Bill Eamon, Honors College Dean, NMSU-Las Cruces, recommends this work.
Gabriel García Márquez, one of the greatest if not the greatest novelist of all time, died this spring. I suggest for summer reading his finest novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad), a novel that everyone should read and, this year, read again. I plan to put it on my summer reading list to read again, for the third time.
As an added bonus, the novel contains what is surely the greatest first line in the history of literature, which reads, in English translation:
“Many years later as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
Readers of Spanish will notice a slight anomaly in the translation, in that the translation of a certain Spanish word is problematic. The Spanish reads:
“Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.”
The anomaly, of course, is the problematic translation of “conocer” as “discover.” García Márquez’s translator, Gregory Rabassa, must have struggled with this. For he knew he had just read the greatest first line in the history of literature, and he knew he had to get it right. But conocer almost always means “become familiar with,” as in the sense English speakers would use it of persons, or cities, or languages. What sense does it make to say, in English, “get to know ice”? As in “How do you do, Mr. Ice. Nice to know you.” It makes perfect sense in Spanish, but it’s hard to grasp in English. And so Rabassa chose “discover” as his translation of conocer.
Does the scientist “get to know” nature in that sense? Maybe a poet does. Usually we say a scientist discovers nature, or makes discoveries about nature. So, Rabassa’s translation makes perfect sense in English, but does it really capture what García Márquez intended to say?
Recently, during a conversation with a friend about this passage, I discovered that this linguistic anomaly might contain a clue to understanding discovery. It certainly raises interesting questions about the meaning of the word discovery. And, since NMSU is “All about discovery!” this could be an excellent choice for summer reading. Think of what fascinating conversations we could have next year about discovery, about Latin American literature, and maybe even about ice.