Thoughts on translating two short stories

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When picking these short story excerpts, I expected a somewhat easy translation, but both stories posed challenges. Half way through it, I thought about how boring the process would be without tackling these difficult areas. When I was searching for something to translate, in the back of my mind was the idea to translate Peruvian authors that were not part of the Latin American canon. In class we spoke about the need to highlight stories written by women, writers from the Black and LGBTQ community who receive less attention than their anglo counterparts. Since most translations are from anglo authors, well-known white writers, it’s imperative that we further our research to illuminate narratives not familiar to Western readers, thereby expanding our understanding of how other people live.

As mentioned in the essay, Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness, by John Keene, there’s a low percentage of writers being translated from non-anglo languages into English. We are missing narratives that could teach us about how other people live, and not feed us the same western philosophies and ideologies. Literature translation mirrors other parts of society, which often ignore the experiences of individuals from minority communities, underrepresented in many aspects of society.

The interactions between humans and the unknown environment has always captivated me. This was true for The violinist from the mountains, by Karina Pacheco Medrano. The story took me back to a Peru that I was familiar with as child: the picturesque mountains, the idiosyncrasies of living in a small town, the strange occurrences that go unexplained, the musical notes imbued in the life of the youth. By translating this folklore tale about of a mysterious violinist, I was able to connect to a past that in some ways had disappeared.

Medrano writes in a romantic and allegorical language that is often hard to translate, since it reads off as passive sentences in English. As a result, I flipped a few of the sentences around to make it fit the English language. There were several lines where words were traded for others that weren’t exactly their literal equivalents, but they worked. I secretly felt guilty when I strayed too far, but I knew, as long as I didn’t completely abandon the writer’s intention, I was bound to find words that were closely related.

Most of all, I wanted to explore what it would feel like to translate a deeply Peruvian story with traditional imagery, setting, and characters. It reminded of family and the town I lived in as a child where everyone would congregate in the town square for festivities. In every small town, there are tall-tales and myths that you hear from your peers, and later tell your kids. Sometimes they come from books, most of the time they arrive on your front step through gossip or chisme!

Some challenges presented by the text:

1. “Del segundo intento lo que se sabe es muy confuso: concluyó con la volcadura del autobús donde viajaba el médium que había escalado hasta la cumbre habitada por el violinista.”

Original
What is known from the second try is very confusing: it ended when the bus that was carrying a spiritual medium toward the summit, tipped over.

Final Edit
The details from the second visit are very confusing. The trip ended when the bus, carrying the spiritual medium toward the summit, tipped over.


2. “Hasta el mismo zumbido de las abejas lejanas parecía dejar plasmada una sombra perfecta que recordaba a la flor, a la miel, al polen arrastrado en su vuelo.”

Original
Even the buzzing of the faraway bees seemed to leave a perfect shadow imprint that made the flower remember, the honey, and the pollen, dragged in its flight.

Final Edit
Even the buzzing of faraway bees seemed to leave a perfect shadow imprint, alluding to the flower, the honey, and the pollen, dragged in its flight.

3. “Aunque su música siguiera alentando ternura en los pechos de los oyentes, cuyos corazones se agitaban como tambores.”

Original
“Even then, the music would continue inspiring tenderness in the chest of those who listened, who hearts would become agitated like drums.”

Final Edit
Still, the music continued to inspire tenderness in those who listened, as their hearts stirred like drums.


A writer’s pastime, by Claudia Ulloa Donoso was imbued with dark humor and melancholy, an obvious contrast to Medrano’s piece. It also painted a contemporary picture of a writer living their own internal misery. The images, setting, and realistic character make it easily identifiable, as it mirrors our cold and alienating urban landscape. The dark humor, stark tone, bluntness and the unforgiving nature existence is spread throughout the writing. We see a jaded writer who doesn’t care about life anymore, so he goes on barely living.

I noticed that I didn’t hesitate to put myself into the body of this writer, because I too often have these thoughts appearing in my head though not always as sardonic. I too have roamed the streets, observing people’s banality or hypocritical nature, or arrived at a dirty apartment, wondering where my life has gone.

I wanted to keep some of those funny or odd moments to preserve the original voice. Keeping true to the tone and the rhythm of the sentences was something to keep in mind. Many of the lines were too long and their English equivalents were awkward and didn’t align well. So, at times I cut sentences down, and played with the punctuation. Some of my favorite lines in Spanish had to been shortened or reworded with words that were not exactly literal, but conveyed the feeling and rhythm of a the piece.

For example, the faces of indifference. Some of the literal translations did not have the same tone or feeling English in, so I had to look for similar words. When I arrive home, I find the consequence of my literary career: “

Some challenges presented by the text:

1. A veces se oxidan, pero al final eso es mejor que estar inmóvil para siempre en la prótesis de cadera de alguna vieja avara que se queja de las palomas que anidan en su balcón.

Original
Sometimes they get rusty, but at the end it’s better than standing forever still in the prosthetic hip of a handicapped person or inside the fake teeth of some miserly old lady that complains about pigeons nesting in her balcony.

Final Edit
Sometimes they rust, but in the end it’s better than standing forever in the prosthetic hip of a handicapped person, or inside the fake teeth of some miserly old lady that complains about pigeons nesting in her balcony.


2. El gato se ha quedado dormido sobre el lomo cálido del televisor que nunca apago. Hay un olor rancio en el ambiente. La lucecita del contestador parpadea en rojo.

Original
The cat has fallen asleep over the warm back of the T.V that I never shut off. There is a rapid smell in the atmosphere. The light on the answering machine blinks red.

Final Edit
The cat has fallen asleep over the warm spine of the TV I never shut off. There is a rancid smell in the air. The little light on the answering machine flickers red.


3. Nadie dijo nada; todos de luto e inmóviles contemplaban con los ojos bien abiertos y sin lágrimas la tierra seco que caía directamente sobre la cara del difunto, como la cocoa cernida sobre la mantequilla para un torta de chocolate, poco a poco, hasta cubrirlo totalmente.

Original
No one said anything; everyone mourning and contemplating with eyes wide open and without tears the dry earth fell directly over the face of the dead, like burnt coco over butter for a chocolate cake, little by little, until completely covering it.

Final Edit
No one said anything; everyone in mourning and motionless, contemplating with eyes wide open. And without tears, the dry earth fell directly over the face of the deceased, like coco sifted over butter for a chocolate cake, little by little, until completely covering it.