The OF Blog: This is why I love to read stories and to translate some of them

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This is why I love to read stories and to translate some of them

I began reading Argentine author Angélica Gorodischer's 2000 story collection, Menta, as a counterbalance to another read-in-progress whose prose was merely serviceable.  I have been a fan of Gorodischer's writing since reading first the translation and then the original of her acclaimed Kalpa Imperial, but I find it sad that besides this excellent novel, there is only one short story of hers that, to my knowledge, has been published in English translation.  She is a gifted writer, one who because of her prose style and thematic treatments of gender, sexuality, and societal issues reminds me favorably of Ursula Le Guin (yet Gorodischer has written as much outside of SF as within that nebulous literary genre).  Her stories often open with enticing paragraphs that suck the reader into its sticky web, refusing to let go until the story has been digested properly.  Below is one such example, "Eso no es todo" ("That is Not All"):

Le contaban cuentos cuando era chiquita.  Muy chiquita, tanto su mamá como su papá.  Los de su mamá eran mejores.  No es que los de su papá fueran malos, no, nada de eso, eran estupendos y estaban poblados de héroes y aventureros y puertos exóticos y desiertos, pero eran vacilantes, a veces tanto que se volvían confusos.  Como si su papá quisiera darle el gusto y anduviera tanteando porque no sabía, realmente no sabía lo que ella prefería.  Y en todos, en los de su papá y en los de su mamá, en todos aparecía en algún momento el genio protector o el hada rubia o el gnomo pícaro que concedía tres deseos a la niñita perdida o al muchachito desamparado.

They told her stories when she was a little girl.  Very little, as much her mama as her daddy.  Her mama's were better.  It's not that her daddy's were bad, no, nothing like that, they were stupendous and were populated with heroes and adventures and exotic ports and deserts, but they were unsteady, sometimes so much so that they turned confusing.  As if her daddy wanted to please her and was gauging her reactions because he did not know, he truly did not know what she preferred.  In all of them, in those of her daddy's and in those of her mama's, in all of them appeared at some moment the genii protector or the blond fairy or the wicked gnome that granted three wishes to the lost little girl or to the abandoned little boy.
My translation is a rough sketch, as in future drafts, I would tighten the prose somewhat (likely eliminating some of the repetitive clauses – en todos – that work well in Spanish but not as well in English), but I believe even this quick draft, which took all of maybe five minutes to type out, should give the reader enough information to judge for herself the power of this beginning.

For myself, I found myself remembering the stories my mother used to make up on the fly when she was stuck with me (and later, my sister) when I was a toddler, stories about a little cow named Coco (OK, not the most original of names, but it was something).  There is something about stories told to us by parents during our youth that stick with us into our adulthood, and reading Gorodischer's opening paragraph, I was reminded of that.  It is not precisely a "direct" introduction; there is a hesitant pause in reminiscing about the narrator's father that seems to carry the germ of something deeper, something I wanted to investigate further.

So I did.  It was an even better tale than I expected, but that is something for another time.

What are your thoughts on this translated/original paragraph?  Would you have wanted to read on from this point?


Anonymous said...

Mind if I comment on the translation?

eran vacilantes=were equivocal, or "came hesitantly," I think captures the sense a little better than "unsteady."

"They used to tell her stories when she was little. Very little, and Mama as well as Papa." Tanto como can do so much work in Spanish that it's difficult to translate at times. And I really liked that repetition of "chiquita" and tried to think how to keep it.

"Como si su papá quisiera darle el gusto y anduviera tanteando porque no sabía, realmente no sabía lo que ella prefería." I love how you translate this sentence! Very beautifully done.

Kai in NYC

Lsrry said...

Yeah, I almost went with "hesitant," but that was a part that I knew I'd likely revise in a secondary or tertiary draft (vacilantes was one of three words I double-checked the possible meanings, the others being "tantear" and "pícaro"). And I originally did have just "she was little. Very little...", before I thought some might find it strange if I didn't add "girl" to the end.

Thanks for the comments, as it's good to hear from others who are fluent in both :D Spot-on, of course.

Anonymous said...

Think we'd need a little more, especially what makes her momma's stories so good.


Lsrry said...

It's an 11 page story, so it'd take me a few weeks to get a good draft (it took me 3 days each to translate the two 4-5 page short stories that are published in ODD? and The Weird), but I wouldn't mind having the chance of translating more of Gorodischer's fiction if it were to be published in the US.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me I should get ODD?, have to get back to The Weird


Si said...

I would love to read the rest of this story. It's intriguing. I can already tell that I will love her stories, hope you get a chance to translate them. I want to learn Spanish, but am currently learning Portuguese, so I had better stick to the one language as they are similar in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

My dictionary translates "picaro" as "rogue" or "rascal," a slightly different meaning than "wicked."

Thanks for the snippet of prose, which sounds interesting. And for the translation -- my Spanish isn't as good as yours.

Lsrry said...

Yeah, there's a bit of vagueness to "pícaro"; "wicked" is another choice in my bilingual dictionary. I likely would have tried the other meanings out, including "clever" (in the sense of crafty, possibly malicious in intent), in a hypothetical future draft.

Glad you enjoyed reading this snippet of how I do initial drafts. Most of my translations here are initial or second drafts; I usually spend 4-5 drafts on works that are to be published elsewhere/for money.

Lasītāja said...

I don't read Spanish at all, but there are some alliterations in the original text that are missing in your translation. The first sentence, of course, but also all these e-words and maybe v-words. It's hard for me to tell if they're really important but it would be nice to keep at least some of sound effects.

Lsrry said...

Some of those aren't alliterations. "co"="k" in English; "cu"="qu"; and "ch" is a "chuh" sound in English. The others you note are the equivalents for "is" "were" and "was" when conjugated for person and tense in Spanish, so it's impossible to replicate that in English.

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