Translating Alicia Yánez Cossío’s “Beyond the Islands”: Cultural Context in a Galápagos Novel

Translator Amalia Gladhart (right) with author Alicia Yánez Cossío

Alicia Yánez Cossío’s third novel, Beyond the Islands (Más allá de las islas, 1980; trans. 2011), takes place in a somewhat fantastic version of the Galápagos, a place where pirates, settlers from the mainland, foreign scientists, and tourists converge. The islands are both an earthly paradise (“más allá” in the sense of great beyond) and the place that, in death, each character must leave behind. Alicia Yánez Cossío’s versatility as a writer and her depiction of the complexities of Ecuadorian society have made her one of Ecuador’s most important contemporary novelists. Although she skewers stereotypes of myopic scientists and naïve tourists, she also underscores the violence born of prejudice and intolerance. The setting in the Galápagos further reflects the tension between magic and biology that Yánez Cossío explores. Sixteenth-century sailors called the islands “enchanted” because they seemed to appear and disappear. Today the Galápagos are known as the source of many of Darwin’s insights, as a desirable tourist destination, and as an endangered UNESCO World Heritage Site precariously situated within the national waters of a country plagued by poverty and inequality. For Ecuador, the islands, annexed in 1832 and first settled as a penal colony, have been a destination for impoverished colonists from the mainland, a military base, a source of revenue and of national pride, and a hotly disputed area in which the interests of local fishermen, settlers, tour operators, and local and international conservationists come into conflict.

bookcoverMy talk offers a general overview of the novel, a reading of selected passages, and a discussion of some of the particular challenges encountered in translating the book.

Presenter profile: Amalia Gladhart, Associate Professor, Spanish (Romance Languages)

Amalia Gladhart has published widely on gender, history, and performance in contemporary Latin American theater and narrative. Her published translations include Beyond the Islands and The Potbellied Virgin, both novels by Alicia Yánez Cossío, and “Reunion,” by Ecuadorian writer Gilda Holst. She is currently working on a translation of short stories by Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer.