Literary Translation

“The bottom line is this: if the author reads as being brilliant in the original, then he or she must at the very least read as being pretty damn good in English. What kind of a favor are we doing the book or the author if we provide them with anything less?” Jeremy M. Davies, editor, Dalkey Archive Press

Literary translation, a category that encompasses both fiction and non-fiction, requires a deep knowledge of the subject matter to be treated and a passion for research. It involves seeking ways to clearly and elegantly explain customs, institutions, idiomatic expressions, and historic circumstances that do not have easy equivalents in the target language.

Whether the task at hand is a work of fiction or nonfiction, a literary translator must take on a number of editorial responsibilities that may include the identification of material that should be supported by additional explanatory footnotes and the verification of dates and facts. A translator working from Spanish into English must navigate what sometimes seem to be interminable sentences and compensate for English’s lack of internal rhyme, a device so often implemented in Spanish prose.  Quoting Jeremy Davies once again, “a novel in translation needs to “parallel” the experience that the original reader may have had.” He goes on to add, “But this means taking on the same responsibility for the work in English as the author did in the original—and then the added responsibility of representing the author and his or her work accurately (that is, to make them look good)… it is the ‘spirit’ of the original that has to be captured, and captured in such a way that if a reader in the original met a reader in the new language, they could converse in such a way that they felt they were talking about the same book.”

Works in translation comprise roughly 3% of all books published in the United States and Great Britain. That is a very small figure.  Considering that English is the native language of an estimated 375 million people around the globe, and that one out of four people worldwide speaks English to some extent, I believe that the market for books translated into English has a lot of room to grow. A much greater effort needs to be made to bring  Spanish-language works of nonfiction in the fields of history, education, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities to a larger global audience. I welcome opportunities to make serious works of fiction, prose, and scholarly study written in Spanish available to English-speaking readers.