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Gladhart publishes translation of Yánez Cossío’s Beyond the Islands

Beyond the Islands, Prof. Gladhart’s translation of Ecuadorian writer Alicia Yánez Cossío’s third novel, Más allá de las islas (1980), was published in March, 2011 by University of New Orleans Press. The novel takes place in a somewhat fantastic version of the Galápagos; the islands become a site of cross-cultural exchange, as pirates, settlers from the mainland, foreign scientists, and tourists converge on the archipelago.

Each of the eight chapters centers on a particular character as that character attempts to evade an ambiguously personified –but always female– Death. Yánez Cossío uses the islands’ isolation and the overlapping discourses surrounding them (evolutionary biology, ecotourism, pirate stories) to address issues also present within mainland Ecuador. By turns hilarious and troubling, her sharp-eyed yet ultimately generous treatment of small town self-importance and personal ambition blends humor and social commentary. Although she skewers stereotypes of myopic scientists and naïve tourists, she also underscores the violence born of prejudice and intolerance. The setting in the Galapagos further reflects the tension between magic and biology that Yánez Cossío explores.

Sixteenth-century sailors called the islands “enchanted” because they seemed to appear and disappear. Today the Galapagos are known as the source of many of Darwin’s insights, as a desirable tourist destination, and as an endangered UNESCO World Heritage Site precariously situated within the national waters of a country plagued by poverty and inequality. For Ecuador, the islands, annexed in 1832 and first settled as a penal colony, have been a destination for impoverished colonists from the mainland, a military base, a source of revenue and of national pride, and a hotly disputed area in which the interests of local fishermen, settlers, tour operators, and conservationists come into conflict. All of these groups appear in Yánez Cossío’s novel.

To translate a novel is to rewrite it, and the challenges posed are both scholarly and aesthetic. The translated text is necessarily different than the original, in part because of the context in which it is read. Yánez Cossío’s novels are full of puns, neologisms, and tongue-in-cheek references to local politics and history. Yánez Cossío’s novels depict a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society, and the characters’ speech varies by region and social class. For instance, Beyond the Islands includes one character who speaks very poor Spanish and another who adopts a more formal, elevated usage that she is unable to maintain for more than a sentence or two. My challenge as a translator was to find analogous distortions in English that would produce a similarly humorous critique.



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