Don Quixote has trotted into the 21st century, retranslated for our times, thanks to Edith Grossman, who makes Spanish sensible - and seductive - to English ears.
Thanks, also, to smoking. It wasn't just talent that drew Grossman almost 40 years ago to the precarious, perhaps quixotic life of a professional translator. She found she could work at home and smoke as much as she pleased without bothering anyone. "No, it's not apocryphal," she laughs when asked about this story. "Back in the bad old days I was a heavy smoker." Home is still New York City. The cigarettes are gone but there's a jazz club huskiness in her voice. Next Saturday, Grossman will be talking translation at the Ibero-American Cultural Festival in Canberra. And if Spanish is a language in the ascendant, she is its star translator into English. Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia's Nobel prize-winning writer, speaks of her simply as "my voice in English".
According to one tradition, the ideal translator is invisible. Yet on the cover of the new Don Quixote, her name sits just below Picasso's image of knight and squire. Asked about this prominence, she pauses, then remarks, rather dryly: "Well, you'll forgive me if I say: 'And rightly so!'
"I don't think any translator ever thought he or she was supposed to be invisible. What I mean is, I don't think it's possible for the translator to be invisible, in the same way that a reader brings an entire life's experience to the reading of each book."
As for Quixote, he brings to life his experience of reading. His beloved books of chivalry, some of them translated, send him forth in search of adventure. Out in the world he hears accounts of his doings, some of them false, and even becomes a plaything for the cruel among his readers.
You can find the review here