1985

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The Chilean writer Isabel Allende took the literary world by storm with her first novel, translated into English from the Spanish by Magda Bogin and published in 1985 as THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS. The lush, magical-realist family saga, which spans three generations of the Trueba family and a century of turbulence in an unnamed Latin American country, has been translated into more than 37 languages, and Allende is one of the most widely-read Spanish-language authors in the world.

Born in Peru in 1942, Allende lived in Chile from the age of three, but fled to Venezuela shortly after the 1973 military coup. She later said that without this caesura she would not have become a writer. She started out as a journalist and TV personality, and also translated English romantic fiction, notably Barbara Cartland. That job didn’t last long: she was fired for altering Cartland’s dialogue and endings to make her heroines appear intelligent and independent. Allende’s own novels feature memorable female characters, and she was one of the first female Latin American writers to rival the international success of the men of the Latin American Boom. She discusses various aspects of her writing here.

Another very popular novel first published in English in 1985 was Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVER, translated from the French by Barbara Bray. It tells of a passionate, clandestine, transgressive affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her older Chinese-Vietnamese lover, based on Duras’ own experience as a young girl in colonial Indochina. She later wrote a second version entitled THE NORTH CHINA LOVER (translated into English by Leigh Hafrey). A hybrid of novel and screenplay, it started out as notes for a film script, but Duras used it to ‘reclaim’ the story after quarrelling with the director of the 1992 film, Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Duras was good friends with her translator, Barbara Bray, who lived in Paris and was, for almost thirty years, the lover, translator, and collaborator of Samuel Beckett. Bray’s twin sister, Olive Classe, also translated from the French, and is the editor of the ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF LITERARY TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH.

The House of the Spirits
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1036700/the-house-of-the-spirits/9780099528562.html

The Lover
https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007205004/the-lover/

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1961

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Oskar Matzerath, the diminutive anti-hero of Günter Grass’ THE TIN DRUM, was unleashed upon the English-speaking world in 1961. This first translation from the German was by Ralph Manheim. Weird, sweeping, brilliant, it’s frequently nominated as one of the great 20th century novels.

Manheim’s translation contributed to the book’s huge international success, but from the 1970s onwards Grass was keen to see a new English version. With the book’s 50th anniversary approaching, he invited a number of translators into different languages to work with him on the book in his home town of Gdańsk. Breon Mitchell’s acclaimed English retranslation, published in 2009, emulates Grass’ linguistic idiosyncrasies more closely.

Also in 1961: The screenplay of the experimental film HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR was translated into English by Richard Seaver. Written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Alain Resnais, the film explored the influence of war on both Japanese and French culture, and was a major catalyst of French Left Bank cinema.

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