Back at my suburban Milwaukee middle school, they started us out on foreign language classes relatively early. I was on the verge of taking French in sixth grade, but thanks to an impulsive decision (and peer pressure from a friend) I signed up for Spanish instead. In high school and then in college, once we progressed well beyond the basics of conversation and verb conjugation, we were assigned selections from Spanish-language authors, including chapters from such books as Cien Años de Soledad and La Casa de los Espíritus. Nine years’ worth of language classes led me to a profound love for Latin American authors and other world literature in translation.
As I mentioned, Cien Años de Soledad -or- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is one of the first books that got me hooked. The original language was beautiful, but I’ve since found that many of the English translations shine on their own. Aside from the outstanding source material, this is due to the fact that some of the translators are legendary in his or her own right. García Márquez has boasted that his translator, Gregory Rabassa, is the best in the world of Latin American translation. (It doesn’t hurt, of course, that García Márquez is a Nobel Prize winning author.)
Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate helped to develop my appreciation for magic realism and settings far south of the United States. I soon started devouring other Latin American authors, moving on to Manuel Puig, Julia Alvarez, and Brazilian author Jorge Amado.
My most recent favorite in this vein is Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis. She writes in English, but grew up in an Uruguyan family. Her debut novel carries on the same themes of resistance and struggle that often arise in these stories. It tells about three generations of Uruguayan women from 1900 on. She also sprinkles in some magic realism to keep with the tradition. I actually listened to the book on CD and found it to be one of the most entertaining and well done audiobooks that I’ve had the pleasure to listen to.
It’s been years since I’ve studied Spanish, and I wish I still had the skills to read the foreign language books that Fontana Regional Libraries have in their collections. But I guess that’s what Byki is for! In the meantime, I’ll stick to English translations.