Translating in High fidelity/Traducir En Alta Fidelidad: With Unfalling Respect for the Original Text, Rolando Costa Ricazo Has Produced Definitive Spanish Editions of Works by Some of the Greatest British and U.S. Writers

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Pasajeros en los trenes de America The Old Patagonian Express

"That night I went to a party with a man who had translated by books into Spanish.... He earned my admiration by finding the source of a quotation I had mischievously left unattributed in the text of one. It was two lines from Thomas Moore's "Intercepted Letters." But then, Rolando Costa Picazo had taught in Ohio and Michigan, were such things were common knowledge."

--Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express

Rolando Costa Picazo has spent a lifetime bringing the Spanish--and the English-speaking worlds together, primarily through literature. Like Gregory Rabassa, through whom U.S. readers have come to know outstanding authors writing in Spanish and Portuguese, Costa Picazo translates the creme de la creme.

The British and American works he has put into Spanish stand at the literary forefront. Among them are nonfiction by Daniel Boorstin and Jonas Salk; the short stories of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway; novels by John Updike, E. M. Forster, and Vladimir Nabokov; and poetry. In 2000, the Argentine publishing industry lost some of its best U.S. writers to Spain, and Costa Picazo thought his bibliography might end there. But when Colihue, a textbook publisher, decided to branch into the classics, he vaulted from contemporary heavyweights to time-tested works of genius. Over the past two years, he has produced definitive annotated Spanish editions of Walt Whitman's complete poems, William Shakespeare's tragedies, and Henry James's novels. The tales of Edgar Allan Poe, sixty-nine in all, roll take him through 2007, and then he moves on to Herman Melville's Moby Dick and James Joyce's Ulysses.

Asked about the old Italian adage traduttore, traditore, Costa Picazo confronts it head on: "'Translator, traitor' is sheer stupidity," he insists. "A real translation is a work of love, and no one betrays what one loves."

Truman Capote, like Paul Theroux, knew Spanish well enough to appreciate Costa Picazo's excellent rendering of The Dogs Bark. Capote not only insisted Costa Picazo do his Music for Chameleons, but also recommended him to Norman Mailer, whose Ancient Evenings and Harlot's Ghost he translated. Absolute fidelity to the text is his rule. He types only one draft, speaking aloud as his fingers run over the keyboard; descriptions and narratives, he maintains, must have the same perfect oral ring as dialogues. Although he has enjoyed meeting his authors, he doesn't want them around while he is working. A book belongs as much to the reader as to its author, he maintains, and the translator is a privileged reader, an obsessive reader. Capote, he recalls, wanted to supervise a translation, something Costa Picazo had never before experienced, and he nearly rejected The Dogs Bark over the issue. "Generally I like my authors far away," he says. "Some people like them dead."

By now Costa Picazo has won every honor available. He was selected twice, in 1994 and in 2004, for Argentina's prestigious Platinum Konex Prize, awarded every ten years to the decade's twenty most outstanding literary figures in twenty categories. Recently he was inducted into the Argentine Academy of Letters, bringing him into the ranks of such intellectuals as Ernesto Sabato and the late Jorge Luis Borges. Beyond this acclaim, many scholars would agree with Michael Rockland, professor of American studies at Rutgers University and a novelist, who calls Costa Picazo "the go-to-guy in Argentina for any inter-American cultural matter." Says Rockland, who met Costa Picazo during the latter's twenty-year stint directing Fulbright exchanges, "His name is legion among North Americans who look South and South Americans who look North."

Born in 1932, Costa Picazo may wear his tweeds like an Oxford don, but his aristocratic roots reach deep into Santa Fe, a colonial city in Argentina's heartland. His English nanny, a treasure passed on by affluent relatives, taught him not just to speak her language, but to love it. …