Rabassa, Gregory 1922-
RABASSA, Gregory 1922-
PERSONAL: Born March 9, 1922, in Yonkers, NY; son of Miguel and Clara (Macfarland) Rabassa; married Roney Edelstein, July 14, 1956 (marriage ended, 1966); married Clementine C. Christos (a teacher and critic), May 29, 1966; children: Kate, Clara. Ethnicity: "Catalan/English/Scottish." Education: Dartmouth College, A.B., 1945; Columbia University, M.A., 1947, Ph.D., 1954. Politics: Democrat. Religion: None.
CAREER: Columbia University, New York, NY, assistant professor, 1948-64, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, 1964-68; City University of New York, Queens College, Flushing, NY, and Graduate School and University Center, New York City, professor, 1968-85, distinguished professor of Romance languages and comparative literature, 1985—. Democratic committee, New York County, 1956-60. Military service: U.S. Army, Office of Strategic Services, 1942-45; became staff sergeant; received Croce al Merito di Guerra (Italy), and special citation from Allied Forces Headquarters, both 1945.
MEMBER: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, American Association of University Professors, American Literature Translators Association, Congreso Internacional de Literatura Iberoamerica, Hispanic Society of America, Latin American Studies Association, Modern Language Association of America, PEN American Center (member of executive board, 1972-77), Renaissance Society of America, Century Association, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright-Hays fellow, Brazil, 1965-66; National Book Award for translation, 1967, for Hopscotch; National Book Award nomination for translation, 1971, for One Hundred Years of Solitude, and 1977, for The Autumn of the Patriarch; American PEN translation prize, 1977, for The Autumn of the Patriarch; National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1980; Alexander Gode Medal, American Translators Association, 1980; Gulbenkian Award, 1981, for translation of Avalovara; PEN Medal for Translation, 1982; Litt.D., Dartmouth College, 1982; Professional Staff Congress/City University of New York grant, 1983; New York Governor's Arts Award, 1985; Order of San Carlos, Republic of Colombia, 1985; Guggenheim fellow, 1988-89; Wheatland Prize for Translation, 1988; Literature Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1989; Presidential Medal for Excellence, Dartmouth College, 1991; Ivan Sandrof Award, National Book Critics Circle, 1993; Literary Lion, New York Public Library, 1993; Mellon Humanities Award, Loyola University, 1995; Gabriela Mistral Prize, Chile, 1996; Gregory Kolovakos Award, PEN, 2001; John Steinbeck Writers Award, Southampton College, 2002.
O Negro na ficção brasileira (title means "The Negro in Brazilian Fiction"), Tempo Brasileiro, 1965.
(Author of introduction) The World of Translation, PEN American Center (New York, NY), 1987.
A Cloudy Day in Gray Minor (poetry), Cross-Cultural Communications (Merrick, NY), 1992.
Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1966.
Clarice Lispector, The Apple in the Dark, Knopf (New York, NY), 1967.
Miguel Asturias, Mulata, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1967, published as The Mulatta and Mr. Fly, P. Owen (London, England), 1967.
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Green House, Harper (New York, NY), 1969.
Juan Goytisolo, Marks of Identity, Grove (New York, NY), 1969.
Afrânio Coutinho, An Introduction to Literature inBrazil, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1969.
Miguel Asturias, Strong Wind, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1969.
Manuel Mujica-Láinez, Bomarzo, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1969.
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Harper (New York, NY), 1970, Perennial Classics, 1998.
Miguel Asturias, The Green Pope, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1971.
Gabriel García Márquez, Leaf Storm and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.
Julio Cortázar, Sixty-Two: A Model Kit, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1973, New Directions (New York, NY), 2000.
Dalton Trevisan, The Vampire of Curitiba, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.
Miguel Asturias, The Eyes of the Interred, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1973.
José Lezama Lima, Paradiso, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Conversation in the Cathedral, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
Gabriel García Márquez, Innocent Erendira and OtherStories, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
Julio Cortázar, A Manual for Manuel, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1978.
Demetrio Aguilera-Malta, Seven Serpents and SevenMoons, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1979.
Gabriel García Márquez, In Evil Hour, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
Osman Lins, Avalovara, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980, author of introduction of revised version, Dalkey Archive Press (Chicago, IL), 2002.
Julio Cortázar, A Change of Light and Other Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
Luis Rafael Sánchez, Macho Camacho's Beat, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1981.
Vinicíus de Moraes, The Girl from Ipanêma, Cross-Cultural Communications, 1982.
Juan Benet, A Meditation, Persea Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Julio Cortázar, We Love Glenda So Much and OtherTales, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.
Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.
Luisa Valenzuela, The Lizard's Tail, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY) 1983.
Jorge Amado, Sea of Death, Avon (New York, NY), 1984.
Julio Cortázar, A Certain Lucas, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.
(With B. J. Bernstein) Gabriel García Márquez, Collected Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
Juan Benet, Return to Región, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1985.
Oswaldo França, Jr., The Man in the Monkey Suit, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1986.
Jorge Amado, Captains of the Sands, Avon (New York, NY), 1988.
Jorge Amado, Showdown, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
António Lobo Antunes, Fado Alexandrino, Grove/Weidenfield, 1990.
José Donoso, Taratuta and Still Life with Pipe, Norton (New York, NY), 1993.
Jorge Amado, The War of the Saints, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Fernando Tasso Fragoso Pires, Fazendas: The GreatHouses and Plantations of Brazil, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Irene Vilar, A Message from God in the Atomic Age, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1996.
Mário de Carvalho, A God Strolling in the Cool of theEvening, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1997.
Ana Teresa Torres, Doña Inés vs. Oblivion: A Novel, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1999.
(With J. S. Bernstein) Gabriel García Márquez, Collected Novellas, Perennial Classics (New York, NY), 1999.
Darcy Ribeiro, The Brazilian People: The Formation and Meaning of Brazil, University Press of Florida, 2000.
António Lobo Antunes, The Return of the Caravels: ANovel, Grove (New York, NY), 2002.
Jesús Zárate, Jail, Aliform, 2003.
João de Melo, My World Is Not of This Kingdom, Aliform, 2003.
Jorge Franco, Rosario Tijeras, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Author of introduction, Boulevard of Heroes, by Eduardo Garcia Aguilar, translated by Jay Anthony Miskowiec, Latin American Literary Review, 1993. Contributor of translations, articles, and reviews to numerous periodicals and professional journals, including Atlantic, Esquire, Nation, New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Playboy, and Saturday Review. Associate editor, Odyssey Review, 1961-63. Latin-American editor, Kenyon Review, 1978—.
SIDELIGHTS: "The best Latin American writer in the English language," is how Nobel recipient Gabriel García Márquez once described translator Gregory Rabassa, who has brought the works of the most illustrious Spanish and Portuguese writers of the past hundred years to a wider audience through his English translations. Rabassa is "a one-man conveyor belt" bringing Latin American fiction to the English-speaking world, according to Patrick Breslin in the Washington Post Book World. A professor of Romance languages with the City University of New York, Rabassa never intended to become a professional translator. In the early 1960s, however, he began translating short fiction as part of his work with the Odyssey Review, a literary quarterly. Shortly after the magazine folded, Rabassa was contacted about writing an English version of Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch, for which he eventually won the National Book Award in 1967. "An editor called me up and we had lunch," Rabassa recalled to Edwin McDowell in Americas. "I looked through the novel, liked it and gave her a couple of sample chapters. . . . She chose me, and I went to work on it immediately in my spare time. It took about a year working in spurts, and I've been translating ever since."
Cortazar so approved of Rabassa's manuscript that he recommended his work to García Márquez, a Colombian writer whose work had yet to be translated into English. Rabassa's rendition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1970, gained widespread attention in the United States for both García Márquez's work and that of other Latin American writers. The work also gained attention for Rabassa when García Márquez, the 1982 Nobel laureate, remarked that he preferred the translation to his own work; "Rabassa's One Hundred Years of Solitude improved the original," the author remarked to Time contributor R. Z. Sheppard. Rabassa demurred, however, saying that the work lent itself to translation because of its quality: "A very good book in its own language goes over more easily into another language than a book that's not so good," he told Jason Weiss in the Los Angeles Times. "Part of the quality of the well-written book is that it's easy to translate."
Many esteemed Spanish and Portuguese novels of the past thirty years have been translated by Rabassa, including works by Mario Vargas Llosa and Jorge Amado. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas was another "masterful translation," in the opinion of Library Journal reviewer Harold Augenbraum. The novel was written by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis in 1880, "at the same moment of literary history when Henry James was writing its aesthetic opposite, The Portrait of a Lady," commented Nation contributor Gary Amdahl. Through an unexplained circumstance, the narrator of the book is able to write his memoirs even though he is already dead. In one hundred and sixty brief chapters, the fictional author Bras Cubas muses about his life and the composition of the book. "This fictional work may lead English readers unfamiliar with Brazilian writer de Assis' work to expand their view of Western modernist and post-modernist literature," predicted Jim O'Laughlin in Booklist. "Rich with allusions to past literary works, its acrobatic narrator relentlessly undermines any tendency we as readers might have to immerse ourselves in the 'realistic' world of a memoir; instead, he constantly invokes us, teases us, and chastens us in our reading, often in ridiculously self-deprecating or self-congratulatory ways."
Bras Cubas is an altogether "bravura narrative performance," concluded O'Laughlin. Amdahl placed the book squarely in "a long line of brilliantly odd and (relatively) outrageous works like Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Xavier de Maistre's Voyage around My Room. . . . I begin the line at Aristophanes, including the Dostoyevsky of Notes from Underground, the Hamsun of Hunger, the Beckett of Malone Dies, and end with Donald Barthelme, Barry Hannah's incomparable Ray and Thomas McGuane's seriously undervalued Panama."
Rabassa's high-profile reputation as a translator is unusual in the world of literature, and even more so given his background as a New York City native with an American mother and a Cuban father who rarely heard Spanish as a child. Even more unusual, according to Time journalist Paul Gray, is the fact that Rabassa has never even visited Spain. During World War II, Rabassa served in Italy where his duties involved breaking codes, and his interest in Spanish developed only when he was an undergraduate at Dartmouth. However, South America is familiar terrain for Rabassa, who has traveled there extensively and become intimate with the literary scene in its many countries. "My theory is that Cervantes was the first magical realist," Rabassa told Gray, "but then the British stole both the Spanish colonies and the Spanish novel. After that, a lot of Latin American literature merely aped European models. But life and the landscape in South America were always more vivid than conventional fiction could convey. Once writers began breaking the rules, their subjects came alive."
Rabassa takes a reader's approach to his writing, almost always choosing to work with manuscripts that interest him. His translating methods also reflect this interest; in working with Hopscotch, "I read it as I translated it," Rabassa remarked to McDowell. "I do that with many books because it's more fun that way, and because translation should be the closest possible reading of the book." Although he commented to Weiss that translation is "lazy man's writing," he sees it as creative work in its own right. "One of the great advantages of translation," he told McDowell, "is that your plots and characters are already written, all you have to do is breathe life into them."
Gregory Rabassa contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
Otherness is the foundation of translation in almost every sense of the word. The translator must become the author's other, his Doppelganger, what Julio Cortázar called his paredros, using a Greek term for an old Egyptian concept of otherness. At the same time the translator must turn the author into another possibility of his own existence. The writer stays himself but is now writing in another language and therefore at least partially in another culture. Also, there will be more than one translation of a classic, meaning that even in its otherness the classic has other possibilities. Mandelbaum, Singleton, Sayers, and Ciardi are all partially Dante in that they are his others, yet they are not clones, not even identical twins, and usually not even close enough to be fraternal ones. Theirs is anotherness within the same language, different variations on the same theme as it were.
As I reflect on my origins and subsequent life I see that although I like to say that my entry into the craft of translation was purely serendipitous, in truth I had been tutored for it by that same serendipity, which now looks remarkably like fate, even one that John Calvin could accept. I can go back to the conscious other and my yearning for it during my boyhood in New Hampshire, north of Hanover, where Pinneo Hill rises up off Lyme Road (or the Lyme Road, as old-timers called it, making it more definite and descriptive and less of a name). When I would go up into the pasture, where there was a clearing with a fine birch grove in the middle and an outcropping left by the big glacier, from where one had a commanding view of quite a distance, I would sit and contemplate the Vermont side of the Connecticut River. Vermont and New Hampshire are called the Twin States, and on the map they do look like a sort of yin and yang. Long before I became aware of the reciprocal differences of the latter pair, I was quite sure of the differences between Vermont and New Hampshire. Across the way was that proverbial other mountain that the bear sees when he goes over the one at hand; like him, I was intrigued as to what lay beyond. At that age of six or seven or even younger, however, what marked Vermont as different and attractive was the Central Vermont right-of-way that followed along by the river. I wanted to live in Vermont so I could stand by the tracks and watch the trains go by from close up or put a pin down to have it turned into a miniature sword. From my side the best I could do was count the cars on long freights and with the aid of my father's fine binoculars actually see, from a certain angle, the open fire door as the fireman shoveled in more coal. Living on the dividing river gave me a strong sense of frontiers.
More evident an influence of otherness, however, was the fact that we were a displaced New York family living in rural New England at a time when transportation and communication were quite arduous and regionalism was therefore in its flower. There was a cultural and linguistic divide in those days and we were on the Boston rather than the New York side. Most obvious in this division was a difference in certain words, vocabulary, a lexicological otherness: if you got a sharp piece of wood in your finger it was a sliver, not a splinter; a lunch pail became a dinner bucket, also showing that the main meal came at noontime, and rather early in the evening one ate supper. The newspaper of record was the Boston Herald (it was still quite sedate and Brahmin in those days), followed by the lesser-esteemed and working-class Boston Globe and Boston Post. As Hanover was a college town, however, one did see the New York Times and the Herald-Tribune in lesser quantities. It was Yankees versus Red Sox and to a lesser degree Giants versus Braves. Even the cough drops showed the inherent differences: we leaned towards Luden's, while the prevailing lozenge thereabouts was Smith Brothers'. Hearing the English language spoken in two rather different ways helped me see its various possibilities, feeling that there was always some other way to say something, but also being aware that that other way carried along connotations that were not strictly relevant to the communication intended. I also became rather adept at putting on the various accents I came in contact with, which called for a more thoroughgoing linguistic transposition. Even today I'm not sure what my natural speech is, especially after so many years of acting in the classroom.
There is another very important cultural and linguistic streak of otherness in my upbringing. My father, Miguel Rabassa, was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, the son of the Catalan Jerònim Rabassa (San Felíu de Guixols) and his Cuban-born niece (García Márquez's fabled pig's tail has yet to appear). My father and some of his many brothers were shipped off to Barcelona to study so as to avoid the student riots for independence from Spain at the University of Havana. In Barcelona he studied engineering but also honed his musical skills on the piano and was an acquaintance of Pablo Casals, who suggested a concert career. When he returned to Cuba, however, the old Catalan pushed him into business, having a low regard for artists. My grandfather's heavy-handed treatment was beneficial for us, his progeny, however, for it caused my father to accept a position in New York, where he soon
became a successful sugar broker and a confirmed New Yorker, owning two Cadillacs, having a box at the opera, and courting my mother, Clara Macfarland, the daughter of Andrew Maverick Macfarland, a New Yorker of many generations fallen into penury, and Catherine Mosley of Manchester, England, whose parents had left their native island for some reason that had given my great-grandfather, Sir William, a tremendous resentment for his land of origin and its inhabitants.
So here was more otherness, being the child of what most certainly was a mixed marriage: a Roman Catholic Cuban of Catalan descent and an Anglican Scottish-English New Yorker. It might be that their mutual otherness became sameness of a sort when as New Yorkers they faced the granite New England atmosphere together. My mother took on Catholicism and we were reared in that faith. Strangely, she was much more the regular, as she would haul us off to mass on Sunday while my father, as a good Cuban, announced that he would say his own mass right by his radio, listening to the Montreal Symphony. I was a true believer for several years, but began to drift away when I found out that you could lie in confession and no Jovian thunderbolts were forthcoming. There were certain things that I didn't want anyone to know, much less Father Sliney, who would see me on the street later. With time an interest in astronomy and particle physics (most likely prompted by Brick Bradford and his time top) brought me to my present atheist position. I must admit, however, a deep enjoyment of liturgy and the bells and smells that go with it, but have found the Catholic rite most unrewarding ever since Latin was dropped, and I prefer the Anglican rite of my maternal ancestors, with its archaic and rich English.
There was much time for thought and contemplation in my childhood. I was the youngest of three brothers, and as they were closer in age to each other, I was pretty much out of their world and just as glad for it, as our age differences rarely made for any felicitous contact. I was not particularly pleased with the prospect of adolescence, that invention of adults to chivy us into their drab, ordered, herdlike world. My recollection is that the "little kids" were the open and honest dreamers and that the "big kids," with their aping of adult ways, their organized games, and their practicality, were inevitably the spoilers. So when adolescence came along I found that in spite of all, I began to imitate and take on traits that I really didn't want and had abhorred as a child. It was a real lowest common denominator, a dumbing down of one's sense and sensibility. I had wondered long and often why adolescents and adults knew so little of what was around them and cared less, as they considered most nonsocial experience and existence as unimportant: a football game being of greater import than a polliwog, for example (in New Hampshire they were polliwogs, making me always feel that tadpole was a bookish term). What saved me and kept me young in an almost literal sense, some would say childish or, more positively, childlike, was the expanse of woods and pasture, brook and fields. I also had the companionship of two remarkable dogs. I suppose that all dogs, like people, must be remarkable to those who know them well.
There had been dogs before, but always a bit too vague in my memory, along with many other important and what some would call formative things and events. My father had been a millionaire, some would say because of his entrepreneurial (what an awful word, my apologies) Catalan blood, but he lost most of his money about the time I was born, with the collapse of
the sugar market. I caught the tail end of his wealth, having been born in Yonkers (I don't know what they are, so don't ask; when people ask me now I lie and say I was born in New York or, at most, in Westchester County) in a large house on Park Hill. It was during my father's flush days that he decided that a farm in the country would be just the thing for his family's welfare during the summer. That was when he bought the place in New Hampshire, naming it Villaclara Farm, along with a herd of pedigreed Ayrshires and all the accoutrements. (Even the Ayrshires were a form of otherness, because after the herd had been sold their memory stayed on and I noticed that all the farmers in the area had mostly Holsteins and Guernseys, with an occasional Jersey or two for richer cream.) I don't remember the cows, nor do I recall the move from Yonkers to the Concourse Plaza Hotel in the Bronx, which I was told I called the Concourse Plaster, although I have a vague recollection of hotel hallways. In any case, when the dust from the sugar crash cleared in the early twenties, my father was left with the farm in New Hampshire and one of his two Cadillac cars. Rudy the footman had been the first to go, followed by his brother Charley, the chauffeur, but my father enjoyed driving and was remarkably good at it.
My first continuous memory, strangely, began all of a sudden. I used to be able to date it exactly, and I remember pondering it all. I was three years old at the time and I was walking back down to the house one afternoon from Pinneo Hill. From that moment on I could remember every minute until age and uproar made such complete recollection impossible. I only had a hazy memory of what had gone on before that moment. This is slowly bringing me back to the dogs. My father had to sell the cattle, which I never got to know, along with the horses, both dray and saddle, in order to pay debts that income from the farm could not meet. Cubans tend to be an exaggerated breed, and that also shows up when you happen to get an honest one. Not ready to quit on farming altogether, even after the farm had become the Villaclara Inn, offering rooms and meals to summer tourists and banquets for various college fraternities and clubs, my father bought some sheep, a fair herd, in fact. At that time we had come into possession, I'm not sure how, brother Bob usually brought home the puppies, of a Newfoundland we named Sport in honor of an unlikely fox-terrier namesake belonging to Aunt Jo in Irvington, New Jersey. I was still too young to appreciate Sport for all his merits, but I do remember his keeping the sheep in line, especially an old ram who was a dangerous butter. I also remember a great deal of talk about his prowess at swimming and catching woodchucks (they're not groundhogs in New Hampshire), the bane of the kitchen garden my father tended diligently while my mother grew an abundance of flowers. It was heartening to see how those two city-bred people took to the soil with such care and fervor.
Back to the dogs once more. The first one I remember well, who would accompany me through the woods as we both investigated everything that moved and much of what didn't, was Pat. She was a small collie that Bob had brought home from somewhere under his jacket and who soon won over my parents' lack of enthusiasm. Dogs do have the most definite personalities. Were I religious I would certainly insist that they have souls. Pat was a warm and gentle creature who could have been a model of behavior for any human being. A few years later Bob came home with Prince, a gift from the neighbors. He was a cross between a German shepherd and a collie. I was already leery of the former breed, having been bitten by one for no good reason when we were coming out of the movies. Luckily, Prince had the disposition of his collie blood, while maintaining the acute intelligence of what in those parts was invariably known as a German police dog. Prince and Pat had a fine relationship that spanned the generations, even though he tended to tease her and she would always lay first claim to food. They would both accompany me on my forays into the woods in search of new things and looking for the old to renew acquaintances. There were also cats, too numerous and disparate to enumerate, all with their individual personalities too.
I found that I would endow dogs and cats with speech by making myself hear words behind the barking and
meowing. It may have been some atavistic return to the early days of understanding. In other words, I suppose my first encounter with a foreign language was with canine and feline expression. Later on I would listen to crows, who seemed to be more exactly communicative among themselves without any need for humanization. I extended this extralinguistic notion of communication to inanimate objects. The windows of a house could be made to say the name of those who lived there; the ripples in a person's clothing as he or she walked could he read as that person's name, race, nationality, or profession. I guess I was beginning to translate, as words became the products of symbols and I matched a given word or name to an action.
If at this time I had thought, as children are always so foolishly asked, what I wanted to be, I should have said a naturalist, because the woods had become the most important thing for me. My earliest readings were almost always animal stories. I soon went through the whole series of Thornton W. Burgess books in the Howe Library in Hanover. Fortunately I found that they were continued in daily columns in both the Boston Globe and the New York Herald-Tribune. I would use my powers of invention (another form of translation, certainly) so that my places would coincide with the Green Forest, the Green Meadow, and other locations in the Burgess stories. At first I pronounced his surname bug-ress, to the great amusement of grownups, but since entomology was also within my realm, with a collection of cruelly-impaled moths and butterflies and such, James Joyce would not have found the mispronunciation too amiss. I never became a naturalist, because when my early interests crossed paths with the official ways of studying biology in high school, I found that I didn't really have the patience to start at the basis of things. At that point my interests were much more sentimental than scientific.
Schooling began at the first-grade level in Hanover, and I must admit that, contrary to the accepted stereotype of children's attitudes, I always liked school and was eager to get back to both the old and the new each fall. My father's loss of wealth had served me well, because when he had had the wherewithal he had sent my older brothers, Jerome and Robert, to a nuns' boarding school in Manchester, New Hampshire, which they hated to such a degree that I can remember them unleashing their rage on an innocent roadside sign advertising an establishment in Manchester, Vermont. (They were unaware, of course, that their grandmother had been born in Manchester, England.) In order to supplement the family income my father took on the job of driving the Lyme Road school bus. Bussing had been instituted as the old one-room schoolhouses scattered about the township were shut down and classes were centralized in the village (officially called the precinct) of Hanover. He bought this great, lumbering, heaving whale of a Reo bus that was immediately and naturally nicknamed Noah's Ark. As it could not make the long, gradual grade north of our place called County Hill, he would transfer the remaining students from the bus to his Cadillac and continue
on up to Pete LaCourse's farm at the town line. One day the distributor cap fell off, and with good Cuban ingenuity he took off his necktie and fastened it back on. That item of clothing was still there when the bus was finally hauled away for junk. As the radiator developed leaks, he would pour in some cornmeal, which would swell and stanch the flow through the tiny holes. We soon noticed that the pigeons in town would follow the bus about, for they knew there was a meal waiting for them wherever he parked.
In school and in contact with what they would call my peers (as if we were all seated about a circular table in Camelot), I sensed difference and the otherness I have mentioned before. There was still the New York-Boston, Catholic-Protestant, foreigner-WASP (in spite of my mother's background) gap, and now there were others. With the presence of Dartmouth College, there were the inevitable faculty children, who would often make up at least a third of the class. Classes were divided then, like Gaul, into three essential parts: faculty children, town kids, and farmers. We fit none of these categories. Our interests brought us into different groups, however. My oldest brother, Deet (Jerome), was faculty-townie, my brother Bob was almost all townie, while I seemed most comfortable at the extreme ends, faculty and farm. I liked the intellectual world of the former and the earthiness of the latter.
I did rather well in school, to the pleasure of my parents, but I now look back on it as having been too easy. If I had been forced to put more effort into my schoolwork I would not have the lacunae in certain fields that I have today, I would not have been the relatively late bloomer I am in some things, but at the same time I most likely would be doing something I really don't want to be doing, like Babbitt, and would be using my leisure time for what I really like deep down, as normal people do. In my present state I find precious little demarcation between leisure and work. My teachers have all left me with a feeling of warmth and respect. At this stage I can see that whatever they were doing they were doing properly. I also wish that I had paid more attention sometimes. It was in the sixth grade that I learned about research. Mrs. Morrison was not one to answer questions easily. If it was in the dictionary or the encyclopedia she would tell you to "Hunt it up." Nowadays I rarely ask such questions, and go to the reference books. I have also discovered that the answers found there are most often more cogent and what I want than the vague responses that people give. I must admit that I was a bit of a cutup at times, and when I was sent to Coventry in the hall I would pass the time reading the encyclopedia that was kept there, so it wasn't a complete waste.
We were taught writing all the way along, and with it penmanship, where neatness counted. The class behind us was taught to print rather than to use cursive script, and that seems to have been the norm ever since. The newer generations, my children included, seem to have identical hands that are little more than cursive printing. I wonder if they can develop an unreadable and therefore uncopiable rubric for the signing of checks, documents, and imperial rescripts. I find that as a cursive writer I can lapse into inordinate sloppiness, so that sometimes I can't read one of my own notes three days later, but with care I can write a rather handsome and legible scrawl. In Mrs. Blodgett's eighth grade we put out a one-copy yearbook called The Oracle. I forget what I wrote for it, but it was enough to have given me some drive toward writing original pieces. I think it may have been a short story or a sketch, because at that age I was mistakenly in awe of poetry, because of its rhyme and structure, as something calling for talents beyond my reach.
In Hanover High School we were the class of 1940 and we had an early notion, both from what we thought and from circumstances, that we were a rather special bunch. In the first place, we were larger than either the preceding or the following class, the largest class ever. Secondly, we seemed to be bursting with talent, both intellectually and athletically. There was Jock Brown, who could do cube roots in the eighth grade, Darthea Bacon, the headmaster's daughter (we didn't have a principal, we had éclat), who wrote with professional talent, and Billy Connor, the best all-around athlete ever, who starred at whatever he wanted to do, much to the chagrin of specialists, and was a prince of a fellow on top of it all. It was our class who launched the weekly newspaper the Hanover Harpoon. The name was mine and I think it must have been chosen for euphonic reasons, since we were far removed from the sea. It was there that I learned how to write about matters that I might not have been too interested in, jazzing it up as it were, making it palatable for the reader. I do remember, however, a distinct dislike for salesmanship and selling ads and I am still uncomfortable doing any sort of soliciting.
It was in high school that I evidently gathered and practised certain skills that would be of help later on in my work in translation. We had a dramatic club called The Footlighters, under the direction of Miss Edmonds, who taught stenographic studies and typing and had had theatrical experience. I was horrified when asked to join the group, feeling stage fright at just the thought of getting up on stage, and worried about all those lines you had to learn. It worked out rather well, however, and I found myself playing a variety of roles, from a factory worker to a Scotland Yard detective in a melodrama called The Ghost Train. Role-playing, getting into someone else's skin, of course, was what I would be doing later on when I would be turning someone else's words into English. Continuing stage fright and a lack of drive in that direction kept me out of any dramatic activity in college, where there was a strong group, so that possible avenue never opened up after high school. In one of Mr. Fulton's English classes I remember that we had a playwriting assignment, and a one-acter I wrote was actually produced. The play has been lost somewhere, it was about the Spanish Civil War, which was going on at the time, but I do remember that it came off much better than I had expected when I was writing it.
When the time for college came, I hadn't thought much about it, as neither of my brothers had gone that way, although most of the classmates in my coterie had plans and, also, I had taken an academic course, so I applied. I was accepted at both Yale and Columbia, but eventually went to Dartmouth because they were kind enough to give me a full scholarship there, making it all possible given my family's financial position. I had put a little aside running the family's Tydol station over the summer, pumping gas and dispensing
soft drinks. I had wanted Yale for perverse reasons perhaps, in that the so-called Yale jinx was in effect then, Dartmouth never having defeated them at football. Columbia, of course, was New York and all those attachments. Also, Andy Coakley, the Columbia baseball coach and onetime Cub pitcher, was an old friend of my father's, and he would see to it that the team stayed at the inn when they played Dartmouth. We brothers would also serve as batboys and come home rewarded with a collection of cracked bats (that could be taped and used) and some scuffed baseballs.
It was in college that I first studied Spanish formally. In high school I had gone the usual precollege route of Latin and French, both taught quite well, and I found the oral side of French particularly fitting for my dramatic talents, while today I can still recite the first few lines of Virgil's Aeneid. My Spanish up till then had been of the kitchen variety. My father, as a good Cuban, had adapted quite well and quickly to the English language. As an outsider, however, he saw little quirks that the native would have missed, and this awareness was passed on to me. The language at home was almost always English except when the old man would cut himself or such and deliver himself of a rolling, rotund carajo. Trips to Cuba had given me an ear for the language, and the formal acquisition of it in college was rather easy. I had planned to take a scientific course, majoring in either chemistry or physics, probably under the influence of Boris Karloff, but when I soon discovered that the basis of such studies went far beyond the Chemcraft experiments of my youth, I followed what would be a natural bent into the humanities. I turned out to be a language collector of sorts, continuing my French, taking up Spanish, and then taking an introductory course in Portuguese with Joe Folger of Nantucket, a Spanish professor, who gave his course in Portuguese as a labor of love, it having been his first foreign language, learned as a boy on his native island from Portuguese fishermen and playmates. Just as I was about to look into the possibilities of German, which was by then the language of the enemy and therefore rather exotic for me (my father was a confirmed Francophile and therefore a Germanophobe; he loved Wagner but preferred him sung in Italian, and he would pronounce his name as if it were the surname of the former shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Honus), Russian, the language of our new ally, was added to the curriculum, and a nucleus of language buffs and Soviet sympathizers signed up under the tutelage of Dmitri von Morenschildt, Russian to the core in spite of his Teutonic last name. I came away with the impression that Russian was nothing but a great collection of idioms.
My French studies reached their high point with my introduction to Proust under the guidance of Ramon Guthrie, who not only gave us everything there was to be found in Proust, but also shared his own intelligence and creativity. It was a marvelously far-ranging study, but one that also kept to a close reading of the text. I still maintain that it was Ramon who really taught me how to read; and I should add that he also did a lot in teaching me how to teach. Years later I saw my impressions amply proven with his masterpiece, Maximum Security Ward. There were also writing courses. I wasn't sure that they were for me, as I also had stage fright in that direction, but I took a number of them, culminating in the seminar given by Stearns Morse, who finally put everything together and taught me how to write. I had known him since my earliest school days, as his son Dick and I went all the way through together. When Stearns Morse led our little group from the Boy Scouts on climbs through the White Mountains, I hadn't the slightest idea that we would come together again in adulthood and that he would lead me through the manipulation of the English language.
College brought me back to New York. It was at Dartmouth that I developed a deep interest in true jazz, largely through the influence of classmate Charles Wilder and his selective collection of records. We would hitchhike to New York and Fifty-second Street to catch Billie Holiday at Kelly's Stable, The Famous Door, and other spots, nursing what was then an expensive fifty-cent beer between shows. This interest has not diminished in later life, as I came to know musicians after the war and followed jazz into bop and then became saddened when the herd imposed its taste so mightily, as Ortega y Gasset had predicted, and rock made jazz almost a collector's item and syncopation gave way to throbbing and modulation to shrieking. My dear old friend Brew Moore, tenor man sans pareil, was forced to go to Denmark in order to play for pay, which led to his death by falling down the stairs at the Tivoli Gardens.
Jazz, of course, is easily attuned to classical music, and there again I find a wide range in taste, which grows ever wider. Chamber music remains my favorite, stimulated once more perhaps by Ramon Guthrie, who would show us how Proust's novel followed the structure of Beethoven's fourteenth quartet. I remember his telling us, "This is Combray. . . , this is Balbec," as he played the record. My wife Clem is adept on the recorder and the classical guitar, but my own piano playing stopped when I broke a wrist at a Boy Scout camporee and let my lessons lapse. Our collection of music is broad, in jazz it goes from before King Oliver to after Bud Powell, and in classical it runs the gamut from Gregorian to Glass. Some time back, while visiting my younger daughter, Clara, at Skidmore, I spotted a shiny new bugle in the window of an Army and Navy store in Saratoga Springs. When we finally left I couldn't resist and plunked down twenty dollars for it. I have since been trying to master the calls, particularly the cavalry charge heard in all the Custer movies.
College life became lackadaisical rather quickly due to the circumstances of our entry into the war, with all of us knowing where we would likely be in the near future. The elegant thing was to sign up in some navy program leading to a commission, but a good many of the more raffish among us went into the army's Enlisted Reserve Corps, which made us ineligible for the draft and let us stay in college at least until the end of the semester. The fact that we had volunteered gave us a serial number that began with a one, rather than the three of a draftee, and this served us well, as it got us respect from regular-army cadremen. Soon after I had enlisted I received my draft notice and was pleased to let them know that I was already in and untouchable. Two semesters later, however, we were called up. By dint of summer session and extra courses, I was only six points short of graduation and had taken my comprehensive exams in romance languages. During the war I was pleased to hear that my diploma had been mailed home to me and that I had been graduated. I gathered that I had been given three points of physical education for infantry training and three points of modern European history (which we were making) for service in the Office of Strategic Services.
The Dartmouth-OSS network went back to Bob Lang, who had been supervisor of extracurricular activities before he went into OSS and became a recruiter. He naturally turned to alma mater, and the subsequent number of us in the outfit became a standing joke. Since we were in the army reserves, he told us simply to let him know when we were called up and he would have us down in Washington posthaste. Alas, there was a glitch somewhere. After waiting for an inordinately long time at the Fort Devens, Massachusetts, reception center, classmate Al Hormel and I, the only leftovers from a sizable Dartmouth contingent, were shipped out to the usual destination unknown. As we changed trains in St. Louis, we had a lingering hope that it would be California, but that was dashed as we boarded the St. Louis and Southwestern for Texas. In the middle of a damp, hot night, we disembarked at Camp Fannin, near Tyler. The wide circle was recently closed when Queens College, where I teach, welcomed a new president in the person of Shirley Strum Kenny, a native of Tyler, who may have been one of the little girls waving flags when we marched through after basic training. Although it was infantry training that we were receiving, the base was known as a Branch Immaterial Replacement Training Center. It certainly had the ring of cannon fodder about it: immaterial, irrelevant, indifferent, who cares. As the weeks went on we kept getting shifted and starting the cycle all over again, feeling more and more immaterial, until we were finally settled into the same battalion but in different companies.
It was on our final bivouac, the one where you crawl under barbed wire with live machine-gun fire over
your head, that I had the ominous summons to the headquarters tent. There was the chaplain waiting for me and I immediately knew that something terrible had happened. I thought of my brother Bob overseas, but he was safe on the ground in England greasing airplanes with the Air Corps, and brother Deet was on shore duty with the navy in Cuba. It was Dad. My mother had taken on what she called a Rosie-the-Riveter job with Curtiss-Wright in Paterson, New Jersey, doing her bit and bringing home something, and my father was with her, managing the office for an illiterate Italian trucker. He was depressed with that sort of work and worried about the three of us in the armed forces and also, I imagine, depressed over approaching old age without ever having got back on top where he once had been. So when he contracted pneumonia and was sent to the hospital, he and his heart both gave up. It took time for me to feel his loss deeply. Circumstances were so abnormal and numbing at the time, so unreal. It was some time later, when there was something I wanted to tell him that I knew he would be interested in, a place that he had known and I was in, something out of Spanish literature, or music. I know that he had been pleased that I had a studious bent, as he called it. He would have liked seeing my name in the paper from time to time and I wish he could have been there with my mother when Dartmouth gave me its honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. There are still many moments when I want to tell him something or get his comments. The war had made things so incomplete.
After the funeral and his burial in the Macfarland plot in the historic old Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (where I want to be planted too, in the company of Boss Tweed and other notables), I headed back to Fannin, wondering what would be coming up. Al Hormel and I had sent frantic letters and telegrams to Bob Lang, telling him that our cryptic minds, as he had called them, were going fast and please rescue us. When I got back to company. I was told to report to the orderly room, where the company commander asked me if I had pulled some strings while I was away. It seems that orders had finally come from Washington. Al and I were going together, and by alphabetical preference he was in charge of the contingent of two and had explicit instructions on how to dispose of the remains should any of his troop die en route.
We got to Washington and duly reported to Q Building in Foggy Bottom, where OSS had its headquarters. We were assigned to the message center to receive training in codes and ciphers, machine and manual. Our instructor was another GI named Asa Zatz. Again the wheel would come full circle. During the past few years Asa has been in New York after a long stay in Mexico and is also a translator of Latin American literature. From the message center we went to Area C, somewhere out in Virginia, where we were taught how to use all the weapons that we had not qualified in during basic, as well as the fundamentals of what was called dirty fighting. During the Washington stay I would use every pass to get up to New York to survey the jazz scene and to see my mother, who was now living in Irvington with her sister Jo. A while later Al and I, still together, were part of a group sent to Newport News, Virginia, to be shipped overseas to North Africa.
It was dreary and raining all the time, and the day we shipped out, the ghoulish chaplain was blasting "Nearer My God to Thee" over his loudspeaker. The Navy transport took about ten days to get us to Casablanca, and there were some lifeboat drills, but we could never tell if they were practice or due to U-boats in the area. We traveled overland to Algiers in a troop train made up of genuine "40 hommes 8 chevaux" boxcars. It was thought that we were destined to go to Spain when Hitler invaded, but he never did, so we went to Italy. In Algiers one day, coming back from a pass in the city, as I got into the weapons-carrier bus taking us back to headquarters, I had the great surprise and pleasure of seeing Ramon Guthrie sitting on the bench large as life. He was with the French Desk as a civilian and said that he had already got his companion, Colonel Griswold, to reading Proust. We separated and he went off to France and I to Italy for the duration.
It was at Caserta headquarters that I did my first translation after the usual language studies in high school and college. The difference was that this time it was from English to English. Some of our field codes were quite primitive and easily broken, consisting of double transposition ciphers (DTs we called them). Since the system could be revealed quite easily if the enemy ever got hold of the clear text, when the incoming message was circulated among those who were to see it, it had to be paraphrased, just in case. This was indeed a lesson in the art of translation. Luckily, many of the messages as received were in military jargon and abbreviations and all we had to do was to put them into normal, proper English. I put bad times in Italy to good use, and stowed with my gear I kept an excellent edition of Dante that I had picked up at a bookstall in Naples. This took me back to George Wood's Dante course at Dartmouth, where we had read it in English, and now I started all over again in Italian, adding another language to my collection.
The war mercifully ground to a close in what we called the forgotten theater. The fall of Rome, where everyone got kissed, was overshadowed by D-Day in Normandy, and since Marcus Clarkus, as we called him, had fumbled out of vanity and failed to encircle the German forces around Rome, things went drearily on. OSS did manage to handle the surrender in Italy by planting a brave Czech radio operator named Walter in the headquarters of General Heinrich Vietinghoff of the Wehrmacht and that arrant bloody bastard SS Oberstgruppenführer Karl Wolff. An attempt had been going well with Field Marshal Smiling Albert Kesselring before that, but Hitler transferred him to the western front before anything could be consummated. As it turned out, our surrender operation, Sunrise, was again overshadowed by events in the north, where all German forces surrendered. I was part of the small crew that handled the top-secret messages as they came and went through Caserta headquarters.
When the war was over, OSS was dissolved and we had little to do except to wait in Rome, living in the Petacci villa that Mussolini had set aside for his mistress in the Fascist compound atop Monte Mario, making use of our excellent but idle motor pool for junkets all over, until there was shipping space for home. We had been sworn to secrecy as to what we were doing during the war, but I wonder if it had been that necessary, because whenever we said that we were with OSS, people would say, Never heard of it, or, Isn't that one of those Special Service outfits? It was after the war that we discovered how glamorous we had been. Then if someone asked me what I had done I would simply refer them to one of the many derring-do movies with Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper, and others. Finally in November of 1945 what was left of us were shipped to Naples and a repple depple (replacement depot) to await shipment home. We spent almost a month on board a Liberty ship that carried only troops and therefore rode high in the water, rising and falling through the swells we ran into after Gibraltar, on the way back to Newport News. The dreary trip did produce one linguistic masterpiece, however. The fare was abominable and the most frequent course was a kind of chicken stew wherein some of the fowl still possessed pinfeathers. The unlettered GIs on board had mastered enough Italian (or Neapolitan) to baptize this concoction Stew Gatz.
Return was swift and sure after landing, and I was soon in Washington for discharge and then on a train to New York. My mother was back in New Hampshire, but would soon be down, so I went to stay with her sister, Aunt Ella Morrow, on West 141st in dirty old New York. She was the widow of Howard Morrow, who had fallen to his death many years ago when I was just a child, down what in New York is called an airy way, having taken one too many of his favorite suption. I look back with regret at not having known Uncle Howard better. He was ridiculed by others in the family, considered a ne'er-do-well, but what fascinated me in later life was that he had been a Wobbly, a member of the IWW, and had had his skull cracked on innumerable picket lines. Up in New Hampshire he had occupied the position reserved for indigent relatives, running the filling station that I was to take over at the close of its existence. I remember that he had painted a somewhat pompous sign that said, "Howard Morrow, Manager." Somewhere along the line a devious hand had inscribed "Mushhead" underneath, so that Howard Morrow, Manager Mushhead, which scanned so well, became a family watchword. Uncle Andrew Macfarland also ran the place for many years and lived with us. He was a bachelor letter carrier who had to quit because of a bad heart. His nickname was Ayza, which for years I thought was the name Asa, and wondered why the consonant was voiced, until other uncles informed me that it went back to boyhood, when Uncle Andrew's favorite retort was "Kiss me ayza," and the last word stuck.
At Aunt Ella's I decided that since I had been cheated out of a few months of college life I would go back to school again. There was no need to go back to Hanover, as Dartmouth had already given me my degree. Finally I would get to go to Columbia, which was two subway stops away, as a graduate student. I had thought of journalism, but Charles Wilder had gone through that mill and warned me off. I was just as glad because I knew the work would surely entail interviews and similar activities and I still had my stage fright. When the admissions officer looked over my college record, he rightly saw that my natural field of study should be languages. So it was that I signed up to go for a master's degree in Spanish under that wonderful GI Bill of Rights. At that time I had no idea that I would spend the rest of my life teaching or translating. The graduate study was a fill-in, something to tide me over until I could find out what I really wanted to do, maybe do some writing.
The immediate want was to leave Aunt Ella's, which was pleasant enough but inconvenient, and find a place I could afford in Greenwich Village, where things happened, and where Al Hormel and Charles Wilder were already dug in, Al freelancing and attending the Art Students League, and Charles writing and working at what he called gray jobs. I finally got a quite adequate second-story walkup on Morton Street (the unfashionable part, between Seventh Avenue and Bleecker) and set myself up, bathing in the kitchen, cooking my own food, and slowly collecting books and records. I found that graduate work was much less demanding than college had been on a day-to-day basis, so I went to
class during the week, but reserved the weekends for my own pleasure, as the circle of friends grew and there was a good chance to listen to jazz music again. I finished off the M.A. with a thesis on the poetry of Miguel de Unamuno, whom I discovered at Columbia and who had been the mentor of my own mentor, the mercurial Don Federico de Onís, a crusty Spaniard who gave most people a hard time but had always been good to me.
I realized then that the master's was nothing and one was naturally expected to go on for the real degree, the Ph.D. For lack of any other direction I went along, and Don Federico gave me a job teaching Spanish at Columbia College, the undergraduate division of the university, where I had just missed going because of circumstances in 1940. With the Ph.D. I decided to rekindle my interest in Portuguese. There was always a course or two in Brazilian and Portuguese literature on the graduate level, and Don Federico agreed that the field offered a much wider choice of subject matter than Spanish. At the same time I branched out when I found I could take a certain number of courses outside the department, so I got involved with James Joyce and others with William York Tindall, worked in Italian with Giuseppe Prezzolini so as not to lose what I had picked up in Italy, and took any number of courses in French.
In the meantime I revived my Latin for language exams and found that after all those years since high school it was amazingly fresh, and finally got to study German along with a little Greek. I remember that Helen Mustard, my German professor, was amazed at my pronunciation, which seemed most authentic for a beginner. I realized that what I had been doing was playacting again, pronouncing the words in the same way that Weber and Fields or other dialect comedians pronounced English. I had a new clue to language study. In the College I was now also teaching the Great Books course, one I would have taken had I gone there, and teaching it was an important part of my education. Perhaps my interest in jazz, or maybe another symptom of my search for otherness, led me to the topic of the black character in Brazilian fiction for my dissertation. In a somewhat enlarged form, putting back in all the supposedly extraneous material my advisors had thrown out, it was published in Portuguese in Brazil in 1965.
I stayed on at Columbia until 1969, rising to the rank of associate professor and watching so many students get a good start. During that period I moved from Morton Street to a smaller but more respectable apartment on Sullivan Street and came into possession of a tabby cat I named Catso, forgetting at the time how unfortunate a name she had in the context of Italian. My widowed mother, with many good years left, married a widower named Wallace Powell, who was well-off and close to retirement. They sold the big house in Hanover, remodeled an older house behind it that was purported to have been the residence of Admiral Dewey's parents, and divided their time between Hanover and Sarasota in Florida. My mother was widowed a second time, but continued on until her strong Macfarland constitution finally succumbed at the age of ninety to the rather common disastrous effects of a broken hip.
While at Columbia I finally got married to Roney Edelstein, from Toronto; otherness again. Perhaps there was too much of it, because what should have been obvious incompatibility set in and we drifted apart, but not before we were both rewarded by the birth of our daughter, Kate, who like her grandfather and also her namesake of a great-grandmother, Kate Mosley, became a fine pianist. Her choice of a future was not music, however, or the dance, which she worked at assiduously, but, after following me through Dartmouth, she took a law degree at Cardozo Law School in New York and is now wedded to fellow lawyer and classmate David Wallen and practicing in Atlantic
City. It was at Columbia that I met and fell in love with my wife Clementine Christos. She was a graduate student in Spanish and an instructor in our department in the College. As I was secretary of the chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Columbia, I had to round up people for the various functions and was glad to see that we finally had someone else in Spanish. We found ever so many likes in common and got closer and closer. Finally, in 1966, while I was on sabbatical and living in Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro on a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, I rushed back to New York and we were married. She joined me back in Brazil and I enticed her into the study of Portuguese, which ultimately led to her research on Camôes and The Lusiads.
Serendipity came to the fore once more while I was still at Columbia. One of my colleagues, Alan Purves, in English, and Saul Galin, of Brooklyn College, had embarked upon the publication of a literary review called Odyssey, which was to include new writing from two European and two Latin American countries in each issue. I was asked to join them as an associate editor with the job of seeking out good new writing from Latin America. Unfortunately we were previous,
before the coming glut of literary reviews with lots of financial backing, and for want of the latter we folded after five or six issues. As part of my work I also lent a hand in doing some of the translations, not having the slightest inkling that I was entering what would be my other professional activity. It was during this time that I had a call from Sara Blackburn asking if I might be interested in translating a new novel by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, with whose work I wasn't very familiar. I looked at the novel, skimming, not reading it, and tried my hand at the samples. Sara liked the translation, Julio did, and I soon was signing what would be the first of a long line of contracts.
It was with this first novel that I automatically developed a technique that I now most often follow. For reasons of time and inertia, I set about translating the novel without having read it. I have since rationalized the technique by stating that since translation is nothing but the closest reading possible a book can have, it was a perfectly natural way to go about it. I have also said that translation is natural writing and not an analysis, and that too much thought about technique might dull and stultify the results. What has really moved me along these lines, however, is the natural reader's suspense at going along and being kept moving by wanting to see what happens next. As simple as that, just like reading a book.
It all seems to have worked out well in any case. When I came back up from Brazil to get married I found the translation of Hopscotch favorably reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Shortly thereafter it was nominated for a National Book Award in the new category of translation, and in 1967 it was a winner. That was the beginning, and since then I have been working at translation. I have mainly been doing fiction, and I must say, in spite of some extreme difficulties, I have enjoyed most of what I have been doing. The second author I translated was the lovely and tragic Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf. I was, therefore, very soon doing Brazilian as well as Spanish American writers. I have also done peninsular Spanish authors, Juan Goytisolo and Juan Benet, and I have finally begun to translate a continental Portuguese writer, António Lobo Antunes.
My relationships with the writers I have translated vary. The first, Julio Cortázar, was probably closest to me. Common interests and feelings brought us close together. Parts of Hopscotch were easy because, like Julio, I know and love my jazz. When he would come to visit us in our dacha in the Hamptons we would stay up much too late listening to some of the old 78s that I collected in my Village days. It was a terrible shock to learn of his death. Julio was the kind that you imagined would go on forever, one of the immortals; it was also a bit of a shock to realize that this ever-youthful man was seventy years old. We miss him mightily.
I never came to know Gabriel García Márquez, Gabo, as well as Julio, although our infrequent meetings have always been warm, and he did make that outrageous (but most pleasing) statement that he liked One Hundred Years of Solitude better in English than in Spanish. I can think of no better praise nor a more positive review than that. Luis Rafael Sánchez, Wico, has become very close to Clem and me in recent years. Our love for him in a way reflects our love for his warm but troubled island of Puerto Rico, which deserves much more than it has had. When Clem was searching for a dissertation topic, I said why not Demetrio Aguilera-Malta, of Ecuador. He had become a good friend and would be available for any help, and her advisor Andrés Iduarte agreed, saying that Demetrio had been neglected too long. As it turned out, she wrote a far-reaching study showing that the epic was alive and well in its tertiary phase in the Latin American novel and that Aguilera-Malta was a prime example of what she wanted to show. She went on to be the first Ph.D. candidate in Spanish to be nominated for Columbia's Ansley Award. Demetrio's publication for the first time in English has an ironic twist. In an interview for the Wall Street Journal I mentioned that I had translated his Seven Serpents and Seven Moons as a labor of love. When the piece appeared I received several phone calls of inquiry, and he was ultimately published by the University of Texas Press. The irony is that one of the founders of the Socialist party in Ecuador received the necessary boost for publication through that most fervid organ of capitalism.
Along with the book-length jobs I have done, there are also shorter pieces, and of late I have been doing more poetry, including some from the Catalan, which ancestral language I am trying hard to bring up to snuff. The work in poetry led me to gather together a batch of poems that I had written way back in the forties that are to be published by Cross-Cultural Communications in their chapbook series. In 1988 I received a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue my work on the fascinating figure of Padre Antônio Vieira, the Luso-Brazilian preacher, missionary, and statesman whom I had begun to investigate in Brazil in 1965. I am going to try my hand at biography for the first time, but I also plan to do an anthology of some of his writings, such as letters, sermons, and his wild history of the future, a look into the establishment of the Fifth Empire, in Brazil, naturally.
Things took many different tracks for me in the sixties. My first marriage broke up and my second one began. One daughter was born from each, Kate in 1960, and Clara in 1966. During this same time serendipity put in another important appearance. Clem and I were invited to a cocktail party given by an editor we knew. At the party was the chairman of the romance languages department at Queens College. In the course of the conversation he idly asked me how I would like to come to Queens. As Columbia was beginning to fall apart in many ways for me, so many of my old friends and teachers having left, as the offer included both a promotion in rank and a handsome increase in salary, and, most important, since it would entail teaching full-time in the graduate program in Portuguese that had been instituted at Queens, I accepted with
alacrity. The move was a good one. I have been appreciated, made a Distinguished Professor, and I have been able to roam about teaching Portuguese, Spanish, comparative literature, Great Books again, and, for the first time, workshops in translation at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I have also been teaching at the graduate school of the City University on Forty-second Street, of musical fame, and it is nice to be back in New York again. After giving up our Brooklyn Heights apartment because of the rapacity of new landlords, and living full time in our country place on the East End of Long Island while Clara grew up and Clem finished her dissertation, we have finally taken up residence on East Seventy-sixth Street in Manhattan once more. Whenever I say New York I don't mean the newly incorporated outer boroughs, I mean New York County, where I was Democratic county committeeman for several years while living in the Village.
Clara has finished Skidmore, where for part of her stay she was under the aegis of President Joe Palamountain, who had been with me in the Boy Scouts long ago, he from Lebanon and I from Hanover, and then at Dartmouth. She, too, has decided on a career in law, perhaps following her sister's example, although she has a strong will, and is at the University of Bridgeport Law School. Clem is joining me on sabbatical with a fellowship of her own to study the work of the Puerto Rican playwright Francisco Arriví. While I am in Lisbon investigating Vieira, she will be with me working on Camões and enjoying that last of decent cities. It will be a respite for her from her arduous work at Medgar Evers College, not so because of her warm students, but because of the ever-so-common petty tyrants who must seek some sort of sadistic way out of their mediocrity. Withal, we shall endure as we have endured and hope to create many more varied things for our own and others' profit and enjoyment, looking all the while at the many possibilities of simple things, knowing from experience that there will always be another side beckoning, an otherness that must be recognized and dealt with. In the meantime, along with Candide, we must cultivate our garden.
POSTSCRIPT: Gregory Rabassa contributed the following update in 2004:
Since my autobiography was brought out in 1989 there have been a number of changes, some part of life's continuum, some unique. Life in New York has shown us that as Chief Inspector Clouseau might say, everything has changed and nothing has changed. A small change was our move down Lexington Avenue from 76th Street to 72nd Street and a larger apartment; we are living now in what the real estate agents call the Gold Coast. We haven't come across any yet but maybe that's what Con Edison is prospecting for as it continuously digs up the city streets.
When I visit my ancient haunts in Morningside Heights and Greenwich Village, however, it is like a different world. Along with Columbia's creeping encroachments I found that the establishments of my graduate-student and teaching days have mutated into things more up-to-date and in keeping with the times. The Chock Full O'Nuts on the corner of Broadway and 116th Street where I would take my coffee break and devour one of their delicious crunchy doughnuts is no more, nor is The Gold Rail where Don Federico de Onís would lead his colleagues and acolytes in discussion after those Monday evening veladas at the Casa Hispánica. The old Nemo movie theater where I would escape from research in Butler Library has become a supermarket. I have found that the same situation pretty much obtains in the Village. There is no more San Remo bar, where Dylan Thomas used to hold out until the folkies chased him out to Louie's Tavern on Sheridan Square (also gone) and ultimately to the still-extant White Horse on the fringes of the Village. Of all the bistros and watering holes I frequented the only two I spotted on my last trip down were Minetta Tavern and the anonymous Chumley's on Bedford Street. I am happy to say, however, that my first Village abode at 14 Morton Street still stands untouched, at least outwardly. I don't know if the johns are still in the hall.
Along with our change of venues on Lex we also transferred dachas from Hampton Bay on the East End of Long Island to Quaker Hill in Pawling, Dutchess County. The Hamptons had become unbearably overpopulated and suburban. Houses had sprung up all along what used to be a relatively rural Red Creek Road. The Pawling house is on a private road and cheek by jowl with a thousand acres of nature preserve belonging to the Nature Conservancy. We have hiked those trails incessantly until just recently when my body had to remind me that I was no longer the Boy Scout of yore, as I tripped and broke a rib and then a few months later I carelessly stepped on some snow-covered ice and went down again. The walking will be on level ground for a while now.
The house is larger than the one near the bay and in an amazingly short time has become cluttered, our being people who are reluctant to throw anything away, even when its usefulness is at an end. What had attracted me right off was a so-called family room, whatever that's supposed to mean, with a long wall lined with bookshelves all the way up to the ceiling. These did a fine job of receiving the many tomes we transported from Long Island. I hate to get rid of books and tend to hang on to them even though I know that I shall never open most of them again, even for research or reference. This might be a hang-up instilled in me by my job of stacking books in Baker Library at college in order to pay for my room and board. I also lament the books I have lost over the years and I am loath to lend any for fear, usually warranted, of never seeing them again. The worst part, and it can be quite depressing, is that there are so many of these books sent by authors from Latin America that I know I shall never read. I am still enough of a gentleman to feel remiss and enough of a realist to realize that in my ninth decade there just won't be enough time.
We still have our house at the shore and haven't made any great moves to unload it, continuing to go there on occasion, and telling ourselves that the market price will keep on going up in order to hide the fact that it is really due to inertia on our part as well as a goodly modicum of nostalgia for the years central to our lives that we have spent there. It was from there that we sallied forth on trips abroad and elsewhere, when flying wasn't the awful chore it has become.
It was from there that we went about meeting presidents. Yellow-dog Democrat that I am, I had no qualms about accepting an invitation from President Reagan to attend a state dinner at the White House. Turning it down would have been unseemly and rude and, of course, I had no wish to forego the experience. The dinner was in honor of President Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina, who was making a valiant effort to pull his country out of the mess that the military butchers had left it in and wherein he failed because his people just couldn't rid themselves of the patina of corruption and selfishness that tyrannies always cast over their victims. In addition to all this, I had never thought ill of Ronald Reagan as a person and he was also a figure of some nostalgia, given his many B-pictures that I had enjoyed in younger years. Clem pleased him as we went through the receiving line by leaving politics and presidency aside and telling him that she had been a great fan of his, speaking the truth and bringing on a great smile.
Other presidential contacts were more literary. During another state visit we were invited to a State Department lunch in honor of José Sarney, the president of Brazil. I mentioned to him that I had translated some of the works of Jorge Amado and President Sarney told me that they had now become good friends. At the time I didn't know that the president was also a novelist. A few years later we met again at the Camões Center at Columbia after he was out of office. There we chatted at length and I told him about my ongoing work on the Luso-Brazilian missionary and visionary Padre Antônio Vieira. Sarney was quite interested because Vieira had been active in what is today the Brazilian state of Maranhão, which the ex-president now represented in the senate. Some time later I received copies of his novels and an inquiry as to whether I might translate them. I have finished one and I am working on the second. The two books are quite different as to locale and tone but alike in a personal style, which shows that President Sarney is really an artist disguised as a politician.
The other Portuguese-speaking president I had contact with was Mário Soares of Portugal. I was participating in a series of literary conferences fostered by Ann Getty's Wheatland Foundation and had occasion to be with President Soares once in New York and later in Lisbon. I was surprised that he knew of me as the translator of some pieces by that grand old steamship hijacker and revolutionary Captain Henrique Galvão, a fellow-opponent of his to the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. I had met Galvão some years before in Brazil where the equally phantasmagoric president at the time, Jânio Quadros, had given him protective asylum against the attempts by Salazar to extradite him back to Portugal and to death. Galvão was also a writer and had written a satirical fantasy called "It Happened Tomorrow," which I had read in manuscript. It was most enticing tale and I never knew what became of it after his death; it merited publication. I met Galvão in São Paulo, where he was living, and he invited me to accompany him to an umbanda session, a fusion of African deities and Alan Kardec. He was going to see if the spirits could cure his cold.
All in all, there hasn't been too much change in how I use my time. I am still teaching at Queens College, but with my position as Distinguished Professor I teach only two classes twice a week so the burden, if that it be, is not too wearisome. The courses are an undergraduate one based on Spanish and Portuguese works in English translation, and a graduate course in Spanish and Spanish American literature. We discontinued Portuguese, the reason for my coming to Queens, some time back under circumstances that remain a mystery to me but which seemingly had to do with some kind of academic infighting, the usual thing. I keep away from all that or, or as I might pompously say, I rise above it.
People keep asking me when am I going to retire as I advance into my ninth decade. So far I have no thoughts in that direction. When I first began to teach, right after the war, the students were most apt to be within my own age range and I labor under the delusion that they still are. It not only keeps me young but it also makes for better rapport with my classes, one between equals. It is ironic that my wife Clem was forced to retire much earlier than she wished, but she was the victim of a viciously mean-spirited and ambitious harridan as chairwoman who was making academic life unpleasant and impossible for her. Clem took early retirement, leaving the students she liked so much to their inferior instruction. Since then she has been devoting her time quite pleasantly and creatively to her writing and painting, along with walks in the woods.
My progeny has increased as daughter Kate Wallen has presented me with granddaughters Jennifer and Sarah. I only wish they lived closer by so I could watch them grow and prosper. Kate at present is doing arbitration work in South Jersey. My other daughter Clara is also doing legal work at the Subway world headquarters in Milford, Connecticut. She gets up to Pawling quite frequently and joins us on our hikes. Old age has its saddest moments as contemporaries keeping falling out. Both my brothers, Jerome and Robert, are now gone and I find that cousin June Fears in California and I are the only ones left in this generation of Macfarlands. My graduating class at Dartmouth (1944) is now just about equally divided between the quick and the dead, with the latter steadily gaining ground. Not too long ago I lost my old friend Dick Morse, whom I knew from first grade on and who was with me all the way through college and even into the OSS. All of this tones down any youthful exuberance I might still feel as I teach my young students.
The translation has gone on apace. I was pleased to have had the chance to translate a classic writer, the Brazilian author Machado de Assis, as all my writers up till now have been more or less contemporary. I have also done a couple of books by the Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes who, I have been given to believe, was a hair away from winning the Nobel Prize and may do so yet. I am about to take on his latest huge novel which some say is his best. Apart from translating and teaching I have embarked on a book of my own which I hope to finish soon. I call it If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents and New Directions will be bringing it out. In the book I deal with what I think translation is in a rather anti-theoretical approach; how I got into the game (that's what it is in so many respects) and how I go about doing it. This will be followed by a second part in which I consider each author I have done individually. I imagine that there will be surprises for some people and others will feel their toes being stepped on.
As can be seen, life has gone on with only the usual changes. We travel less or not at all. As I said, it has become such an uncomfortable hassle that we would rather stay at home and read books about where we were thinking of going. Also, we find that, as is customary with those from an earlier time, we feel like some sort of temporal immigrants, far from our native age, and this new and alien age makes up for old and alien places. My time was the thirties, forties, and fifties, with its dwindling into the sixties. This can be seen in our tastes in movies and popular music and the way we go about things. Although I did break down and buy an electric typewriter, that was as far as we cared to go. Right now we are living in a comfortable and splendid isolation from the world of computers and e-mail. We are not Luddites, far from it, but are satisfied to be the selves that came to full evolution at our maturity. Also, we have absorbed so much over so many years that there's been precious little room for things outstanding and there hasn't been very much of that of late. The only great advances that I have seen and have taken to heart come from the continuing growth in the knowledge of the cosmos, both macro-and micro-. Other than that I can only repeat what I used to say on guard duty so many years ago: "Post and orders remain the same."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Americas, July-August, 1986.
Booklist, November 15, 1997, p. 541; December 1, 1997, p. 609.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of Rosario Tijeras, p. 1413.
Library Journal, June 15, 1996, p. 74; November 1, 1997, Harold Augenbraum, review of The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, p. 116; November 15, 1998, p. 96.
Los Angeles Times, August 12, 1982.
Nation, November 3, 1997, p. 64.
National Review, September 2, 1988, Aram Bakshian, Jr., "Amo Amas Amado," p. 46.
New Republic, May 2, 1983, Anthony Burgess, review of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, p. 36; May 25, 1998, p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, November 23, 1997, p. 28; February 22, 1998, p. 14; April 7, 2002, Michael Pye, "A Float on the Seas of the Past," p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1993, review of Boulevard of Heroes, pp. 75; February 11, 2002, review of The Return of the Caravels, p. 161.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2001, T. J. Gerlach, review of Sixty-Two: A Model Kit, p. 204; summer, 2002, Chad W. Post, review of The Return of the Caravels, p. 226.
Time, March 7, 1983; July 11, 1988, Paul Gray, "Bridge over Cultures," p. 75.
Washington Post Book World, December 19, 1984.
World Literature Today, spring, 1994, Ilan Stavans, review of Boulevard of Heroes, p. 353.