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
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews poet, editor, and Chinese translator Canaan Morse. Canaan co-founded the literary journal Pathlight: New Chinese Writing as its first poetry editor, won the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation in 2014, and has published translations and book reviews in several international journals, both print and online. The Invisibility Cloak, a captivating experimental novel by Ge Fei, is Canaan’s first translated book.
Andrea Gregovich: The Invisibility Cloak feels unique to me—a Beijing-based freelance designer of custom sound systems for wealthy people takes a sketchy job that goes awry, and trouble ensues. Its narrative is a patchwork of classical music discussion, shop talk about audio components, and the political and philosophical opinions of various characters. Did you detect any literary influences when you were working on this book? Does it fit into any literary trends in China?
Canaan Morse: I’m so glad you asked this question, because my answer is a resounding “No.” While much of the earlier, experimental fiction upon which Ge Fei built his reputation is deeply (and clearly) influenced by American Modernism, his later fiction speaks with a much more individualized voice. This book in particular leaves an aesthetic impression unlike any other; its terse yet suddenly mellifluous narrative style and its embrace of suspense distinguish it clearly from all the English and Chinese literature I’ve read. Continue reading
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
Next time you’re reading Elena Ferrante, or Roberto Bolaño, or Leo Tolstoy, think about this.
When you buy a book in translation, only a few pennies of that money are going to the translator–you know, the person who agonized over every word to bring you an incredible story from halfway around the world. In fact, many translators don’t even earn a royalty, so they’re not getting any of your money.
If literary translators weren’t working for pennies, the only other way you could explore these masterpieces of international literature would be to actually learn a foreign language. And how much would that cost?