As if chance were that hidden force I believe in only when it is convenient to do so, and of which I’m suspicious when it moves like a wave against me, the last two books I’ve read told the stories of translators. Both men, both involved in the task of unveiling the secret behind the English language. Their plots are very much dissimilar, their characters even more, but both, using different styles and registers, converge in one idea: translating is an ongoing and never-ending process that the translator can never get rid of; that activity that haunts him even when he’s resting.
When a lawyer leaves Court, goes home, kisses his wife and sips his whisky, all that is left from the day is a sensation. That is, the happiness or sadness that accompanies an outcome. He may have brought with him his problems, the stress of the sometimes unfair side of justice, but the laws he used that day, the Codes he may have gone to for guidance or the criminals he may have put in prison do not remain with him.
When a translator finishes his day, turns off his computer and gives a rest to the words he has been dealing with all day, the words never leave him. Working with the language is surrendering to the idea that your works goes with you anywhere you go: in a bad subtitle, in a song, in a friend using a conditional sentence with an incorrect verb conjugation, in a book whose original version cries for the actions of a lazy translator.
It can become a nightmare, it can be tiresome and exhausting, but the relentlessly souls that handle with care the art of rendering a piece into another language know that the ultimate goal is the only reward. The architects that bridge the gap day after day and night after night, can only find true rest when the islands that separate both languages can unite in one territory, one unified language that can haunt us all alike.
*The books superficially cited in the text:
The Past, Alan Pauls
Heart So White, Javier Marías