Strong Words

A short discussion with co-translator Jamie Richards on the unavoidable words in Gabriella Kuruvilla’s ‘That’s Life, Honey‘.

Gabriella Kuruvilla’s story, “That’s Life, Honey,” presents an array of narrative elements that are unprecedented in their native Italian context and certainly unusual in English. We have a teenage speaker, named Natasha, who we indirectly learn—based on the sex workers lining her street—lives in a degraded area of a city; we also find out that Natasha is not ethnically Italian, but Indian, at least on her paternal side, and that she is haunted by a lost native language that causes her to speak the only language she really can, Italian, imperfectly. Her story is punctuated by her mother’s darkly humorous expletive, “negro di merda!”, used to express her dissatisfaction with everyone and everything.

The Italian word negro migrates onto the main character as negra and becomes pivotal to the story. The translation of racial terms is always a difficult issue, as they singularly embody national and cultural ideologies and histories, which rarely overlap neatly. In translating this piece, a primary subject of the back-and-forth between Jamie and Alex—both white translators—revolved around the glaring issues associated with translating this particular word. As a slur, would the English cognate “Negro” be appropriate, or is it not strong enough? Would there be any point in italicizing?

Read the full post on the MassReview blog!

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