18 November 11 | Chad W. Post

I was actually a bit scared of Wendy when I first met her. Not because she was particularly frightening (I’ve gotten over my fear of librarians . . . well, at least most of them), or because she was so much taller than most of the other translators (“tall” being totally ALTA-relative), but because the first thing she told me was that she had been hoping to meet me so she could ask about the manuscript she had submitted months and months ago . . .

(Quick digression: Although we do try our best to read and evaluate all submissions in a timely manner, you have to understand that this is incredibly complicated and time-consuming. On the low end, we receive 5-10 queries or submissions every week. And E.J. VanLanen is responsible for reading them all. [That’s called “passing the buck.”] At the same time, he’s also responsible for the website, editing all the books we are publishing, contracts, etc., etc. So, yes, we fall waaaayyy behind. A more relevant excuse re: Wendy is the fact that she sent it to the “submissions@openletterbooks.org” address. Don’t do that. Send all your submissions either to me or to E.J. at e.j.vanlanen [at] rochester.edu. And we will read them. Sometime. Promise. End digression.)

After withstanding the storm of embarrassment, I did spend a good deal of time talking to Wendy. She’s a very funny, bright person who works as a librarian at Mansfield University and has a few interesting alphabet obsessions. Namely, she works her way through her “to read” shelves based on the author’s last name (I think she told me she was into the F’s, but I might be misremembering), and seeing that she already knows English, French, German, and Hindi, she next wants to learn either Dutch or Italian to keep the alphabet streak alive. (I think she was half-joking about that, but hey, why not?)

On to the questions:

Your Favorite Word in Any Language: Potato, pomme de terre, kartoffel, आलू (aloo)

I feel like there was a story behind Wendy’s love of the word “potato” in all the languages she knows, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what that story might be.

Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: Chapter 1 of Wendy 2 ou les Secrets de Polichinelle (Wendy 2 or The Secrets of Punch) by Vincent Ravalec

Book That Needs to Be Published in English: Vincent Ravalec in general!

This is the chapter that Wendy submitted to us so, so many months ago, so I actually have a ton of info from her cover letter about Ravalec and this particular book. Here are the highlights:

Vincent Ravalec is a well-known contemporary French writer of avant-garde novels, short stories, poems, and pop songs. Born in Paris in 1962, he stopped his formal schooling at the age of fourteen, then worked as an apprentice carpenter and assistant movie producer before beginning to write in the early 1990s. In 1994, he was awarded the very first Prix de Flore for his novel Cantique de la racaille (Flammarion), which he later adapted into a film. He has since been rolific, publishing fourteen novels, five collections of short stories, one volume of poetry, three essays, and a work of non-fiction to date. His better-known works include Un pur moment de rock’n roll (Le Dilettante, 1992), Vol de sucettes (Le Dilettante, 1995), and L’effacement progressif des consignes de sécurité (Flammarion, 2001).

Wendy 2 (Flammarion, 2004) begins as the strange tale of a young Parisian girl named Wendy Angelier who finds herself contacted by the spirit of a murderer who died in a prison brawl when Wendy was eight and half. The catch is that the murderer is also named Wendy Angelier, and she claims to be an Angel sent by God’s Secret Service to initiate young Wendy into the fold. As Wendy senior explains the universe to her young charge, leading her down ever more dubious paths, Ravalec’s narration heightens the reader’s sense of unease with constant interjections alluding to some terrible purpose. Gradually Wendy’s friends and family get sucked into the unknown horror that seems to be lurking around every corner, and the prospect of a happy ending looks bleak.

But then, more than three-fourths of the way through, everything is suddenly uprooted from the fictional world and dropped abruptly into our own, with Ravalec himself not only meeting his characters but becoming one of them. This is the sort of meta-fictional twist that literary critics love to analyze, but Ravalec beats them to the punch. Very shortly after the narrative shift, he provides a careful list of all the ways in which it could be interpreted, leaving the reader unable to determine the truth with any kind of certainty. In the end, there are more questions than answers, and Ravalec has earned an unassailable place in 21st-century experimental fiction.

And there you go. And yes, I did read the sample immediately upon return from ALTA . . . E.J.‘s looking at it now. [Buck officially passed once more.]

Click here for other entries in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.


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