4.1 “Sometimes I’m just a little disappointed in English”: Alejandro Zambra, Megan McDowell, and Kate Briggs tackle translation (JP)

A novelist, a translator and a theorist of translation walk into a Zoom Room……Alejandro ZambraMegan McDowell, and Kate Briggs provide the perfect start to Season 4 of Novel Dialogue. Our first themed season is devoted to translation in all its forms: into and out of English and also in, around, and over the borders between criticism and fiction. We talk to working translators, novelists who write in multiple languages, and we even time travel to discover older novels made new again in translation. How perfect then to begin with Kate, whose 2017 This Little Art is filled with translational brain-teasers: how do I translate characters speaking French in a german novelwhat does it mean that “A translation becomes a translation only when somebody declares it to be one”?


In this episode, Alejandro and Megan discuss their working relationship and share both Spanish and English passages from Alejandro’s most recent novel, Chilean Poet.  There follows a dazzling discussion of poetry within novels, of struggling to be “reborn” as you learn a second language “as something that no longer goes without saying..” Alejandro proposes that to speak Spanish itself, (except “bestseller Spanish”) is already to pivot between the language as it’s spoken differently in different countries.. Finally, the new ND “signature question” engenders a cheerful tirade from Megan that brings the conversation to a delightfully feisty conclusion.

Mentioned in this episode:

Roland Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel; How to Live Together
Samanta Schweblin
Mariana Enriquez
Lina Meruane
Joseph Conrad
Vladimir Nabakov
Oulipo writers who chose rules to organize their writing: e.g.. Georges Perec wrote a novel without the letter e.
Wordsworth, “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room”
Robert Browning as practitioner of “dramatic monologue” (or “double poem“)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Emily Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Emily Dickinson
T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
I. A. Richards
Randall Jarrell (“Gertrude spoke French so badly anyone could understand it…..”)

Listen and Read:

Audio: “Sometimes I’m just a little disappointed in English”

Transcript: 4.1 “Sometimes I’m just a little disappointed in English”

4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski Novel Dialogue

In our season finale, Ann Goldstein, renowned translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, gives a master class in the art and business of translation. Ann speaks to Duke scholar Saskia Ziolkowski and host Aarthi Vadde about being the face of the Ferrante novels, and the curious void that she came to fill in the public imagination in light of Ferrante’s anonymity. In a profession long characterized by invisibility, Ann reflects on her own celebrity and the changing orthodoxies of the book business. Where once having a translator’s name on a book cover would be sure to kill interest, now there are movements to display author’s and translator’s names together. Ann reads an excerpt in Italian from Primo Levi’s The Truce, followed by her re-translation of the autobiographical story for The Complete Works of Primo Levi. She then offers an extraordinary walk through of her decision-making process by honing in on the difficulty of translating one key word “scomposti.” Listening to Ann delineate and discard choices, we are reminded of Italo Calvino’s assertion (echoed by Ann) that translation is indeed the closest way to read. This season’s signature question on “untranslatables” yields another brilliant meditation on word choice and the paradoxical task of arriving at precise approximations. Plus, Ann and Saskia reveal some of their favorite Italian women writers, several of whom Ann has brought into English for the first time. Mentions: –Elena Ferrante –Jennifer Croft –Primo Levi, The Periodic Table –Primo Levi, The Truce, from The Complete Works of Primo Levi –Stuart Woolf, original translator of Levi, If This is the Man –Catherine Gallagher, Nobody’s Story –Italo Calvino –Marina Jarre, Return to Latvia –Elsa Morante, Arturo’s Island –Emily Wilson, only female translator of The Odyssey –Jenny McPhee –Cesare Garboli Find out more about Novel Dialogue and its hosts and organizers here. Contact us, get that exact quote from a transcript, and explore many more conversations between novelists and critics. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
  1. 4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski
  2. 4.5a Novel Dialogue Bonus: Jean-Baptiste Naudy Reads from Claude McKay’s "Amiable with Big Teeth"
  3. 4.5 The Best Error You Can Make: Brent Hayes Edwards and Jean-Baptiste Naudy on Claude McKay
  4. 4.4 “A short, sharp punch to the face”: José Revueltas’ The Hole (El Apando) with Alia Trabucco Zerán and Sophie Hughes.
  5. 4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation: Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang in Conversation

Published by plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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