The translator best known for bringing Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude into English, has died this week, at age 94.
Rabassa, whose translations include Cortázar’s Hopscotch and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral, was renowned for the care with which he introduced a host of Latin American writers to the Anglophone world.
García Márquez praised Rabassa at length in his 1981 Art of Fiction interview:
How do you regard translators?
I have great admiration for translators except for the ones who use footnotes.
They are always trying to explain to the reader something which the author probably did not mean; since it’s there, the reader has to put up with it. Translating is a very difficult job, not at all rewarding, and very badly paid.
A good translation is always a re-creation in another language. That’s why I have such great admiration for Gregory Rabassa. My books have been translated into twenty-one languages and Rabassa is the only translator who has never asked for something to be clarified so he can put a footnote in.
I think that my work has been completely re-created in English. There are parts of the book which are very difficult to follow literally.
The impression one gets is that the translator read the book and then rewrote it from his recollections. That’s why I have such admiration for translators. They are intuitive rather than intellectual.
Not only is what publishers pay them completely miserable, but they don’t see their work as literary creation. There are some books I would have liked to translate into Spanish, but they would have involved as much work as writing my own books and I wouldn’t have made enough money to eat.
Earlier this year, Paul Elie published an extensive history of One Hundred Years of Solitude that elaborates on Rabassa’s role.
“García Márquez himself read One Hundred Years of Solitude in the Harper & Row edition and pronounced it better than his Spanish original,” Elie writes. “He called Rabassa ‘the best Latin American writer in the English language.’ ”
Source: The Paris Review