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Volume 58 / Humanities


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


TO REFER TO CHARACTERISTICS discernible within a single biennium as "trends" would be rash. When certain characteristics, however, are observed in two or three biennia, it seems relatively safe to consider them ongoing. For instance, in the current period under review, several phenomena associated with the translation of Latin American literature into English were discussed previously in HLAS 54 and HLAS 56.

Notable among those phenomena is one particularly troubling trend: the increasing number of translations published with little or no information about the author or context of the original work. In fact, one might surmise, especially in the case of fiction, where some novels have been altered or "adapted," that many publishers are making a deliberate effort to replace the original works with translations more likely to appeal to North American readers.

The extent to which such "silencing" is truly a marketing strategy and the extent to which it can be attributed to the rising cosmopolitanism of Latin American literature1 is impossible to determine. Nevertheless, there is a sharp contrast between the packaging and promotion of Latin American literature in translation and the current interest in translation theory and criticism, the growth of translation studies as an interdisciplinary field, and the need for works in translation on the part of scholars, teachers, and students. This contrast makes it difficult to celebrate the high quality of many translations without remarking, for example, on the changes undergone in such cases as Alicia Kozameh's Steps under Water (item #bi2001001790#)2 or Elena Poniatowska's Tinísima (item #bi 98002536#), or noting that the works that see translation and the translators chosen often seem to depend less on poetics than on politics, as David William Foster has explained very well in "The Politics of Spanish Language Translation in the United States" (item #bi 95024816#).

Fortunately, however, it is not only commercial presses that publish literature in translation. A significant number of both university and independent presses continue to publish work by authors who are not well known to English-language readers or who, for other reasons, are not considered commercially viable. These presses are far more apt to include ancillary materials than are the larger, commercial houses. This is not always the case, of course, if only because, like some publishers and some readers, there are translators who insist that a translation must be able to stand alone as a new "original." But more often than not, noncommercial situations offer the reader fuller access to the context of a work and to the conditions under which it was written. Both the Univ. of Nebraska Press and the Univ. of Texas Press, for instance, have long histories of publishing translations, as does the Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, where the titles in its "Colección Archivos" series routinely include several critical essays and extensive background material (see Canaima; item #bi2001001789#). For its part, the independent Curbstone Press publishes a periodic newsletter, provides teachers with discussion guides for some of its titles, and offers other instructional materials on its website (http://www.curbstone.org/).

In addition, some university and independent presses make possible the publication of landmark texts in Latin American arts and history. Noteworthy examples include César Paternosto's Piedra abstracta: la escritura Inca in Esther Allen's elegant translation The Stone and the Thread: Andean Roots of Abstract Art from the Univ. of Texas Press (HLAS 56:315) and the outstanding bilingual edition of Subcomandante Marcos' retelling of a folktale published by Cinco Puntos Press (item #bi2001000711#). Both of these titles might well be considered works of literature.

With respect to other ongoing phenomena, it is heartening to see not only an increasing number of contributions in the "Bibliography, Theory, and Practice" section but also the outstanding work on translation by critics and translators themselves, for instance Ilan Stavans' essays in Art and Anger, Eliot Weinberger's Written Reactions, and Alastair Reid's Oases.3

Other characteristics observed across genres include the retranslation of both canonical and contemporary work (for example, Miguel Barnet's Biografía de un cimarrón (item #bi 97010767#), Rómulo Gallegos' Canaima (item #bi2001001789#), Clorinda Matta de Turner's Aves sin nido (item #bi 97004561#), and Ángeles Mastretta's Arráncame el corazón (item #bi 98002548#)). It is also interesting to note that during the biennium several selections appeared in different translations in two collections. Finally, the translation of work by women authors has continued to increase, particularly of fiction.

As occurs in many biennia, numerous anthologies were under review. They comprise a rich mix of perspectives and foci that include special issues of journals and individual volumes devoted to a particular topic, such as a theme, a country, or the work of a single author. Although the nature and quality of the anthologies vary widely, it would be safe to say that, as a group, they seem to strive for a kind of "wrapping up," for a broad overview of the 20th century. Two additional characteristics worth noting are the attention to women writers, as in Margaret Sayers Peden's collection of work by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (item #bi 00005826#) and Delia Poey's Out of the Mirrored Garden (item #bi 97013479#), as well as the quality of the translations in Peter Bush's The Voice of the Turtle (item #bi 98010189#) and Grand Street 61 (item #bi2001000702#). Lest one wonder if such collections find the readers they aim to inform, Brad Morrow, the editor of a special issue of the journal Conjunctions (item #bi2001000701#), sold several hundred copies of his volume at the 1996 Miami Book Fair. In fact, the anthology was so popular that when members of the audience of a Sunday morning panel to mark the book's publication were asked why they weren't at church, one woman responded: "We are."4

In the case of poetry, it seems appropriate to mention the outstanding contributions by referring to their translators, given the genre's reputation of being difficult to translate, if not "untranslatable." Indeed, some of the work is not of high quality; but Stephen Kessler's work with Julio Cortázar (item #bi 99008780#) and William S. Merwin's versions of poems by Jaime Sabines (item #bi 00005828#) are certainly worthy of high praise. Other notable volumes include Harriet de Onís' Poemas sin nombre, by Dulce de Loynaz (item #bi 99008775#), Christine Jacox Kyle's Poemas de las madres; The mothers' poems, by Gabriela Mistral (item #bi 97010641#), and Cynthia Steele and David Lauer's City of Memory, by José Emilio Pacheco (item #bi 00006480#).

Translations in the categories of both brief fiction and theater saw an increase during the biennium. This is particularly significant with respect to theater, as few Latin American works from this genre find their way into English. Most of the translations reviewed here are of high quality, so that the genre as a whole, including Women Writing Women (item #bi 97010642#) and Argentine Jewish Theatre (item #bi 97007919#) deserves special mention. There are also excellent examples of work in the translation of brief fiction, for example Edith Grossman's translations of Augusto Monterroso (item #bi 97009392#), Lillian Lorca de Tagle's translations of Jaime Collyer (item #bi00006481#), Alberto Manguel's versions of Julio Cortázar (item #bi 97013480#), and Cynthia Steele's work with Inés Arredondo (item #bi 97013492#).

Like the anthology, the novel is such a heterogenous genre that translations of fiction works cannot be grouped neatly. There continues to be, however, a preponderance of material from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, which makes work from countries whose literature is virtually unknown to North American readers particularly welcome. This is especially true when the works contain both excellent translations and extensive background material, as in the case of Canaima (item #bi2001001789#). It is interesting to note that there are few titles by writers who could truly be called "canonical," although there are certainly translations of work by other relatively well-known writers such as Antonio Skármeta (item #bi 00006483#) and Paco Ignacio Taibo II (items #bi 97013482# and #bi 97009393#). In addition, there are some excellent translations of novels by women writers, for example Anna Diegel's Hagiography of Narcisa the Beautiful, by Mireya Robles (item #bi 97010644#), Dolores M. Koch's The Angel of Galilea, by Laura Restrepo (item #bi 99008768#), and Margaret Sayers Peden's Señora Honeycomb, by Fanny Buitrago (item #bi2001001813#). A further example would be Ronald Christ's translation of Lumpérica by Diamela Eltit, titled E. Luminata (item #bi 00006484#), which must be singled out for Christ's excellent translation and his exceptional translator's essay. Translations of three novels by Eltit were published during the biennium, making her work widely available in English for the first time.

Essays in translation published during the biennium show a clear leaning toward the issues of politics and social justice, sometimes based on testimonio (Agosín, Alegría and Flakoll, Mellibovsky, Verbitsky) and sometimes on the author's personal experience (Agosín, Fuentes, González, Martí, Ramírez, Vargas Llosa). Much of this work provides a look back over the events of the 1970s and 1980s in Argentina, Chile, and Nicaragua. Three editions of 19th-century volumes were published: the well-known Manzano Cuban slave narrative in a bilingual, edited version (item #bi 97010767#); and two different translations of Argentine Lucio Victorio Mansilla's Una excursión a los indios ranqueles (items #bi 97012657# and #bi 98002534#). All areas of the region are covered, with the Southern Cone most heavily represented either by topic or author's national origin. Ospina's volume is the only one in a more philosophical vein, following the tradition of essay as literature (item #bi 97009394#). The letters written to Torres-Rioseco comprise an interesting source for literary scholars (item #bi 00006647#), while Angel Rama's The Lettered City is a key work of cultural criticism and a most valuable addition to the bibliography in English (item #bi 00006646#). Two anthologies of essays, by Stavans and Meyer respectively, which include works from the 19th and 20th centuries (items #bi 00006470# and #bi 00006471#), were also published during the biennium, with the latter devoted to the writing of women.

It is a pleasure to note both an increase in individual articles devoted to translation and the publication of such fine bibliographical and reference works as Kathy S. Leonard's Index to Translated Short Fiction by Latin American Women in English Anthologies (item #bi 97017491#) and the Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature (item #bi2001001336#). The encyclopedia is outstanding not only for the extensive entries about individual authors but also for the comprehensive articles about a wide variety of topics (for example, both feminism and feminist literary theory, négritude, Nahuatl literature, and translation) as well as genres and places; a single reservation here would concern the absence of an entry or entries about gay and lesbian topics. Two additional works on translation must also be mentioned: Searching for Recognition, Irene Rostagno's historical work about Latin American literature in English-language translation (item #bi 97003919#) and Traducción como cultura, one of the few collections of essays about translation available in Spanish (item #bi 99008779#).

The reviews in this section (with the exception of work in "Essays, Interviews, and Reportage," prepared by Ross, and "Bibliography, Theory, and Practice," prepared by Maier), have been prepared by the three contributing editors for Spanish translations (Ross, Ahern, and Maier); their respective contributions are indicated by their initials following the annotations. As explained in HLAS 56, the reviews contain comments about the quality of translations, but are focused primarily on the content of the volumes and the various kinds of materials that accompany them. Given the need for such materials on the part of scholars, teachers, and students—not to mention general readers—, the reviewers cannot but wonder why background information is so often absent and how translators and reviewers might encourage more publishers and editors to include such material. [CM, with MA and KR]


The number of translations considered here is greater than in previous volumes, due in part to the somewhat longer than usual span of time—1997-99—covered by HLAS 58. But that is not the whole story. A glance at the range of works translated and the publishers involved (in England and the US) suggests a new and dynamic interest in Brazilian literature.

Translations of classics are appearing through Oxford Univ. Press' Library of Latin America, which is dedicated to making available previously neglected works of major 19th- century authors. Machado de Assis may hardly seem to count as a forgotten author, but considering his relative obscurity compared to his European counterparts, it is not so surprising to find his works among Oxford's new translations. Nevertheless, new publications lead to a peculiar situation in which Machado is repeatedly discovered by critics who have no knowledge of his existing reputation. For example, in a recent issue of Review: Latin American Literature and Arts (61, Fall 2000), Maria Di Battista lauds Machado for his modernism and tells us that Quincas Borba "secures" Machado's place "as an illustrious forerunner of Joyce and Beckett." This honor in fact belongs to Machado's Brás Cubas—and in any case it is hardly news. This is the fate of Brazilian literature, endlessly consigned to "discovery" or "rediscovery."

The same problem attends the very welcome endeavors of several smaller presses that are bringing out contemporary Brazilian authors. The result is a varied and exciting literary scene, introducing Brazilian writers such as J.G. Noll, Rubem Fonseca, Patrícia Melo, Chico Buarque, and Ana Cristina Cesar to a potentially large audience. Still, The Times (London), in its reviews of these works, invariably treats Brazilian literature as something that has just arrived, as if these writers had achieved overnight success. The reviews reaffirm the general sense that Brazilian literature is a new phenomenon, even as the talents of its practitioners are ostensibly celebrated. A column conveying such a view appeared in The Times (May 31, 1997), under the title "Hot on the Samba Beat." In it, Liz Calder asserts that "fiction can open windows on the world like nothing else. So while I hope Brazil wins the next five World Cups, let it be made clear that this astounding nation has much more to offer than football." Can one be more patronizing? Another review from The Times (May 15, 1997), by James Woodall, also dealing with the translations brought out by the London publisher Bloomsbury (which organized a British reading tour for several Brazilian writers), informs us that "the energy of Latin American letters is not confined to Buenos Aires or Mexico City. The modern Brazilian novel has arrived." Arrived where?

In the US, the Univ. of New Mexico Press is making a major contribution with volumes big and small through its Jewish Latin America Series edited by Ilan Stavans: Moacyr Scliar's collected short fiction—brilliantly translated by Eloah Giacomelli—weighs in at nearly 500 pages (item #bi 00005823#), while Samuel Rawet's stories form a slender but very welcome book, excellently translated by Nelson Vieira (item #bi 00005822#). Oxford continues its translations of 19th-century Latin American works, and Bloomsbury Publishing in London has an active program on Brazil (with many of its titles subsequently published in the US by Ecco Press in Hopewell, NJ), as does Boulevard/Babel in London. Although these publishers' works have been receiving significant press attention in England, the American editions are not often reviewed in leading US newspapers.

The present crop of books (including a few reprints of existing translations) also highlights the talents of many translators, old and new. Especially prominent these days is Clifford H. Landers, a Political Science professor who is working indefatigably to bring Brazilian literature, both past and present, to the public. Of the present batch, he has translated six novels, many short stories (usually published in small journals, not included here for review), and a few poems. Landers has four more volumes projected for publication in 2001, as well as his own book Literary Translation: A Practical Guide. His inspired and nuanced translations will set a standard for future translators because of their visibility and number. Landers continues to be associated in particular with Rubem Fonseca, just as David S. George is known for his translations of Edla van Steen's works.

Two historians, Robert M. Levine and José Carlos Sebe Bom Meihy, have carried out a particularly intriguing project in recent years. They have unearthed and published several additional works by Carolina Maria de Jesus, as well as a close and unexpurgated edition of her notebooks, some of which appeared in an earlier incarnation as Quarto de Despejo (Child of the Dark). The two have also published their own studies of this fascinating figure and her reception in Brazil and abroad (items #bi 00005749#, #bi 98007394#, and #bi 00005750#.)

Paulo Coelho's inspirational New Age fictions and semifictions continue to appear in English, still seeking the book that will make him the bestseller in the US that he has been in other countries, where millions of copies of his books have been sold. After working for some years with Alan R. Clarke, the translator who "introduced" him to the US market (items #bi 00005227# and #bi 00005746#), Coelho has opted for new translators—Margaret Jull Costa (who began translating José Saramago's work after the death of Giovanni Pontiero) and Landers (items #bi 00005745# and #bi 00005747#).

All in all, with a large variety of works appearing and many translators involved, Brazilian translations into English present a lively and promising picture. Whether a market exists to sustain such efforts remains to be seen. [DP]

  1. In this context, see Bill Vourvoulias, "Where are the Butterflies? A Survey of Recent Japanese and Latin American Fiction," Culture Front, 6:2, 1997, p. 12-15, 93.
  2. See Alicia Partnoy, "Silence and Survival," The Women's Review of Books, 15:2, 1997, p. 26.
  3. Ilan Stavans, Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination, Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1995; Alastair Reid, Oasis: Poems and Prose, Edinburgh, UK: Canongate Books, 1997; Eliot Weinberger, Written Reactions: Poetics, Politics, Polemics, NY: Marsilio, 1996.
  4. David Streitfield, "Letter from the Miami Book Fair," Book World (The Washington Post), Dec. 29, 1996, p. 15.

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