I met my great-grandmother on my first trip to Peru when I was ten years old. I couldn’t speak to her since she only spoke Quechua, the nearly extinct language of the Incas. My grandmother can speak it fluently, my mother has forgotten a lot of it and I only know a few words.
Recently a Peruvian professor, Demetrio Tupac Yupanqui began a crusade to save the Quechua language and translated Don Quixote.
It’s a beautiful book and has become a collector’s item, one I was never able to track down, but I did find a translated copy of The Little Prince:
Quechua was only ever an oral language, so the text is written phonetically. I flipped through it and tried to sound out the foreign words. I pulled out my English copy and tried to pair up phrases. One of the interesting things I found was that in places where there were no equivalent words in Quechua, the original French words were used instead of Spanish ones (geographie instead of geographia, calcul instead of matamatica, etc.):
The Little Prince was a book I loved as a child and one I thought was quite profound when I read it as a teen. I used it a lot in working with teenaged ESL students as it was easy to understand. I revisited it again in my late twenties and I found it dull and its lessons heavy-handed. It saddened me that something I used to love bored me. I had changed and perhaps I had become a dull adult who only saw pictures of hats instead of snakes eating elephants.
More recently, I read The Little Prince to my daughter and fell in love with it again. I saw the story through her eyes and saw how powerful some its lessons are. She would always turn the page to try to see the simple drawings that matched the text. I remember the confused look on her face when I read one passage: ‘It is such a secret place, the land of tears’ She furiously flipped the pages back and forth saying ‘Papi, I want to see the land of tears,’ and it was the first time I had explain the concept of a metaphor to her. But she understood and it was a lovely reminder that some things are exclusive to the realm of the written word.
I pulled out my Quechua copy and looked at the words that I could not decipher and tried to match up that phrase:
I thought about the ‘land of tears’ and what it looked like to those people long since lost to history.
It’s a cool little collectible and I’ve brought a small pile of these books back with me. I’ve left some copies with my good friends over at R and R Books. If you’re interested in one, feel free to contact them or me, I go to Peru frequently and will bring back more.