New Borges translation better
Sunday, November 8,
by Jorge Luis Borges. Translated by Andrew Hurley. Viking.
565 pages. $40.
Let us begin with a passage from
an earlier translation of Borges' "Funes the Memorious":
"After a sultry day, an enormous slate-colored storm had
hidden the sky. It was urged on by a southern wind." Now,
the same section as translated by Andrew Hurley: "After a
sultry day, a huge slate-colored storm, fanned by the south
wind, had curtained the sky." At first glance, the
differences may seem minor: "huge" instead of "enormous,"
"curtained" for "hidden," and the "south wind" sentence now
woven into the first.
However, the cumulative effect of
such differences are not minor; what appears subtle in a
single sentence accumulates, over the course of "Collected
Fictions," to a significantly better reading experience. The
smooth, richer language in Hurley's version brings such
pleasure that one momentarily wonders, "So, this must be
what it's like to read Borges in the original Spanish."
Your reviewer's Spanish is not
strong enough to verify so bold a speculation; however,
returning to the above example, notice the visual effect of
the word "curtained," and how, coupled with the phrase
"fanned by the south wind," it creates a more vivid mental
picture. Consider, too, the way in which the above passage
flows: subordinating "fanned by the south wind," instead of
exiling it to a separate sentence, creates a gentler
transition. "Collected Fictions" is the perfect replacement
for your worn-out copy of "Labyrinths," currently the
standard collection of Borges' work.
"Collected Fictions" likely will
become the new standard, and not merely because of the
successes of its translation. Borges' work can be difficult,
clever, obscure; though "Labyrinths" does provide a
chronology of the author's life and a bibliography for
further reading, it lacks editorial notes (except for
Borges' own). In contrast, "Collected Fictions" provides
notes which, while not exhaustive, usually sate one's
curiosity about both Borges' references and Hurley's choices
in translating them. In notes to "The Congress," for
example, Hurley explains why he did not translate the words
"Ultima Hora," the name of a newspaper in the story: it "can
be translated in two ways, 'The Eleventh Hour' or 'The
Latest News,' depending on whether one wishes to give it an
apocalyptic reading or a quotidian one."
Of course, the notes do not answer
all questions, and if paradoxes, puzzles, and the densely
allusive hold little appeal for you, then neither will
Borges' work - irrespective of the quality of the
translation or the presence (or absence) of endnotes.
However, those looking for a challenging but rewarding read
will find great satisfaction in "Collected Fictions," and
anyone already entranced by Borges will enjoy this edition
and the convenience of having all his fiction in a single
volume. Whether a fine introduction to a new friend or an
overdue reunion with an old one, "Collected Fictions" will
be welcomed by readers who enjoy language laced with ideas,
metaphysical detective stories, and the mysterious logic of
(Phil Nel is adjunct professor
of English at the College of Charleston.)