If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents
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If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  62 ratings  ·  19 reviews
A "Los Angeles Times" Favorite Book of the Year for 2005.
Gregory Rabassa's influence as a translator is tremendous. His translations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch" have helped make these some of the the most widely read and respected works in world literature. (Garcia Marquez was known to say that the English t...more
Paperback, 189 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (first published 2005)
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Megan
This year, I'm trying to tackle the books on my shelves that sit half-read, but show some sort of promise. In that spirit, I picked up If This be Treason for the third time. Third time's a charm: I finally finished it.

I pre-ordered this book a decade ago as soon as it was announced, as I was translating a book (Dos Mujeres en Praga) for my senior thesis in undergrad. A year later, a close friend gave me a second copy (he was unaware I had a first). Unfortunately, the first part of the book turn...more
Mark
I was quite excited when I spotted this at my local Algoritam: the literary memoirs of a well respected translator (he Englished several works by García Márquez, Cortázar and Vargas Llosa, among many others) with the subtitle: “Translation and Its Dyscontents”. I happen to be fascinated by translation, and I love to analyse - and lived with - its discontents, so what’s not to like here?

Well, for one, Mr Rabassa has very little to say on the subject.

He disdains translation theory, his mantra is:...more
David
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the July 12, 2014 edition of The Monitor

After WWII, the English-speaking world experienced a boom of interest in Latin-American literature that arguably had a profound effect on writing published across the globe. Vital to this movement was the work of Gregory Rabassa, who translated some of the key texts into English and opened the floodgates for others.

Rabassa has won multiple awards for his work: the PEN Translation Prize, the Ralph Manheim Medal fo...more
Evanston Public  Library
Reading Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, in English, I realized I was in the hands of two geniuses -- the author and his translator. In this memoir the translator takes us behind the printed page, into his relationship with many Latino authors and their words. How to capture both the meaning and the music? Rabassa explains that his technique includes an initial reading with no translation in mind, then working with a mix of fidelity and whimsy. Sometimes mistakes can lead to a ric...more
Daniel Burton-Rose
I'd like to see a book like this from Howard Goldblatt, one of the most prolific translators of Chinese literature.
Suzanne
The only reason this is marked 4 stars and not 5 is because I haven't finished it.

Ever since St. John's days, I've been reluctant to read works in translation, since I know how much can be lost by a bad translation, having committed more than my fair share of treason in language tutorials. Reading the first half of Rabassa's memoir, about craftsmanship required of the translator who wishes to avoid betraying author, readers, and herself, led me to a New Year's resolution--to stop avoiding works...more
Ilya
Gregory Rabassa was born in 1922 in New York State in a Cuban sugar dealer's family. He has had an interest in Romance languages all his life: in high school he took French and Latin, in college French, Spanish and Portuguese, and serving in the U.S. Army during the Allied invasion of Italy, he learned Italian. After the war he went to graduate school, defending a dissertation on black characters in Brazilian fiction, and started teaching at Columbia. He befriended several translators of Latin A...more
Leif
The first essay, "The Many Faces of Treason", is necessary reading. Here, just listen to the way it opens:
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. Before copping a plea and offering a nolo contendere, let me see wherein this treason lies and
...more
Ed
Jul 11, 2009 Ed rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Any English-speaking admirer of Latin American literature.
Recommended to Ed by: Bob Stewart
The Italian canard "traduttore, traditore" (translator, traitor) leads one to feel that the translator has been held to be a lowly and treacherous knave.

Translation of a novel requires considerably more than knowledge of two languages; the translator must appreciate dialect, colloquialism and slang, and betray their meanings in the "target language" (jargon Rabassa avoids). Rabassa handles this treason, his art, making choices and exposing many authors (...too numerous to name here) in no less t...more
oriana
This book is actually kind of slow-going, mostly consisting of strange linguistic digressions and discussions of authors I've never read, or even heard of. It's nerdery at its best, but only makes sense to read if you're really into any of the authors whose books he's done.

But the discussions on Cortazar made it all worth it, for me. For those of you who've read Hopscotch and 62: A Model Kit, I'll tell you this, which will blow your mind: Rabassa translated them without having read them first...more
Amir
The man is a masterful translator, but one cannot help but feel that it was his prolonged closeness with publishers which got this out into the world. As a translator it held some points of comfortable identity, but other than that it was a long conversation which, while fascinating in person, was not a book.
Anastasia Kozak
I really didn't have trouble with Rabassa's style -- his bragging rights are well-deserved, in my opinion. The conversational mini-reflections and the exotic locations were a welcome complement to some hefty theory in my life at the moment. Really appreciate the descriptions of specific "troubles" he'd encountered in working with Spanish- and Portuguese-language texts.
Rise
A memoir by wunderkind translator Gregory Rabassa, the book details his childhood intimations of a facility for languages and his initiation into the art of translation. It also describes, lovingly, his various relationships with authors he translated, the background information on the books he worked on, and his candid estimations of each of his translated author or book. What makes the book very palatable to me, other than Rabassa's priceless interactions with diverse writers, is the inside st...more
Drew
If interested in the subtle, nuanced, artistic decisions that a literary translator must wrestle with in pursuing their craft, this book is a must read. It chronicles the life's work of one of the greatest translators of Latin American literature into English and a pioneer in the field by none other than himself. However, only the most devoted students of Mr. Rabassa's life and work will be able to wade through the stream of consciousness style that dwells in self-praise and reminiscences of lif...more
Christine
This was a slow read, mainly because I was not familiar with many of the authors he talks about nor was I familiar with the linguistic aspects of the novel. However, it has influenced me to read more Latin American and Brazilian authors since the texts he has translated seem really interesting.
Jeremy
the book itself is not amazing - an interesting life told well. however, it is a who's who of Latin American authors who I would never had heard of had I not read this book. For me, it's been a map to finding some of the best books i've ever read.
Julia Beck


Wonderfully informative, a must read for those of us who have to read world literature in translation.
Leigh
Just a tad disappointing...
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Gregory Rabassa is a literary translator from Spanish and Portuguese to English who currently teaches at Queens College. His translations include works by literary giants such as António Lobo Antunes, Jorge Amado, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Lezama Lima, Gabriel García Márquez and Eça de Queirós.
More about Gregory Rabassa...
One Hundred Years of Solitude Hopscotch In Evil Hour Leaf Storm and Other Stories An Introduction to Literature in Brazil

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“So the poor translator must not just go back and forth between two languages, but if he is worthy of his calling must shift between two selves, with all the perils of this induced schizophrenia.” 8 likes
“The translator, we should know, is a writer too. As a matter of fact, he could be called the ideal writer because all he has to do is write; plot, theme, characters, and all other essentials have already been provided, so he can just sit down and write his ass off. (p. 8)” 2 likes
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