Monday, November 05, 2018

Ecuador: The Devil's Nose, by Luz Argentina Chiriboga

I really wanted to like this book, having searched intensively for an alternative to Jorge Icaza's Huasipungo, which seems to be the default choice for Ecuador. When I heard that Chiriboga's book was the first book by an Afro-Ecuadorian woman to be translated into English, I was intrigued.

Unfortunately I was disappointed. The book was short but very repetitive, so that it could in fact be quite a bit shorter. It tells of a group of Jamaicans brought to Ecuador to work in the construction of a railroad between Guayaquil and Quito. In the process, they had to conquer the Devil's Nose, one of the most dangerous peaks in the Andes. In the first chapter, we are told countless times in various ways that the men were leaving their families behind in order to earn money to make a better life for them. This sort of repetition is presumably present in the original untranslated text. I wondered if the author had a personal interest in this group of men, and wanted to tell an ancestor's story, but didn't have sufficient material and was trying to spin it out. Other faults may be due to the translation. I felt that it was perhaps a too literal, word for word translation which often made it very hard to understand the sense of the story. And even where the translation makes sense, it is often stilted or awkward English.

All this is a shame, because I sensed that there was an interesting story to be told here - and if one reads quickly, it is easier to get an overall impression of the story than by slowing down and trying to make sense of every sentence.

The other strange thing about this book is the prominence given to the translators, Ingrid Watson Miller and Margaret L Morris. Of course it is important to give translators their due. But it seems very odd that the "about the authors" page at the back of the book gives biographies of the translators without mentioning the original author at all.

This translation was published by Page Publishing Inc, New York in 2015. There is no mention given of when it may have been originally published in Spanish.