If This Be Treason: Translation and its Dyscontents


A memoir and meditation on the art of translating by America's most acclaimed translator of Latin American fiction.
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A memoir and meditation on the art of translating by America's most acclaimed translator of Latin American fiction.
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Editorial Reviews

William Deresiewicz
As the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer put it, if we understand at all, we understand differently. And if we understand the writers of the Boom, we have Rabassa to thank. The act of translation neither we nor he will ever understand.
— The New York Times
Michael Dirda
In If This Be Treason Rabassa is anything but hard and brittle. He goes in every direction, finding his life marked by serendipity, his best translations based on instinct and his taste that of an old-fashioned reader -- one of those, he says, "who still like to turn pages." Happily, Rabassa continues to translate new work, often for small presses, even in his eighties. All of us "who still like to turn pages" should be grateful.
— The Washington Post
Library Journal
Without Rabassa (romance languages & comparative literature, Queens Coll.), few English speakers would have encountered the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Amado, and numerous other Spanish- and Portuguese-language writers. Rabassa's translations of these writings have made him one of the leading translators of Latin American literature. So why call translation treason? He addresses that question in Part 1, "The Onset of Perfidy," with reflections on the nuances of language, his linguistic background (he is fluent in five languages), and his surprising methods of translation-he begins while reading the text the first time. Ironically, this technique allows him to escape "literary treason" by remaining true to the writer's narrative and intent. In Part 2, "The Bill of Particulars," he devotes each chapter to an author-30 in all-whose works he has translated into English, describing his relationship with that author and the background of the work. This is certainly an academic work, even a bit dry at times, but quite suitable for college libraries. Yet clarity and anecdotes render it engrossing and accessible to many public library patrons as well.-Nedra Crowe-Evers, Sonoma Cty. Lib., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fine summing-up by the translator who brought such notable Latin American authors as Gabriel Garc'a Marquez and Julio Cortazar to the attention of English-speaking readers. In three parts, Rabassa surveys his long, distinguished career in translation. The first essay, "The Many Faces of Treason," treats the "varieties of betrayal" inherent in his art: betrayal of the word (can stone ever be truly equivalent to the French pierre?), betrayal of the authors (by imposing our culture onto theirs) and betrayal of himself, since every translator is also a writer who must execute someone else's vision. "In the Beginning" charts Rabassa's life-defined by serendipity, he asserts coyly. By his account, he wandered more or less by chance from Yonkers, where he was born in 1922, to Dartmouth, to military service in WWII, to graduate work at Columbia in Spanish and Portuguese (because journalism involved "too much legwork" and law "too much grinding"). When he agreed to editor Sara Blackburn's request to translate Cortazar's Rayuela (Hopscotch), he hadn't even read it. Here, Rabassa introduces his modus operandi: "True to my original instincts (or perhaps my inherent laziness and impatience)," he writes, "I translated the book as I read it for the first time." It was a successful technique, apparently, because he ended up translating five other books by Cortazar, works by Guatemalan novelist-folklorist Miguel Angel Asturias, who subsequently won the Nobel Prize, and many of Garc'a Marquez's novels. The author declared that he liked the English version of his huge bestseller One Hundred Years of Solitude better than his original Spanish-"Maybe in some way I was simply translating in a way close to theway he wrote it," Rabassa notes earnestly (and clunkily). Part Two, "The Bill of Particulars," discusses in some detail each author he has translated, while Part Three's single essay declares his "ultimate dissatisfaction with any translation I have done."Grateful readers of these works in English will disagree.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811216197
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.86 (d)

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