My experiences as a self-translator

Traduttore, traditore: Translator, traitor.

How true is that when you are translating your own book? Is it possible to be a traitor to my own voice? I am fixing to find out.

Ah, the “fixing to” comes from the fact that I live close to the Texas border, where people are always “fixing” to do this or that. I am happy I don’t have to translate that expression, though I like the flavor of it.

What I am translating, from English into Spanish, is my novel Death Comes in through the Kitchen, published by Soho Crime last year. I had translated the first three chapters several months ago, then stopped to work on my second mystery, Queen of Bones, that just came out this month.

I sent these first three chapters to my wonderful Soho Crime publisher in hopes she can sell the rights to a Spanish-language publishing house. And I thought it would be neat to have the entire manuscript ready so when the time comes, it is listo.

That would be, literally, reentering the Spanish market through the kitchen door. I have already published eight books in Spanish. Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama) was a finalist for the Herralde Award in 2006. El Difunto Fidel (The Late Fidel) won the Rincón de la Victoria Award in 2009. By looking at the titles, and recalling the plots, I realize I should have been writing crime fiction long ago.

Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena. Which is often translated as “better late than never” but literally means “It’s never late if fortune is good.” Why leave the “fortune” part out, eh?

After rereading the already translated chapters, I changed many words and expressions to make the text sound more Cuban. After all, most of the dialogues were supposed to happen in Spanish. I twisted sentences and took liberties that no other translator would have dared to. It feels like rewriting — and in a way, all translations are sort of rewritings — though I am bound to follow the original plot. I can’t add or eliminate characters. Or can I? We’ll cross that bridge when we get there because there are, in fact, a couple scenes I am planning to get rid of.

Once I finished reviewing, I began with a totally new chapter. Matt, an American journalist who travels to Havana in hopes of marrying his girlfriend Yarmila, has already discovered her body in a bathtub. He has been questioned by the Cuban police and let go, without his passport, since he is a “person of interest” in the case. The reader has been introduced to Yarmi’s cooking blog and the first recipe — that was fun to translate. Now, Matt arrives at La Caldosa, a restaurant owned by Yarmila’s best friend, Isabel.

I still have 300 pages of the original document to deal with. I have never, ever translated such a huge file.

My characters are starting their journey again, now in Spanish. And I am writing backwards to my mother tongue.

Please, wish both of us luck.

To be continued.

Iron stove

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