She took on what might have seemed impossible: the translation duties of García Márquez's novels from well-known Gregory Rabassa who translated One Hundred Years of Solitude and is widely considered one of the most successful translators of all-time. Yet Edith Grossman has brought energy and passion to her projects, including a recently published, highly acclaimed autobiography by García Márquez, Living to Tell the Tale, that reached the bestseller lists upon publication and refocused the world's attention on the impressive library of his work.
A native of Philadelphia, Grossman has spent more than thirty years successfully translating for many of Latin America's most respected writers, including Mario Vargas Llosa's Death in the Andes and Cervantes' classic Don Quixote. She has honed her talent for interpreting García Márquez favorites on Love in the Time of Cholera and The General in His Labyrinth.
Here is her insider view of the role of a translator—who works as an actor speaking the author's lines in another language—and the great importance of translation with a master like Gabo.
The World of a Translator
"In their reading, writing, and rewriting, translators are inevitably required to enter a world in which two entirely different languages have equal weight and—contrary to all laws of logic and physics—occupy the same mental space at the same time," Edith explains. "A translator is forced to live in this schizophrenic universe until the new, second version of the text—I mean the translation—recreates for the English-language readers the same effect the book had in Spanish. This recreation of the original reading experience is what I strive for."
Speaking in Translation
"The great Mexican writer Octavio Paz stated in an essay that learning to speak is learning to translate. All children translate the unknown into a language that slowly becomes familiar to them, and all of us are continually engaged in the translation of thoughts into the language. These ideas led Paz to an even more suggestive concept: no written or spoken text is 'original. This means that the acquisition and use of language is actually an on-going process of translation into language of physical, emotional, imaginative, and intellectual worlds."
Good Literary Models
"When I began work on Love in the Time of Cholera, the first of García Márquez's novels that I translated, I came to rely on nineteenth century models, in particular on my sense of Victorian prose as filtered through the writing of William Faulkner—García Márquez's favorite English-language author." Edith says, "I favored polysyllabic words over monosyllables and composed leisurely sentences. This was not the case in the dialogues, which I did my best to make as colloquial as possible. I thought I had succeeded too well when one reviewer said that in my translation of The General in His Labyrinth, the main character talked like a cop from the Bronx. With some trepidation I told García Márquez about the review, and he was delighted: 'Just as it should be,' he said."
Published on January 20, 2004