benita Galeana, Communist militant from the 1930s-40s (item bi 97004218). In addition, Elena Poniatowska's reconstruction of the aftermath of the 1985 Mexico City earthquakes carries a strong personal component (item bi 95014443), as does Eduardo Galeano's collection of journalistic chronicles (item bi 95000048). Lynn Stephen's edition of the story of María Teresa Tula, a Salvadoran human rights activist (item bi 96014445), contributes to the growing number of published testimonios narrated by women. Indeed, across the board, a majority of the essays reviewed this biennium were written by women, including the only book of traditional literary criticism, Sylvia Molloy's Signs of Borges (item bi 96014442).

No bibliographic work, strictly speaking, about Latin American literature has appeared in English translation during the biennum, although there has been a gradual increase in the annotation and critical evaluation of translation. In 1995, for example, Translation Review (item bi 97004337) began to publish a special Annotated Books Received Supplement, which includes a section devoted to translation from Spanish. In addition, a slow but steady increase in attention has been paid to the quality of translations, in both newspapers and journals; Jason Wilson's essay illustrates this trend well (item bi 97004350). As mentioned above, not only have more scholars and critics addressed translation issues, translators and anthologists themselves have shown more concern for questions of practice that traditionally many translators have considered too "theoretical."

It is also important to note an increase in what might be referred to as the history of translation theory and practice. Although this work appears most often under the rubric of anthropology, cultural studies, history, or literary theory, it also fits within translation studies. Walter Mignolo's chapters on "The Colonization of Languages" in colonial Latin America offer an outstanding example (see Pt. 1 of The darker side of the Renaissance, item bi 95019117). The appearance of several studies about translation history and practice in Latin America must also be noted, in particular, Víctor Díaz Arciniega's essay on translation and the Fondo de Cultura Económica (item bi 95010085) and Frances R. Aparicio's Versiones, interpretaciones y creaciones (item bi 96014890). This work discusses translation into Spanish, but it also offers a necessary complement to the study of Latin American literature in English translation; there has been frequent interaction between Latin American and North American writers, and an understanding of translation theory and practice can hardly be achieved by studying one of the traditions in isolation.

In conclusion, it seems fitting to note what the editors hope will become a trend in the translation of literature: an increased recognition of the contribution made by translators. It is a pleasure to close the section with congratulation to several translators of work from Latin America whose awards have come to our attention. Helen R. Lane received the Gregory Kolovakos prize and Carolyn Wright was awarded a 1994 Outstanding Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association for Jorge Teillier's (In order to talk with the dead (see HLAS 54:4985). [CM, with MA and KR]


TRANSLATIONS FROM THE PORTUGUESE

For the second biennium in a row, the number of translations from Brazilian literature has declined. HLAS 54 included 17 translations, down from HLAS 52, which had 22 translations, and this HLAS volume, which covers the period 1993-95, saw a mere 12 literary works from Brazil being published in English translation. However, several new and talented translators have appeared, and it is to be hoped that their continuing activities will help reverse this downward trend. Especially to be noted is Adria Frizzi, who tackled two difficult works by Osman Lins (1924-78) with great skill and care (items bi 96014517 and bi 96014521). Irene Matthews' translation of The Women of Tijucopapo introduces North American readers to a new and quirky Brazilian literary voice, that of Marilene Felinto (item bi 96014458). Established translators such as Clifford Landers (item bi 96014536), Margaret Neves (item bi 96014530), and Ellen Watson (item bi 96014513) continue to make important contributions to the dissemination of Brazilian literature in the English-speaking world. The range of publishers bringing out works from Brazil in translation has also expanded, with Dalkey Archives and Sun and Moon Press branching into this field.

The translations of fiction in this biennium's crop are all highly readable and enjoyable. It is only when comparisons are made with the originals that careless errors (usually signalled by awkward phrasing and syntax) are revealed. All of these should, of course, have caught the eye of a diligent editor. A perenniel problem continues to be the pull between an extremely literal rendition on the one hand, and an overly free handling of the Portuguese language, on the other. Some translators still seem inclined to double as editors of their authors, deciding which phrases are superfluous and hence should be omitted. In my view, such decisions almost invariably damage the original work, which should not be presumed to be in need of improvement.

Translations of poetry are, not surprisingly, more problematic still, and most of the translators reviewed here have opted for overly literal versions, especially unfortunate when confronting a poet of the caliber of João Cabral de Melo Neto. As others have noted, too, it is not necessarily the case that poets produce the best translations of other poets.

Nevertheless, the willingness of publishers to bring out works by younger Brazilian writers is encouraging. One hopes they will be convinced, as well, to take a chance on more of the Brazilian classics, many of which have never been translated into English or exist only in dated or out-of-print translations.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian government has initiated a grant program for supporting the translation of works by Brazilian authors. Applications may be made once a work is under contract. For further information, write to: Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, Departamento Nacional do Livro, Seção de Divulgação Internacional, Av. Rio Branco 219 / 4o andar, 20040-008, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil, or FAX (021) 220-4173 or E-mail bndnlsdi@ars.bn.br.

The world of translation lost a major figure on Feb. 10, 1996, with the death of Giovanni Pontiero at the age of 62. The Scottish-born Pontiero was not only a scholar in his own right but an untiring and prize-winning translator, with many volumes to his credit, including, in particular, works by Clarice Lispector and José Saramago. His translation of Lya Luft's Exílio is reviewed below (item bi 97004321). [DP]


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