False Calm by María Sonia Cristoff

Sam Carter at The Quarterly Conversation:

María Sonia Cristoff has often recounted one of her formative reading experiences. Hired to translate the diaries of Thomas Bridges—a nineteenth-century Anglican missionary in Argentina—she traveled from Buenos Aires to his family’s farm outside of Ushaia, which sits at the southern edge of Patagonia in the Tierra del Fuego province. There she was given a room with a window overlooking the Beagle Channel and a stack of papers with a pencil mark indicating where she should begin. She lacked any access to the rest of the diary since Bridges’ heirs, insisting on a neutral voice for the new rendering of his work, replaced translators every two months, assigning each one a single section of the work.

After working on the translation during the day, Cristoff occupied herself on this far-flung farm by reading through the collection of travel writings its small library contained. As she consumed the accounts of Francis Drake, Charles Darwin, Ernest Shackleton, and others who had passed through those lands and the nearby waters, Cristoff was struck by the similarities between traveler and translator. “In the tale of a traveler in a foreign land,” she recalled, “I found the resources, the torments, and the joys of a translator in her travels through a foreign language.”

more here.