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Interview with Kazim Ali and Libby Murphy about Duras's "L'Amour"

Over at the Fiction Writers Review, Jennifer Solheim has posted a great interview with the two translators of Duras’s L’Amour, which just pubbed this past Tuesday.

You can read the whole thing here, but here are a few highlights.

Jennifer Solheim: In your beautiful introduction, Kazim, you write, “_L’Amour_, never before translated into English, is at the heart of a constellation of texts, both verbal and visual, by Marguerite Duras, sometimes called the India Cycle.” So what is the story behind the translation of L’Amour? Why now? Did you approach Open Letter Books, or did they approach you? Why hasn’t it been translated previously?

Kazim Ali: I was a Duras lover, very enamored of her prose style, which seemed even more powerful in her middle-period (1965 – 1984, roughly) when she started recycling plots throughout her books. I happened upon L’Amour in a Paris bookstore and found it immediately charming and powerful—in fact, kind of a classic example of this spare disembodied style that she was cultivating. It almost reads like a treatment for a film, so it makes complete sense to me that after writing this book she more or less abandoned fiction for film. During the thirteen years that followed she did write four short prose narratives—the most well known of these is The Malady of Death—but essentially did not write another novel until The Lover.

I can’t say why no one had attempted a translation yet. It is a very experimental prose style and a very experimental novel in that not much really happens. Yet it has been written about by countless critics, all of whom were doing their own translations of the small excerpts they wished to discuss. I had approached a couple of different publishers, but this is a quirky book, even for Duras, who is quirky all on her own. Open Letter was very excited and enthusiastic about the book. They are doing a wonderful job and are devoted completely to literature in translation. They have another Duras book in their catalog (The Sailor from Gibraltar) and signed us up almost immediately.

JS: Since L’Amour is a centerpiece of the India Cycle, did the English translations of the other works in the cycle inform you? Were there stylistic or other elements in the translations that you decided you wanted to preserve or eschew?

KA: During the translation process I read every other translation I could find. Duras does sound a certain way in English through the excellent work of Barbara Bray. The few other Duras translations that exist have a different sense. Bray did an odd thing, which is that she did not “Anglicize” the syntax very much, so the sentences still have that sometimes ornate overdone word order of a French sentence. In L’Amour Duras writes very simply, very plainly. So I found an inspiration in Gertrude Stein’s English. But unlike Stein, Duras is in love with the comma—her sentences can just keep going and going. So it took a draft or two to get the hang of the rhythme du sens, so to speak. Which—eventually—seemed really important and related to the constant sound of waves that permeates life at the ocean; meaning the sentence structure and grammar was part of the meaning—it couldn’t be changed.

Read the rest here.



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