Recently, I went to Borders with my neighbor– whose first language is Mandarin– and we had a discussion about what is lost in translation in books. She found a book by Gabriel García Márquez translated into English and told me I should buy it, but I told her that there was no point for me to read a translation if I could read it how it was originally intended. My neighbor is not a big reader and couldn’t really grasp the power of language and how it is hard to translate literature.
I’m not trying to say that it is impossible to translate a work from Spanish to English because I think it can be done. However, it would be very silly of me to skip on the opportunity to read in my native language.
To me, reading in Spanish is a sensory experience . I usually think and dream in Spanish, and reading in my language is more attractive because it appeals better to my subconscious mind.
In addition, I think that Romantic languages, in general, have better cadence.
For this reason, I find it especially difficult to translate poetry.
I found one of my favorite poems by Gioconda Belli translated to English and was disappointed. “Y Dios me Hizo Mujer” , or “And God Made me Woman” in English, which fails to capture the cadence of Spanish. Only the title is not as powerful in English as it is in Spanish. The word “and” lacks the potential for alliteration that “y” (which is pronounced as a vowel in Spanish) has. In the second stanza, Belli uses “y” to emphasize the qualities of her gender; “y pliegues y suaves hondonadas y me cavó por dentro” does not translate properly to say “and folds and soft hollows…”
When I first read “Y Dios me Hizo Mujer,” I was hooked to Belli’s poetry. I don’t know if it is because I read the poem in Spanish first, or because of the subtle rhythm of the poem in Spanish, but the translation of the poem failed to move me the way the original poem did.