Indians into Mexicans: History and Identity in a Mexican Town. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996. An ethnographic and historical study of politics, racial ideology, and the construction of social identity in the town of Mexquitic, San Luis Potosí.
“[R]are indeed is the individual who is equally adept at inscribing the microsociology of family life and transcribing the peleography of colonial documents. Rarer still are monographs that combine both in a single work. David Frye, however, is just such an individual, and his book is a paragon for this kind of interdisciplinary work. Shifting with enviable ease between his two research sites in norther Mexico, the town of Mexquitic and the archives in San Luis Potosí, his narrative is powerful testimony to the significance—cultural as well as political—of linking the ciphers of the 16th century with the sentiments of people on the eve of the 21st. . . . Accessible yet scholarly, Mexicans into Indians merits a broad readership in anthropology, history, and Latin American studies.” Jerome Levi, American Ethnologist, February 1998, v. 25(1), pp. 51-52.
“This is a book that deserves to be read by both specialist and generalist alike. Well written and thoughtful, it provides an excellent view of one part of Mexico, its conception about ethnicity and about its place in the panoply of Mexican cultures.” Manuel Machado, Journal of the West, July 1998, v. 37(3), p. 111.
Published article: “The Gendered Senate: National Politics and Gender Imagery after the Thomas Hearings,” written as a paper for the December 1992 American Anthropological Association meeting and published (after the usual academic press delays) in the 1996 collection Outsiders Looking In: A Communication Perspective on the Hill/Thomas Hearings, edited by Paul Siegel (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 3-15). Parallels between the 1992 “year of the woman” in U.S. politics and the 2018 election brought this old paper to mind, and after re-reading it I decided it isn’t half bad, so I posted a version of it here.
This was fun to do. A light, comic sci-fi novel, much less political than the earlier Yoss novel that I translated last year (reflecting, in its own way, the lighter mood of Havana in the 2010’s after the grim 90’s). But it does include, almost as an aside, a bit of technogloating by Latin Americans who outwit the ponderously competent gringos at their own space exploration game. I should point out, since no one else will, that the “Spanglish” that some of the characters speak was translated by the editor of Restless Books, Ilan Stavans.
“A lighthearted space-opera adventure by Cuban author Yoss…. This novel’s madcap tone is very similar to Douglas Adams’…. An exceptionally enjoyable comic tale set in a fully realized, firmly science-fictional universe.” —Kirkus (starred review)
A fictionalized account of the life of the surrealist photographer and artist Dora Maar and her relationships with her long-time lover, Pablo Picasso, written by a Cuban novelist who has lived in France since 1995.
“We are steeped in the history, drama, and even mundaneness of the Surrealist era, with a colorful cast of characters that includes Man Ray, Paul Éluard, and the master himself, Picasso. . . . Valdés reveals Maar to be more than just Picasso’s model for his portrait The Weeping Woman but an inspiring artist in her own right.”—Booklist
“Picasso wasn’t the 20th century’s most enlightened boyfriend, to put it mildly. Women, he once told Françoise Gilot, the mother of two of his four children, were either ‘goddesses’ or ‘doormats.’ Dora Maar, the Surrealist photographer Picasso left for Gilot, defied the artist’s outrageously glib tags. Valdés’s novel explores Dora’s mysterious, self-denying life after Picasso through the prism of her fateful 1958 trip to Venice with the writer James Lord and his former lover, Bernard Minoret.”—New York Times review
“Ah, love: if it didn’t end badly, it wouldn’t end at all, especially for two star-crossed lovers in modern-day Puerto Rico. . . . A bleak but emotionally resonant work that finds weighty things to say about writing, culture, Puerto Rican identity, and the dangers of projecting one’s desire upon another. . . . This is a very eerie bit of fiction which is erotic without being romantic, psychically raw without collapsing into ennui, and linguistically expressive while using characters that live and breathe and cry right on the page. . . . The book’s human hearts ring true in the end. Like the song says, you can’t always get what you want.” –Kirkus Reviews.
“The streets of San Juan come alive in this sparkling literary tale of love and obsession. . . . Lalo’s other novels have yet to appear in English, but one hopes that will change after the release of this book; his work will find an appreciative audience in those seeking mystery and an acute attention to language.” –Publishers Weekly.
“Simone is a clear-eyed vision of the Puerto Rican margins—some of them, and not the ones usually found in contemporary fiction, which also makes it all the more effective. Both the literary and the personal are handled well here. . . . It can seem an oddly structured novel, yet it works—especially as a whole—surprisingly well, and the shifts in Lalo’s narrative make for a story that doesn’t simply chug along predictably from the outset but expands, in breadth and depth, into an ultimately rich, rewarding work.” -M. A. Orthofer.
“A love story told with a content that is erotic and at the same time social and political.” -Ricardo Piglia, El País (review of the Spanish edition).
Two Novels of the Low Life in Golden Age Spain: Lazarillo de Tormes (Anonymous) and The Grifter (El Buscón, by Francisco de Quevedo). Translated and edited with an introduction by David Frye. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2015.
This was one of the hardest books I’ve ever done (word-for-word, the hardest by far!), and also one of the most rewarding. Seventeenth-century street slang isn’t easy!
“Frye distills a complex and turbulent period of Spanish history into an overview that navigates expertly between the Scylla of too much information and the Charybdis of facile simplification, and is at once both substantive and manageable. The events and customs he chooses to elucidate (e.g., Spanish naming customs or currency equivalents) illuminate the nuances of the picaresque works in question, and his rendering of the complexities of these novels and their cultural context in terms accessible to the uninitiated is a laudable accomplishment. … Frye’s translation represents a considerable achievement of skill and discretion, striking the balance between relevance and authenticity, and rendering the picaresque novels in dynamic, modern English that preserves the verbal dexterity, satirical spirit, and mixed registers found in the original Spanish. The most noteworthy element of Frye’s edition is his deft and judicious incorporation of contemporary popular cultural references as a means of explaining aspects of Spanish Golden Age society that might otherwise have remained obscure to the modern American reader. Throughout both the introduction and the footnotes, familiar elements from pop culture, such as The Onion and the Three Stooges, serve as analogies for cultural equivalents in the Spanish Golden Age, taking Frye’s work beyond the level of mere linguistic translation and rendering it a cultural translation as well. … Frye does the essential and invaluable work of bridging the necessary linguistic and cultural barriers so as to pave a way for a new generation of readers to engage with and enjoy Lazarillo de Tormes and El Buscón.” —Jennifer Allison Darrell, King’s College, review in Hispania, vol. 99 no. 3 (Sept. 2016), 514-515.
“David Frye should be congratulated for having produced a delightful and most readable volume that includes two Spanish picaresque novels in English translation. A comprehensive introduction that takes up the culture of Castile in the sixteenth century and contains an illuminating analysis of Lazarillo de Tormes and Quevedo’s The Grifter (El Buscón) will be of great use to those approaching these funny, poignant and fascinating picaresque tales for the first time. David Frye has risen admirably to the challenges posed by translation. They are very lively and readable, as Frye utilizes modern American idioms to bridge the gap between Golden Age Spanish and our times. He has also been able to surmount the difficulties in adapting the many puns and wordplays found in The Grifter, transforming them into modern English but keeping a feel for the original. He should also be congratulated for his fine rendering of verses into English. This is a delightful new version of two of the best picaresque novels ever written.” —Frederick A. de Armas, University of Chicago
“David Frye’s new edition and translation of two early modern Spanish Picaresque novels, the paradigmatic, Lazarillo de Tormes and the mordant El Buscón provides an elegant, precise, and accessible modern English-version rendering of these two novels. His notes illuminate the diverse contexts in which the texts were written. All throughout there is careful attention to the historical background that propelled these two parallel but different narratives. Frye’s edition and translation is a triumphal example of how to capture the cadence of popular early modern speech while remaining faithful to the originals. These translations represent major contributions for the English-speaking readers of two important monuments of Golden Age Spanish literature and of the two best examples of the early modern picaresque genre.” —Teofilo Ruiz, UCLA
“A Planet for Rent, vivaciously translated by David Frye, could be called ‘postcolonial-pessimist-stoner sci-fi.’ To break that down for you: the book describes a distant and technologically advanced future in which stories of alien colonization and subjugation are told from a subaltern perspective without imagining an alternative or a ‘way out’ in a kind of wacky, cartoonish, and opulently goofy voice. And just as Yoss deftly avoids an over-simplistic ‘bad communism vs. good neoliberalism’ (or vice versa) dichotomy, he also transcends the ‘somber seriousness vs. fun fluffiness’ binarism as well. The book is serious fun, simultaneously passing judgment on both Cuba’s colonial past and inevitable neoliberal future.” –Scott Beauchamp, Asymptote
A Planet for Rent is the English-language debut of Yoss, one of Cuba’s most lauded writers of science fiction. Translated by David Frye, these linked stories craft a picture of a dystopian future: Aliens called xenoids have invaded planet Earth, and people are looking to flee the economically and socially bankrupt remains of human civilization. Yoss’ smart and entertaining novel tackles themes like prostitution, immigration and political corruption. Ultimately, it serves as an empathetic yet impassioned metaphor for modern-day Cuba, where the struggle for power has complicated every facet of society. — recommended by Juan Vidal, book critic (NPR Best Books of 2015)
Art beyond Itself offers one of the most potent accounts of art’s reach into and interaction with other realms (media, fashion, social action, investment funds, urban revitalization, new technologies, security, recovery programs for at-risk youth, etc.), offering insights into that transit that neither Bourdeiu’s reduction notion of autonomous spheres nor Rancière’s politics of dissensus and ‘distribution of the sensible’ adequately theorize. —George Yudice
Revolution in the Andes is the best single account that I have read of the great uprisings led by Túpac Amaru and the other neo-Incan rebels. It is likely to become a much-read book among scholars of Latin America history, culture, and politics, especially Andeanists. —Orin Starn
Javier Sanjinés, Embers of the Past: Essays in Times of Decolonization, a work of cultural criticism on subalternity and decolonization with special attention to the case of Bolivia, by a professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan. Duke University Press, 2013.
In Embers of the Past, Javier C. Sanjinés takes as his point of departure the problems of modernity and Western models of development in present-day Bolivia. Yet this fascinating book can be usefully applied in any society with a significant subalternized or racialized population. Sanjinés reveals ethnicity as a complex process of reworking and reinventing culture, a process that relates the present with the ancestral past in more composite ways than one would have imagined. —Arturo Arias
Ángel Rama, Writing across Cultures: Narrative Transculturation in Latin America, a work of cultural criticism by the well-known South American social critic, translated and edited with an introduction by David Frye. Duke University Press, 2012.
“Narrative Transculturation in Latin America, by Ángel Rama, should have been published in English twenty years ago…. But it is always a cause for rejoicing when the translation of one of the Latin American masterworks in literary and cultural critique is made finally available to English-speaking readers, and particularly so if it is a good translation, because Ángel Rama’s convoluted thinking and arboreal syntax is diabolically difficult to grasp…. David Frye has done a very good job as editor and translator. His translation is always respectful to the fluidity of ideas, new concepts, elaborate arguments, historical allusions, erudite references, profuse connotation, and blind spots in Rama´s text…. Frye has managed to produce a pleasantly readable translation that actually improves the presentation of some passages by subtle, punctual emendation.” —Abril Trigo, Ohio State University, review in Postcolonial Text, v. 9 (2014)
“Carefully transported to the realm of literary criticism, Rama’s idea of transculturation, borrowed from Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, still largely frames debates around regionalist and indigenista literature as well as broader cultural practices. English readers will be well served by David Frye’s fluid translation, one that retains the rhythm and deep erudition that govern Rama’s linguistic universe, and by an introduction to the thinker that specialists will want to revisit and newcomers will find necessary. Having previously translated Guaman Poma’s The First New Chronicle and Good Government (1615) and Fernandez de Lizardi’s The Mangy Parrot (1816), Frye, who teaches anthropology at the University of Michigan, is particularly equipped to negotiate Rama’s unique literary-historical and anthropological panning of ‘the continent.’ ” — Bécquer Seguín, Cornell University, review in The Comparativist, v. 37 (May 2013), pp. 332-334
“Writing across Cultures is not only an important text for students of Latin America; Ángel Rama’s argument has a broader relevance to cultures that have had a peripheral relation to the metropolis. This English translation will be of great interest to those engaged in subaltern, postcolonial, and area studies. In addition, by enabling debates about transculturation to be resituated in a more global context, it will prove useful to students of comparative literatures and cultures.”—Jean Franco, Columbia University
“This excellent translation is welcome. Rama’s thesis will now have a chance to be known by scholars of cultural studies at large and thus his seminal ideas will circulate and be disseminated widely as the reach of global English grows. The book’s dedication to anthropologists Darcy Ribeiro and John Murra underscores the close, fruitful and decisive turn towards the creative power of the local in Rama’s historical thinking under the light of ethnography. It is Rama’s encounter with anthropology that enables him to cross the artificially erected barrier between ‘high’ lettered cultures and ‘low’ oral cultures…. The English translation profits from an intelligent and well informed ‘Introduction’ by David Frye.” — Sara Castro-Klaren, Johns Hopkins University, review in Revista Europea de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe / European Review of LatinAmerican and Caribbean Studies, No. 94 (April 2013), pp. 144-146
“In a sense, modern Latin American literary and cultural criticism has been in a dialogue with Ángel Rama’s notion of ‘narrative transculturation,’ first advanced in these essays. It is good to have them available in a superb English translation.”—John Beverley, University of Pittsburgh
“Ángel Rama’s Transculturación narrativa en América Latina has been a fundamental text for all students of Latin-American literature and culture. David Frye offers us its first English edition in an impeccable translation along with a helpful introduction contextualizing Rama’s work. … By making this foundational text of Latin-American studies available to a larger audience, Frye’s welcome translation enables it to participate in the transculturative labour that Rama so valued, not just with respect to the West but also within the context of the contemporary globalized world.” —Zoya Khan, review in Bulletin of Spanish Studies, vol. 91 (2014), pp. 1112-1114
Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Chronicle of the Narváez Expedition. A first-person narrative of a disastrous early Spanish expedition across what is now the southern United States (1542). Norton Critical Edition, edited by Ilan Stavans, translated by David Frye. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012.
Eliá Barceló, The Goldsmith’s Secret. One of a pair of short novels that I have translated by this prominent Spanish writer, best know for her work in science fiction and fantasy. London: Quercus Press, 2011.
Madeline Cámara, Cuban Women Writers: Imagining a Matria. New York: Palgrave, 2008. Professor Cámara analyzes the writings of three Cuban women — Ofelia Rodríguez Acosta, Lydia Cabrera, María Elena Cruz Varela, and Zoé Valdés — in relation to language, power, sexuality, and race in contemporary Cuba.
“Frye’s ‘Introduction’ to Guaman Poma. . . reads beautifully, is well thought-out, well-organized, and accessible to the reader. . . a fine model of the genre.” —Rolena Adorno, Yale University
“Generations of scholars have grappled with the challenge of interpreting the person and project of the native Andean chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. This abridged English translation of Guaman Poma’s Nueva corónica y buen gobierno represents at least two accomplishments. First, it brings this person and project to many readers for the first time. And, second, the words allow for new encounters with the possibilities in this text. These words have a piercing directness that cannot be denied, and they will jar even seasoned scholars, who thought they knew Guaman Poma. Frye has made judicious choices about inclusion, he has consulted widely, he has not shied away from the transformations that were part of being authentically native Andean in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and he has wisely refused to fill the telling silences left by the author himself. Most significantly of all, for students and teachers, is that—in as much as it is possible—he has allowed Felipe Guaman Poma to speak for himself.” —Kenneth Mills, University of Toronto
“This is a fine addition to the field of colonial studies. Guaman Poma’s text is of key importance for Andean studies, colonial Latin American and indigenous studies. With Frye’s translation it becomes now possible to reach a larger audience at the universities in the English-speaking world.” —Veronica Salles Reese, Georgetown University
“This edition of Guaman Poma, with its helpful notes and section introductions, makes a work of central importance for Latin American history, anthropology and literature accessible to students and the general public. David Frye has smoothed out the syntax of this difficult text enough to make it readable for such an audience without losing its seventeenth-century style. By leaving some Quechua words and phrases along with their translations, moreover, he has retained much of the feel of a colonial chronicle at the intersection of two cultures.” —Sarah Chambers, University of Minnesota
“[T]his is a welcome translation, all the more so because it is well done. Not being an Andeanist himself, Frye has been painstaking in his explanation of terminology. I recommend this work for courses on Latin America during the colonial period, or more specifically the Central Andes (i.e., Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia). The literate public at large will also profit from this English version.” Michael T. Hamerly, Hispanic American Historical Review, August 2008, v. 88(3), pp. 511-512.
“If there is one daunting proposition in the world of Andean colonial literature, it has to be the selection of text, translation, and annotation of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s First New Chronicle and Good Government. We should all be happy that David Frye was willing to take on this challenge to successfully produce a well-thought-out and accessible (though this will never be easy) version of this most unique book. … Frye manages to provide a good synthesis of the work and an excellent translation that stikes a balance between being overly literal (which would have paralyzed the reader) and too far removed from the original…. Frye’s excellent introduction convincingly pulls together all that is known about Guaman Poma’s life to explain how he ended up producting this work.” Luis Millones Figueroa, Latin American Research Review, 2009, v. 44, no. 2, p. 191.
José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, The Mangy Parrot (Hackett Publishing, 2004, 541 + xl pages).
José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, The Mangy Parrot, Abridged (Hackett Publishing, 2005, 228 + xxi pages).
This translation of the first novel written in Latin America, El Periquillo Sarniento (Mexico, 1816) was supported by a Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Introduction by Nancy Vogeley; Translator’s Note and footnotes by David Frye.
“The publication of David Frye’s translation of The Mangy Parrot in 2004 was a landmark event because it made available for the first time in English the complete text of Lizardi’s 1816 El Periquillo Sarniento, which is generally considered to be the first Latin American novel…. The very fact that Lizardi’s work is soaked in the mores, mindset and linguistic peculiarities of colonial Mexico with a dazzling richness of detail presents nearly insurmountable challenges for any translator. David Frye is to be commended for what can only be described accurately as a labor of love. Much of the charm of the Periquillo Sarniento and the pleasure of the reading experience depends on Lizardi’s use of colloquial expressions and proverbs. Furthermore, as a first person narrative, the novel to a great degree relies on Periquillo’s voice and personality to capture the attention of the reader and engage him for the duration of his travels. Frye has managed to render that voice convincingly into an English register that evokes the flavor of the Spanish original while deftly avoiding a “faux archaic” English…. Lizardi had to wait a long time for his Mangy Parrot to speak English but now he does so in a worthy translation.” —Gustavo Pellón (University of Virginia), Dieciocho v. 30, no. 3, Autumn 2007.
“Frye (Univ. of Michigan) performs a delicate balancing act by fashioning language that is fresh an engaging while preserving historical flavor. The result is outstanding. Summing up: Highly recommended.” —M. S. Arrington Jr., Choice, October 2004
“Finally, an engaging, full-fledged rendition of the first Latin American novel ever—and still one of the savviest. José Joaquin Fernández de Lizardi invented Mexico… and David Frye shows us how.” —Ilan Stavans, Amherst College
“With David Frye’s exquisitely clear and elegant translation, the English-speaking world now can fully enjoy El Periquillo Sarniento, the 19th-century novel that rendered the swirling and messy city of Mexico into a comic work of art.” —Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America (Viking, 2002)
“El Periquillo Sarniento is a classic of Mexican popular literature, well known to literary scholars as the first Latin American novel. But it has long resisted full translation into English, in part because its earthy, colloquial style and cultural allusions are sometimes difficult to understand and render into readable and vigorous English. It is the language and culture of a particular time and place. An accurate, fluent translation that preserves the literal meaning and spirit of the original without becoming obscure and tedious requires a fine way with the English language and considerable knowledge of late colonial Mexico and Mexico City. That is a tall order, and I think David Frye has performed a minor miracle in this translation. The voice of the picaresque protagonist, the juicy stories and ironies, the author’s moral outrage at personal pretense, arrogance, greed, and social injustice come to life in English in ways that are remarkably faithful to the author’s style, pace, and mordant wit. Here in full is Fernandez de Lizardi’s Mexico City of the last years of Spanish rule, rich in social types, sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. The translator’s notes are . . . numerous and valuable.” – William Taylor, Professor of History, University of California at Berkeley
“[This translation] has. . . a vital and compelling energy to it which genuinely and flowingly reflects the tone, fluidity, mood and effects of the original. Its English prose, stylistic sense, linguistic-cultural sensitivity and vocabulary effectively transmit, without any sacrifice in readability, the shrewd combination of vernacular intimacy, chatty loquacity, moralizing solemnity, picaresque cynicism and satiric humor of Lizardi’s original Spanish. The ‘translator’s notes’ and annotations (which will be much welcomed and very helpful in a classroom setting) also demonstrate that this translator is. . . well-informed as to the larger cultural and historical context and era which informs this text. This translation fares well to become the authoritative English version of Lizardi’s classic text.” – Roberto Marquez, Mt. Holyoke College
Abilio Estévez, Distant Palaces (New York: Arcade Publishing, January 2004; London: Vintage paperback, 2005), a novel about about the mysterious and decaying city of Havana at the cusp of the twenty-first century, by an award-winning Cuban poet and playwright.
Abilio Estévez, Thine Is the Kingdom (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1999, 336 pages), a novel about Cuba, art, love, and literature in the final days of 1958. In a way, this was the book that got me going on literary translation as a way of conveying other cultures.
Estévez’s prose is rich with allusions to art and literature, and in David Frye’s translation it rolls in lucid, rhythmic waves. —New York Times Book Review, April 4, 1999
Nancy Morejón, La ciudad expuesta, antología bilingüe / The City on Display, a Bilingual Anthology. Selected poems by a prominent Cuban poet, in an edition of 200 hand-made book by an artisanal workshop in Matanzas, Cuba. Matanzas: Ediciones Vigía, 2012.
This is not the first collection of essays on the Cuban Diaspora, but it may be the most innovative, because it encompasses the widest scope, recognizing that the dispersal of Cubans after the Castro revolution has become a global phenomenon. —E. Hu-DeHart, Choice
Nancy Morejón, With Eyes and Soul: Images of Cuba (Buffalo: White Pine Press, 2004), selected poems by Nancy Morejón and photographs of Cuba by Milton Rogovin.
(Click here to see Amazon.com’s page on this book.)
Nancy Morejón, Looking Within / Mirar Adentro: Selected Poems, 1954-2000 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003, pages 141, 157, 163-75, 197-99, 205-207, 213-35, 259-75, 279-81, 287-89, and 335-47), collected poems of one of the most important poets of contemporary Cuba.
(Click here to see Amazon.com’s page on this book.)
These are some translations (pdf) that I did years ago, before I began doing literary translation as a regular activity. I did the samples from Guaman Poma and Sor Juana in the 1990s (or maybe it was the 80s?) as texts for students when I was teaching Colonial Latin American history. I can’t complain — these on-line samples led to the publication of my later and much fuller annotated translation of Guaman Poma. I am still working, more occasionally than I would like, on a selection of works by Sor Juana that I plan to finish and publish someday. The Dulce María sampler is from a project that sadly fell through.
Dulce Maria Loynaz: A short life (by yours truly) and excerpts from her novel Jardin
Guaman Poma, “Conquest of Peru”
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, “Philosophical Satire”