Books in Translation

Several of the novels in my library are English translations of Spanish language novels also in the library. I’m wondering if I should look at them as duplicates, and then eliminate either the original or the translation from my bookshelf.

A great essay on the subject of translations was published by Humanites in their October 2008 issue. (One, Master, Many Cervantes by Ilan Stavans). One of the author’s observations, which he illustrates by comparing several parallel translations of passages in Quixote, is that while the original is unique and is the work of the author—the translation is derivative and must represent the translator’s best guess as to the author’s meaning.

Based on Stavans’ observation, whenever I have both the original Spanish edition and a translation, I should lean toward keeping the original and eliminating the translation, unless the translation has something very special to offer. Clearly, for me the Grossman translation of Don Quixote is special. It is usually “on target” to help me unravel some of Cervantes’ long meandering detours that make the great novel so difficult to follow at times.

Other translations in my library do not do as well as the Grossman when compared to the original. Take the historical adventure novel The Fencing Master by Perez-Reverte as translated by Margaret Jull Costa. The opening line of the translation reads:

The plump brandy glasses reflected the candles burning in the silver candelabra.

This is hardly a memorable line. Perez-Reverte actually wrote:

El cristal de las panzudas copas de coñac reflejaba las bujías que ardían en los candelabros de plata.

The line brings to mind the image of a candles reflected in the crystal of a fat bellied snifter of cognac—romantic, dark and mysterious.

The translation by Costa is dry and factual, but hardly romantic. However you feel about it, Costa’s rendering is clearly better than Google Translate which gives:

The glass of brandy glasses bellied reflected the candles burning in silver candlesticks.

Well, best not to belabor the point: This translation will be sent off.

Also being sent off is The Law of Love a translation of La ley del amor by Laura Esquivel.  This novel is a romantic sci-fi story of a love that begins in Mexico in the time of Cortez and continues through several reincarnations (and sex changes) of the principal actors into the distant future. Esquivel gives us a wild ride of fantasy that, in my opinion, didn’t benefit from translation.

The deaccession count: Posts 7, Books 15.


About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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