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Translating Non-Fiction Works Essay

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Updated: Mar 18th, 2021

Carlos Wieder

In one of his major works, Distant Star, Bolaño calls his audience to “return to the beginning, to Carlos Wieder and the year of grace 1974” (Carlos Wieder’s Ghostly Inscription, n. d.). Though one might have thought that Carlos Wieder is a real-life person, he was the figment of Bolaño’s imagination and the alter ego of another Bolaño’s character, an aviator named Alberto Ruiz-Tagle (Bolaño and the Ghosts of History 14).


Yoshua Okón’s Pulpo/Octopus is an installation that was created quite recently, yet is supposed to commemorate the people who sacrificed their lives if took place quite a while. The given installation follows the tradition of civil war re-enactments, which was started by the USA and other countries, and the legacy of which Yoshua Okón’s Pulpo/Octopus manages to carry on (Carlos Wieder’s Ghostly Inscription Part 2 38).


Written by Menchú, the book is known as The Discourse of the Other: Testimonio and the Fiction of the Maya has as many controversies around it as its author does around her. The given book touches upon several sensitive issues occurring during the Mexican war, particularly the issues concerning the relationships with the representatives of the Maya tribe. Menchú voices her disdain about the events of the epoch in a very explicit manner, and she does so for the right reason. However, because of the recent discovery concerning Menchú’s lack of participation in the Mexico guerilla movement, her familiarity with the subject has been questioned.

Octavio Pérez Mena

Another book devoted to the issue of the Guatemalan fight for independence, the story of Otavio Pérez Mena deserves being paid close attention to. Written by Horacio Castellanos Moya, the given novel deals, predictably enough, with the Civil War that swept entire Guatemala, as well as the massacre that followed the first few steps of the rebels (Senselessness: Drunk History/Infrapolitics 8). It is quite remarkable that Moya does not describe a fictional character – quite on the opposite, his protagonist existed in reality and was a general during the war (Senselessness: We All Know Who Are the Assassins! para. 1). Later on, elected as a president, Mena left a memorable trace in the Guatemalan history, which Moya manages to capture in his book as something to be remembered (Memory at Work in Latin American Culture para. 1).

Arturo B

Also known as Arturo Belano, Arturo B. is the key protagonist and the narrator in Distant Star, one of Belano’s major works depicting the terrors of the Guatemalan War.


  1. Coined by Octavio Paz (Paz 227), the given expression defines the specifics of the infamous massacre in Mexico. Aimed at suppressing the protest organized by Mexican students, the given event took incredible scale and became notoriously known as not only one of the major massacres in Mexico but also as one of the most violent and greatest massacres periods. Remarkably, the given quote was introduced first by the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska (Poniatovska xvi). In her work, Poniatowska makes it clear that, when expressing his opinion regarding the massacre, Paz addressed not only the lack of success of the protesters but also the high hopes and aspirations that went astray the day when the massacre began.
  2. The second quote, which comes from the book about Rigoberta Menchú, obviously concerns the process of Guatemalans fighting for their liberty against the regime that the state was doomed to under the reign of the then Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz. The given quote gives a lot of food for thoughts since it does not name the exact offenders and their victims, yet points at the contradictions within the state that needed to be resolved. For instance, the conflict between the Mayan Indians and the residents of Guatemala shines through the lines of the given quote. Embracing both the international and interracial misunderstandings, the given quote pretty much sums up the led to the infamous battle.


Translating non-fictional works alone is an incredibly complicated task, with all the details that need to be included in the text written in the target language, the hidden innuendoes that must be transported into the target language with due care, and the specific style that must be kept throughout the paper. What makes the process even more complicated is the fact that the slightest change made to the source text may turn its meaning upside down. Sometimes direct translation is not the best way out, which the case of such work as Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la Conciencia shows in a very graphic way. Although technically, such translation as “I am Rigoberta Menchú, and thus was my Consciousness Born” seems to be a more exact translation, the following variant: “I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala” still seems to be the most adequate, since it allows the audience to define the source of the conflict (“Indian woman in Guatemala” obviously points at ethical and racial issues).

The issue regarding the controversy of the data provided by Menchú should also be brought up when defining the precision of the translation. According to some sources, she does not have the right to voice her opinion on the issue, since she had very little to do with the actual conflict and that her opinion may be politicized considerably, seeing how her father gave his life for the Guatemalans to win (Márquez 3). While there is a grain of truth in the given supposition, it still must be admitted that Menchú provides a fairly decent account of the events that took place at the time, as well as offers a range of strong and coherent arguments against the Guatemalan dictatorship to consider (Art and Politics of the Central American Wars 2).

Indeed, as the existing sources say, the India – Guatemala conflict, though unknown to most people outside the conflicting sides, has gained quite a reputation among the rest of the world countries. There is no secret that the process of Guatemala liberation has been going on for quite long and that it has been major bloodshed. Losing her father to the war, Menchú followed his footsteps in that she supported the principles of social justice (Rigoberta Menchú: Secrets and the Return of Truth 11). Given the fact that the author’s father supported the guerilla movement that was meant to use non-violent methods for the sake of state liberation and the introduction of social justice into the Guatemalan justice system, however, it will be unreasonable to suggest that the idea of the given process shaping one’s consciousness should not be included into the book title, either. Hence, including the principle of shaping the author’s consciousness is a must when translating the book title, which means that the existing translation could be improved a notch.

Works Cited

Art and Politics of the Central American Wars n. d. PDF file.

Bolaño and the Ghosts of History n. d. PDF file.

Carlos Wieder’s Ghostly Inscription n. d. PDF file.

Carlos Wieder’s Ghostly Inscription Part 2 n. d. PDF file.

Márquez, Iván. Contemporary Latin American Social and Political Thought: An Anthology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008. Print.

Memory at Work in Latin American Culture n. d. PDF file.

Paz, Octavio. The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz. Trans. Eliot Weinberger. New York, NY: New Directions Book. 1975. 224–227. Print.

Poniatovska, Elena. Massacre in Mexico. Columbia, MI: University of Missouri Press, 1975. Print.

Rigoberta Menchú: Secrets and the Return of Truth n. d. PDF file.

Senselessness: Drunk History/Infrapolitics. n. d.PDF file.

Senselessness: We All Know Who Are the Assassins! n. d. PDF file.

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