I recently translated one of the Argentine writer Roberto Arlt’s very first short stories: “El gato cocido,” from 1926. Arlt is hardly known outside of Latin America–indeed, outside of Argentina–and little of his work is translated. But it’s worth a read, not least (as critic Ricardo Piglia has argued) as the messy face of early twentieth-century modernization, as opposed to Borges’s splendid but often icy lucidity.
Precisely because of its messiness, its localism, its use of slang and (frankly) at times its sheer ungrammaticality, Arlt’s writing is a challenge to translate. Any suggestions for improvements or changes would be most appreciated.
Here’s how it starts:
“Old Pepa Mondelli lived in Las Perdices. She was an aunt of my in-laws, who were the children of Alfonso Mondelli, the terrifying Don Alfonso, who used to beat his wife, María Palombi, in the back office of his General Store business. He exploded, there’s no other way to put it, one night in an attic of the big house jam-packed with merchandise, while in Italy Mrs Palombi spent, on the dentists of Terra Bossa, the money that Don Alfonso was sending to support his children’s schooling.
“Now the seven Mondellis were dark, egotistical, and cruel as death. It was said that one of them once, in front of the train station, used his whip handle to beat out the eyes of a horse that couldn’t pull an over-laden cart out from a pothole.
Thanks to María Palombi, passion raced in their blood, combined with the nerve to stop short suddenly, making their fury at the moment of danger all the more calculating. This they showed later on.”
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