I am pleased and proud to announce that last week Strade Blu Mondadori published Nic Pizzolatto‘s Galveston. A truly beautiful novel which I had the privilege to translate, and to which I hope I did justice. Early reviews have praised the book, which is Pizzolatto’s first novel after his brilliant collection of stories.
Pizzolatto … takes a hard-edged look at the stormy life of a compassionate criminal in his impressive first novel … As Pizzolatto switches smoothly between past and present, he vividly captures Galveston in all its desperate vulnerability as it faces the approach of Hurricane Ike in September 2008. (Publisher’s Weekly)
Pizzolatto is a very talented writer, he is able to describe places and feelings in original ways without going overboard, and really knows how to write dialogue, especially when he uses Southern American English. Unfortunately, that’s a peculiarity that could not be rendered appropriately in the translation process. Since it would be pure madness to even think about replacing an English dialect with an Italian one, the best one could do was try to convey the idea of this often desperate and poorly educated underclass, through a warped grammar and many colloquialisms. An example would be the way the main female character, Rocky, ends most of her sentences with “…man.” In American English, this is absolutely normal. In some Italian translations, especially in old movies, you can hear those people using “amico” (“friend”). Needless to say, it just sounds fake, and despite being fiercely opposed to excessive domestication of texts, in Italian no one really says “Ehi, amico” to say hi to someone. What to do, then? Well, choices are to be made looking at the big picture, the whole work. That “man” became “cioè”, “bello,” or “capo” according to the context, and many times the best choice was to simply omit that bit, because the Italian sentence was already perfectly natural without it.
Another interesting challenge was the need to translate the many racial slurs that the narrator uses quite liberally. We have the mafia crowd in New Orleans. Roy Cady, the main character and narrator, calls them “wops”, “dagos”, “guidos” (by the way, I’ve always thought, there must have been more Giuseppes, or Salvatores or Antonios, for sure, why did Guido become the stereotypical Italian name?) “goombah” (gotta love this one, a distortion of the “cumpa’” used by Southern Italians to address each other) and “greaseballs”. Obviously, most of them won’t make sense to an Italian ear, so I had to find equivalents that would elicit a similar reaction in the reader. After doing my research, I had a few options, and in different situations I went for “guappo”, “tamarro”, “terrone”, “picciotto”, “paisà”.
A similar problem arose with two other slurs. Firstly, “Polack”. In English we have the acceptable “Polish” and the slur “Polack.” In Italian, probably because of the lack of substantial immigration from Poland, we just have “polacco”, which sounds like “Polack” but is perfectly acceptable, and the only option anyway. So, in Italian, I had to go for “polacco di merda” (“fucking Pole”) whenever “Polack” was used, in order to keep the hateful nuance. The other expression that couldn’t be translated literally is “wetbacks”. Every American will know that it refers to Mexicans swimming across the Rio Grande to enter the United States illegally. Italian won’t, though. Once again, in order to preserve the racist nuance, Roy at first identifies them as “clandestini messicani” (“illegal Mexican immigrants”) and shortly after refers to them as “quei cazzo di messicani” (“those fucking Mexicans”).
But besides the minutiae aimed at fellow translators and other language-obsessed people, this is a story heavy with humanity, told with rare sensitivity by an author who knows how to keep you reading until the end. Galveston is a place laden with history, “still nursing a hangover” from the times of Spanish explorers and French pirates who moved along its beaches. Battered by hurricanes and torn between the laughter on the seaside and the desperation hidden in the motels. A place where history “keeps turning up”, because the sea and the wind never stop eroding and exposing the layers of history. Just like what happens with Roy Cady’s narration, which, switching between past and present, slowly and skillfully allows us to figure out where all the pieces of the puzzle go.
I warmly and sincerely recommend, and not out of personal interest – no royalties for me, unfortunately – that you all buy and read this surprising debut.