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If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, A Memoir by Gregory Rabassa



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I enjoyed the introductory section, but the core of this book is Rabassa's descriptions of the various authors he has worked with and the books he has translated. Even without any knowledge of the books or of most of the authors, I found the various translation issues fascinating.

As someone who does translating, though not of literary texts, I found his thoughts both helpful and supportive in my own work. A mere theoretical study would not have been as good. Translation is mostly a matter of finding the next word and of weighing the difficulties when the languages just don't want to match up.

If this be treason, it is in the cause of the victim. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Jan 16, 2014 |
This memoir was penned by 90-year-old Rabassa after a formidable career translating some of the great classics of Latin American writing, including the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Luisa Valenzuela, Julio Cortazar, Clarice Lispector, and more. Having lectured in translation, I imagine the book is aimed at students of translation, as it includes many constructive pointers about the translation process and its challenges. Rabassa is forthright, irreverent, and perhaps wry, but thoroughly enjoyable. I expected more of a memoir – because of the title – but it included only incidental bits about his life. Most of the book is dedicated to actual books and authors he has worked with, which made me realise how few Latin American authors/books I’ve read from these parts. He brings to light some very interesting points about translation and, on the whole, I found it a worthwhile read. ( )
1 vote akeela | Jan 11, 2011 |
If This Be Treason is Gregory Rabassa's memoir about becoming and be a translator, and of the art of translating. Rabassa doesn't spend much time on his family or upbringing, but does, in hindsight, mention the things he experienced growing up as a child and as a young adult which seem to have contributed to his becoming a translator. He talks about the nicknames they were all given as children, his dabbling in languages in college, the cryptography he did during WWII. All of these stories laced with priceless bits about the art and occupation of translation. The second part of the book discusses each of the authors he has translated (he says 27, but I count 30 listed) and the fascinating challenges their particular work or works provided him. His first translation was Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, which won the National Book Award (they once had a translation prize). I found the discussions of everything from word choice and style to the difficulty of translating slang and racial slurs all intriguing. While there are certainly some familiar authors here (e.g. Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garcia Marguez and Antonio Lobo Atunes), there are certainly many I am not familiar with, including several women authors.

"A piece of writing cannot be cloned in another language, only imitated." --Gregory Rabassa
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3 vote avaland | Sep 29, 2009 |
Rather deceived by this book. Although I knew that it dealt with translations from Spanish and Portuguese into English, I didn’t expect only the first quarter of it to be a reflection on the author’s own experience in translation—which I was looking for—, while Rabassa details afterwards each translation of his, author by author. I found this second part rather lengthy because I knew none of them and none of their works. I guess someone more acquainted with Latin-American literature will find this main part of the book much more interesting. But Rabassa’s style is difficult to follow, and his vocabulary somewhat chosen.

From the many examples and anecdotes given by Rabassa, one gets the impression that the most difficult task in translating a book is to find the right title. I agree with him, also when he says that ‘translations have the strange progressive literary virtue of never being finished’, because this is precisely what I feel in my present first experience of translating a whole book.

It is very instructive to spend some time in a bookshop or a library, comparing different translations of the same book. I did it with the first page of Pride and Prejudice before finally buying the original English version—should I say that I hate reading translations…—, but I now understand better Rabassa when he says that ‘a translator is essentially a reader and we all read differently, except that a translator’s reading remains in unchanging print’.

One point of humour can be found in the last pages when Rabassa explains the difficulty to translate honorific titles such as ‘Doña Inés’ which he left as it was in English. (I would have done the same; I don’t see the point in mentioning it.) What follows is funnier: ‘This form of address has no equivalent in other languages, and attempts to translate the don in ‘Don Quixote’ have failed miserably. There is always a problem with students who think that his name must really be Donald and go along calling him Don.’
( )
  Pepys | Nov 18, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811216195, Hardcover)

The long-awaited memoir and meditation on the art of translating by the most acclaimed American translator of Latin American literature.

Gregory Rabassa's influence as a translator is incalculable. His translations of Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch have helped make these some of the most widely read and respected works in world literature. (García Márquez was known to say that the English translation of One Hundred Years was better than the Spanish original.) In If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents Rabassa offers a cool-headed and humorous defense of translation, laying out his views on the art of the craft. Anecdotal, and always illuminating, If This Be Treason traces Rabassa's career, from his boyhood on a New Hampshire farm, his school days "collecting" languages, the two-and-a-half years he spent overseas during WWII, his travels, until one day "I signed a contract to do my first translation of a long work [Cortázar's Hopscotch] for a commercial publisher." Rabassa concludes with his "rap sheet," a consideration of the various authors and the over 40 works he has translated. This long-awaited memoir is a joy to read, an instrumental guide to translating, and a look at the life of one of its great practitioners.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:41 -0400)

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