A powerful and kind mirror

Beautiful Petch, Petch darling:

A week ago I woke up restless, thinking of you intensely, and I thought of writing to Robin. She told me that your health is fragile. Somehow I knew something wasn’t right.

I have been thinking of you with great gratitude, with the astonishment of knowing that my life has been richer because of meeting you.

I can’t think of a more generous person than you. I remember the amazing exercise of collaborating with you.

You have not been a translator, you have given life to the words of others. I would send you a simple text and you would send me back one with a soul, with movement, with life. It seemed that the text was originally written in English. You added the delicacy of your sensitivity, the soaring of your experience, and yet there it was, authentic, so close to the original voice that your voice did not appear. 

How did you achieve this magic, how did you make yourself invisible and breathe this overwhelming naturalness into each text? To a good observer, your soul was there, but the author’s soul shone brightly.

For me, as I writer, it was like looking at myself in a mirror, and seeing myself beautiful, powerful, and daring. It was the sweetest mirror. When I was writing the draft of Andes – I was just beginning my career – you made me think that in my mind there was the word of a writer. You let me know that my sensitivity mattered, you let me know that my roots were the vein from which I should nurture. You let me believe that in the ravings of my mind there was a vision.

You taught me that words are powerful, that with words you can conjure up the ancient shamans, the doctors and also the nobodies of the past, that words awaken the consciousness of those who are not there and allow us to hear them again in our most silent and inner self.

To talk to you was to travel through the sweet twists and turns of Latin American literature. You translated the Elemental Odes of Neruda, the hallucinating Dogs of Paradise of Abel Posse, the mischievous and tremendous Celestina. You told me about the long conversations with Isabel Allende. I am sure she has such a firm foot in the English-speaking world because of your translations. For having been a powerful and kind mirror for her.

I think of your translations of the novels of Carlos Fuentes; the masterpiece of them all -Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo-, the poems of your beloved Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz … This poem by Sor Juana that Octavio Paz quotes, and which you translated, asking for clemency for a condemned man, comes to mind:

Any man can take life

But only God can breathe life in

Thus only through the gift of life

May you hope to resemble Him

You resembled God, you went around the world giving life to words. Saving them from irrelevance. Your friendship gave me that, the gift of life, of shared moments and words.

I remember the trip to Buenos Aires with Bob, Isabelita and our friend Andrew Hurley. How we enjoyed those places of tango, how I enjoyed sharing with you my limited knowledge of the Buenos Aires night.

I am now looking at the pictures we took with Bob at Columbia, at your house. And I feel a deep gratitude.

Gratitude when in the darkest moment you lifted me up. I had lost my love and you allowed me to speak to her with a language I thought was lost.

I am so grateful Petch dear, you have done more than anyone I know to bring two worlds together, the baroque and chaotic world of a Latin America where magic and passion are the daily recipe, and the orderly and rational world of the United States… two worlds much closer than we can imagine.

I embrace you with all my tenderness and gratitude. Today I celebrate all the gifts I received from you. I cannot explain my life without your sensitivity, your wisdom without pose or pretension, your sweet friendship.