4.2 Light and Sound: Boubacar Boris Diop with Sarah Quesada (AV)

Boubacar Boris Diop is the author of Murambi: The Book of Bones, 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 Notebooksis 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:

Aimé Césaire
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

Listen and Read:

Audio: Light and Sound

Transcript: 4.2 Light and Sound

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
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