[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]


Volume 60 / 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
STEVEN WHITE, Professor of Spanish; Chair, Department of Modern Languages, St. Lawrence University


TRANSLATIONS FROM THE SPANISH

BIENNIA INEVITABLY MARK arbitrary divisions and the biennium under review here is no exception. If, however, one extends the review over several biennia, patterns do emerge, making it possible to speak of tendencies, if not trends, that span longer periods of time. Several of those tendencies in the translation into English of literature from Latin America written in Spanish and Portuguese are sufficiently ongoing and influential that they bear mentioning biennium after biennium.

Fortunately, several of those tendencies are positive, which allows one to begin with the encouraging note that, in general, the quality of translations is increasingly high, thanks to both veteran and new translators. Another encouraging phenomenon is the indefatigable efforts of small independent presses, university presses, and journals that continue to publish literature in translation. Given a national economy and even a national culture whose cultural institutions such as the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, might be said to have "protectionist goals,"1 the work of such presses as Curbstone, Seven Stories, Four Walls Eight Windows, Cinco Puntos, the University of Texas Press and that of Nebraska is of vital importance. The same is true for periodicals such as The Times Literary Supplement, The Washington Post's Book World, The New York Review of Books, which frequently publish reviews that include more than a passing reference to translation. Less frequent, but nevertheless increasing attention is found in The Nation, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review. Many of those periodicals also publish translations, as do some journals. In fact, Adès's translation of Alfonso Reyes's Homer in Cuernavaca (see item #bi2003005606#), which won a major translation award, was published during this biennium in Translation and Literature.

An additional positive trend, if entries in the Bibliography, Theory, and Practice section can be used as an indication, is that translation criticism by translators and translation scholars continues to increase in quantity and quality. The publication of France's Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation (item #bi2003006105#) and Classe's Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English (item #bi2003006103#) documents this increase, as do some of the excellent articles reviewed in that section, as well as recent writing by translators about their work. An outstanding example of this is Levine's Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000). The translator of several of Puig's novels, Levine proved to be as insightful a biographer as she is skilled a translator.

It is also necessary to mention two closely related negative tendencies and to say that given the persistence of these tendencies, they may be considered trends. The first is the relatively small number of translations published and the increasingly commercial interests of the large multinational houses and what Bromley has described as their "faddish habits and tastes.2 As Ledbetter has remarked, "The rest of the world reads what Americans write, but rarely vice versa."3 Or, to cite Palettella with respect to poetry, "a meager diet... is available annually in the United States."4 Palattella feels that one reason for the scarcity of poetry in English translation might be the North American public's "love of the familiar" (p. 55) that results in less than adventuresome reading preferences. It also results, he notes, citing work by Owen, in a growing tendency on the part of poets working in languages other than English "to write verse that is easily translatable into English" in hopes of reaching "the recognition of an English-language audience" (p. 56). Ironically, that same love of the familiar may also result in the need Bromley notes for work in translation to "show off a native exoticism that predates our age of conglomeration" (p. 23). Reading about things exotic, like reading about things familiar, allows readers to remain at a remove, refraining from truly participating in work foreign to their sensibilities and preventing a true understanding of other cultures.

The second negative trend involves the absence from many translations of an introduction or even a short note about the author or the context of the original work. This means that the availability of work in translation is compromised by a lack of the information that would make that work truly accessible to readers in English. Some might argue, of course, that readers would be impatient with such information and disregard it or refuse to purchase a book that seemed too "academic." However, those same readers might welcome some orientation. Consider, for example, the comment by reviewer Frase, who remarked about Cubana: Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women (item #bi2001004264#) that "the literary history that Mirta Yañez surveys in her introduction is pathetically skimpy."5 Frase is led to write a generally negative review and to ask questions and make assumptions about women's writing in Cuba that a better introduction might have made unnecessary. Here is a reader asking for more, not less, information; and her comments make one speculate about how much more impact Latin American literature might have if it were fully contextualized, well distributed, and widely reviewed.

Fortunately, the high quality of many of the books published this biennium and the appearance of several new series, or several coincidence of titles with similar themes, offer hope that English-language translations of creative work from Latin America will receive increasingly greater recognition. Among the books reviewed here, for example, one finds the first English-language editions of several important primary sources for colonial studies, which appear in annotated editions that will be helpful to scholars and ideal for classroom use. These are Arrom's new critical edition of Pane's An Account of the Antiquities of the Indias (1498) (item #bi 99009548#); Myers and Powell's selection of Madre María de San José's spiritual journals, A Wild Country Out in the Garden in an excellent edition that makes colonial women's life writing available in English-language selection (see items #bi2001004280# and #bi2003006356#); Peters' and Domeier's The Divine Narcissus/El Divino Narciso, which makes Sor Juana's brilliant Auto sacremental available in English in its entirety for first time in a superb translation of script for staging (item #bi2001004273#); and Nina Scott's bilingual anthology, Madres del verbo/Mothers of the Word, a selection of major texts by early Spanish American women writers that makes them available in an annotated, critical selection, ideal for classroom use (item #bi2003005611#).

In the same vein, one appreciates the University of New Mexico's Jewish Latin American series, in which several of the books reviewed here appear, as well as additional titles from other presses about the Jewish immigrant experience in Latin America, specifically in Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. A third coincidence, if not a trend, is the publication of an unusually large number of titles (anthologies and novels) from Cuba. No doubt there are several reasons for this, although Bromley summarizes the recent interest in things Cuban in terms of a new generation of young Cuban writers born after the revolution, whose writing exhibits a renewed vibrancy and sensuality and to a "new generation of foreigners" that "is flocking to Cuba" for those qualities and Cuba's "sun, sea, and (diminishing) socialism" (p. 25).

Although no trends have been discerned among the anthologies, it is important to note in particular the fine work in Prospero's Mirror: A Translators' Portfolio of Latin American Fiction (item #bi2003005924#), a highly original and creative volume edited by Stavans, and two titles devoted to work from Cuba: ReMembering Cuba: Legacy of a Diaspora, edited by O'Reilly (item #bi2003005908#); Dream with No Name: Contemporary Fiction from Cuba, edited by Ponce de León and Ríos Rivera (item #bi2003005922#).

Similarly, in poetry there are no marked trends, but the biennium has seen several outstanding translations. Two of those titles are also anthologies: Pichka Harawikuna: Five Quechua Poets, an Anthology with translations by Ahern (item #bi 98015050#); and Ül: Four Mapuche Poets, an Anthology translated by Bierhorst (item #bi 98015049#). In addition to the fine translations they contain, these volumes are important because the poets included (from Peru and Chile respectively) revitalize their indigenous heritage by writing in Quechua and Mapudungun and because both volumes include original texts as well as translations. Three additional titles in poetry must also be mentioned: Franzen's translation of Alicia Borinsky's Collapsible Couple (item #bi2003005949#); De la Torre's work with Gerardo Deniz's Poemas/Poems (item #bi2003006050#); and Englebert's collaborative work with Sosa on The Return of the River: The Selected Poems of Roberto Sosa (item #bi2003005614#). In fact, the volume by Englebert and Sosa was recently awarded the 2003 National Translation Award sponsored by the American Literary Translators Translation (ALTA).

In neither brief fiction nor drama can one point to a trend, although there seems to be an increase in the number of novellas as opposed to short stories. Outstanding volumes in these two categories are collections of short stories: Hurley's translation of Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions and Payne's She-Calf and other Quechua Folk Tales (items #bi2003005921# and #bi2003005613#). Payne's volume includes the original Quechua texts, which makes it an especially rich resource.

Among the novels published during the biennium, in addition to the works from Cuba mentioned above, it is important to note the publication of four major 19th-century novels made available in English for the first time or for the first time in their entirety: Nataniel Aguirre's Juan de la Rosa: Memoirs of the Last Soldier of the Independence Movement: A Novel, translated by Waisman (item #bi2001004269#); Alberto Blest Gana's Martín Rivas, translated by O'Dwyer (item #bi2001004262#); Clorinda Matto de Turner's Aves sin nido, translated by Polt as Torn from the Nest (item #bi2001004274#); and Xicoténcatl: An Anonymous Historical Novel About the Events Leading Up to the Conquest of the Aztec Empire, translated by Castillo-Feliú (item #bi2001004272#). Other titles to note in this genre include: The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda (Sonia Rivera Valdés), translated by four translators (item # bi2003005945#); Sirena Silena (Mayra Santos-Febres), translated by Lytle (item #bi2003005946#); and three translations of works long-awaited in English: José María Arguedas' The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below, translated by Horning Barraclough (item #bi2003002621#); Julio Cortázar's Final Exam, translated by MacAdam (item #bi 00000174#); and Elena Poniatowska's Here's to You, Jesusa!, translated by Heikkinen (item #bi2003002643#).

In the essay category, there were fewer publications than in other years. There are some notable titles, however, and there also seems to be a trend toward memoir and the testimonio, demonstrating a broad range of regional and generational voices. Taking these volumes chronologically, the early 19th-century Memoirs of Fray Servando, published by the excellent Library of Latin America series at Oxford UP, brings to English readers the quite astounding journeys of a persecuted Mexican friar just prior to independence (item #bi2001004289#); also from Mexico, Octavio Paz's intellectual memoir, Itinerary, begins in the early part of the 20th century, following the Mexican Revolution (item #bi2001004287#); Alejo Carpentier's Music in Cuba explores Cuban music and stands as an important text in his own literary production (item #bi2003005936#); Ariel Dorfman (Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, item #bi2001004286#) and Marjorie Agosín, (The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writing Life, item #bi2003005916#) within different time frames, both tell of lives divided between North and South America and the effects of exile on the writer. Finally, three testimonials make important contributions in that genre: María de los Reyes Castillo Bueno presents the life of a Cuban mother, laborer, and activist (item #bi2003005939#); and Guatemalans Ignacio Bizarro (Joseño: Another Mayan Voice Speaks from Guatemala, item #bi2003005910#) and Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú (Crossing Borders, item #bi2003005911#) present the controversial question of who speaks most credibly for an oppressed and disenfranchised group. The Menchú volume, it should be noted, has been harshly criticized for failing to credit its original Spanish-language editors. (For a discussion of the response generated by this book, "Rigoberta's History within the Guatemalan Context," edited by Arturo Arias. The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2001.)

Publication in reference works and material about theory, as indicated above, has been strong this biennium. In addition to the valuable contribution made by the volumes edited by France and Classe (items #bi2003006103# and #bi2003006105#), Juliana de Zavalia's essay on the importance of Spanish-American literature in translation in the context of US Latino literature and Waisman's study of translation in the work of Ricardo Piglia are noteworthy entries (items #bi2003006107# and #bi2003006104#), as is Ribeiro Pires Vieira's article on Haroldo de Campos (published in item #bi2003002602#). In the context of this section, it is also important to note that several online journals regularly publish literature in English-language translation, as well as reviews and other information. Some of these will be discussed in HLAS 62. In the meantime, one of the newest and most promising of those journals is Words Without Borders hosted by Bard College on Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. (http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/).

As in past years, each of the annotations is followed by the initials of the contributing editor who prepared it. Most of the annotations in "Essays, Interviews, and Reportage" have been prepared by Kathleen Ross, and Carol Maier has been responsible for those in "Bibliography, Theory, and Practice." New this biennium is the particular attention paid by Maureen Ahern to translations of work from the colonial period and the assignment of most poetry titles to Steven White. White, a noted translator, poet, and scholar (and author most recently of Escanciador de pócimas—a bilingual edition of poems—and El mundo más que humano en la poesía de Pablo Antonio Cuadra: un estudio ecocrítico joins the editors of this section with the present volume. It is a pleasure to welcome him. [CM, with MA, KR, and SW]

TRANSLATIONS FROM THE PORTUGUESE

The translation of works by Brazilian writers at the present time involves an oddly paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the number of translations published in the years 2000–02 is smaller than that surveyed in previous volumes of HLAS. On the other hand, one of the best known authors in the world these days is the Brazilian Paulo Coelho, whose books have sold more than 46 million copies in 56 languages (see "An Interview with Paulo Coelho: The Coming of Age of a Brazilian Phenomenon," by Glauco Ortolano, in World Literature Today, April/June 2003, p. 57–59). Even the Brazilian Academy of Letters finally gave in to the pressure of such success, and in 2002 Coelho was elected as the most recent addition to the 40 "Immortals" (by a slim majority—23 votes). Thus, awareness of Brazil, through the persona of Coelho, is at an all-time high, while simultaneously interest in more challenging practitioners of Brazilian literature seems to be waning.

Still, the situation is not altogether dispiriting. Bloomsbury Publishers, no doubt basking in the success of its Harry Potter books, is continuing its commitment to contemporary Brazilian literature, and in the past few years has published translations of recent novels by Patricía Melo and Milton Hatoum, with more titles underway. And Oxford University Press continues its beautifully produced Library of Latin America series, with translations of Brazilian classics by Alencar, Machado and Azevedo prominent in the present crop.

Despite the absence of large numbers of translations, the quality at this time is high, with talented translators such as Colchie, Frizzi, George, Landers, and Rabassa all contributing to the dissemination of Brazilian literature in English. One problem, however, is the tendency of some translators to use politically correct terminology when lexical problems relating to race, gender, and sexuality appear. Thus "homosexual" (even in dialogue) becomes "gay," and "when someone..., he..." becomes "when someone..., they...." These are unfortunate capitulations that have no place in the translation of fiction. In addition, when rhymed verse, no matter how ordinary and tending toward doggerel, appears in the narratives, many translators seem to feel no need to attempt rhymed versions. The result is, unsurprisingly, a clumsy literalness that impedes the narrative and grossly distorts the original.

In this regard, of special note is the significant contribution made by Landers, who, in addition to his own work as a translator, has produced an excellent book on the practice of translation (item #bi2003006116#).


NOTES:
  1. Siva Vaidhyanathan, "Cultural Policy and the Art of Commerce," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 June, 2001, p. B9.
  2. Carl Bromley. "Cuba Confidential," In These Times, 29 April, 2002, p. 25. See also André Schiffrin's eloquent "Missing Out on a World of Scholarship," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 Oct., 2000, p. B12.
  3. James Ledbetter, "The Culture Blockade," The Nation, 4 Nov., 2002, p. 39.
  4. John Palattella, "Atlas of the Difficult World: The Problem of Global Poetry," Lingua Franca (May/June 1999), p. 57.
  5. Brenda Frase, "Gregarious Women," The Hungry Mind Review, (Fall 1998), p. 11.

Go to the:


Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]


Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (11/28/11)