Things went smoothly during my quest for the rights to publish an English-language translation of Haroldo Conti’s Sudeste a few years ago: the family (heirs to their father’s work) were excited to think Harold’s expressed wish to be read in English would, after a long half-century, come to be realised; they only asked via their efficient and interested legal adviser for a modest increase in the fee I should pay to obtain the rights, and they were more than kind to me on my visit to Argentina during the preparation of the book.
I’m working hard on the second volume for the Library shelf, now, and after five months’ trying, I’ve yet to sign an agreement for the publication of another classic novel that deserves a readership in English after a similar half-century waiting. I’ve yet to receive any response from someone who might legitimately authorise a ceding of rights, in fact. Perhaps this is only the natural swing of the pendulum after the ease of the Conti agreement.
I was initially misled by the Spanish publisher of this novel into believing I only had to send in my project plan to formalise an agreement, as they had a rights agreement “in perpetuity”, signed with the author in the days when this was legally permitted. A long silence followed the submission of my project, before a bit of bothering of the company secretary produced a reply from the Foreign Rights Manager, to the effect that no one could lay a hand on the alleged contract; hence no agreement with me was possible. However, along with an apology, he supplied me with the address of the Foundation dedicated to the author’s work, to whom I sent a couple of emails and a note directly on their website. More months past, and I asked my son – making a new life for himself in Colombia – to do a bit of hunting of addresses for me. His diligent work must have had some effect (if not directly), for I suddenly received a reply from the Foundation, along with the email address of a member of the author’s family responsible for communication around their father’s (I presume) work. I wrote at once, and waited… for another six, silent weeks.
I’ve just reapplied to the Foundation in search of progress. Meanwhile, I’ve got half the new translation into draft, now, after five months’ work, and in another three I’ll be arriving in Colombia – a not very helpful clue, admittedly – to do the additional work required in the preparation of a similarly complete introduction to another novelist new to the English-language reader. One might ask: why am I working on the translation already if I have as yet no concession of rights?
The daily work is a pleasure; and this is why I do it. And the idea of making a delightful job of translation, of living more deeply with the source text, into an adventure in life is enough reason to spend a couple of months in a South American country I’ve yet to see; add the wish to prepare the best possible biographical note on the author, and to make sure I’ve understood the matices of Castillian Spanish as it’s used in the zone where the novel is set, and a visit is no more than necessary to the work.
But what if I fail in the end to obtain the permission to publish?
There are few certainties in life, and if only the certainty of success were a motivation to set to work, I wonder if I’d do more than roll downhill to the local market for my fruit and veg each Monday morning. Meanwhile, on with the pleasure of the text, and with my fingers crossed.
Jon Lindsay Miles