In 2019, at the University of Santa Marta, 88 km from Aracataca, at a prestigious forum on the work of Gabriel García Márquez, three prominent Colombian writers unanimously decided that the focus of the discussion would be “The colonel has no one to write to him” and not “Sto years of solitude” because the most famous work is a complex, difficult, intricate novel-labyrinth, and “The Colonel” is a concise, compact, short novel (1961) and has been declared the undisputed jewel in the crown of the Nobel laureate. It is with great pleasure that I allow myself to offer this gem to the attention of Bulgarian readers (published by Lachezar Minchev). It’s in bookstores now!
With these words, 20 hours ago, the translator Emilia Yulzari announced the release of a new translation of Marquez. The unconventional translation has since sparked hundreds of comments on social media. Yulzari herself explains about the title: “It’s on purpose. We’re breaking the status quo.” And to the questions raised, he says: “The first translation has exactly this title. GG Marquez could have written Nadie le escribe al coronel or No hay quien le escriba al coronel, but the author conceptually put the Colonel first, he is the main “No” in this case is not an impersonal verb (There is no bread), but it is personal, 3rd person, singular (I don’t have, you don’t have, he DOESN’T)”.
We publish some of the most interesting comments on the subject from Facebook.
“The colonel has no one to write to him” is the only correct translation of El coronel no tiene quien le escriba. Anyone who knows Spanish, who knows Marquez, cannot help but understand that this is the only way to translate Bulgarian music into Spanish, the loneliness of the protagonist, the bellicosity of nature and his profession, and the abyss of his absence. He has no one to write to him, this is the heart of the book, he is the subject of absence, as argued by Mrs. Emilia Yulzari, whom I do not know but would like to know based on this linguistic decision of hers.
No one to write to the colonel would sound like he works in a real estate office. And that sad, grammatically correct particle “is” that some suggest (“the colonel is not there”) takes away all the powerful tragedy of the main character. With this unrealized and complex “you”, which lives only in textbooks, the Colonel turns from a representative of an entire enchanted continent into a neighborhood lumpen.
Grammar was written by people, and people can decide to change it, and if anyone is going to change it, it will be writers, and translators are also like that. As Wittgenstein wrote, the limits of my language are also the limits of my world, and it is time for the Bulgarian language to move and loosen its limits.
I’m far from fluent in Spanish, but I realize that while in Spanish we have a clear distinction between “tiene” and “hay”, in Bulgarian both are expressed with “no” – which creates an ambiguity that, for me personally, is disturbing.
And because out of 10 expressions containing “no” in the Bulgarian language, eight or nine refer to “hay”, the role of the syllable “si” is to differentiate the usage – despite the presence of a full article, the expression “The colonel has no one to write to him” is confusing, even incomprehensible at first sight for many.
The thing is, however, that when adding “si” (“The colonel has no one to write to him”), the expression acquires a different meaning – an element of mercy, condescension is added, perhaps. And things start to sound different.
Hence the need to resort to “There is no one to write to the colonel” as the most reasonable (as if) compromise.
And yet, Bulgarian syntax has its own requirements, which do not necessarily have to imitate Spanish, if the sound – that’s what MU writes, no literate Bulgarian would say if he wants to express himself well, elegantly, if you will – annoys. It annoys me even after I found out why the Bulgarian title was made that way. And having seen that the Spanish does place the colonel as the subject of the absence. The fundamental question for me is whether the translator should aim for good Bulgarian or a good analogy of the foreign language from which he is translating.
I might be the only one who likes this particular title. Yes, that’s how it was spoken, at a certain historical time, by some people in South America. For me, this translation of the title is true, true, and tugs at my heart. Who finds it funny, let him laugh.
The choice to start the title with “The Colonel” rather than “To the Colonel” (.. no one to write to him), or ‘No one to write to the Colonel’ seems to me well enough defensible given that even the first sentence begins with ” The colonel”: “El coronel destapó el tarro del café y comprobó que no había más de una cucharadita”.
Even on the original cover the title “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba” is written like this: “El coronel / no tiene / quien le escriba” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_One_Writes_to_the_Colonel). In my opinion, the choice of the translator makes sense. It may not be so obvious at first glance, I agree. The question is how willing we are to accept a title that takes a bold step to step slightly outside the horizon of the reader’s expectations, and how many readers are willing/able to see the different choice as stylistic intentionality.
If, in a given sociocultural context (such as the present one, in which literate people feel socially cornered, outnumbered in a sea of illiteracy) this title risks not being perceived with the same immediacy it would enjoy were it not for this drive to regrammatization (where out of ignorance, where for public education reasons), it might make sense to replace it with a more “grammatical” one by the editor. Another issue is that we start to speak and read a Bulgarian that is increasingly reduced in terms of synthetic variety, in which we hardly deal with inversion or alternative word order, but we easily accept the wrong word order under the influence of English.
I like the title – as a person, a reader and a Hispanic. It contains both brilliant accuracy and the attendant drama, and thinking about the nuances of this combination would only be an added boon to the reader. You are without.
What Mrs. Yulzari suggests is that the colonel is an underling and has no one to write to him: the colonel has no one to write to him. As in “I have no one to write to me”. This is how it actually works, it sounds strange at first glance, but it works as long as it is understood in this way by the reader. This opportunity eluded me, but Ms. Yulzari’s articulate argument made me reconsider what she suggested. The question is whether this is possible in a third-person form without an explanatory text.