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“Thank You, Gabo”: Translators on García Márquez

By Susan Harris

In response to the death of Gabriel García Márquez, some of our translators from Spanish share thoughts on their first encounters with his work. We'll hear from others in the near future.

"It was mid February 2001 when I first read Cien años. Like a lot of people, I remember the experience pretty clearly. I was on my gap year and supposed to be starting a history degree a few months later. (In the UK you choose your 'major' before you begin.) It's a well-known reduction of the work to speak only of its integration of the 'magical' and the 'real', but for me this aspect was a true eye opener; the curriculum at the grammar school I'd attended (not a translated text in sight) had offered no suggestion that such things could be done with the written word. I was hooked. I promptly gave up my place as a history student-to-be and reapplied to study literature instead. It's no exaggeration to say GGM set my life on the course it's followed. My most recent reading of Cien años was with my now ten-month-old daughter. Before she began engaging with picture books, I read the Spanish, alongside Rabassa's translation, to her. In the first few unreal weeks of her life, it seemed the natural book to reach for. So it was a first book for both of us, in a way."—Thomas Bunstead

"Gabriel García Márquez, Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman have been absolutely decisive in my reading life. In fact, had it not been for these three giants of world literature I might never have learned any Spanish, let alone become a translator. Colombia was the first Latin American country I ever set foot in, at the age of twenty-five, not knowing the language, drawn there in part by images in my head of steamships on the Magdalena River and intrigued by the idea of a place where someone might remember being taken to 'discover ice.' And that 'discover' for 'conocer,' which you won't find in many bilingual dictionaries, was a marvelous acierto by Rabassa and a liberating discovery for an aspiring translator many years later as I faced the original."—Anne McLean

"I think the first experience reading One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most unforgettable of my life. I read it in college and much of that year is lost in a haze, yet I vividly recall exactly where I was when my imagination first became hotly engaged with this novel. I was particularly enthralled by the character of Rebeca Buendía and her bones. I had begun reading Faulkner in high school thanks to a great teacher, and it was like having that experience given back again, but with a priest who levitates after drinking chocolate, sceptical ghosts and yellow butterflies, mirages reflected in a looking glass. What would have happened if Faulkner had never been translated into Spanish? What if García Márquez had not been translated into English? What a scary thought!"—Valerie Miles

"My most abiding memory of my first reading One Hundred years of Solitude in Gregory Rabassa's translation is that first sentence, where Aureliano Buendía is taken to 'discover ice.' The verb used in García Márquez's original is the more innocent, neutral 'conocer' (to know/meet for the first time). Rabassa's choice is politically and culturally charged and immediately locates the novel within a colonial setting where the discovery of what already exists often involves its renaming and expropriation. Latin American literature has, to some extent, been plagued by 'discoveries,' but I'm hopeful that we out here in our former empires are learning to know and meet new writing for the first time without the need to discover it."—Christina MacSweeney

"I first read García Márquez and Cien Años de Soledad in the late 70s as an undergraduate, in the original Editorial Sudamericana edition, which by then was in its 42nd printing. García Márquez was the first big Latin American writer for me. That novel and others—either in the original or in English translations by Gregory Rabassa or Edith Grossman—are essential to my education in literary Spanish and for that reason inseparable from my education as a literary translator."—Margaret B. Carson

"I have loved García Márquez’s writing since first reading him, and began loving him as a person when I heard that he’d said that One Hundred Years of Solitude was better in English than in Spanish. I confess I’m not 100% sure he actually said it, but that’s what I heard and, honestly, what higher praise could a translator ever hope for from the Nobel in Literature? What a generous spirit."—Lisa M. Dillman 

"My very first published translation (back in 1987) was of a short piece by GGM entitled ‘Watching the Rain in Galicia.’ Rereading it this morning, it still fills me with joy, so full is it of affection for Galicia and Galicians (his grandparents came from Galicia), so playful is its use of language. It was written in the simple, yet complex style I’d fallen in love with when I read A Hundred Years of Solitude at university, and of whose complexity I was reminded recently when I engaged in a translation duel with Frank Wynne, translating the opening page of that very book. I did about twelve drafts (and could have done more) and on each re-re-reading I stumbled upon some other knotty little problem, which had seemed initially—and subsequently—quite unproblematic. It made me keenly aware of the skill involved in writing that pellucid, seductive, storytelling style, each word laden with the pleasure of its own sound and meaning. Thank you, Gabo."—Margaret Jull Costa

Published Apr 24, 2014   Copyright 2014 Susan Harris

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