20 March 2012

'The spaghetti solitude of the giraffe'

What is one to make of ‘a solidão de esparguete da girafa’ on page one? Should I have translated that as ‘the spaghetti solitude of the giraffe’ rather than ‘the lofty, long-drawn-out solitude of the giraffe’, which was my final version? Does ‘spaghetti solitude’ mean anything in English? But then does ‘solidão de esparguete’ mean anything in Portuguese? Am I committing the translator’s cardinal sin of domesticating and explaining? Possibly, but those are the kinds of decisions I had to make all the time. Sometimes, the images slipped satisfyingly into English, for example, ’as cobras enrolavam-se em espirais moles de cagalhão’ became ‘cobras lay coiled in soft, dungy spirals’; sometimes I simply went with what was there: ‘no tanque dos hipopótamos inchava a lenta tranquilidade dos gordos’ became ‘the hippopotamus pool exuded the languid sloth of the obese’.

As a translator, you have to be endlessly alert and adaptable and also (one hopes) as endlessly inventive as the author, and in this book [The Land at the End of the World by António Lobo Antunes], you need to capture, if you can, the hypnotic quality of the prose.

– from "Interview With Margaret Jull Costa" by Sam Gordon, The White Review

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