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”

4.2 Light and Sound: Boubacar Boris Diop with Sarah Quesada Novel Dialogue

Boubacar Boris Diop is the author of Murambi: The Book of Bones, (Indiana UP, 2016; translated by Fiona McLaughlin), an unforgettable novel of the Rwandan genocide that blends journalistic research with finely drawn characterizations of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. In this episode, Mr. Diop reads from Murambi, translated from French by Fiona McLaughlin, and speaks to Duke professor Sarah Quesada and host Aarthi Vadde about how his work on the novel spurred him to rethink his language of composition. Mr. Diop wrote his first five novels in French, but after Murambi, shifted to Wolof, the most widely spoken language in his home country of Senegal. Asked to describe the difference between writing in French and writing in Wolof, Mr. Diop sums it up memorably: “When I start writing in French, I shut the door; I shut the window…I don’t hear the words I’m writing. When I write in Wolof, I hear every word.” Sarah and Mr. Diop discuss whether translation can be an ally to a Wolof worldview or whether the sounds that Mr. Diop hears through his window will inevitably be lost to readers who encounter his Wolof novels in English or French. Their dialogue suggests that, while Wolof represents a form of linguistic emancipation from the legacy of a French colonial education, there is also discovery and freedom in raising the literary profile of Wolof for an international audience. Mr. Diop’s Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks is the first Wolof novel to be translated into English and an excerpt from his second Wolof novel Bàmmeelu Kocc Barma is available in translation here. In response to our signature question of the season, Mr. Diop proposes that the Wolof word “keroog” is very difficult to translate but not impossible. And it spurs an impromptu comparison to the Spanish word “ahorita,” which like “keroog,” blurs the distinctions between present, past, and future. In an episode about personal and political memory, nothing could be more fitting! Mentioned in this episode: –Toni Morrison –Gabriel Garcia Marquez –Mario Vargas Llosa –Ernesto Sábato –Léopold Sédar Senghor –Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks –Les Petits de la guenon (French Translation of Doomi Golo) –Bàmmeelu Kocc Barma – literally translated as Kocc Barma's Grave (Diop’s second Wolof novel) –Malaanum Lëndëm – Diop’s third Wolof novel –Alice Chaudemanche (French translator of Malaanum Lëndëm) –Pierre Nora – French historian –Marianne Hirsch –“Sites mémoriaux du génocide” – memorial sites of genocide (term used by UNESCO that qualify as heritage sites.) –Rwandan term – “ejo” (similar to keroog) from the language: Kinyarwanda 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. 4.2 Light and Sound: Boubacar Boris Diop with Sarah Quesada
  2. 4.1 “Sometimes I’m just a little disappointed in English”
  3. 4.0 Novel Dialogue Season 4: Transitions and Translations
  4. 3.6 Why are You in Bed? Why are You Drinking? Colm Tóibín and Joseph Rezek in Conversation
  5. 3.5 The Romance of Recovery: Ben Bateman talks to Shola von Reinhold (AV)

Published by plotznik

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

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