A Duel for Magical Realism: Translating Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Published on Mar 8, 2018

by Kali Faulwetter

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
March 6, 1927 - April 17, 2004 

“I knew this Colombian writer was eccentric when he wrote me saying that he doesn’t use adverbs ending with -mente in Spanish and would like to avoid adverbs ending in -ly in English.” She remembers thinking, what do you say in English except slowly? “Well, I came up with all types of things, like without haste.” - Edith Grossman, on translating Marquez.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a renowned Colombian fiction writer, and pioneer of magical realism is one of the authors who favored and supported his translators. Edith Grossman and Gregory Rabassa, the two who have translated most of his works, are not only tested and trusted by Marquez but have had lucrative careers themselves. 

Marquez praised Grossman and Rambassa for “placing intuitiveness above intellectualism”; he regarded them as exemplary translators, not only translating word for word but meaning for meaning. Because he wrote so well in Spanish, he felt confident giving creative control over to Grossmand and Rambassa, allowing them to re-create his works in English, some of which would turn out to be preferred by Marquez himself.

  • Edith Grossman claims that Marquez hated adverbs that ended in -mente (equivalent to adverbs ending in -ly, in English). This is a great example of translation as art: to honor her author’s style, Grossman had to get creative. For example, she would use “without haste” instead of “slowly” when translating “despacio” instead of “lentamente”.

  • Grossman is responsible for translating most of Garcia Marquez’s works, including Love in the Time of Cholera (1988), The General in His Labyrinth (1991), Strange Pilgrims: Stories 1993, Of Love and Other Demons (1995), News of a Kidnapping (1997), Living to Tell the Tale (2003), and Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2005).

  • Gregory Rabassa, who translated the Marquez books that Grossman did not, contributed to the 1960s Latin American writing boom that cemented Marquez as a literary giant. Rambassa translated One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is arguably Marquez’s most famous work.

  • Marquez famously praised Rambassa for his work on One Hundred Years of Solitude. He loved his English translation so much, that he even regarded it as a separate work of art in its own right. Dallas Galvin, Coordinator of the Translation Center at Columbia University, made a statement that "many Spanish-speaking people who are bilingual prefer to read Rabassa's English, because it is clearer than the original Spanish."

Because realism turned magical is such an important theme in all of Garcia Marquez’s works, for his translators ‘magical realism’ takes on a whole new definition in ‘meaning for meaning’ translation. Garcia Marquez is a friend to the art of translation because he knew, for a translator to do their work properly, they must magically create a new work that exists within the realism of the original.

“I think translation is the cement that holds literary civilization together. It is the way that we learn about other literatures, other people's – I’m avoiding the word “cultures” because it’s not a favorite word of mine. The way we learn about the world is through translation. Since not everyone can read every language in the world, the only way to find out what people are writing and thinking are to read translations.” - Edith Grossman’s response to the question, ‘Why does translation matter?’

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in numbers:

Age of Edith Grossman, who resides in Manhattan, New York. Marquez and Rabassa are both deceased.

Number of copies sold of One-Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel has been translated into 36 languages.

According to Newsweek, and the American Translators Association, “Edith Grossman is one of 10 people who can make a living doing only literary translation in the U.S.” 

Number of Marquez’s books Rambassa has translated from the original Spanish:

One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970 ("Cien años de soledad")
The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1976 ("El otoño del patriarca"), for which he received the Pen Translation Prize.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982 ("Crónica de una muerte anunciada")
Leaf Storm ("La hojarasca")

Read The Washington Post's interview with Edith Grossman here.

Read Vox’s interview with Gregory Rabassa on translating One Hundred Years of Solitude here.

For Grossman’s top 5 recommendations for books on and of translation, click here.


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About This Article
Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We are researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog. You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site - just contact kali@motaword.com.

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Citations: ParisReview, OrientLink, UTDallas, TheGuardian, TheGuardian2, TranslateMedia