Sunday, June 21, 2009

To the NYTimes: Remember the translator!

Ezra E. Fitz, of Brentwood, Tenn., reminds the editors of The New York Times that without the diligence and skill of translators, world literature would largely be inaccessible to English-speaking monoglot readers:
Gerald Martin’s “Gabriel García Márquez: A Life” (June 7) is certainly chock-full of savory facts and hearty commentary, but it is also notable for its near-total lack of another, equally vital literary nutrient: the translator. You can count the references to Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman on one hand.

Your reviewer, Paul Berman, notes that García Márquez studied Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner and Proust “in Spanish translation,” but when he raves about the “gorgeous sentences” in “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” lauding it as “a heroic demonstration of man’s triumph over language,” he neglects to mention whether he read those sentences in Spanish or English.

Martin himself reads “The Autumn of the Patriarch” with close scrutiny, counting the number of sentences in each chapter and noting the subtle changes in narrative voice, before ultimately concluding that the novel “stands as the decisive oeuvre of García Márquez’s career” because “it encapsulates all his other works.”

Let us remind ourselves that García Márquez’s gorgeous sentences have been encapsulated in English variations thanks to the unheralded work of his translators.