While reading a moving passage from Saramago’s Nobel acceptance speech about his illiterate grandparents, Jull Costa’s voice broke slightly. A sniffling sound made me turn my head to find both of my companions – and many others in the room – with moist eyes. It was clear that for Jull Costa translation is not merely a job or an exercise, but a means of reading sensitively, deeply, respectfully. At the end of her talk, one was left with Jose Saramago. Without having been self-effacing or trumpeting her talents, Jull Costa had simply conveyed, beautifully, Saramago’s words, and through them, why Saramago matters, and why having his work available in English matters. In response to a question, her admission that her pleasure in translating wasn’t out of a particular interest in Spanish or Portuguese literature so much as it was an interest in the English language elicited a palpable reaction. Even if this seemed an obvious point, I felt I’d had an epiphany: a great translator is, first and foremost, a great reader – and, following that, a great writer as well.
- Scott Walters attends the Margaret Jull Costa event put on by the Center for the Art of Translation.