Mario Vargas Llosa and Helen Lane

Today we all received news that the Peruvian/Spanish novelist and essayist Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (I say “Peruvian/Spanish” novelist because he holds dual citizenship. I will always consider him a Peruvian writer).

One of the first things I thought of when I heard the news is how happy Helen Lane would have been. I also thought how wonderful it is that Helen Lane will now have so many new readers. You see, Helen Lane was one of the greatest American translators of the twentieth century, and one of Vargas Llosa’s main translators (along with Edith Grossman, another wonderful translator). To think that now, curious readers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. will experience some of Vargas Llosa’s greatest works through Helen’s beautiful translations warms my heart.

Here is a list of some of Helen’s translations:

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (my favorite!)

Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa

In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Perpetual Orgy by Mario Vargas Llosa

Fish in the Water by Mario Vargas Llosa

The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa

I, The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos

The Double Flame by Octavio Paz (Nobel winner, 1990)

Alternating Current by Octavio Paz

Convergences by Octavio Paz

Essays on Mexican Art by Octavio Paz

The Other Voice by Octavio Paz

Massacre in Mexico by Elena Poniatowska

Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez

The Perón Novel by Tomás Eloy Martínez

On Heroes and Tombs by Ernesto Sábato

State of Siege by Juan Goytisolo

Count Julian by Juan Goytisolo

Pen, Sword, Camisole by Jorge Amado

The Back Room by Carmen Martín Gaité

Cecilia Valdés by Cirilo Villaverde

Amalia by José Mármol

Peruvian Traditions by Ricardo Palma

[and many, many more…]

That last book, Peruvian Traditions, was how I met and came to know Helen Lane. I edited that book, which proved to be very difficult, and Helen and  I traded numerous emails and enjoyed many phone conversations about how to resolve certain translation problems. Twice, my partner and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit with her in her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I only knew her for 2 or 3 years, but I am so grateful for her warm, solicitous friendship in that brief period of time. She was a classy, learned, magnificent lady.

Helen would be tickled pink to know that the Nobel Prize committee is sending her thousands of new readers. So, congratulations to Mario Vargas Llosa. He is a great, deserving novelist. But for all those who cannot read Spanish, I am grateful for Helen Lane and what she did in her distinguished career to bring world literature, especially literature in Spanish, to the English-speaking world. Thank you Helen, wish you were here so that we could celebrate together…


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