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  • One Hundred Years of Solitude: Two Additional Translation Corrections
  • Chester S. Halka (bio)

In 1984, Gene Dilmore published a list of corrections for Gregory Rabassa’s highly enjoyable English translation of García Márquez’s masterpiece. His intention was not “to belittle Rabassa’s accomplishment in the translation, for which we are his debtors,” but rather to clarify that passages that might seem like “sheer quirkiness on the part of García Márquez . . . were simply slips of the translation.” 1 It is in this same spirit that I offer some further comments on two additional “slips.”

The more significant of the two involves a reference to the title phrase of the novel, and it is an error that has been carried over into at least two articles that deal with the theme of translation in the work. 2 When Aureliano Segundo, at age twelve, becomes interested in the literature in Melquíades’ room, he tries to decipher the manuscripts left by the gypsy. We are told that “Melquíades talked to him about the world, tried to infuse him with his old wisdom, but he refused to translate the manuscripts. ‘No one must know their meaning until he has reached one hundred years of age,’ he explained.” 3 In the Spanish, however, it is clear that it is the manuscripts, and not the translator, that must reach one hundred years of age before they can be deciphered. The same quotation in the Spanish original reads: “Melquíades le hablaba del mundo, trataba de infundirle su vieja sabiduría, pero se negó a traducir los manuscritos. ‘Nadie debe conocer su sentido mientras no hayan cumplido cien años,’ [End Page 173] explicó.” 4 The plural verb “hayan” can refer only to manuscritos, which is plural, and not to nadie, which is singular (and is, therefore, in proper agreement with its third person, singular verb, “debe”).

This difference is significant, for it shows that García Márquez was being neither inconsistent nor willfully non-literal in this reference to the title phrase of the novel. Readers realize that Aureliano Babilonia, the character who eventually deciphers Melquíades’ manuscripts in the celebrated ending of the novel, is a young man. As he is clearly not one hundred years old, readers of the English version of the text are left to resolve what appears to be a contradiction in the narrative, at least at the literal level. The fact that Aureliano Babilonia is physically identical to Colonel Aureliano Buendía before he went to war, coupled with the fact that there is so much repetition among characters in the novel, could lead to an interpretation that the young Aureliano Babilonia is, indeed, as old as the family; other logical, non-literal interpretations could also be offered. Such interpretative efforts—however pleasurable and rewarding they might be—are not necessary, though. As the original Spanish makes clear, it is not the successful decipherer, Aureliano Babilonia, but rather the manuscripts that he deciphers that must “reach one hundred years of age.” And while establishing an exact chronology in the narrative may be difficult, it is plausible to say that the manuscripts have reached one hundred years of age when they are deciphered, while it is patently contradictory to suggest, as the English translation does, that Aureliano Babilonia is a centenarian.

The English for the sentence in question, then, could be: “‘No one must know their meaning until they have reached one hundred years of age,’ he explained.” However, because in colloquial English “they” is a possible (if ungrammatical) pronoun for such antecedents as “no one” and “someone,” this solution could still result in ambiguity for a reader, for it might be understood that either the decipherer or the manuscripts was the antecedent of “they.” No such ambiguity exists in the Spanish, where the two conjugated verbs, “debe” and “hayan” make it clear that there are two different subjects, one singular (“no one”) and one plural (“they,” referring to the manuscripts). If one wanted to avoid this ambiguity, it would probably be necessary to repeat the word “manuscripts.” Whatever the most felicitous translation solution might be, the idea expressed should be: “No one must...

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pp. 173-175
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