14 January 2006

I Heart Rabassa

I'm back in Colombia now (holiday travels officially over) and reunited with my lovely, speedy internet connection. The best book I read over break was Gregory Rabassa's If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, a chatty memoir about his experiences as a literary translator. I've long admired his translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and thoroughly enjoyed learning about his own background and perspectives (especially since completing my own translation work on my sister's documentary). It was like sitting at the feet of a benevolent grandfather, listening to droll and insightful tales of days gone by. My favorite story has to be in the section about García Márquez: "His next long novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch, was excerpted in The New Yorker and therein lies a beautiful tale of editorial timidity and orthodoxy." He explains:
A word that Gabo enjoys throwing about in a lot of his writing as an expletive but more often than not as a descriptive term is mierda, excrement. […] It was a favorite word of the novel’s unnamed patriarch and as such it was absolutely essential that it appear in English in its correct earthy and expressive translation. This is how I did it, causing great distress at The New Yorker. I was given to understand that any number of high-level editorial meetings were held to decide what to do about the word, which had never appeared in the magazine before. As intelligent people the editors saw that the word just had to be matched by its equivalent in English if the truth of the story was to be maintained. Since then I have liked to trumpet the news that in a triumph even greater than his winning the Nobel Prize, García Márquez broke the shit barrier at The New Yorker.

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