Edward Gauvin is simply awesome. I first met him when he was working at the French Publishers’ Agency. Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. I first corresponded with him when he was at the FPA, but I first met him in person when he was visiting Rochester. See? People do visit Rochester. Edward’s actually been up here twice (at least), including last fall when he was here to participate in a Reading the World Conversation Series roundtable with Michael Emmerich, Martha Tennent, and Marian Schwartz. (Click here to watch the video of the event—it really was one of the best RTWCS events to date.)
One of the things I really like about Edward is his broad literary interests. Sure, he’s well versed in the Oulipo, in all facets of “high art,” but he also knows a shitload about international science fiction and translates a lot of graphic novels for First Second Books. (Another reason to love Edward—and this isn’t an intentional attempt to bury the lead—is just how much he knows about international comics. It looks like I’m going to help put together a series of events at the next New York ComicCon related to international graphic novels, and along with Douglas Wolk and Laurel Maury, Edward’s one of my go-to people for info on who/what I should know about.)
Edward was also an ALTA fellow a few years back, and has since had a residency at the Ledig House and found a publisher for his first book-length prose translation (the beginning of which won him the fellowship . . . I think).
Anyway, to the questions:
Favorite Word in Any Language: “Indefferer” to be indifferent to as in “cela m’indiffere,” which is equivalent to “that leaves me cold.” “Thesauriser” (or “to amass”) comes a close second.
To amass something with complete indifference . . . sounds like b-school speak.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: has to be my labor of love to date and first book-length prose fiction translation: A Life on Paper, the selected stories of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
Small Beer Press will be publishing this in May, and more info can be found here. Before linking to some of the online excerpts, here’s the jacket copy, which is sure to get more than a few people interested:
In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic. A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.
Sounds like something we’ll definitely be looking at for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award . . .
Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: “The Red Loaf” by Pieyre de Mandiargues. He’s another mid-century fantastical writer. His Goncourt-winning novel The Margin was translated by Richard Howard (as were a number of others through Grove, and Boyars), and his sadistically decadent The Englishman in His Château was recently published by Dedalus Press, in their notable European fantasy line. None of his many short stories have yet appeared in English.
This is sort of a bonus question from Edward since most translators either answered the “best translation you’ve done” or “most difficult.” But what the hell, Mandiargues sounds pretty interesting as well . . .
What Book Needs to Be Published in Translation: the stories of Noel Devaulx
As Edward mentioned in an e-mail to me, there’s not a ton of info on Devaulx available online, but there is a more academic article by Mark Temmer entitled “Noel Devaulx: His Fantasies and Allegories” that has a nice provocative opening:
Noel Devaulx writes as much to be misunderstood as to be understood. The resolution of the paradox lies in the nature of irony, which displays ignorance or weakness to further its own ends. It must be confessed, however, that such stratagems do not always succeed; initial defeats may be too great or adversaries too dull. And lest so much subtlety go to waste, it seems worth while to renounce human encounters in favor of anonymous readers on whose part one may suppose intelligence and sympathy.
Noël Devaulx is the secret master of the 20th century French fantastique. His prose has the shimmer of Mérimée and the seemliness of Flaubert; clearly, he keeps Nerval by his bedside, the better to read it by the light of a Baudelairean lunacy. In his hands, the Kunstmärchen—nine collections’ worth, over nine decades—is reinvented as the vessel of a personal metaphysics; evident in every one is his mandarin mastery of narration. Jean Paulhan, an early champion, famously called his hermetic, exquisite tales, oft-featured in the NRF, “parables without keys”: spellbinding, even when perfectly obscure, for the secret to his prose is promise. Some enticing deferral of revelation extends past his final lines, into silence. [. . .] Many of Devaulx’s tales are haunted by death and madness, but Sainte Barbegrise reads like a virgin spring, or a breeze from a summer kingdom. It belongs, for its humor, for its merry invention, for its skillful use of marvel, on a shelf with Little, Big, At-Swim-Two-Birds, or The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold.
Click here to read the rest of the posts in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.
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. . .