Bernardo Atxaga: The Accordionist’s Son

February 26, 2009

In the Barnes & Noble Review, James Hannaham reviews Margaret Jull Costa’s translation of Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s 2003 novel, known in English as The Accordionist’s Son. The translation into English is actually a translation of the Spanish translation of the original, a layering of language paralleled in the theme of the book:

[T]he sprawling epic concerns a Basque activist named David Imaz, from Atxaga’s imaginary town of Obaba, who lives in exile in California and dies leaving an unfinished memoir behind — written in Euskera. His wife, an American named Mary Ann, gives the manuscript to José . . . In turn, José decides to write a book himself, “based on what David had written, to rewrite and expand his memoir…in the spirit of someone finding a tree, on which some long vanished shepherd had left a carving, and deciding to redraw the lines so that … time will so blur the difference between the old incisions and the new that eventually there’ll only be a single inscription on the bark.

Hannaham has a couple of minor complaints about the translation (what does “it’s too plainspoken” mean, without a comparison to the Basque or Spanish texts?), but since I’ve been refusing to mention book reviews that don’t seem to notice that the book in question is a translation, that’s actually a welcome change.



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