Esther Allen read an excerpt from her translation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel Zama (NYRB Classics, August 2016) at the 2016 Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference. Her translation of Jorge Luis Borges’ Three Essays: The Last Voyage of Ulysses / Flaubert and His Exemplary Destiny / Immortality, appeared in NER 20.3.
Allen is a two-time recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowships (1995 and 2010). She has translated the works of Jorge Luis Borges, José Martí, Alma Guillermoprieto, Felisberto Hernández, Rosario Castellanos, and others from Spanish, and that of Gustave Flaubert, Linda Lê, Blaise Cendrars, and others from French. Last year, she was a fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, working on a forthcoming biography of José Martí. She co-founded the PEN World Voices Festival in 2005, and has worked with the PEN/Heim Translation Fund since it was founded in 2003.
Allen began by sharing some context for her reading:
“. . . [T]his is a historical novel in three parts, and the parts are very clearly dated: 1790, 1794, 1799, which to an English speaking audience in the United States are not necessarily dates that would resonate tremendously within the history of Latin America. (The novel is set in Paraguay.) But for a Latin American reader, this is the decade prior to the decade that launches Latin America’s independence from Spain. And the novel’s main character—whose voice is the novel—it is a novel of voice—is a bureaucrat, a functionary, at the end of the Spanish empire. But he doesn’t know it’s the end of the Spanish empire. The reader knows that it’s the end of the Spanish empire, and that this world which to him seems to be so static and so unchanging is about to change completely. But he doesn’t know that, and never knows that. So that is part of what accounts for this silence in the novel.”
“. . . I’ll add that [Zama] has one of the most stunning epigraphs of any novel I know. The dedication is ‘to the victims of expectation.’