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blog — January 18

From Asymptote Journal: Daniella Gitlin on translating Rodolfo Walsh’s Operation Massacre

Daniella Gitlin is the translator of Rodolfo Walsh's true crime masterpiece, Operation Massacre The following interview between Gitlin and Lara Norgaard originally appeared in Asymptote. You can read the full interview here.

Lara Norgaard (LN): Tell me a bit about how you came to translate Operation Massacre.

Daniella Gitlin (DG): I spent the year after college in Buenos Aires working for a nonprofit, Poder Ciudadano, with a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship. I was back in Argentina for a visit and told my friends there that I was applying for the nonfiction writing program at Columbia. Before I left, my friend Dante gave me a copy of Operación Masacre with a dedication in it. He wrote, “Dani my dear, a little ‘Argentinian nonfiction’ will do you good. I hope you like it.” I took the book back with me. I had heard of Walsh, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

I started school at Columbia’s nonfiction program in 2008 while working part time for Seven Stories Press. I took a translation workshop as part of my degree. I tried to translate something from Russian, but then I remembered the Walsh book. I translated some of it and the workshop gave me good feedback. When I confirmed that there was no English version, I wrote a book proposal and pitched it to my boss at Seven Stories.

At first he was a little concerned. He wanted to make sure that the book wasn’t too local. How are you going to make readers here get it and care about it? That’s how we ended up getting an introduction by Michael Greenberg, an afterward from Ricardo Piglia, and my translator’s note. Piglia situated the book in Latin American literature. Greenberg had spent some time in Argentina and writes for The New York Review of Books. He’s a journalist and placed Operation Massacre in context for the US reader.

LN: When you first read Operation Massacre, what made you think this is a book that could be published and that should be published? What was it about the text that made you see its potential?

DG: The truth is, I read the book as I translated it. Reading something in Spanish wasn’t easy for me, and Walsh’s language is direct and clear, but it’s also from the fifties. It’s very local and Argentinian, and there’s a lot of military and legal vocabulary, references that I had to look up, and so on. I was encountering the text almost in the way that a reader encounters it, which was very interesting in terms of translation as a practice of reading and writing. I couldn’t adjust my translation according to what I knew came later. In retrospect, the fact that the book grabbed me as much as it did just from the prologue is indicative of why it’s so incredible. I was hooked by the first few pages.

I knew it would be a huge responsibility to put Walsh into English for the first time, especially because he did some translation and has Irish ancestry. His prose is a little bit more Anglo in that his phrases are shorter and more direct. They are only occasionally circuitous, when it’s very intentional. That spoke to me. It felt like I could hear Walsh and know that it would be a good idea to render it in English, and that it could be rendered well in English.

There’s also the question of stakes. Even before Walsh knows the stakes of what he’s doing, he conveys a kind of urgency. His encounter with this unbearable situation comes across on the page. It’s so honest.

To continue reading, head over to Asymptote Journal.