Monday, October 04, 2010

Cortázar: Hopscotch

In the final paragraph of a letter to Paul Blackburn written from Vienna in September 1961, Cortázar shared a bit of news with his agent and friend. "Last week I finished La Rayuela (Hopscotch, you know). It is, I humbly believe, a very beautiful thing." Blackburn must have expressed puzzlement, because two weeks later the author explained: "La Rayuela is a novel, Mr. Agent. Of about 650 pages." And so it was. It was published in Buenos Aires in June 1963, although the American edition would not appear for another three years. During that time Pantheon's chosen translator, Gregory Rabassa, then a novice at the craft, worked closely with the author, struggling to devise creative solutions to the sometimes nightmarish obstacles the book posed. Years later, Rabassa recalled:
Hopscotch was for me what the hydrographic cliché calls a watershed moment as my life took the direction it was to follow from then on. I hadn't read the book but I skimmed some pages and did two sample chapters, the first and one further along, I can't remember which. Editor Sara Blackburn and Julio both liked my version and I was off and away.
When not busy translating One Hundred Years of Solitude, Paradiso, Conversation in the Cathedral, and dozens of other books, Rabassa went on translate five more of Cortázar's, the last being A Certain Lucas in 1984. His memoir, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, was published by New Directions in 2005.

Cortázar, who was himself an experienced multilingual translator, was delighted with everything about the American edition -- except for this colorful jacket by George Salter, which he claimed to have removed and thrown in the wastebasket as soon as his author's copy arrived.

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