New Directions


In Where in the Devil…? I wrote of my correspondence with New Directions regarding a translation they were rumored to have been working on. The representative couldn’t tell me the translator’s name, but stated that “this person pulled out due to the exasperating effort and time it would take to translate this work.”

The following quote is taken from an interview with Gregory Rabassa for the magazine Americas. Volume: 57. Issue: 5, Gregory Rabassa: Words of Instinct: This Veteran Translator of the Most Celebrated Latin American Authors Continues to Open Fresh Perspectives on Contemporary Works:

“I have agreed to do Guimaraes Rosa’s Grande Sertao: Veredas for New Directions. They have the English-language publishing rights. It’s a damn good book. Some have said it’s the best contemporary Latin American novel of them all, but it’s hard. The American version, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, is a travesty. Can you imagine such a title!”

The even greater travesty is that Rabassa didn’t complete the translation.
I also learned that once New Directions lost Rabassa, Knopf picked up the rights, and that by the time I was corresponding with New Directions regarding the matter, Knopf had in turn lost the rights. I was directed to Mr. Tom Colchie.

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One thought on “New Directions

  1. Argh. My happiness in knowing that Gregory Rabassa was to retranslate Grande Sertão was suddenly dashed by this news. If there is anyone who has the resources to undertake the translation of this missing classic, then Rabassa is the one.

    Allow me to quote from Rabassa’s memoir, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents (New Directions, 2005), about his thoughts on why the book is so difficult to translate and about Tom Colchie’s involvement in this affair, who actually translated a “chunk” from the book:

    “When I first got to Brazil in 1962 the books people were talking about were two novels: Grande Sertão: Veredas, by João Guimarães Rosa (translated as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, ugh!) and The Apple in the Dark, by Clarice Lispector. I got hold of them at once and was pleased to see how two different writers could handle the theme of life’s bewilderment in its Brazilian context with such contrasting styles and with such diverging characters and come to the same inconclusion, and befitting their time and country….

    “… I was glad to be translating The Apple in the Dark and not Grande Sertão: Veredas. Clarice goes smoothly into English, Rosa would have to be rewritten, not translated, unless by the likes of James Joyce. His translator is immediately faced with an impossibility: Rosa’s epigraph reads O diabo na rua no meio do redemoinho (The devil in the street in the middle of the whirlwind). Take a good look at the word for whirlwind: redemoinho. There sandwiched in is the word demo, so that the devil is not only in the middle of the whirlwind but is in the middle of the word for it. The novel had already been translated but a lot had been slurred over and a lot had been left out. When Emir Rodríguez Monegal and Thomas Colchie were putting together their Borzoi Anthology of Latin American Literature they both agreed on the chunk of Grande Sertão that would give the best sense of the book as a whole. Since a good part of their anthology made use of extant translations they went to The Devil to Pay in the Backlands and found that their sought-after selection had been one of the many parts left out. Tom Colchie had to do his own translation, which stands out when held against the purported version.” [If This Be Treason, pp. 70-72]

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