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  • Javier Marías’ Debt to Translation: Sterne, Browne, Nabokov by Gareth J. Wood
  • Armando Chávez-Rivera
Gareth J. Wood. Javier Marías’ Debt to Translation: Sterne, Browne, Nabokov. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. 368 pp.

Translation has been one of the most enduring passions of writer Javier Marías (Madrid, 1951) since his youth, to the point that his Spanish versions of the works of Laurence Sterne, Thomas Browne, and Vladimir Nabokov have left distinct traces on the vocabulary and prose style of his own narrative, demonstrated by this detailed study by Gareth J. Wood. [End Page 413]

The book is divided into nine chapters that include an extensive biographical background and various sections of literary analysis showing the English influences in some of the most celebrated novels of this prolific writer, including El siglo (1983), Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí (1994), and Negra espalda del tiempo (1998); together with the short stories in Mientras ellas duermen (1990). It also offers an analysis of Marías’ Spanish version of Sterne’s classic, Tristram Shandy.

This investigation minutely reconstructs Marías labor as a translator starting in his early youth; an undertaking that he still continues as editor and publisher through his publishing house, Reino de la Redonda, founded in 2002. His intent is to offer the forgotten jewels of his native language together with English texts that, in his opinion, should be known in Spanish.

A former professor of translation theory at the Complutense University of Madrid, Marías advocates that the best way to translate is to make the specific modes of writing in another language visible to the public in their own language. Such an approach seems to have settled in his work to the extent that critics pointed out that his first fictions carried an English sonority.

Marías contends that translation permits a discovery of and reveals human experiences that have not been consciously contemplated. At the same time, he defines the translation of poetry as a creative act in itself. Reading this book recalls a key figure in Latin America, Jorge Luis Borges, whose work opened a dialogue with English literature. Wood explores Marías questioning of Borges as a translator and compares the respective versions each did of Browne’s Hydriotaphia.

These pages leave the impression that the international success of this novelist, who has published in more than thirty languages and has sold more than five million copies of his books, is related to his knowledge of his favorite English authors, a list which is much longer than those chosen for this study. Wood shows that Marías believes that translation is a method of linguistic incorporation and cross-fertilization of writing itself through exposure to another tradition.

The son of philosopher Julián Marías, a noted supporter of the Spanish Republicans and who suffered the authoritarianism of Francisco Franco, Marías spent his childhood in the United States when his father was a visiting lecturer at Wellesley College. That first period outside Spain coupled with other journeys and stays throughout the world guaranteed his cosmopolitan profile.

Marías is part of the generation born under the iron fist of Franco, which was decisive for his vehement opposition to aspects of the national traditions that apparently ratified the most long-standing dictatorship, a position he shared with other contemporaries. His enthusiasm for English literature reveals part of his denunciation of the decades of his native country’s repressed and repressive environment.

In April 2008, Marías paid tribute to his passion for translation during his installation as a member of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE). In a brilliant [End Page 414] speech he described the challenges of a job that requires moving between dissimilar cultural traditions, where even the most common experiences and emotions of human beings are full of surprising nuances depending on their linguistic context, thus refuting the widespread popular belief that to translate is just to import sentences from one language to another as if each word has an exact equivalent.

His enthusiasm for translations is much more striking considering that far from maintaining a position of an academic purist of the RAE, he...


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