So after the first ALTA panel—on the “subversive” translator and the idea of making the translator “visible” without interfering too much with the original text—Megan McDowell (pictured above) and I came up with a project idea. (Or what some may call a gimmick.) We thought that we could help literally make translators visible by posting pictures of ALTA attendees and asking a few questions. We thought it would be a cool way of letting non-translation world people get to know who these “invisible” translators are, while pointing out how cool the ALTA conference attendees are, and getting some good book recommendations along the way.
I think we did about 25 profiles, which I’ll be posting over the next couple weeks. I’ll include everyone’s answers, maybe another anecdote or two, and possibly some additional information about these people. (Translators tend to be pretty humble people and not very good at self-promotion . . .)
Anyway, re: Megan—I first met her ages ago, when she was a fellow at Dalkey Archive’s short-lived Chicago office. She was one of the best fellows we ever had. Very energetic, and very bright. Post-Dalkey, she spent some time in Chile, attended the University of Texas-Dallas where she studied translation, and got heavily involved with ALTA. (She was at the conference as the official photographer, making her the perfect partner for this project, and a good reason to feature her first.)
On with the questions with my comments in italics below:
Favorite Word, in any language: murcielago, which is Spanish for “bat.”
Weirdly, another translator picked this word as well . . . I’ll point this out again when I feature her, but not only did Robin Myers try and choose “murcielago,” but her other favorite word happens to be Megan’s second choice. It’s like translator telepathy.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra.
Which will be published by Open Letter this May . . . And in the meantime I HIGHLY recommend checking out Zambra’s Bonsai, which Melville House did last year, and which was a 2009 Best Translated Book finalist.
Book that Needs to be Published in English Translation: Ayer by Juan Emar.
We actually have this on submission . . . I have a feeling I’ll be able to repeat that a number of times over the course of this project, usually followed by “for the past eighteen months.” Which is not so cool. But seriously, Emar sounds very interesting and was featured in RCF a couple years back.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .