The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews novelist, journalist, and French translator Sam Taylor, author of The Ground is Burning and The Republic of Trees. The Seventh Function of Language, a bawdy and fanciful detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, is the second novel Sam has translated by France’s Laurent Binet.
Andrea Gregovich: The Seventh Function of Language is a detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, who in real life died when he got hit by a laundry van under what I’ve always understood to be unsuspicious circumstances. This novel proposes, instead, a fictitious conspiracy around his death: he was onto a higher function of language than the ones he’d already identified in his theoretical work, and this new function would allow a speaker to use their words to make anyone do anything. Kind of the holy grail of literary theory, which could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I’m fascinated by this Seventh Function—did the author invent this? Is it a concept somewhere in the texts of literary theory?
Sam Taylor: My understanding is that it was originally a minor addendum to Roman Jakobson’s six functions of language, which Laurent Binet imagined as a sort of superpower. Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews playwright, theatrical director, and translator Philip Boehm. Philip has translated numerous novels and plays from German and Polish, including Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts. Chasing the King of Hearts is a compelling work of literary reportage about of a Holocaust survivor with a unique story.
Andrea Gregovich: Chasing the King of Hearts is the story of Izolda, a Jewish woman who doesn’t so much escape the Holocaust as connive her way through it. She’s so clever she could find a way to escape the occupied area entirely, but she’s determined to stay and get her husband out of Auschwitz. Izolda thought about turning her story into a book for years, and rejected more than one author before she started working with Hanna Krall. What is it about Izolda’s story that is so urgent and unique? Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews Sanna Dhahir, Dean of the College of Science and Humanities at Effat University in Saudi Arabia and translator of Hend and the Soldiers by Badriah Albeshr. Hend and the Soldiers, a book that explores women’s sexuality and experience in Saudi culture, was banned by the government of Saudi Arabia.
Andrea Gregovich: I’m excited to talk to you about this book, because it’s a perfect example of how literary translation can be urgent and necessary, bringing hidden and oppressed voices to a global audience. How rare is an authentic female voice in the literature of Saudi Arabia, and just how groundbreaking is this book?
Sanna Dhahir: Thank you for giving me the chance to talk about my translation of Albeshr’s novel, a work I truly wanted to render in English for its literary merits and timely subjects.
Lisa Dillman has translated numerous books, including Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, which won the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, and several books by Andrés Barba. Barba’s novella Such Small Hands tells the haunting story of a young girl who loses her parents in a car accident and is sent to an orphanage for girls.
Andrea Gregovich: I was so touched by Such Small Hands because the young girls’ voices felt so authentic. Your translator’s note touched on the same thought I had as I was reading: how did this male author capture the painful internal world of orphaned girls so exquisitely? Do you get a sense of this from meeting him? Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews French translator Jeffrey Zuckerman. Jeffrey received the PEN/Heim Translation fund grant in 2016 for his translation of The Complete Stories of Hervé Guibert and has two recent novels in translation, Ananda Devi’s Eve Out of Her Ruins (Deep Vellum, 2016) and Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus (Open Letter, 2017). Radiant Terminus is a notorious pseudonymic author’s sci-fi tale about life in a future Siberia after a widespread nuclear disaster.
Andrea Gregovich: As a Russian translator, I was sucked into this book far more than I’d expected: it takes place in a future, post-apocalyptic Siberia but is written by Antoine Volodine, a French author. The details of life in the taiga, the vibe of the collective farms, and the institutions and overall culture felt authentically Siberian and Soviet to me, even in this dystopian take. What is Volodine’s background with Siberia and the Soviet Union—how is it that he’s so skilled at writing about it?
Jeffrey Zuckerman: It’s lovely to hear from you, Andrea, and I’m so glad this book has captured a world you probably know well. The (former) Soviet Union is a space that Volodine often returns to in his writing, and while he doesn’t seem to be on the record as having lived there for extensive stretches of time, it’s true that he has Slavic heritage—“Volodine,” after all, is the French transliteration of Володин.
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews translator Kerri A. Pierce. Kerri translates from many languages. Her translation of Justine, an unsettling Danish novel by Iben Mondrup, is a recent release from Open Letter Books.
Andrea Gregovich: I would call the style and flow of this novel impressionistic. The narrator Justine is an artist, and the narrative unfolds more like art than fiction, each chapter a pastiche of smaller sections that kind of throw paint at the story, one might say. Scenes, dialogue, imagery, and Justine’s internal voices all hit the page in this book, which is only somewhat chronological. What was it like to translate a book with such a patchwork narrative? Did you ever lose your bearings?
Kerri A. Pierce: Translating a book with, as you put it, a patchwork narrative certainly presents its challenges. I don’t know if any translation happens in a linear way, from beginning to end, but this one certainly didn’t! Some sections I returned to again and again, as I was progressing through the book, making significant changes to the language according to how I had translated later sections. I also had the luxury of being in touch with the author, who was wonderful to work with and very prompt with answering questions. Continue reading