What about first editions of English translations of Latin American works? Prices vary considerably, and although the age of the book does matter, it is not the main factor accounting for the increase in the book’s value. The basic reason probably has to do with the popularity of the author in the English language, which starts with a solid, accurate translation. The author’s signature in the book is another important factor. For example, a volume signed by Julio Cortazar is worth substantially more than those signed by other writers, since the Argentine author did not make a habit of autographing his books. Finally, rarity and the condition of the volume are other important factors in assigning a commercial value to an author.
Historical reasons also come into play when it comes to the US market. For the English-language reader, the idea of a literary Latin America was practically nonexistent until 1941, when Art Outline History of Spanish American Literature appeared–the first study guide to recognize the genre’s gravitational weight, according to the critic Donald Yates. This was followed a few years later by the first anthology of Latin American literature in English. Besides these efforts, the first decades of the twentieth century saw English translations of works by the Mexican writers Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi and Mariano Azuela. The first story in English by Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” appeared in 1948 in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine specializing in pulp detective fiction.
But all these early efforts were fairly timid. Then the 1960s brought an explosion in translations of Latin American narrators and poets, due to four key factors. First was the depth of feeling that the Cuban revolution unleashed in the world’s intellectual circles. A second factor was the overnight visibility Borges gained when he won, along with Samuel Beckett, the 1961 Prix International des Editeurs; the prize immediately led to the translation of iris works into all the European languages.
Four other authors Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, Garcia Marquez, and Cortazar–began to set off their own literary boom, with political and cultural repercussions.
The fourth factor that raised the profile of Latin American authors was the Nobel Prize in .Literature. Gabriela Mistral was the first to win it, in 1945, followed by Miguel Angel Asturias in 1967, Pablo Neruda in 1971, Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982, Octavio Paz in 1990 and very recently Mario Vargas Llosa in 2010. It’s also worth remembering the famous Scandinavian tradition of failing to award the Nobel Prize to an “obscure” Argentine writer named Jorge Luis Borges–whose fame, ironically, grew year after year in proportion to his ever-diminishing chances to win.
In the end, it is important to remember that the value of a work is not found in the price of the book, but in the enjoyment we get from reading it.
@Published by permission of the Organization of American States