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If This Be Treason [Hardcover]

Gregory Rabassa

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Book Description

April 5 2005
The long-awaited memoir and meditation on the art of translating by the most acclaimed American translator of Latin American literature.

Gregory Rabassa's influence as a translator is incalculable. His translations of Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch have helped make these some of the most widely read and respected works in world literature. (García Márquez was known to say that the English translation of One Hundred Years was better than the Spanish original.) In If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents Rabassa offers a cool-headed and humorous defense of translation, laying out his views on the art of the craft. Anecdotal, and always illuminating, If This Be Treason traces Rabassa's career, from his boyhood on a New Hampshire farm, his school days "collecting" languages, the two-and-a-half years he spent overseas during WWII, his travels, until one day "I signed a contract to do my first translation of a long work [Cortázar's Hopscotch] for a commercial publisher." Rabassa concludes with his "rap sheet," a consideration of the various authors and the over 40 works he has translated. This long-awaited memoir is a joy to read, an instrumental guide to translating, and a look at the life of one of its great practitioners.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (April 5 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811216195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811216197
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,529,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Commonplaces may come and go, but one that has held forth over the years to the dismay and discouragement of translators is the Italian punning canard traduttore, traditore (translator, traitor), leading one to believe that the translator, worse than an unfortunate bungler, is a treacherous knave. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Witty, Fascinating Memoir By One Of My Literary Heroes. May 19 2005
By Jana L. Perskie - Published on Amazon.com
Many years ago I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" for the first time. I was entranced by the tale of Macondo and its populace, the poetic elegance of the language, and the author's ability to turn the written page into a magic carpet. I was living in Latin America back then and just beginning to speak Spanish, so I read the novel in English. I didn't really credit the translator's work very much, sad to say. I was young. What did I know? However, the narrative was, and is, written in such an exquisite manner that I took note of the translator's name, Gregory Rabassa. A few years later, still living south of the border, my ability to speak the language had improved significantly - for which I am thankful! I reread Marquez' masterpiece, this time in Spanish, and remembering the English version I was struck at the accuracy of Mr. Rabassa's translation. Not only had he interpreted the author's text from Spanish into English with exactitude, (the words, their meaning, correct grammar, syntax, and idioms), he brilliantly communicated the culture of coastal Colombia, the author's writing style, in fact, his very voice. Most extraordinarily, however, he was able to capture the lilt, lyricism, and love of language. This ability to transcend linguistic and cultural borders, proves Gregory Rabassa is a gifted writer and poet in his own right. I'm a big fan!

I cannot think of another who has had such an impact on Latin American literature. Through him English-speakers, worldwide, have been able to appreciate the works of such notable authors as: Octavio Paz, Miguel Angel Asturias, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Amado, Antönio Lobo Antunes, and, of course, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

When I discovered that Mr. Rabassa had written a memoir, "If This Be Treason: Translation And Its Dyscontents-A Memoir," I couldn't wait to read it. I have done so, and enjoyed every page. Not only does he discuss his own fascinating life, he writes about so many talented authors, whose books I have loved, and his collaboration with them. His writing style is conversational, witty, and provocative in its honesty. One feels as if seated at the table with him, over a good cup of coffee or a bottle of wine, listening to tales of the people, anecdotes and incidents which have been so important in his life.

Also included are essays on the writers he has worked with and the books he has brought into English. These memoirs make for an excellent read - especially for those who have loved the novels Gregory Rabassa has translated. Kudos to the author!!

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Translation is NOT so Simple May 31 2005
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
I had always thought that translating a book would be a relatively simple manner for anyone who spoke two languages. After all, the author had done all the work, the translator merely took the written word and converted it, almost word for word into the new language.

It is only as I have grown older that I realize that the meaning behind the words or between the lines is as important as the words themselves. It is a skill all its own to take the writing of someone else and faithfully produce a new work with a meaning as close as possible to what the original author was trying to say.

This is compounded when the setting of the original work is so different than that of the intended reader. For instance the Spanish heritage in Latin America being translated to the world of the United States. Every aspect from life, from the law, from the history needs to be considered.

Perhaps the untimate compliment comes to the translator when the author says that the translation is better than the original - as Garcia Marquez has said of his book "One Hundred Years" as translated by Gregory Rabassa.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read for translators Nov. 18 2010
By Patricia B. Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I first learned of Gregory Rabassa's work when I was looking for a translation of "Cien años de soledad" to buy as a gift years ago. As soon as I read the first lines I knew he had gotten it, he really had gotten it. I skipped ahead to other passages, curious to see if he had translated certain things right (as a translator, I just couldn't help it, it's in the genes) and he had, quite right and very creatively. So it was with great anticipation that I bought his memoir, "If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents" to discover his own writing and to see if he would share his trade secrets. Well, I was happy to learn that he struggled with the same issues that other translators from Spanish have struggled with and happy to see how he resolved them. I hope he finds the time to share more of the specifics in future writings. His approach to translating the title and the first lines of book is inspiring and, in my view, guarantees that human translators will be in business for years to come. No computer can possibly "think again", as he recommends, once the words in a simple declarative statement have been rendered into another language, to see if they -individually and collectively- convey the same sense, feeling, meaning, intent, purpose, and message of the original in the specific context they appear. By translating Cortázar, García Márquez, and other giants of Latin American fiction, Rabassa has given English language readers a real treasure, and by telling us now how he went about it, he has enriched our translator's toolbox as well. Rabassa's memoir covers a lot of ground and I can understand he might have been tired towards the end. I enjoyed this book, learned a lot from it, and I highly recommend it.
5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dyscontents? July 17 2005
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book with the hope of obtaining the general insights derived from a long life led as an accomplished educator and translator. In part this was delivered. Mostly, however, "If This Be Treason" is focused on the various texts actually translated. (I have read none of these books.) Those who study or enjoy (or both) Latin American literature would appreciate more this memoir by Gregory Rabassa. I did learn a number of things about the art of translating, such as the often hard problem in getting the title to a book right. (Also, the jacket design includes two slightly different photographs of the same spiral staircase, nicely evoking the changed reality when a book is translated--even by the best.)

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