17 August 2012

The "third" book of Hopscotch

Hopscotch was the book that got me started in transla­tion, that won me that National Book Award [for Translation, now defunct], and also led me to do One Hundred Years of Solitude. García Márquez wanted me to do his book but at the moment I was tied up with Miguel Ángel Asturias’s “banana trilogy.” Cortázar told Gabo to wait, which he did, to the evident satisfaction of all con­cerned. So Hopscotch was for me what the hydrographic cliché calls a watershed moment as my life took the direction it was to follow from then on. I hadn’t read the book but I skimmed some pages and did two sample chapters, the first and one far­ther along, I can’t remember which. Editor Sara Blackburn and Julio both liked my version and I was off and away.

What drew me to the novel and to Julio were the varie­gated interests he and I had in common: jazz, humor, liberal politics, and inventive art and writing. As I have said, I read the complete novel only as I translated it. This strange and uncommon procedure somehow followed the nature of the book it­self and I do not think it hurt the translation in any way. In­deed, it may have insured its success. ...

One stiff-necked critic was outraged that he should be called upon to read the novel twice. Julio wrote me and figu­ratively shook his head over the fact that the poor boob did not know that he was being toyed with. He went on to say that it was bad enough to ask people to read his novel once, let alone twice. He would never do such a thing. When I finished the translation I remembered the instructions at the beginning and realized that I had offered a third reading of the novel by simply barging through from the first page to the last. What that obtuse critic had not realized was that hopscotch is a game, something to be played. The version that Julio had sketched out on the cover of the novel was evidently the way the game is played in Argentina, starting on a square called Earth and following the numbers to a square called Heaven. It was only natural that his intellectual friskiness should have been noticed by his countryman, Jorge Luis Borges, who was the first to publish Julio’s work. Would that their poor, trou­bled and so often solemn birthplace had been more like them in its history. Cortázar also maintained that our species was misnamed and should have been called homo ludens (nothing to do with any coughing gays).

- Translator Gregory Rabassa writing about Hopscotch, from his memoir If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents. (Excerpts here)


  1. Have Rabassa's book on my wishlist as one to read, once I get through a few other translation related books.

  2. It's a good read, Gary. On wish list now is David Bellos's Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

  3. have that on my Kindle, but it's vying with about another 50-60 books for my attention

  4. 50-60 books

    I know the feeling!