[Interview] A Word From the Translator

Blind Sunflowers by Alberto Méndez

Translated by Nick Caistor

A word from the translator:

Given that you were unable to discuss any aspects of translating the stories into English with the author, Alberto Méndez (who sadly died soon after its publication in Spanish), did you find the task particularly challenging?

Yes, it’s always more difficult if the writer is not around to answer any queries. Having said that however, I usually try to resolve any doubts I have by myself, since I am the one responsible for the English version of the book.

You’ve spent much of your life in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and have reported from countries in the region for the BBC. You’ve also edited some collections of Latin American stories.  Would you say that you feel more familiar with Latin American themes than with life in Spain, either now or in the past?

What is interesting as a translator is how different the language of Spanish authors is from that of their Latin American counterparts. This is of course due to history, but also to literary traditions. So I enjoy the challenge of both.

Given its subject matter, how did your experience of conflict in Latin American countries affect the way you approached the text, and do you believe the long gap (about 70 years) between the Spanish civil war and the appearance of the book lessens its impact in any way?

Spanish writers seem to have returned to the Civil War again, perhaps now that stories from family members and others are drying up, and they wish to give their account of it before the memories of it fade completely. In many ways, this seems to me to increase the impact.

What questions would you have liked to ask [about the war] when you started work?  Were any of these subsequently answered, and did any new questions arise?  Did the characters’ lives correspond with your understanding of the situation in Spain in the 1930s?

I have translated films, novels and short stories about the Civil War for twenty years or more, so what most interested me in Blind Sunflowers was the portrayal of individuals, which seemed to me very accurate, as well as the often harrowing description of their situation and surroundings.

This interview was originally commissioned in 2010 to celebrate 5 years of the Writers in Translation programme. 

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