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Wednesday, December 31, 2014 (read 1140 times)
Edith Grossman. Translator of Legendsby Tyson
The literary critic Harold Bloom once called her the Glenn Gould of translation; it seems you could almost call Edith Grossman the Mick Jagger of translation, tirelessly producing smash hits and serving as an idol, even an icon to new generations of translators and students. Yet hers is a fame that dwells in the quiet shadows of the giant works she brings to life in English and their authors, a fame and a skill mainly celebrated by those within her field, people who are “poorly paid and with no job security” as she describes most literary translators, adding that they “do not look for fame or fortune but do their work out of love for literature”.
Not many people can make a living translating literature in America; about 10 according to the American Translators Association. The country isn’t really into reading translated books, only 3% of books published in the US are translations (compared to 35 to 50% in many other industrialized countries). All this highlights Grossman’s merits of achieving rock star status within a tough business.
She didn’t grow up in a Spanish speaking family. Her passion for Spanish erupted in high school, where she didn’t click with any teachers until she felt an unexpected connection with a Spanish teacher, a relationship Edith has described by saying “she had figured me out […] so I was happy to be in her class”. After earning a degree in Spanish, Grossman did professional translation work until she got the chance of a lifetime in the late 80’s: to translate Gabriel García Márquez’s monumental masterpiece Love in the Time of Cholera. She went on to produce brilliantly crafted translations of seven more novels by the author, one of the most illustrious writers of the last century, along with six books by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. She’s also translated works by Mayra Montero, Carlos Fuentes, and Álvaro Mutis. To give you an idea of how qualified Grossman is as a translator, García Márquez has stated that he prefers reading translations of his own work over the original.
Although she’s written at length on her frustration with America’s general disinterest in translated lit, her “truly masterly” (according to Carlos Fuentes) rendering of one of history’s first and greatest novels, Don Quixote, generated considerable buzz. It’s the most translated book in the world, but Grossman’s treatment stands out because, in the words of Fuentes (or maybe I should say in the words of Grossman, for the New York Times book review which I quote here is also a Grossman translation): “the contemporaneous and the original co-exist […] To make the classic contemporary: this is the achievement”
Fortunately for her fans she also drops poignant knowledge on the finer points of the craft of translating in interviews, award acceptance speeches, university classes and her no holds barred book Why Translation Matters (minor spoiler alert: one reason it matters is because “translation expands and deepens our world, our consciousness, in countless indescribable ways”) This power chord of a line is sure to resonate with wannabe Edith Grossmans everywhere.
Aside from her insightful explanations of her approach to her art, Grossman’s extensive body of work itself produced over a career that spans 4 decades gives aspiring translators plenty to appreciate, examine, and extract inspiration from. Meanwhile, Edith Grossman continues vocalizing in perfect harmony to the tune of modern and classical beats.
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