Crime fiction is a genre of literature that it’s full with cultural references, we all know that, but what happens when these cultural references, that in the source culture sound normal and natural, sound completely absurd and impossible in the target culture?
One of the things that differentiate a crime fiction novel from one country to the other is how the crime is handled. Let’s take Mexico for example. Mexico is a country in which the police cannot be trusted. They are corrupt and even worse than the criminals themselves. In the majority of Mexican crime fiction novels, even though the main detective is part of the police force, policemen are there to make the investigation more complicated. They do it either by not wanting to work or by trying to talk the detective out of the case. This behaviour is completely normal for the Mexican reader but it might be very strange for an external reader.
To look at this more closely let’s look at an example from Martin Solares’ novel: The Black Minutes. (2006). This novel contains a vast quantity of cultural aspects that would be seen as strange for other cultures. There is one in particular that could cause so. At one point in the novel the main detective gets into a fistfight with one of his colleagues because he is doing some research on a closed case. The co-worker does not want the main detective to find out more about what happened many years ago, because he solved the case by blaming an innocent man of the crime. The problem is not that the co-worker put an innocent man in jail and he is afraid of others finding out. If the other policeman found out nothing will really happen because the Mexican police is just focus on blaming someone no matter whether that person is guilty or not. The real problem is that that co-worker received a big amount of money for putting that person in jail and he does not want to lose the money (because In Mexico in order to make the police “work” the government needs to promise them extra money to keep them motivated). The main detective is looking into this case because he is working on a murder that could be related. What could look as absurd for others would be the reaction of both detectives. Instead of handling the problem as civilized people they start a fistfight in the middle of the office. Everyone, including the chief of the police, is watching the fight without doing anything to try to stop it. The fight concludes with the main detective running out of the office with a broken leg while the other policeman tells him to get out of it or otherwise he won’t live for long.
Fist fighting and the lack of formality are completely normal to the Mexican reader. In Mexico the police forces are uneducated; therefore they use street Spanish and have no sense of respect.
All these cultural differences could cause a misunderstanding to the reader in other culture. He/She might consider the novel to be silly, and we as translators have the responsibility to produce a target text that would be received with a similar impact as the source text has.
Andrea González Garza translates from English to Latin American Spanish. She is currently doing an M.A in Literary Translation in the University of East Anglia. You can contact here: Ahndiee@gmail.com