Congratulations to MS in Translation and Interpreting (MSTI) Adjunct Professor Elizabeth Lowe, whose translation of Rómulo Betancourt: His Historical Personality and the Genesis of Modern Democracy in Venezuela by Germán Carrera Damas has recently been published by the University Press of Florida.
September 10, 2021
MSTI Faculty Spotlight: Elizabeth Lowe Publishes New Translation
How did you get started on this translation and how did you choose to pursue it?
I was approached by the University Press of Florida asking if I would be interested in translating the book. They had received a grant for the translation and were seeking someone with an academic background in Latin American Studies and literature to do the work. I usually translate fiction, however in this case, I felt it was a good challenge to work on a scholarly text by an eminent Venezuelan historian on a topic of importance for world politics today. It was also, I felt, a public service, to bring attention to Venezuela and its complex history to the English speaking world, particularly since democracy is in peril in that country.
This is your second translation published this year! How long does it usually take you to translate a book?
The length of time I spend on a translation depends on the length and complexity of the book. This one, which runs almost 500 pages, took me three years to complete. It is a very difficult book, which required research and consultation with subject matter experts.
How does translating a literary biography differ from translating a novel or a short story?
I would describe this book as an extended essay rather than a biography. The author’s purpose was to shed light on the figure of Rómulo Betancourt, his personal trajectory as a man and a politician, and the evolution of his political thought. It is a non-fiction work that draws on the author’s academic expertise and knowledge of his subject. Since the essay and the novel are two different genres, translating each genre requires some knowledge of the genre itself and its stylistic conventions and techniques. An essay demands close attention to the subject matter and the academic register of the text; a novel invites the translator to recreate the fictional world of the book in all its dimensions within the conventions of novelistic style, including development of character, dialogue, plot, and use of metaphorical language. Any genre requires attention to detail and the need to be consistent.
Were there particular challenges translating Rómulo Betancourt?
The author, Germán Carrera Damas, is an erudite scholar who writes in the tradition of Latin American scholarship, which values a high register of language, complex syntax, Latinate vocabulary, and numerous literary and historical allusions. The text requires close reading. The biggest challenge was to make the text readable in English without smoothing it over, or diminishing its unique characteristics.
Why is it important for an English language readership to have access to this book?
The history of democracy in Venezuela and the threat to the country’s democratic institutions under the current government of Nicolás Maduro is an important case study in the fragility of democracy and the importance of protecting it. As the country’s current economic and political crisis intensifies, this book will help English speakers understand the cultural context of Venezuela’s contemporary moment as well as historical precedent for the next stages in the development of its position in the world.
What was your favorite part of translating this book?
What I most appreciated about this project was the challenge of working with a difficult text and creating an English version of it that will make sense to English language readers and bring a large new audience to the book.
Elizabeth Lowe is a translator, scholar, teacher and writer. She is the founding director of the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Illinois and also spent part of her career at the University of Florida. She is on the editorial boards of Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas and Cadernos de Tradução. She is a member of the PEN Translation Committee. She received a 2020-21 National Endowment for the Arts grant to translate works by Brazilian writer Nélida Piñon.
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