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.
Mentioned in this episode:
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
Marina Jarre, Return to Latvia
Elsa Morante, Arturo’s Island
Emily Wilson, only female translator of The Odyssey
Listen and read:
4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski – Novel Dialogue
- 4.6 Translation is the Closest Way to Read: Ann Goldstein and Saskia Ziolkowski
- 4.5a Novel Dialogue Bonus: Jean-Baptiste Naudy Reads from Claude McKay’s "Amiable with Big Teeth"
- 4.5 The Best Error You Can Make: Brent Hayes Edwards and Jean-Baptiste Naudy on Claude McKay
- 4.4 “A short, sharp punch to the face”: José Revueltas’ The Hole (El Apando) with Alia Trabucco Zerán and Sophie Hughes.
- 4.3 Strange Beasts of Translation: Yan Ge and Jeremy Tiang in Conversation