A recent Washington Post article on the Colombian pop star (and SK favorite) Shakira ("Sense and Sensuality"), predictably quoted from Gabriel García Márquez's 1999 profile of the artist. I'm ashamed to say, however, that until a couple of days ago I myself had not read it. A quick online search brought up the original Spanish version, published in the Colombian paper Cambio in June 1999. I read it ravenously, mentally translating into English, as I tend to do when I really like what I'm reading and already anticipate sharing it with non-Hispanophones. But then it hit me: Certainly, an article this well known already exists in English translation? Indeed it does--sort of.
On June 8, 2002 the Guardian, a UK newspaper, published an article in English titled "The poet and the princess." The subhead reads: "They are the greatest Colombians: Shakira, pop phenomenon, and Gabriel García Márquez, novelist. Naturally, they had to meet--and he, the magical realist, was astonished by her fantastical work-rate." Ignoring the ridiculous pun on "fantastical" and the over-used modifier "magical realist," what struck me about this subhead is that it suggests a contemporaneous "encounter" between "the poet and the princess," meaning one that occurred at around the date of publication. Naturally, I assumed that what the Guardian editors meant was that "they had to meet" again, in addition to their 1999 meeting. I started reading the English article and instantly recognized it as a translation of the 1999 interview, though no mention of a translator is made.
This didn't make any sense to me. This famous interview took place in 1999, so how can the article pretend to situate it in 2002? The Spanish original makes several references to topical events--a benefit in Colombia for the victims of the 1999 Armenia earthquake, preparation for Shakira's first English-language album (the one that became Laundry Service), her current single-status, and others--so there's no way, I'm thinking, that any of this could pass as 2002. But the editors of the Guardian had anticipated this chronological shift and their solution was, in my view, highly problematic, if not unethical.
One familiar translation strategy that they attempted was substitution, to replace events in 1999 with parallel or similar events in 2002. A benefit for the 1999 Armenia earthquake victims finds a vague replacement in Shakira's 2002 visit to Bogotá "[to console] victims of an earthquake." Shakira's age is updated (23 to 26), the only truly successful substitution. But when things don't coincide seamlessly--for instance, Shakira was no longer single in 2002--the editors opted for omission (the original mentions an old boyfriend by name, which is left out in the translation). February 2002 proved to be as busy and hectic for Shakira as 1999 but the dates in the 2002 translation don't quite match up with the 1999 calendar. For instance, the Guardian reports that "on Tuesday 16, [Shakira] appeared on a live TV show in Costa Rica." Yes, February 16, 1999 fell on a Tuesday but in 2002 it happened to be a Saturday. Rather than reflect a "fidelity to the original," keeping the original dates in an already mangled translation just smacks of laziness. Unless, of course, we're to believe that Shakira's yearly schedule doesn't change very much.
This attempt to pass off a translation as a topical original undermines what made García Márquez's original profile of Shakira so interesting and, dare I say, important. In 1999, Shakira was big in Colombia but was just starting to push her way into the U.S. and international music market. It was a snapshot of a star about to become a supernova. She was poring through the English-language rhyming dictionaries that would help her write the songs of Laundry Service. She had yet to date Antonio de la Rúa, to whom she is now engaged. She was not blonde. To me, the Guardian reworking of this article is analogous to carving a Speedo onto Michelangelo's David because to do so would be more in keeping with today's fashion.