For the past 16 years, I’ve been working on a new translation into English of Juan Rulfo’s masterpiece, Pedro Páramo.
In 2003 I took a copy of the book with me to India where I was studying the relationships between people and land in Tamil on a Fulbright Grant. Each morning before breakfast, I climbed the stairs to the upstairs room of my Tamil teacher’s house and read Rulfo’s Spanish out loud for an hour. Very quickly I found myself deeply in love, reading the book five times back to back, as I hadn’t done with a book since I was a child.
“I have to share this with friends,” I thought when I returned home, and went straight to the library to find a translation. Eagerly I opened the volume to the first page, to the lines that had so captivated me in the Spanish. But no. Nothing of the magic I’d encountered was there. I didn’t even check out the copy. “Ah, well,” I thought to myself, “I guess I can’t share it with friends after all. I’m certainly not going to translate it.”
But as sometimes happens, that fall, while working on something else entirely, I began to wonder how one might translate the book’s first line more fully. On a piece of scratch paper I began playing with the words till I got something that sounded almost right. And since part of Rulfo’s genius is how each sentence leads to the next with magnetic intensity, I had to give the second line a try. And that was it. I knew I’d have to attempt the whole thing.
Now I have the whole book in a version I would be proud to publish. Not only that, there are many others who would be eager to see it published too. When the late John Berger read it aloud with his wife, he wrote to me to say that he and Beverly were “absolutely spell-bound. A new experience of reading, and a walk between life and death never before taken! Thank you for evermore (As it might say.).” He also spoke of my refusal to over-translate or “avoid the wonderful risks that you take and get away with, to convey the gossip of the dead!”
Perhaps most gratifying of all, Rulfo’s own children are eager for my translation to be published.
However, the situation surrounding the English translation rights to Pedro Páramo remains, as an agent once described it, complicated. So at least for the time being there is no way to publish a new version. Nonetheless, the effort to do so continues.
In the meantime, I am happy to share excerpts privately with interested readers, students, or scholars. I am also happy to hear from anyone who shares my desire to see an English translation in print that does justice to Rulfo’s work. Please feel free to contact me with any thoughts, suggestions, or requests, and I’ll look forward to being in touch.