Hispanic Authors Get English Audience

Article excerpt

MARGARET Sayers Peden usually stays in the shadows of the popular Hispanic authors whose works she translates into English. Among them are Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda and Juan Rulfo.

Still, the Missouri-born scholar has had a long and distinguished career, winning more than 18 awards as a translator. At nearly 70, she's just finished building a house in Columbia, Mo., and is in the midst of translating two new books - the latest Allende novel and a book by Christina Saralegui, a Latin-American talk show host with 30 million viewers. "A translator doesn't have one voice," she modestly notes.

In her spare time, she talks about "Poems, Protests, and a Dream," published by Penguin Classics on March 18. The author is Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a 17th-century Mexican nun whose work took Peden several years to translate. Peden considers Sor Juana's "First I Dream" to be "the most ultra-baroque poem you've ever read. She's consciously erudite and sometimes obscure, yet as good as Cervantes. The poem is her quest for total knowledge and union with God, which in her mind was the cosmos." At close to 1,000 lines, "First I Dream" has an elaborate rhyme scheme called a silva, with seven- and 11-beat lines. "As you well know, it's against the current to rhyme. I understand the reasons, but I try it because Sor Juana did not live in 1990; she lived in the 17th century. When you go to her convent in Mexico City, it has a beautiful symmetry, all in black and white, with light and shadow forming geometric shapes. Everything is very tightly formed. Her life was constrained and enclosed. To take the poems out of that kind of vessel, you've given up before you start if you want to convey anything about what her world was like." As translator of more than 30 books and numerous short works, Peden's productivity is matched only by her sensitivity to voice and nuance. She has translated the "Elemental Odes" of Pablo Neruda, the most complex novels of Carlos Fuentes - "Terra Nostra," "The Hydra Head," and "The Old Gringo. …