August 27th, 2014


My Spanish class is reading Soñar en Cubano (Dreaming in Cuban) by Cristina García.  We'd thought it was written in Spanish and then translated into English, but unfortunately (for us, anyway) it turned out to be the other way around, and we are reading a translation by someone named Marisol Palés.  The translation is fairly good considering that García uses a lot of U.S. idioms, but there are some very weird things here.  Specifically, Palés has made up a few things that aren't in the book.

This paragraph, for example.  In English, the original, it says, "After Ernesto died, Felicia learned from his mother that they'd been born minutes apart, on the same day, of the same year."  And the Spanish: "Después de morir Ernesto, Felicia aprendió de su madre que todos volvíamos a nacer a los pocos minutos de haber muerto, en ese mismo día de ese mismo año."  Which means, more or less, "After Ernesto died, Felicia learned from his mother that we all come back to be born a few minutes after death, in the same day of the same year."

I mean, what the hell?  The English shows how close Felicia and Ernesto were, that they might have been soul-mates.  The Spanish comes out of nowhere and seems to set up some plot line based on reincarnation that can't possibly be followed up on, since the translator isn't, you know, writing the book.  And I don't think there's any way this can be a misreading on her part, not when she's translated other, much harder, passages.

Elsewhere she turns dawn into dusk, and has someone lying face down in the bathtub instead of on her back.  Nothing that changes the meaning of the novel, but there's just no reason for any of it.

I think it's the fact that I've had books translated into other languages that makes me so queasy about this.  How many of my books contain parts I've never written?  How would I ever know?  I've had translations into Spanish, but I haven't seen them.  And if I had, I'd probably be too apprehensive to read them.

Anyway, all this has made me want try my hand at translating stories from Spanish to English.  At least I'd know enough not to change the author's own words.


This is probably as good a place as any to mention that I've signed up for a ten-day Spanish intensive class in Costa Rica, for near the end of the year.  I'm getting more excited (and a bit frazzled) as the time gets closer.