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Translating Gabriel Garcia Marquez

5 September 2016

One day an agent I know called me and said "Would you be interested in translating Gabriel Garcia Marquez?", and I said: "Are you kidding me?" It was to do his great book Love in the Time of Cholera. It took six or seven months to translate. I mean there's no union representing us, so I tend to work seven days a week...

There is no such thing as a literal translation - languages are entirely different systems and you can't impose Spanish on English or vice versa. English has its own structure and its own lexicon and Spanish has its own structure and its own lexicon, and they don't occupy the same space. If it's a question of my not being able to translate a passage because there are words I don't know and I can't find them anywhere, I can't find them online and I can't find them in my dictionaries, then I'll ask the author. And if the author is no longer with us, then I will wing it, as we say, and just do the best I can...

I often think of translation as an aural/oral practice. You have to be able to hear the language of the original. You have to be able to hear the tonalities, what the language indicates about the intelligence or class of the speaker. You have to be able to hear that, in my case in Spanish. And then you have to be able to speak it in English. You know, some idiot asked Gregory Rabassa, García Márquez's first translator of One Hundred Years of Solitude, if he knew enough Spanish to do it. And Gregory said: "You asked me the wrong question. The real question is, do I know enough English?'

Edith Grossman, well-known translator of works by Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez, in the Observer