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Volume 62 / Humanities

LITERATURE: TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH FROM THE SPANISH AND THE PORTUGUESE


CAROL MEIER, Professor of Spanish, Kent State University
DAPHNE PATAI, Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
MAUREEN AHERN, Professor of Spanish, Ohio State University
KATHLEEN ROSS, Professor of Spanish, New York University
STEVEN F. WHITE, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Chair of Modern Languages and Literatures, St. Lawrence University

TRANSLATIONS FROM THE SPANISH

MANY FINE TRANSLATIONS in all categories saw publication in the period under review here (2001–03). The selection of anthologies, for example, was unusually rich and varied, ranging from a collection of Hispanic science fiction, which traces the development of the genre in the Spanish language (item #bi2006000596#), to a group of innovative performance texts by Latin American women playwrights and performers (item #bi2006000667#) and a volume of short stories that demonstrates the evolution of the new Latin American fiction from the 1980s to the present (item #bi2006000672#). Other titles make Costa Rican writer Carmen Lyra's work truly available for the first time in English (item #bi2006000671#), offer selections by Yiddish writers (item #bi2006000797#) and Latin American Jewish women writers (item #bi2006000595# and #bi2003002630#), provide an extensive overview of contemporary Mexican poetry (item #bi2006000673#), and introduce a group of Mexican women writers who are just becoming established (item #bi2006000674#). Although critic William Logan has argued that "anthologies age as badly as fashion,"[1] it is hard to believe that readers will not find these anthologies interesting and useful for a long time to come.

Among the poetry titles, one is tempted to say that there is something of a trend toward the translation of selected poems. Several of the poets represented by collections of selected work (Homero Aridjis, Ariel Dorfman, Nancy Morejón, Excilia Saldaña, and Daisy Zamora) were born between 1940–50; they seem to be taking stock, along with their translators, of a poetic output that spans a period of several decades. The same could be said of the late Saúl Yurkievich (item #bi2006000782#) who was born in the early 1930s. Sosa's Return of the River (reviewed in HLAS 60:4260) is a tour de force of literary translation by Jo Anne Engelbert that was recognized by the American Literary Translators Association with their 2003 National Translation Award. In this book, Sosa, who lives in Honduras, treats political themes with far greater subtlety than the more explicit politicized writing one finds in the books by Marjorie Agosín and Dorfman, who reside in the US. Other noteworthy titles include Casting Off (item #bi2006000774#), by El Salvador's Claribel Alegría, who was recently awarded the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and Immanent Visitorthe first representative translation into English of Bolivian visionary poet Jaime Saenz (1921–86), whose writing often seems to emanate from the other side of life (item #bi2003002609#). In addition, several major single works of early 20th-century Latin American poetry were reissued in new translations: Rubén Darío's Songs of Life and Hope (item #bi2006000777#), César Vallejo's The Black Heralds (item #bi2004001928#) and Stephen Kessler's version of Pablo Neruda's seemingly irresistible masterpiece ''Las alturas de Machu Picchu,'' which is presented in a strikingly beautiful edition with dozens of photographs of the famous Incan ruins that inspired Neruda's poem in the 1940s (item #bi2006000778#). Neruda's compatriot Gabriela Mistral is also represented in new translations, and Stephen Tapscott's versions of her prose and prose poems will certainly provide new insights into a writer known almost exclusively for her poetry (item #bi2003002600#). Forrest Gander's collection of poems by Pura López Colomé introduces readers in English to what for them will be a new voice in Mexican poetry (item #bi2006000689#). Also with respect to this section, it is a pleasure to note that more and more of the poetry titles are printed en face, something for which (in apparent disregard of Borges' preference for the opposite practice) most poets, translators, and readers have long clamored.

Volumes of brief fiction and theater are not numerous, but it is important to highlight two: Esther Allen's work with Felisberto Hernández (item #bi2003002246#) and the selection of Lydia Cabrera's Afro-Cuban Tales (item #bi2004003605#), a book so essential that one finds it hard to believe this is the first English translation. A third title to note in this category is Antipodes (item #bi2006000676#), by Mexican Crack writer Ignacio Padilla, who is also represented in this biennium with a novel (item #bi2004001941#).

Padilla's novel is one of several in this review period that suggest a trend toward mystery, crime, and detective fiction; these works often have a political bent. Other writers whose books would be included in this trend are Daniel Chavarría, Arnoldo Correa, Silvia Molina, Edmundo Paz Soldán, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Patricia Sagastizábal, José Carlos Somoza, and Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Somoza's The Athenian Murders stands out in this group as the one novel not set in Latin America (item #bi2006000686#). This biennium also saw several novels and fictionalized memoirs by women writers (for example, works by Mayra Montero, Tununa Mercado, Rosa Nissan, Elena Poniatowska, Nora Strejilevich, and Alicia Steimberg); the debut in English of McOndo writers Alberto Fuguet (item #bi2006000682#) and Edmundo Paz Soldán (item #bi2006000771#); and the translation of Angélica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial (item #bi2006000683#), which, like Cosmos Latinos (item #bi2006000596#), should appeal to readers of science fiction and fantasy. Finally, it is important to mention one of the most interesting (and undoubtedly one of the most innovative) translations of this review period: Guillermo Cabrera Infante's self-translation, Guilty of Dancing the ChaChaChá (item #bi2006000680#).

In the category of essays, interviews, and reportage, there are several titles published in English in the first years of the new millennium but largely written in the 1990s, and the theme of the century's end was prominent. Important Latin American intellectuals such as Eduardo Galeano (item #bi2006002369#), Martín Hopenhayn (item #bi2006002370#), and Beatriz Sarlo (item #bi2006002377#) address neoliberal changes of the 1990s that in 2006 are now undergoing further transformations, as more leftist governments have been elected throughout the region. Indigenous movements, such as the Zapatista uprising in Mexico (items #bi2003002638# and #bi2006002373#) and the Mapuche organization in Chile (item #bi2006000623#) also received attention in a variety of narrative forms. Three volumes from the Oxford UP series of 19th-century texts were from Chilean authors (Vicente Pérez Rosales (item #bi2004001935#), José Joaquín Vallejo (item #bi2003004974#), Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna (item #bi2004001933#), while the interest in spiritual autobiographies of nuns, present for the last 15 years or more in the field, was represented by the writing of a 17th-century Afro-Peruvian woman (Ursula de Jesús, item #bi2006002371#). Geographically, the majority of titles in this category were by Southern Cone writers (Eduardo Galeano, Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo, Vicente Pérez Rosaldo, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, Rosa Reuque, Martín Hopenhayn, Charles Papiernik) with the remainder divided between Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Puerto Rico. Among the titles from Mexico, the annotated first modern translation of José de Acosta's Natural and Moral History of the Indies stands out as an exemplary translation model of the early chronicles of New World encounters (item #bi2004001431#). Memoir, diary, and testimonio were all well represented (items #bi2006000796#, #bi2006002371#, #bi2006002375#, #bi2004001935#, #bi2006000623#, #bi2006000698#, and #bi2004001933#), with personal voices prominent as well in other kinds of chronicles (item #bi2006002376#). The memoirs also include Gabriel García Marquéz's Living To Tell the Tale (item #bi2004000488#)and Alma Guillermoprieto's Dancing with Cuba (item #bi2006000694#), both of which have been especially well received in English.

As noted in the previous volume of the Handbook, work in translation theory and its impact on the translation of material from Latin America has been steadily increasing. Undoubtedly, this is due at least in part to the growth of translation studies as a discipline. Examples of this trend are Efraín Kristal's groundbreaking study of the role that translation played in Borges' work (item #bi2003002644#), the essays in Translation and Power (item #bi2006000593#), and the articles by Gordon Brotherston (item #bi2006000588#) and Gertrudis Payàs (item #bi2005001934#) on the translation of indigenous texts. (A title that will be reviewed in the next volume of the Handbook, but is appropriate to mention here is the special issue of TTR (Traduction Terminologie Rédaction devoted to the translation of material from the Hispanic world.[2]) Additional titles to note in this section include Gustavo Pérez Firmat's meditation on his (and others') ties to language (item #bi2006000592#), Jonathan Cohen's work with Muna Lee (item #bi2004003610#), Orovio Helio's Cuban Music from A to Z (item #bi2006001292#), and Anne Fountain's study of the multiple relations between José Martí and a large number of North American writers (item #bi2006000589#).

Fountain's work with Martí is one of several books devoted to the Cuban poet, who, like Neruda and Mistral, was one of three writers to receive particular attention during this period. In addition to appearing in the book mentioned above, Martí was represented by a complete translation, by Fountain, of his Versos sencillos (item #bi2006000691#), and an anthology of selections, by Esther Allen, that spans his entire production (item #bi2006000668#). Multiple volumes of work by Neruda were planned to coincide with the centenary of his birth in 2004; each in its own way offers readers a new perspective on his work. (See The Essential Neruda (item #bi2006000789#), The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (item #bi2006000790#), and On the Blue Shore of Silence (item #bi2006000791#)). Mistral and her writing are also made accessible in a new way, thanks to the translations by Stephen Tapscott (item #bi2003002600#), Ursula K. Le Guin (item #bi2004001937#), and Elizabeth Horan and Doris Meyer (item #bi2006000599#). Le Guin's work merits special mention. Although she states that her knowledge of Spanish is limited only to reading, she has produced exceptional translations that indicate a profound understanding of Mistral and her oeuvre.

The splendid group of translations described in the preceding paragraphs could easily lead the reader to assume that the period under review brought a publishing "boom" of literature in translation—and the reversal of the cutbacks and small numbers noted in previous comments in the Handbook. Unfortunately, this is not the case. On the contrary, as John O'Brien, director of Dalkey Archive Press, has explained, publishing translations is an expensive and less than profitable endeavor,[3] particularly in a climate where "America yawns at Foreign Fiction."[4] If, as the titles reviewed here suggest, there is cause to feel optimistic, it is no doubt thanks largely to the sustained commitment to translations on the part of university and independent presses. Translator and poet Ted Genoways has noted that "the small number of courageous presses that do publish new poetry in translation, despite its obvious risks, have also established themselves as the best presses,"[5] and one hopes that a reputation for excellence will enable them to continue in the future. Genoways singles out three presses—Copper Canyon, Graywolf, and Curbstone. Others could be added, however, such as the university presses of Nebraska and Texas (both of which have long supported translations, especially those of fiction and other prose) and Oxford University Press, whose Library of Latin American series makes available translations of work by major 19th-century authors who have been neglected in the English-speaking world.

The publication situation of print volumes, then, is far from healthy. However, it is encouraging to see that more and more journals seem to be publishing work in translation, and that journals such as Circumference in the US and MPT (Modern Poetry in Translation) in the UK are devoted exclusively to translation and that they regularly include translations from the Spanish. In addition, electronic publications are flourishing. Online, for example, Words without Borders (http://www.wordswithoutborders.org), offers translations and links to many other sites. A growing number of literary journals can also be found on-line; most, if not all, of them offer links to other sites, as do the websites of the independent presses, Dalkey Archive, for example, has a particularly helpful site, which includes the journal Context: A Forum for Arts and Culture (http://www.centerforbookculture.org). Other sites will be reviewed in future volumes of the Handbook.

In closing, it is fitting to note the passing of Helen R. Lane, one of the most prolific and accomplished translators who has ever worked with Latin American literature, having translated more than 100 volumes from Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Indeed, she is represented in this review period and her work will also appear in the next volume. At her death, she left a bequest to Lumen Books for the publication of translations and related works, and Lumen has established a series in her honor. Lane's death is to be mourned, but her life and work are cause for celebration. [CM with MA, KR, and SFW]

TRANSLATIONS FROM THE PORTUGUESE

Although the sheer number of translations from Brazilian literature is not large, an interesting pattern is visible in HLAS 62's crop. Better-known translators supplant lesser-known (but not necessarily less skilled) translators, as publishers evidently seek to expand their market share with popular or potentially popular writers. Thus Margaret Jull Costa, a prolific and prize-winning translator doing enormously valuable work bringing literature written in Portuguese and Spanish to English-language readers, is now translating the best-selling Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, as well as newcomer Luis Fernandes Verissimo. And publishers are investing resources in particular writers so that while many important Brazilian works remain untranslated, the works of some contemporary writers (who can presumably be counted on to continue producing) are being brought out in English in rapid succession.

A new entry into the English-language market is Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, who, after a distinguished career as a professor of psychoanalytic theory, with eight books on the subject, decided to turn to fiction. He named the hero of his noir novels Espinosa in homage, he has said, to the philosopher, but beyond that has aimed to create a detective who is specifically Brazilian and, more specifically still, a Carioca. Not a superhero, not a great shot, at times lazy, not particularly brilliant, often surprised and disappointed. But above all a man with integrity. The first novel in the series, The Silence of the Rain, winner of Brazil's prestigious Jabuti prize in 1996, was published in English in 2002, and the fifth in the series is appearing in 2006—all published by Henry Holt in New York. Another newly translated contemporary figure is the satirist Luís Fernandes Veríssimo (son of famed Brazilian novelist Erico Verissimo), whose work has been published first by The Harvill Press in London and thereafter by New Directions in New York.

London has turned into a particularly hospitable site for introducing Brazilian writers. Patricia Melo's novels continue to be published by Bloomsbury, whose founder, Liz Calder, has a special interest in Brazil (she is the creator of the Festa Literaria Internacional held in the seaside town of Parati each summer beginning in 2003).

Readers may wish to have some explanation of how I evaluate these books as translations, which is my specific charge. Despite the criticisms I often make, the vast majority of books I review here are enjoyable to read, and it is always a pleasure to see Brazilian writers receiving more attention.

After an initial quick reading of the English (a for "pleasure" reading), I review the text more carefully, marking passages or words that for one or another reason call my attention and cause me to wonder about the wording in the original. I notice infelicities of style, awkward phrases and repetitions, and unusual or, for that matter, too usual turns of phrase. When culturally specific items appear in the translation, with explanations, I wonder how they were dealt with in the original. I then open the Portuguese version and compare it with the translation. At this point, I can begin to gauge how the translator worked, and what decisions were made. I notice the style, rhythm, and even layout of both texts. I marvel at the ingenuity that went into the translation of particularly difficult passages, of puns, of the presence of euphony or cacophony in the original; and can better grasp the "sense" the translator gave to character and setting. And I also notice where repetition and awkwardness occur in the translation that were not present in the original.

At this stage, some surprising practices turn up. Benjamin Moser, for example, who has brought out Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Inspector Espinosa novels in English in quick succession, sometimes deletes whole passages and constantly removes brief sentences and descriptive phrases. Some of these passages explain Espinosa's character in more detail—charateristics that Garcia-Roza seems particularly interested in conveying. Since I cannot imagine a contemporary translator treating a respected writer in this fashion, the implication is unavoidable that the translator feels he should be improving on the original, perhaps to make it more marketable. The effect, in my view, is to impose on the original a second-class treatment; the kind often meted out to writers of genre fiction, whose literary skills, it appears, need not be respected. True, the resulting text is a faster-moving story, for many of the deletions are of details that don't immediately advance the plot. But is this what Garcia-Roza wants to offer his public? After all, he's won literary prizes in Brazil and surely these are not bestowed merely for a quick and pleasant read.

Moser also repositions paragraphs and sets off shifts in focus with typographical markers, highlighting what in the original is at times a deliberate contrapuntal style. I can only surmise that the translator believes these would be unacceptable or too complex for English-language readers. He also, arbitrarily it seems, censors some bawdy language, and routinely shortens long descriptions, but never when they relate to Rio streets and other features of the city, which Garcia-Roza makes much of. The resulting novels have less emphasis on character than the original, present few challenges to the reader, and place more stress on the exoticism of street names and places which will be unfamiliar to most English-language readers.

Sometimes, of course, the translator improves on the original by an inventive turn of phrase or catches glitches in the original. This happens at one point in The Silence of the Rain, when Moser corrects a significant error in the Portuguese: the author had attributed a conversation that had taken place earlier in the novel to the wrong character. And, perhaps inevitably, simple errors in reading occur, e.g., sentir is read as sentar. This happens even to the most experienced translator (e.g., Gregory Rabassa) and is a minor flaw. However, lack of proper editing is not so small an issue. (Sometimes I find myself wondering if the translator dictated the translation and did not review it thereafter. How else to explain the failure to note and revise annoying echoes or graceless repetitions in the English?) Thus, editors should also be noticing and querying such items. It appears that not much copyediting goes on these days.

It is only when comparing the English with the Portuguese that I begin to understand the decisions the translator made regarding tone, register, and consistency. At times I am surprised by the lack of attention to these , which are surely essential ingredients for any translator to keep in mind. Thus, while I have encountered few pretentious translations, there seem to be many that vulgarize the original, as if not much can be demanded, or expected, from English-language readers beyond a casual read. When the translator has opted for a prose style that is conventional, ordinary, and/or clichéd (and is not so in the original), it is a disservice to both the author's vision and the reader's experience of the text. When slang and colloquialisms are introduced in the speech of characters who do not use that register in the Portuguese, there is a problem: This is not the character the author invented, continually crafting the way that character spoke, thought, moved. One result of such decisions is that in some translations the characters fail to acquire a distinct identity, as they all express themselves in similar ways. Of course in some authors, all characters who perform the same function in the text (e.g., the wise guide in Paulo Coelho's works) sound identical in the original.

Readers of the entries below should understand that when, in the very brief reviews of these translations, I comment on translation decisions, or criticize what seems to be carelessness, this does not mean the translation is not worth reading, or that the novel is not engaging. Translation is hard work, not very well paid in most cases, and speed and pressure no doubt exist, especially when a publisher is "investing" in a contemporary writer and that writer's continuing productivity, as is the case with Garcia-Roza, Patricia Melo, Luís Fernandes Veríssimo, and other currently popular Brazilian writers. Paulo Coelho, who is a publishing industry unto himself (with more than 65 million copies of his books sold worldwide) is a case apart, and a comparison of the work of his three translators thus far would make for an interesting story.

It is reassuring to see the commitment some publishers have made to reprinting translations from Brazilian fiction. In the US, Dalkey Archive Press is keeping important books in print. Its Latin American Series includes reprints of older translations: e.g., Ivan Angelo's two novels The Celebration, and Tower of Glass;Ignácio de Loyola Brandão's Zero (with a new introduction by Thomas Colchie); Osman Lins' Avalovara (with a new introduction by Gregory Rabassa). And Oxford University Press continues its Library of Latin American series, with several Brazilian works now in production. Finally, useful annotated guides to literature in translation have been published by Boulevard Books, in Oxford, England, in the series called Babel Guides. Two of these are: David Treece, Ray Keenoy, et al.'s Babel Guide to Brazilian Fiction in English Translation (Boulevard, 2001), and Ray Keenoy, David Treece, et al.'s The Babel Guide to the Fiction of Portugal, Brazil and Africa in English Translation (Boulevard, 2002). [DP]

Notes
    1. New York Times Book Review, 16 April 2006, p. 14
    2. Traductions et Répresentations: Parcours dans l'espace hispanique I/Translations and Representations: Exploring the Hispanic World I, 17.1 (2004)
    3. See John O'Brien, "...A Simple Question," Context: A Forum for Literary Arts and Culture, No. 14 Online Edition. (http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no14/simpleQ.html)
    4. See Stephen Kinzer, "America Yawns at Foreign Fiction," The New York Times (July 26, 2003), Section A, p. 1
    5. A World for All, Divided, "review of The Return of the River: the Selected Poems of Roberto Soso and No Shelter: The Selected Poems of Pura López Columé," Ruminator Review (Fall 2002)

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