Translating Galeano


Mark Fried in Brick:

I began reading Eduardo Galeano when I arrived in Mexico for the first time—it was 1973—and met Cedric Belfrage, whose translation of Open Veins of Latin America had just been published. Open Veins was a treatise on history and political economy written like a novel about love or pirates. It thrilled me: here was the mysterious continent explained.

At the time, Eduardo was being persecuted in his native Uruguay for the crime of spreading dangerous ideas. By then, at thirty-three, he had also written a book of short stories and a novel but was better known for the editorial cartoons he had been publishing since the age of thirteen. In 1974 he fled to Buenos Aires and then, when military rule swept Argentina too, on to Spain, where he lived for eight years.

He credits the Uruguayan and Argentinean generals with giving him the time and perspective to step back from political agitation and return to literature. By a curious twist of fate, the result of his labours in exile, the marvellous trilogy Memory of Fire, became the translation sea in which I first swam.

Cedric Belfrage and I were working together on a Mexico City magazine, the year was 1980 or 1981. Cedric himself was a character out of a novel. He started as a publicist in England for the unknown Alfred Hitchcock, then in the 1920s covered Hollywood for Fleet Street, managed to survive marriage to a starlet who stabbed him in the bath, and was suddenly radicalized by the rise of Hitler.

He was nearly eighty and had begun translating the first volume of the trilogy when a stroke left him paralyzed on one side. Like most journalists, he had always typed with his two index fingers; now he was down to one. He appealed to me for help, and thus began my apprenticeship in literary translation. In his tiny office reeking of pipe smoke, Cedric would translate longhand on yellow legal pads, a barely legible scrawl. I would type for him, following the Spanish original at hand, and offer suggestions. Over the next four years, well oiled with frequent tequilas, he put out the first two volumes of Memory of Fire, and I learned a thing or two about translation.

More here.