A well-known quote among translators is one by Italian author Italo Calvino. He said:
“Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.”
This is in fact one of my favourite quotes about translation, and one I can relate to, not because I have been translated, but as a reader who’s been introduced to several authors by translators. While I now read happily in Italian, English, Spanish Portuguese (and somewhat in French!), I haven’t always been a multilingual reader, and I believe I owe my passion for international reading to translators and to one in particular.
When I was 13 I read Garcia Marquez’s Cien años de soledad, or I should say, I read Cent’anni di solitudine, Enrico Cicogna’s translation of Garcia Marquez’s book. That book opened the doors of a new literature to me, transported me to South America, and from there I began firstly by reading all of Garcia Marquez’s books (still in Italian then) and then developing a passion for Latin American literature and for Spanish thereafter.
The same happened some years later with Antologia di Spoon River, Fernanda Pivano’s translation of Edgard Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, another journey, another door that was opened for me.
More recently Geoffrey Trousselot introduced me to Japanese literature (no, I can’t read Japanese, I caught up with English and Spanish, but not with Japanese… yet!) with Before the Coffee Gets Cold, his translation of Toshigazu Kawaguchi’s book.
All these translators, and many others, allow authors to go beyond the borders of their countries, and make it possible for readers to travel on a journey that can take them anywhere in the world.
So, when you read a book that was originally written in a language different from your native tongue, when you find yourself in Paris or Bangkok, in London or Madrid, in Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro, remember, there’s always a translator who’s acting as your travel guide 😉.
And you, do you have a book in translation that changed your life or that opened new doors? I’d love to hear about it!