Asked to name any novel in translation, how many readers would immediately think of ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE? First published in Spanish in 1967 at the height of the Latin American boom, this seminal work by the Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez was instantly, and phenomenally, successful. A classic of the genre that became known as ‘magical realism’, it’s sold more than 45 million copies worldwide and been translated into 44 languages, making it the best-selling and most-translated Spanish-language book in modern history, after DON QUIXOTE. In a survey of international writers in 2009, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE topped the poll of novels that had shaped world literature over the preceding 25 years. García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his oeuvre in 1982.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE was translated from the Spanish by the great Gregory Rabassa and published in English in 1970. The author famously praised Rabassa’s translation as ‘better than the original’, calling him ‘the best Latin American writer in the English language’. On the advice of Julio Cortázar, García Márquez waited three years for Rabassa to be free to translate his novel. He later said that both of his eminent translators, Rabassa and Edith Grossman, exemplified what he liked best about translation in that they placed intuitiveness above intellectualism. Rabassa himself commented: ‘When I talk about it, I say the English is hiding behind his Spanish. That’s what a good translation is: you have to think if García Márquez had been born speaking English, that’s how a translation should sound.’
Another bestselling translated book that year was PAPILLON, Henri Charrière’s ostensibly autobiographical account of his incarceration in and subsequent escape from the penal colony of French Guiana. It has been described as ‘the greatest adventure story of all time’ and was later made into a major film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Two English translations from the original French were published in 1970: Patrick O’Brian’s appeared in the UK, while the US edition was translated by June P. Wilson and Walter B. Michaels.
Finally, two other notable works that first became available to us in English in 1970: THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN by the Japanese Nobel Prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata was translated by Edward Seidensticker; and BABI YAR: A DOCUMENT IN THE FORM OF A NOVEL. Anatoli Kuznetsov’s shocking account bears witness to the massacre of more than 33,700 Jewish civilians over two days in the Babi Yar ravine in Ukraine in 1941. Kuznetsov, who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation of Kyiv, wove together his own and other eye-witness accounts to write this important testimony to one of the largest single mass killings of the Holocaust. It was initially published in a Russian journal in 1966, heavily censored and edited. Three years later Kuznetsov defected from the USSR to the UK, bringing with him the unexpurgated version he described as ‘the authentic text’. This was published in 1970 under the pseudonym ‘A. Anatoli’, in a translation from the Russian by David Lloyd.