In early 2011, while I was in the middle of translating your novel EL ANTICUARIO, you candidly asked me why I had taken the task upon myself, and at the time – as far as I recall – I gave you no concrete response. Now that the work is done, and now that we have received the good news that the translation will be published by Grove/Atlantic in 2014, I am reminded that your question has remained unanswered, for which reason I’d like to take a few moments to respond.
As you and I both know, though many readers may not, the first Faveronian writings I was exposed to were critical articles that you had posted on the blog you were keeping at that time, Puente Aéreo, which my good friend and your compatriot, Renzo Roncagliolo, had turned me onto. I was immediately drawn to the unabashed way you were dissecting shaky arguments in literature and popular culture, showing up politicians and pundits for the falsity they tried to sell as fact, and turning common misconceptions on their head with a caustic yet good humored critique that I had not seen elsewhere and that I wanted to share with non-Spanish-speaking friends, colleagues, and readers in general. This led me to start by translating a few of those articles and posting them on my own blog, The Smelting Process, as well as on The Daily Kos.
When I saw on your blog that EL ANTICUARIO had been published, I immediately started scouring the internet for reviews. My curiosity was boiling over as I wondered what a novel would be like at the hand of a critic like you. When I got my hands on a copy and started to read, I was immediately struck by the opulent language you had employed – a narrative feature that in Gringolandia is generally frowned upon, or that at least, has been abandoned since Hemingway & Co. made their proclamations of the economy of language. This was the first seduction. I knew that a version of EL ANTICUARIO in English would need to go against the grain, would be justified in recreating that opulent linguistic ambiance, and the temptation to take on that task was already hard to endure; but this did not convince me completely.
As I continued my reading of the novel, letting my mind give in to the whirling, tantric prose and haunting vignettes that, together, create a maelstromesque narrative – perfectly in harmony with the labyrinthine structure of the city and asylum of the tale – I could not help but think that what I was reading could be genealogically traced to the Gothic narrative of Hawthorne, Poe, and Kafka. This hunch was confirmed through a couple of our conversations which revealed to me the deep influence that these writers, especially Hawthorne, and that genre have had on your aesthetic sensibility. And as I pondered this fact, I started to try to recall what U.S. novelist has dared to follow those footsteps and done so successfully. I could think of none. This was the second seduction. It became clear to me that a translation of your novel would need to be situated in the Gothic tradition without falling into the trap of anachronism. It would need to possess a new sensibility. EL ANTICUARIO is (and THE ANTIQUARIAN must be) Gothic and modern at the same time; though its language is complex, to say it with Vallejo, the sensibility “is simple and human and, at a first glance, could be taken as ancient or does not call into question whether it is modern or not.” It is, in this sense, the new sensibility of your book that motivated me to translate it. Having realized this, I was closer to an affirmative decision, but was not yet convinced entirely.
Nearing the end of the novel and discovering the method by which the mystery is solved, a perverse smile rippled across my face as I realized what a great challenge it would be to translate the linguistic acrobatics of the original without allowing the translation to drift too far away from the Spanish. This is perhaps the most selfish part of the art of translation; anyone who has translated even a few pages of literature will agree that the more complex and perplexing the source text, the more challenging and illuminating the process of translation. It is not just a matter of rendering incomprehensible language comprehensible, but of translating oneself to the matter that the text is talking about. Since I am the type of guy who usually lives in the dark, I try to situate myself in the vicinity of luminous things. (After all, “home is where is the hearth is,” right?) I do not wish to go into detail about how I translated the resolution of your novel or what these acrobatics concretely consist of – since this discovery, I believe, should occur in a reading of the novel itself and not here, or at least not now – but I will say that this feature of the narrative structure was the determining factor of my decision. When I saw the way your resolution had been carefully, technically, and humorously formulated, I knew that I wanted to face that challenge and translate your novel.
That being said, Gustavo, I only humbly request that, after you read my translation and have compared it to your Spanish version, while bearing in mind that the most loyal translation is never the most literal, you do not refrain from unleashing your most critical hounds.