Reception of Afrindian Writing in Spain

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Although Afrindian writers may have reached a high status of international recognition for their postcolonial autobiographical works, Spanish readers are largely ignorant of them. This phenomenon is typical of African postcolonial literature in Spain, even of bestselling masters such as Chinua Achebe (1930—2013). Nearly all his works have been translated into Spanish, and Things fall apart has frequently been retranslated. However, only a few Spanish readers know of him (Zarandona 2010). By contrast, Naipaul and Ondaatje are well known—the Spanish ISBN Database (2020) includes 70 entries for Naipaul and 29 for Ondaatje. This is partly because Naipaul is a Nobel Laureate, and Ondaatje enjoyed considerable popularity throught the film adaptation of his novel, The English patient (1992). However, marginalisation is certainly the case for Afrindian writers such as Dangor and Vassanji. Hence translation alone does not guarantee a rich reception.

Fernández Ruiz (2019) identifies factors related to the poor reception of African literature in Spain. First, commercial publishers are not interested in publishing translated African literature, so it is only published when there is some kind of institutional support or sponsorship. Second, these translations are regarded as exotic second-class products appealing to a minority of readers, so publication is characterised by short print runs or small imprints. Third, there are no translators who specialise in African literature.


Christiane Nord (1997) proposes two types of translation: in ‘instrumental translation’, the function of the target text (TT) dominates, and in ‘documentary translation’ the source text (ST) function dominates.

Documentary translation is further classified as interlineal, literal, philological and exoticising. ‘Exoticising translation’ is typical of modern fiction prose: it strives to reproduce ST form, content and situation, and may include textual units of the ST. My research aim is to explore to what extent the Spanish translators have followed this exoticising principle when translating Dangor and Vassanji. Guided by this concept of exoticising translation and by a descriptive approach, my method comprises the following steps:

  • 1 Choose an extract from each translation and identify an exoticising or domesticating strategy.
  • 2 Elaborate a hypothesis according to these preliminary samples.
  • 3 Test the hypothesis by selecting excerpts of the STs and extracting all textual units (words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, excluding proper nouns) in languages other than English, and comparing them with their corresponding TT units. For convenience, the extracts are coded. The following excerpts were selected:
    • • DI: The Z town trilogy, Part 2 “Birds of prey” (1990:35-91)
    • • D2: Kafka’s curse, Chapter 2 “Majnoen” (1997:21-41)
    • • D3: Bitter Fruit, Chapters 1-3 (2001:3-42)
    • • Dl-T: Trilogía de Z town, “Aves de rapiña” (2009: 65-151)
    • • D2-T: La maldición de Kafka, “Majnoen” (1999:37-66)
    • • D3-T: Fruta amarga, capítulos 1-3 (2004:13-63)
    • • VI: The in-between world of Vikram Lail, Chapters 1-3 (2004:3-45)
    • • Vl-Tl: El mundo incierto de Vikram Lail, capítulos 1-3 (2006a: 11-56)
    • • V1-T2: La patria aliena de Vikram Lail, capitals 1- 3 (2006b:13-46).


Preliminary Analysis

After a close reading of the texts, these first extracts for my preliminary analysis were chosen because of their cultural and linguistic characteristics, their symbolic value, and because they were not included in the main excerpts that are studied more closely.

The first extract illustrates a clear example of exoticising translation, as the title of the South African anthem is kept. The translator adds an explanation in a footnote for his readers, who are unlikely to understand the emotional meaning of the song and its complex history as a symbol of the struggle:

Dl: “Sarah Kock was buried with the pomp and ceremony fitting of the widow of a hero. And when the anthem was sung, Dorothy too lifted her fist to the proud strains of ‘Nkosi Sikilel’ iAfrika though she and many others did not understand its words, but were filled with the beauty of its meaning.” (1990:107)

Dl-T: Sarah Kock fue enterrada con la pompa y la ceremonia que correspondía a la viuda de un héroe. Y cuando se cantó el himno, Dorothy también alzó el puño a los orgullosos acordes del «Nkosi Siklel iAfrika», porque aunque ni ella ni muchos otros comprendían el significado de aquellas palabras, se dejaban llevar por su belleza. (2009:172-173)

'■'«Dios bendiga África», himno de la Sudáfrica anti-apartheid, porte-riormente adoptado, con variaciones, como himno nacional. (N. del T.) [“May God bless Africa”, hymn of anti-apartheid South Africa, later adopted, with some variations, as the national anthem (my translation)]

In the second extract, similar exoticising strategies are observed:

D2: “He ignored the set of clothes, a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, the soft white kofiya, very similar to the one he wore himself, all neatly folded and displayed upon the seat of the chair. ‘Ons mense begrawe nie huí dooies asof hulle op pad partytjie toe is nie,' Malik said in Afrikaans, his tone mocking” (1997:44).

D2-T: No hizo el menor caso de las ropas que había pulcramente preparadas en una silla: traje oscuro, camisa blanca y corbata roja. La kofiya suave y blanca era muy similar a la que él mismo llevaba.

----Ons mense begrawe nie huí dooies asof hulle op pad par-tytjie toe is nie----dijo Malik en tono burlón (1999:70-71).

Glosario: ...Ons mense begrawe nie huí dooies asof hulle op pad partytjie toe is nie: nuestra gente no entierra a sus muertos como si fueran de camino a una fiesta (1999:217).

In the ST, the word ‘kofiya’ (a typical Middle Eastern headdress) is part of the South African Indian and other Muslim communities (but not part of the general non-Muslim idiom), and therefore is not given typographical emphasis. The translator rewrites it in italics, kofiya, which is the norm in Spanish for foreign words. Second, the Afrindian character, Malik, says a whole sentence in Afrikaans, reflecting the apartheid policy that required everyone in South Africa to learn Afrikaans. Malik mocks the language because Afrikaans was the language of the oppressor. English-speaking South African Indians tended not to be fluent, so the use of Afrikaans is especially marked. The translator reproduces the whole textual unit without any explanation, which constitutes exoticising. The compensation appears in a final glossary (1999:217), a detailed paratext that solves most of the linguistic and cultural difficulties that Spanish readers may encounter. However, the translator omits the name of the language

The Translation of Diasporic African Indian Autobiographical 103 (Afrikaans) in both the text and glossary, probably assuming that her readers will not have heard of this language.

In the third extract, the translator also chooses an exoticising method, keeping the local word tsotsi. As in the above extracts, the word appears in italics, marking it as foreign, and possible misunderstanding is avoided in a glossary where three Spanish synonyms are offered (2004:364).

D3: “drinking in the street like a kid, or worse still, like a tsotsi who had taken to petty crime because he couldn't face life” (2001:6)

D3-T: bebiendo en la calle como un niño, o todavía peor, como un tsotsi que había empezado a cometer delitos de poca importancia porque era incapar de hacer frente a la vida. (2004:17)

Glosario: ... tsotsi: gandul, vago, gamberro (2004:364).

In the fourth extract, we find mixed translation strategies:

Vl: “Why don’t you go back to India? I’d miss you, but you can go and make up with bauji ... and I could even follow you later with my family.

He grunted. I could never make up with bauji, not at this moment.” (2004:83)

Vl-Tl:----¿Por qué no vuelves a la India? Yo te echaría de menos, pero

podrías hacer las paces con bauji... Y quizá dentro de un tiempo mi familia y yo podríamos reunimos allí contigo.

----No podría hacer las paces con padre, de momento no----refunfuñó él----. (2006a:93)

V1-T2: ¿Per qué no te’n tornes a l’Índia? Et trobaria a faltar, però podries fer les paus amb el papa: i fins i tot jo podría venir després, amb la família.

Et tiet Mahesh va rondinar. No podría fer les paus amb el papa de cap manera, si més no ara. (2006b:77)

The Indian word ‘bauji’ appears twice in the ST. The Spanish translator transfers it the first time as ‘bauji’ (not capitalised and not in italics, thereby contravening Spanish convention), but then chooses to explain it by means of the formal padre (father). Neither a footnote nor a glossary entry is provided. We only have this balance between one instance of exoticising (bauji) and one of domestication (padre). By contrast, the Catalan translator changes both instances of‘bauji’ to the informal papa (daddy), indicating a preference for domestication. The translator ignores the fact that this solution is too colloquial for the typical pragmatic uses of language and strict forms of address between younger and older generations within Afrindian family circles.

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