Santiago Roncagliolo’s Tribute to Edith Grossman
Edith Grossman is honored on the occasion of her 80th birthday. One of the most celebrated literary translators of our time, Grossman has been praised for her translations of work by Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and many others. Her acclaimed 2003 translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote is already considered a classic.
This tribute was written by Santiago Roncagliolo. He is the author of Red April and Hi, This Is Conchita & Other Stories.
During my first travels in the USA, I found in a bookstore an English edition of Love in the Time of Cholera. On the cover was written in big characters: TRANSLATION BY EDITH GROSSMAN. Below, in tiny and sorry letters, it had to admit: written by Gabriel García Márquez. I bought the book. And so far, it is the only novel I have read translated from Spanish. I still remember its elegance among the exuberance of García Márquez’s prose, the way it could make natural in English the historiadas, the percudidos, the calamidades, and many other concepts, all of them too excessive to exist in any language other than Spanish.
For my honor and pleasure, years later, Edith turned out to be my translator. And I have learned from her a few lessons about literature which I would like to share here:
1. Good work comes from a humble attitude: Edith asks questions. She respects an author and wants to know how he understands his own work. That is not as common as it should be. Translators know they must make a text readable in their own languages. Many times, they fear to let authors participate in—and probably disagree with—that work. Edith does not want to miss any detail, nor deal with writers’ big egos, and is unafraid to challenge her own perceptions.
2. I need a translator with a sense of humor. Mainly black humor. For Peruvians—and most Latin Americans—humor has always been a weapon against the painful aspects of reality. And that is clear in my books. But the richer a country gets, the more politically correct its humor becomes. Sometimes in European countries, I have the feeling that readers are not grasping the humor on my books, probably because translators don’t. Unfortunately, there is no handbook for that. It is up to the translator’s ability in reading, and of course, sense of humor. I am happy to declare that Edith understands all the double senses, the nuances and subtleties as an experienced Peruvian.
3. It is important to work with lovely persons. Let’s face it: we’re not getting rich with this business. We do this for pleasure, because money means not so much to us as creating beauty, exchanging interesting ideas or discovering new realities. Edith is a great professional and an amazing reader. But the most important for me, each time I go to New York, is going to lunch with her, always to the same restaurant. There we sit and talk about Miguel de Cervantes, gossip about Nobel Prizes, discuss machismo, flirt with each other, analyze the Palestinian conflict, comment on the latest books and, most of all, have lots of fun.
Dear Edith: the best thing about working with you is you. I hope to keep that for 80 years more.