Friday, June 20, 2008

Interview with Margaret Sayers Peden

Steve Bennett interviews translator Margaret Sayers Peden.
If you've ever read Isabel Allende or Carlos Fuentes — in English — then say a prayer for Margaret Sayers Peden.

Peden is the translator from Spanish to English of more than 60 books over the past 50 years, including the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Mexican essayist Octavio Paz, both Nobel laureates, as well as “Como agua para chocolate” (“Like Water for Chocolate”) author Laura Esquivel and, of course, Allende and Fuentes.

The Missouri native, who will teach two workshops on translation during Gemini Ink's Summer Literary Festival next month, follows a simple rule when she receives a Spanish manuscript to translate: “Take small bites and chew very hard.”

Actually, Peden follows two rules religiously. The other: “The dictionary is the great betrayer.”

Renowned translator Edith Grossman once said, “Fidelity is surely our highest aim, but a translation is not made with tracing paper.”

“If you translate word for word,” says Peden in her welcoming, musical voice, “it sounds ridiculous. Words — I love pizza, I love Josephine — can have so many meanings. Words can be like amoebas. If you just look at meanings of words, you won't get it.”
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