RARA-AVIS: B. Traven's Treasure of the Sierra Madre

From: Richard Moore ( moorich@aol.com)
Date: 05 Sep 2007

A few weeks back we had a discussion here about B. Traven during which I disagreed with a dismissal of Traven by Etienne Borgers and sang the praises of the Traven novel THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Etienne said he would seek out a copy of the novel, read it and report back. He is having problems posting to the list so he asked me to send along his post on the novel, which I do below.


A few weeks ago, during a discussion about B. Traven and his novel THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, Richard Moore explained his admiration for it since his young age, and encouraged me to read it. As I announced it I found a French translation of the novel, "revised" in 1987 by another translator. The original translation for this publisher was done FROM THE ENGLISH text, during the fifties. So I finally read it. It's indeed a very interesting novel mixing adventure, some dark humor and a kind of noir look on certain backgrounds, a look found also in certain episodes of the story. There is a real search for reality by the author (and also a kind of social realism exposed to low key social criticism- especially found in the whole first part, before the characters go for mining). This first part of the novel makes you feel the misery, the sweating and the struggle for survival of the central character, the hostility of the surroundings, of the fellow humans… The second part, the expedition, the mining period and the return, illustrates clearly the quest for hope and for a treasure, but will bend it to make it as being the knowing of oneself, the real treasure. And then the ironic, dark ends happening to the earthly treasure… we all remember- at least from the film, very close to the original story. The novel then closes with a kind of applied utopia carrying moralizing undertones ( plausible at the time of the novel when the earth was not totally known and was not yet overpopulated). A good novel, that still grips you, and I can understand why it had such a success in the Anglo-Saxon world since its publication in English, mid of the thirties. Further, it must be a real solid construction and story to survive all the abuses the hacks, translators and publishers applied to it since its writing… in German. Speaking of this, I do not think that the "revised" French translation I read did come back totally to the original text or even tried to sweep the "d鳵et" (out-moded) side it carries from time to time in the French translation by using too precious verb forms and tenses, not fitted for that kind of story. Anyway I'm still convinced that translations are a big problem with Traven's novels. In TREASURE… there is even a gross error. One of common knowledge, if it comes not from a wrong translation. The story takes place in Mexico and in the early pages of the novel a local character fears to sleep in the open nature because of … tigers. And this is repeated many times. I found it in the English version as well (see Amazon where you can browse the first chapters). Tigers, that's Asia. It's a detail of course but it signals the care that was given to the text… and IMO Traven, well travelled and having lived in Mexico, could normally not do such an error. But even if so, what about the rest of the chain: publishers, translators, revisers…? Also: you must know that in German, Tiger is only used for …tiger, and does not combined to other German words to name other animals… So far for zoology (see note hereunder giving further comment).

But I admit that even under those conditions, I enjoyed the novel.

*Tiger*: a very good explanation of what is a mistake in French
(=tigre- and it names only one feline), is given by Richard Moore, after he read my comment on it. In Mexican Spanish the colloquial word "tigre" can be used to name the North American big cats: jaguar, under others. Then the use of the word in a Spanish text makes sense, and as I've already mentioned it, a lot of translations of Traven's texts were done from Spanish versions… On the other side, the big cat explanation was what I suspected when I searched for German words which could derive from tiger
(combination words -and there was none), hence my above remark about German words. German was the mother language of Traven. But the conclusion remains that a lot of Traven's texts were often mistreated during translation.

E.Borgers POLAR NOIR http://www.geocities.com/polarnoir

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