A Translator’s Apologia


  • Anne Malena University of Alberta




Translation, literature, practice, theory


Literary translators are often too shy to discuss their own practice. As the penury of translators’ prefaces would attest, they have assimilated the fidelity imperative only too well and, even though they may be masters at transforming the literal into the literary, they prefer to remain invisible behind their author as if only the latter were real and they merely fiction(al) workers. Such doesn’t appear to be the case for two translators of Tres Tristes Tigres by the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante: the first, Albert Bensoussan, working in French and the author of Confessions d’un traître (PU de Rennes, 1995); the second, Suzanne Jill Levine, working in English and the author of The Subversive Scribe (Graywolf Press, 1991). While it is undeniable that their respective collaboration with authors of the calibre of Cabrera Infante must have played a large part in their desire to write of what must have been an unforgettable experience, this paper will focus on different questions in order to gain insight into the theorization by translators of their own practice: Why and how do both Bensoussan and Levine produce prize-winning translations of famously difficult and considered “untranslatable” works? Why, in spite of their success and ability to push translational creativity to its limits, are they ultimately incapable of dispelling a sense of betrayal? Rather than providing definitive answers, exploring these questions leads to reflect on possibly constant factors in literary translation and on teaching or evaluating translations as well as training translators.


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Author Biography

Anne Malena, University of Alberta

Professor, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta