Rabassa is well noted as translator of such difficult, joyful works as HOPSCOTCH translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa.
He is perhaps best known as the translator into the English language of Cien años de soledad: Edición conmemorativa (The 40th Anniversary Edition) (Spanish Edition).
Here we find why the discipline of translation (which he repeatedly stresses he did without a prior global reading of the book, but following the book word by word, translating, as if Picasso claimed he just painted . . .) served him well, as in these octogenarian memoirs he allows himself the luxury and fun of digression.
Repeating that he translates by following the book word by word is like Lance Armstrong saying he just gets on a bike and rides. One interesting revelation of his translation methodology arises when he searches for a proper English equivalent for an obscure Peruvian Amazonian tree. He "cheats" by checking the French translation of the book (by Vargas Llosa, if I recall correctly) where the word is found generically translated as arbre (tree).
If this be treason . . .
He often thanks that early experience with puzzlemaster Cortazar in Rayuela (Spanish Edition), but also repeatedly wonderingly refers to Finnegans Wake (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin), as if this work too would delight him to translate.
Into English . . .
He compares in fact, translating Cortazar's Gliglish as an experience of the Wake.
Please realize therefore within this book lie the endearing memories of an old man who has done some remarkable translations, stretched across the frame of an elegant originating text, transformed into our own rough and brutal Saxon tongue, maintaining the poetry and purpose as intact as possible.
It is not a how-to book, neither in methodology nor in the business. In fact, he admits he translated the now ubiquitous One Hundred Years of Solitude (Oprah's Book Club) (also approved by President Clinton) in the Sixties as piece work, with a one time fee, and no royalties. In this we realize it is not the translator who is the treasonous one mentioned in the title in reference to the ancient saying: traduttore traditore; we see rather it is the humble and unknown translator who suffers betrayal. The best translator is never heard, never seen, and rarely paid. The best translator's voice goes unheard, until now, with this marvelous book.
He lists the various Latin American authors he has translated (including the Portuguese of Brazil) and reflects upon the experience as remembered decades later. He even contemplates how he might produce a different text now. His meditation thus extends to thoughts on reading in itself, with quotes on how we read a new book each time we pick up the same book . . .
Please do not look here therefore for lessons in translation, although you may find them, nor for lessons in how to run your translation agency (err, can I get a job?) but interesting reflections upon reading and upon the act of translating.
Often we find him, unrestrained by the grim duty of translating a text at hand, running off with irrelevant references and images, yet, please, forgive him in this; he is elderly and has worked hard all of is life at this thankless labor, and is due his chance to let what WB Yeats called his pony run free, to go to the stable, to pull out the bolt.
Worth a gentle read, in this age of automatic, computerized, and so often faulty googly translations, which truly betray the originating text and author's heart.