Solitude, in other words

The journey of Gabo’s epic novel is a story in itself.

Published: April 24, 2014 3:15 am
When ‘Cien Años’ hit best-sellers lists in Latin America in 1967, it got only a half-page review in the English-speaking world. When ‘Cien Años’ hit best-sellers lists in Latin America in 1967, it got only a half-page review in the English-speaking world.

By: Sonya Surabhi Gupta

The journey of Gabo’s epic novel is a story in itself.

Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote in his memoirs. The writing of Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) is as fascinating a tale as the novel itself, in which Gabo created the eternal and marvellous Macondo that, in the imagination of millions of his readers, became synonymous with Latin America. The recent publication of Gabo’s correspondence, and a rare interview with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, have provided interesting insights into the making of this epic 1967 novel.

In a letter written on July 22, 1967, to his close friend Plinio Mendoza, in the midst of the maelstrom of the publication of One Hundred Years, Gabo recounted the long trajectory that the novel had covered in his life: “in reality, it was the first novel that I tried to write, at 17 years of age, and with the title The House, but I abandoned it soon after because it was too big for me. From then on, I never stopped thinking of it, of visualising it mentally, of finding the most efficient manner of delivering it, and I can tell you that the first paragraph does not have a comma less or a comma more than the first paragraph I had written 20 years back.”

The opening lines of One Hundred Years — “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” — are perhaps the most quoted and remembered lines from Gregory Rabassa’s translation, and they were written by Gabo when he was just 17 years old. He says in the letter: “I think therefore that my first successful attempt was The Leafstorm but my first novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Eligio García Márquez, Gabo’s brother, recounts how the most famous novel of Latin America in the 20th century was conceived: “One day in January 1965, while he was driving his Opel down the highway from Mexico City to Acapulco, the novel that he had been imagining patiently since his adolescence emerged in its entirety. In a suicidal moment, he left the economy of the house in the hands of Mercedes, his wife, and shut himself up to write.”

Mercedes Barcha, in an interview published in 2012, recounts how, during the one and a half years that Gabo took to write the novel, they lived in poverty in Mexico: “As we were young we did not realise it. I have never been dramatic, and after all, we were a team.” They were so short of money that, as is now well known, they did not have sufficient money to send the entire manuscript to the Editorial Sudamericana in Argentina by post and sent only half of it at first. The book became a veritable literary sensation and Argentineans devoured the novel; it was sold in supermarkets and housewives bought it along with their daily shopping.

Interestingly, when Cien Años hit the best-sellers lists in Latin America in 1967, the Spanish original and the author received only a half-page review in the English-speaking world (in the Times Literary Supplement, November 9, 1967). But beginning with the brilliant translation by Rabassa that came out in 1970, the English-speaking world woke up to Gabo. His earlier works were also translated subsequently, consecrating his prestige in the Anglophone world. Between 1967 and 1982 the novel had sold over 12 million copies in 30 languages, a figure which dramatically multiplied after the Nobel in 1982.

In India, the novel has been translated into several languages. It is the only novel of Márquez translated into Hindi. Rajkamal Prakashan commissioned me to translate the novel from the original Spanish into Hindi, and Ekant Ke Sau Baras came out in 2003. The challenge before me as a translator was to render visible the baroque density of the novel. I decided not to domesticate the text, or to contain its strangeness, to retain, for example, the characteristic Marquezian long sentence and reproduce, to the extent possible, the poetry of his prose, with its rhythm and alliterations. Except for a stray Professor Horrendo (I use Rabassa’s term for academics who engaged in nit-picking on his translations), the Hindi translation evoked an overwhelming response. Márquez’s two main translators in English, Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman, have translated and made available much of Latin American writing to the readers of English. Readers of Indian languages await such luck.

The writer is director, Centre for European and Latin American Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia

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