LIFE OF A TRANSLATOR.

Adriana V. Lopez has a nice interview with translator Edith Grossman on bookforum.com; I was hooked right away by the photo of her standing in front of several of the “ubiquitous wooden bookshelves, tall and short” that line the rooms of her Upper West Side apartment. Here’s how she got started:

[Editor Ronald] Christ asked Grossman to translate Argentine writer Macedonio Fernández’s short story “The Surgery of Psychic Removal,” about erasing memory. Grossman was hesitant. “I said ‘Ronald, I’m not a translator, I’m a critic.’ And he said, ‘Call yourself whatever you want. Try this.’” Grossman recalls loving the work. Other projects followed, including a novel by Peruvian writer Manuel Scorza published by Harper & Row in 1977. Then came the García Márquez offer. She recalls that an agent who lived in her building called her and flat out asked, “Edie, you interested in translating García Márquez?” Grossman rolls her eyes and puffs her mouth out reliving the day and says she replied, “What? Of course I’m interested.” Grossman submitted a twenty-page sample translation of Love in the Time of Cholera to Knopf and was chosen. “I knew this Colombian writer was eccentric when he wrote me saying that he doesn’t use adverbs ending with -mente in Spanish and would like to avoid adverbs ending in -ly in English.” She remembers thinking, what do you say in English except slowly? “Well, I came up with all types of things, like without haste.”

I like the ending too:

Grossman is a reader’s reader, happy to have gotten cheap paperbacks from neighborhood stores like the old Shakespeare & Co., Labyrinth Books (now Bookculture), and Papyrus (now Morningside Bookshop). It’s about the content, not covers or first editions. “I like to buy books on the street, too, but I’m wary of it now because of bed bugs.” Her collection has also been fed by the places she traveled to in her youth. She grins large: “My clothes used to fit in an overnight bag. But my books took up trunks and trunks.”

Thanks for the link, Paul!

Comments

  1. Very interesting–a smart woman, for sure :D

  2. “He walked slow through the streets of the city.” Works for me.

  3. Yes, “slowly” seems like a odd example to choose, since “slow” is a perfectly good adverb.

  4. I had never picked up on that quirk of Marquez. Sure enough though, picked up my copy of El amor en los tiempos del colera and at least browsing through quickly I found no adverbs ending in -mente. Anyone know what motivates that stylistic decision?
    I guess translations into German don’t present a big issue. But would Marquez object to Russian adverbs ending in -o?

  5. michael farris says:

    On slow vs slowly. For me, using slow instead of slowly only works in limited cases, and
    *walked slow through the streets of the city
    is absolutely not one of them.
    I do wonder about the reasoning for such a generalized restriction. As an experiment or in a single work I could understand it, but as a general rule it seems …. odd. I can’t imagine what he thinks is added by avoided -mente.
    I also wonder if he tells all his translators to avoid derived adverbs and how far that goes.
    What about Norwegian where the neuter form of an adjective can be used (langsomt – slowly from langsom)?
    What about Hungarian, where one of the locative cases is used (lassan from lassu)?

  6. michael farris says:

    On slow vs slowly. For me, using slow instead of slowly only works in limited cases, and
    *walked slow through the streets of the city
    is absolutely not one of them.
    I do wonder about the reasoning for such a generalized restriction. As an experiment or in a single work I could understand it, but as a general rule it seems …. odd. I can’t imagine what he thinks is added by avoided -mente.
    I also wonder if he tells all his translators to avoid derived adverbs and how far that goes.
    What about Norwegian where the neuter form of an adjective can be used (langsomt – slowly from langsom)?
    What about Hungarian, where one of the locative cases is used (lassan from lassu)?

  7. parvomagnus says:

    It does seem rather quirky. I have no knowledge of the author myself, but while it could be some Spanish language analog of ‘write with nouns and verbs’, I wonder if it might not involve simple verbal heftiness. I’m far from fluent in Spanish, but it seems to me a two-syllable ending in a syllable-timed language like Spanish might seem more intrusive than a one-syllable, unaccented ending in a stress-timed language like English. But then, he wants -ly avoided in English, so who knows. Maybe it’s just a ‘don’t use e’ type thing.
    And I myself prefer ‘slow’ to ‘slowly’, at least in that given example. Seems to fit it more.

  8. michael farris says:

    Google has 1,750 for “walked slow”
    vs 968,000 for “walked slowly”
    It also has 0 for “walked slow through the streets”
    and 2240 for “walked slowly through the streets”
    Not definitive by any means, but probably indicative of something.
    For me, slow for slowly works best in commands (Go slow!) and/or cases where there are no further adverbial phrases.

  9. How quickly you all forget your Orwell! The correct answer is “He walked slowwise thru the prolepens.” If published in the New Yorker there would be a diaeresis mark over the second “w”, of course.)

  10. Matt, if there were a way to mark comments as “fantastic” in the MT machinery, yours would have a gold star.
    michael: I think I share your judgment about the contexts in which slow can be used as an adverb; I wonder if there is a thoroughgoing linguistic study of it.

  11. As if translating wasn´t time consuming enough, now we have to waste time avoiding adverbs in -ly or -mente. Give me a break!! :)

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