Earlier today, Asymptote published an interview between Jeremie Davies, senior editor at Dalkey Archive Press, and Spanish-language translator Steve Dolph. Over the course of the summer, the two corresponded in a great discussion about the great Argentine author Juan José Saer. Here, Part I of the interview, Steve talks about what it’s like to read and translate Saer (three Saer novels translated by Steve are available from Open Letter, including the latest, and Saer’s final work, La Grande.
Below is the beginning of the interview, title “Who’s Who in La Zona“—be sure to follow Asymptote’s posts to catch Part II of the interview.
Would you mind sharing how you first became involved with Juan José Saer’s work, as reader or translator? I mean, was he an extant enthusiasm even before your association with Open Letter?
I can’t really say when as a common reader I first came to know Saer, but I was aware of his work well before the translation project came along. I know I had seen the translations from Serpent’s Tail even before I became seriously interested in translation at all. In the constellation of contemporary Latin American novelists, he figures prominently as a kind of anti-Márquez, insofar as the mythical place he most often visits in his fiction—the city of Santa Fe—is strongly affected by globalization, and fractured. In Márquez the force of history is basically recognizable, and solid, which produces a more or less reliable narrative memory and sense of place. The opposite is the case in Saer. Everything is in doubt, especially the narrative’s ability to recreate a reliable sense of place. But for me that sense of contrast only came much later, when I’d been working on the translations for a while. Before that, he was just another monster in the vast bestiary of Latin American fiction. It took a happy accident for me to get to work on his writing in translation.
In 2008 I had just come off editing Calque and was looking for a book project and shopping around some poems and stories I’d translated. Out of the blue Suzanne Jill Levine contacted me, asking if I’d be interested in translating one of Saer’s novels for Open Letter, because she was busy and couldn’t do the project. I read the book—Glosa, which was published in English as The Sixty-Five Years of Washington—sent Open Letter a sample, and because I loved the writing I asked if they were planning to do more than the one. It turned out they were planning three, and I signed up to do them all, sight unseen.
For the entire interview, go here.
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