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New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship, edited by Lucía Pintado Gutiérrez and Alicia Castillo Villanueva

Reviewed by Aoife Cantrill, University of Oxford

New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship, edited by Lucía Pintado Gutiérrez and Alicia Castillo Villanueva. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. £89.99. ISBN: 9783030006976.


Mona Baker, in her seminal work Translation and Conflict (2006, 2018), cites translation and interpretation as parts of the ‘institution of war’ (2). Baker places language at the heart of war’s processes, beginning with declaration, ending with statements of victory and surrender. Practically speaking, throughout history multilingual groups have coalesced due to or for the purpose of conflict; whether that be peace-breakers, mercenaries, or victims. Translation becomes a practical component of such interactions. Importantly, it also becomes the medium through which stories of conflict reach wider audiences. 

            New Approaches to Translation, Conflict and Memory: Narratives of the Spanish Civil War and the Dictatorship (2018)edited by Lucía Pintado Gutiérrez and Alicia Castillo Villanueva, echoes Baker’s understanding of translation and interpretation as counterparts to conflict. The collection of essays seeks to redress two interconnected imbalances: first, the dearth of narratives about experiences of defeat, trauma, and victimhood during the Spanish Civil War; and second, the use of translation as a tool to exclusively forward a victor’s narrative in the aftermath of war. Central to this idea is the conception of translation as a means to control information flows – not only what flows out, but also what flows in. The volume is careful in its recognition that the control of translation is not only about censorship pre-publication, but also constricting the export of narratives that can leave a society and reach foreign audiences. The book’s central theme is thus translation’s ability to present particular narratives of conflict to those beyond its bounds through source selection, omission, exaggeration and so on. The book itself achieves this act. Through its various essays, it presents a body of translated material relevant to the Spanish Civil War that has previously been either unseen, underappreciated, or in some instances forgotten entirely.

            The collection’s essays are divided into four parts: the first dedicated to the African-American writer Langston Hughes, a member of the Harlem Renaissance who came to Spain to write reports for the Afro-American magazine; the second to interpretation practices within the International Brigade; the third to censorship practices following the war; and the final section to translation and memory. When read as a whole, the essays reflect the vibrancy of translation studies at present, as the reader encounters theories of textual translation, intercultural translation, and adaptive translation.

            The two essays on Langston Hughes are configured nicely in this regard. The first, contributed by Patricia San José, looks at how Hughes’s understanding of the Spanish Civil War was informed by his own participation in the struggle for Civil Rights in 1930s America. His articles written during the conflict equate racism and fascism as socially oppressive forces: ‘give Franco a hood and he would become a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a kleagle’ (31). While in Spain, Hughes became intellectually preoccupied with the North African soldiers fighting in Franco’s armies, translating a number of poems about their experiences. In his essays, he interprets their role in the conflict through his experience of racial prejudice in the United States: he sees them as ‘deluded and driven’, pawns in the games of fascism (35). José uses Hughes’s commentary on this matter to highlight the new perspective he provides on the conflict. In the American author’s writing on North African soldiers, José sees a ‘bidirectional motion’ (24); the narrative of conflict is altered, as an outsider adds new dimensions through their legitimate and unique perspective. José describes this as ‘cultural translation’ (24) – a conceptual process that goes beyond the translation of a text from one language into another. Andrew Samuel Walsh’s essay, on the other hand, considers more orthodox translation practices, discussing Hughes’s ‘lost translation’ of Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads (Romancero gitano) (46). Walsh sees Hughes and Lorca as equally committed to social justice, emphasising the effectiveness of Hughes’s translation – particularly in its mirroring of Lorca’s use of rhythm. Read together, the two essays present parts of the book’s overall aims in microcosm – new narratives of the conflict, and an embracing of a definition of translation practices that stretches beyond the textual.

            The book’s other main concern is memory – a topic dealt with most convincingly by María Pilar Cáeres Casillas’s essay on memory and translation in La cabellera de la Shoá [The Hair of Shoa] (2015) by Felix Grande. Here, Casillas applies Derrida’s concepts of hauntology, thanatography, and untranslatability to talk about translation as ‘the endless process of attempting to name the experience of death-in-life’ (212). She develops this idea by evoking an equivalence between translation and grief, arguing that the process of translation provokes a kind of mourning, as some degree of loss is an inherent part of the action itself. What this discussion articulates quite convincingly is the capacity for translation to be a therapeutic act of healing – a way of communicating trauma, whilst also working through it. Behind this idea is an argument for translation for translation’s sake – removing the obligation to communicate with a wider audience, the act becomes about the individual. The position of this essay, at the book’s close, is an apt conclusion to a body of work that explores translation’s ability to foreground forgotten voices, as it restores emphasis to the owners of those voices themselves, and their personal reckonings with conflict.

            In such a collection it is difficult to pinpoint a substantial moment of weakness. That said, though the essays are very effective when read collectively, the four parts do exist fairly independently from one another. The compartmentalisation of the structure prevents an explicit discussion of the interaction between memory and censorship, for example. There are also some small areas where I wished analysis had delved a little further. Inês Espada Vieira’s chapter on the post-war manipulation of memory successfully compares Spain’s Civil War to Portugal’s Colonial Wars. Vieira discusses the parallel traumas of the two nations, and questions whether Portugal will eventually mirror Spain with an open discussion of memories from conflict. With this analysis in mind, her treatment of the Portuguese translation of Los girasoles ciegos (Blind Sunflowers) by Alberto Méndez (2004) would benefit from more exploration of the translation’s ‘shortcomings’ (198), and in particular how they might affect the Portuguese reader’s understanding of the text. Similarly, Marcos Rodríguez-Espinosa’s article on interpretation in the International Brigades, despite aiming to focus especially on ‘common language’ (69), provides limited examples of the hybrid language of the ‘universal soldiers’ (71). A more extensive discussion of the topic would have enriched not only Rodríguez-Espinosa’s article, but also the content of the collection as a whole. 

            The collection also leads the reader to consider how the project could further its aims. At various moments the essays make reference to non-textual translation practices, particularly in Kyra A. Kietrys’s chapter on the TV adaptations of María Dueñas’ 2009 novel El Tiempo entre costuras. The story first appeared on Spanish television in 2013, in a version directed by Iñaki Mercero, and is currently available on the streaming platform Netflix with the English title The Time In Between (borrowed from the American title of Daniel Hahn’s English translation of the novel published in 2012). Kietrys argues that adaptation here ‘distances trauma’ allowing a younger generation to glimpse something ‘triumphant’ in the Civil-war Era (178). Given the effectiveness of this chapter, there is certainly potential for future discussions that look at translation through non-textual sources, whether that be painting, photography, or film. Similarly, an approach guided by the theories outlined in Sherry Simon’s recent publication Translation Sites: A Field Guide (New Perspectives in Translation and Interpreting Studies) (2019), focusing on translation practice in the urban landscape, could also be very rewarding. Though these areas of interest are all beyond the remit of the study itself, it is testament to the quality of the project that one is led to consider how memory is translated across other media.

            In his introduction to the edited volume, Michael Cronin suggests that the essays are deeply pertinent to the ‘memory wars’ (ix) currently being waged in a number of societies today. 2019 marked 80 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, and the process of re-remembering the conflict is still ongoing. The controversy surrounding the closing of the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de Los Caídos) in October 2019 to prepare for the movement of Franco’s remains to a municipal cemetery is the most recent reminder of the highly-charged discussions still taking place. Elsewhere, Michael Cronin (2003) has written about translation in postcolonial societies, pointing out how there is often an assumption that the act of translation itself brings about a resolution, that it allows a moment of post to be reached – when the reality is actually far more complex. This collection of essays does important work in highlighting translation’s similar relationship with conflict – not providing resolution, but a purposeful re-remembering of conflict’s reality, in a necessary but understudied step toward reconciliatory justice.