Thomas Colchie

Back in March we learned from Professor Valente of a rumor that has been circulating among Guimarães Rosa Scholars for years: Thomas Colchie was awarded a Guggenheim to undertake a new English translation of Grande Sertão: Veredas, but never finished.

I would like to thank a regular reader of AMB, and writer for In Lieu of a Field Guide, Ryan, for sharing this: the About the Editor info on Thomas Colchie, published in the anthology A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes: Stories from Latin America (1992), which confirms the rumor and makes it fact:

“Thomas Colchie is a noted translator and literary agent for writers from Latin America, Portugal, Spain, and Portuguese Africa. […] Now at work on a biography of Jorge Amado, he has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to translate The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa.”

Ryan also found this quote by Gregory Rabassa in his essay “No Two Snowflakes Are Alike: Translation as Metaphor”, appearing in the book The Craft of Translation:

“This close knowledge of the language works in an inward fashion as well, and there, too, it defies the skills of the translator. I know of an outstanding example and one that I really think impossible to render into any other language. It is the epigraph that follows the title of the Brazilian João Guimarães Rosa’s novel Grande Sertão: Veredas (absurdly translated into English as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, although I don’t know what else could have been done with it). The epigraph states, “O diabo na rua no meio do redemoinho” (The devil in the street in the middle of the whirlwind). Rosa has put the devil not only in the middle of the whirlwind in the street but also in the very word for whirlwind: re-demo-inho; one of the words for devil (demon) in Portuguese is demo, and there he is in the middle of the word as well. Thomas Colchie has received a Guggenheim grant to produce a new and proper version of this great novel and I do not envy him as he faces this particular problem (9-10).”

I’d like to imagine that Mr. Colchie is still somewhere quietly continuing work on the impossible task. Of course I have to consider that A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes was published in 1992, ten years after Colchie received the Guggenheim in 1981, and that Rabassa took up, & soon thereafter gave up on, the project between 2005 and 2007.

I once asked: Who is Thomas Colchie? Now I wonder: Where is Thomas Colchie?


2 thoughts on “Thomas Colchie

  1. Thanks for mentioning me.

    I don’t know Portuguese, but based on the context described by Rabassa, I would translate the epigraph as: “The devil in the street in the middle of the bedeviled wind.”

    The word “devil” may not be in the middle of “wind” but it is there in its modifier “bedeviled”. There’s symmetry in the English word: be–ed, so that the devil is right in the middle of the adjective which describes the “wind.” Not an elegant solution as it is not as poetic as “whirlwind” but it does convey a wind possessed by evil. Something of an approach that can be used to approximate JGR’s difficult constructions.

    Still hoping that new translators will have a chance to take a crack at the book and produce a new devil. 🙂

  2. Colchie is one a major figure in the publishing business: as an anthologist, translator and agent. He’s based in Brooklyn, New York

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