Literary Translators: Raise Your Hands and Be Proud

badgirlOh, to be a writer. All writers know that their work reflects their internal battles, beliefs and fantasies. This applies even more to novel writers. What happens when their work needs to be translated? Did Kafka ever think that his stories would be translated in so many languages? The point is writers want to write good books, but seldom think about good translations.

I have been reading The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa, originally written in Spanish as Travesuras de la niña mala. It was translated by Edith Grossman, the award winning literary translator. She has translated Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ariel Dorfam and even Cervantes. Up until now, even though I haven’t finished it, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book and I can’t help but laugh at how ironic it is that the main character from the novel is an UNESCO translator/ interpreter.

A parade of questions has sprung up as I’ve been reading this novel:

  • Did Mario Vargas Llosa pick Edith as his translator or did he have nothing to do with it?
  • Why would Vargas Llosa decide to write a novel with a translator as a main character? I personally think it’s an honor he did this
  • Did Edith Grossman let out a small laugh when the bad girl says, “What kind of match for the wife of a French diplomat can a little puissant translator for UNESCO be?”

And most of all:

  • Why are just 3% of all books published in the United States works of translation?

If we have great translators like Edith Grossman working on novels there is no reason to limit literary translations. Why would anyone want to prevent an English reader from finding out if the bad girl in Vargas Llosa’s story stops teasing Ricardo? After all, Dante Alighieri’s mentality of being against translating is sooo  11th century, don’t you think?

This is exactly why I believe that Edith Grossman justly won the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute Translation Prize and that I suggest everyone read her book, Why Translation Matters.

Why does it matter? Well, if you have read Love In The Time of Cholera in English and don’t know one word of Spanish, you know exactly why.

In an interview with La Nación Edith Grossman said, “We English-speakers are not interested in translations”.

Grossman has been fervently trying to change this over the years and if you have ever read anything translated, you can keep on supporting her stance.

Read literary translations, find out who translated the book you’re reading and, most of all, make sure you’re mentality is not like the bad girl from Vargas Llosas’s novel. Don’t put down translators. They work their asses off just like any French diplomat does.



Oh, by the way… I’m baaaaaaaaaaaack!

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