Translating a Person
January 14, 2020 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Whom do we become when we inhabit another language? Discussed: The Gringo, Alimentation, A Couple of Brads, Spanish-from-Spain Translations, Operating with the Words One Has, Wickerby, An Infinite Series of Texts, An Arduous Game of Literacy, This Little Art, My English, The Most Interesting Person on the Planet

Alejandro Zambra writes for Believer Magazine. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

"My novel in English took paths it never would have taken in Spanish. I felt like a guitarist forced to use only three notes, the first ones he’d ever learned. I like thinking back to those writing sessions, though at the time I suffered and was always on the verge of abandoning the novel. Toward the end of the day, when I wrote in Spanish, I felt again the pleasant sonorous exuberance, the inestimable joy of talking with my mouth full."
posted by prewar lemonade (5 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Zambra is an interesting author. His short novel Bonsai is probably readable in the original even if your Spanish isn't that hot and was made into a movie . A short story, Vida de Familia, was also made into a movie and almost had my son as an extra.
posted by signal at 12:10 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

This was interesting! I know it's not the point, but I'm wondering if the pre-translated version is available anywhere.

The gringo story happened in reverse in my grade school - we had a Spanish teacher with a castillian accent and one day the Mexican and Puerto Rican kids let on that she wasn't teaching us real Spanish pronounciation or words - and they would know, right? One day the class confronted her with the evidence and she had to try to explain dialects and accents to a class of thirty mutinous ten year-olds. We mostly settled down, but the teacher never really regained our complete respect.

It also put me in mind of Lulu Wang talking about writing the script to The Farewell - with the added complication of Wang being unable to read Chinese (she speaks and understands Mandarin just fine). So she was directing actors who were using scripts that Wang couldn't read, despite being the person who wrote the screenplay.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:06 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

As a native bi-lingual by birth and an active translator (though only by opportunity, and not linguistic passion) the description of the gringo boy in class in the beginning rings true.
posted by mit5urugi at 1:51 PM on January 14

As an almost bilingual by birth, yeah, it really does.
posted by signal at 5:27 PM on January 14

As an Australian who learned Spanish while growing up in South America, I enjoyed reading this very much. Thanks for posting it!
posted by freethefeet at 9:54 PM on January 14

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