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On Love and Translation: An Interview with Edith Grossman

By Laura Itzkowitz

After studying some of the greatest works of Spanish and Latin American literature about love with Edith Grossman, the award-winning translator of Cervantes, Gabriel García Márquez, Álvaro Mutis, Mayra Montero and many others, I began to wonder more about the particular challenges of translating novels that treat the vast and fascinating subject of love in so many different ways. Edith graciously agreed to answer my questions, and I think you'll find some of her responses quite surprising.

Laura Itzkowitz: In García Márquez’s books, love is often described as a disease with physical and psychological symptoms. Have you ever felt the kinds of anxiety or obsessions that he describes in relation to a work you’re translating?

Edith Grossman: No, I haven’t suffered from the disease in relation to any work, but I have as an occasional response to certain people I’ve known.

LI: You’ve often said that doing a literary translation is like getting married. Do you ever find yourself having a marital spat with a book? 

EG: Yes, I’ve had the kind of argument with a text that arises when your domestic partner is recalcitrant, stubborn, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unwilling to cooperate or compromise. I have, at times, been prepared to pack a bag and go to a hotel, but fortunately the spat never developed into a separation or a divorce. 

LI: How do you deal with linguistic nuances about love, such as the Spanish te quiero versus te amo

EG: I’m afraid I deal with it by ignoring it. It’s too bad to lust isn’t the same kind of verb as to love. We do have I want you or I desire you, but they’re poor substitutes for I lust you. If being in lust were standard English, that would be helpful. It’s startling to realize how much emotional territory the verb to love covers: we can love parents, children, lovers, spouses, friends, film stars, food, clothing, places, holidays, books, music, paintings—everything in our lives, in fact—and use the same verb for all of it. 

LI: What, if any, differences have you noticed about the way male authors and female authors describe love? 

EG: This is an issue I actually haven’t thought about before. Now that I’m obliged to, it strikes me that most women writers tend to be more realistic and less sentimental about love than their male counterparts, though I’m certainly willing to be dissuaded.

LI: What advice would you give to young translators who have yet to find a book they’re in love with? 

EG: I think I’d give the same advice to young translators searching for a book to love that I’d give to young people searching for a person to love: hang in there and don’t give up. When you’re ready, it will probably happen.

Published Dec 12, 2012   Copyright 2012 Laura Itzkowitz

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