The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about books newly released in translation. This month, Andrea Gregovich interviews Christina MacSweeney. MacSweeney is an acclaimed translator of Latin American literature, best known for her translations of three novels by Valeria Luiselli, including The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press, 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle and Best Translated Book Awards, and won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Best Fiction and the Azul Prize in Canada. Her most recent translation is A Zero Sum Game, an insightful political dystopia that is the debut novel from Mexican writer, editor, and translator Eduardo Rabasa.
Andrea Gregovich: I was immediately intrigued by this novel when I discovered an epigraph of Radiohead lyrics at the beginning of Part One. It was a hook for me, an indicator that this writer is my contemporary, and an invitation for me to relate more personally to what goes on in the book. Did the prominent Radiohead reference give you any hints as to how to approach the book? And did you make sense of why Rabasa chose these particular lyrics from “A Wolf at the Door”?
Christina MacSweeney: I had the same sensation when I first read the epigraph; as a Radiohead fan, it was like an invitation to go on reading. When I asked Eduardo about the song, he told me it had in some way been an inspiration for Villa Miserias, the residential estate in which the novel is set. I seem to remember that one of the characters—the artist, Bramsos—was based on Thom Yorke. The song also expresses the atmosphere of Villa Miserias, and I listened to it often while writing certain sections of the translation. So, yes, it did influence my approach to the novel. Continue reading