Guantanamo by Dorothea Dieckmann and Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. He followed up those two with two novels for Europa Editions by Alina Bronsky, who has quickly built a name for herself as a writer to be reckoned with in English. Prior to coming on the translation scene in 2004 with Guantanamo, Mohr worked as an editor with Playboy . . ." />

The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

Seven Questions for Translator Tim Mohr

For more interviews, follow this link.

I don’t say things like this a whole lot, but I feel relatively safe in saying that if Tim Mohr wasn’t translating, our image of contemporary German literature would be quite different. His first two translations were two of the most notable and noted books to emerge into English from Germany in the ‘00s: Guantanamo by Dorothea Dieckmann and Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. He followed up those two with two novels for Europa Editions by Alina Bronsky, who has quickly built a name for herself as a writer to be reckoned with in English.

Prior to coming on the translation scene in 2004 with Guantanamo, Mohr worked as an editor with Playboy, and, as you’ll quickly see, information he might have picked up there came to bear on his work. In addition to translation and editing, he’s also currently at work on his own book, a history of the punk music scene in East Germany.


Scott Esposito: I’m very curious as to why you wanted to translate Wetlands. The book is infamous, and some seem to like it quite a lot, but many people I know don’t think much of it at all. Where do you stand on this, and what drew you in?

Tim Mohr: I definitely supported the basic mission of Wetlands, which I saw as taking issue with a perceived American cult of feminine hygiene–the antiseptic vision of femininity promulgated by things like “Sex and the City.” The German press was full of references to that, suggesting that this hygiene cult was incompatible with feminism, and that Wetlands was a corrective to it. I was glad to be able to help bring that debate home. But as far as translating it, I came to the book in a roundabout way. An editor at Grove/Atlantic asked me to read Wetlands overnight and prepare a reader’s report on it for her publisher, Morgan Entrekin, who was over at the London Book Fair—there was a lot of buzz surrounding Wetlands at the fair that year as it was already approaching a million sales in Germany, I think. Once it became clear Grove was interested in acquiring the U.S. rights for it, I mentioned to the editor that not many translators would understand as well as I did the distinction between, say, the German word for “pussy” and the German word for “cunt”—an important distinction in Wetlands. The reason my vocabulary is a bit unique that way is because I learned all my German while working as a club DJ in Berlin. As you can imagine, in that world I learned the German terms for things like “nipple piercing” and “anal sex” long before I ever knew things like “gender politics.” And though Wetlands is really about the latter, it’s expressed mostly in terms like the former.

SE: When we were emailing prior to this interview, you mentioned that Wetlands has the one word in your career as a translator that you’d like to have back. Can you tell us now about that word?

TM: The word I’d like to have back is “ladyfingers.” I wish I’d used “madeleines” instead. But it will take some explaining to understand why I would agonize over baked goods in the midst of a hyper-sexual story about distended assholes and intimate shaving. Charlotte stressed to the German press that she hoped to help facilitate women talking about their bodies the way men do—she wanted to create a new vocabulary, in part by creating nicknames for various body parts. Probably the hardest part of the translation was coming up with English equivalents for the nicknames she invented in German. I had to jettison the literal translations of some of them since they wouldn’t function fluidly in English, the way any decent nickname needs to. For example, the literal translation of her nickname for the clitoris would be “pearl-trunk” or “pearl-snout.” But that sounds like crap in English. I just could not imagine English speakers adopting that term. So I started extrapolating from the base words in German, and bouncing various ideas off women friends. In the end I opted for “snail-tail.” The “snail” part rings true to the oyster association (the “pearl”) of the original, and the use of a body part (“tail” in my version) also mirrors the original “snout” or “trunk.” I also debated about the German word adopted as a nickname for the inner labia, Hahnenkaemme. Technically it’s “coxcombs” in English. But the fact that the English word derives from “cock” made it a rather unfortunate word to use to describe female genitalia. Yes, Hahn means the same thing as “cock,” but Hahn doesn’t have the instant association with male genitalia that “cock” does in English. It just means rooster. I thought about using “wattles,” which are the similar skin below a chicken’s beak. In the end I chose “dewlaps,” which, on the necks of some lizards at least, look similar to coxcombs. OK, now on to the outer labia, which were named after a type of German cookie. This is where I used the dreaded “ladyfingers,” which I figured were a kind of baked good English readers would know and which have a similar shape to the German cookie mentioned. But one female reviewer said “ladyfingers” made her shudder. And while some other reviewers with no knowledge of German took potshots at me for the frequent use of “pussy” in the book—not realizing that the German word Muschi, which Charlotte peppered the book with, is such a direct analog to the English “pussy” that it, too, can be used to describe a small cat—this reviewer’s reaction to “ladyfingers” struck me as both totally legitimate and spot-on. There was no way this term had any chance of becoming a viable nickname in English, meaning I made a bad call there. And it bugs me all the more because I had an alternative I kept plugging in and out while I tried to decide how to deal with those damn German cookies. Nobody would have shuddered over madeleines.

SE: So, let’s switch gears to Alina Bronsky, from whom you’ve translated last year’s Broken Glass Park and The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, just released last month. Given your remarks on Wetlands vis a vis the feminine ideal, I’m wondering if this was something that drew you to the two books of Bronsky’s that you’ve translated. The female characters presented here are certainly atypical.

TM: Actually, at the time the offer to translate Bronsky came along, I was already determined to work on something from the boom in what you might call German immigrant literature. I had been to a talk at Carnegie Hall during the “Berlin in Lights” festival a few years ago, and at one point the ostensible experts on the panel began bemoaning the fact that there wasn’t any immigrant literature in Germany. I sat there in disbelief, as I’d probably read ten books in the previous five years by writers for whom German was their second language–some of which had been spectacularly successful (Wladimir Kaminer’s Russendisko sold over a million copies in Germany) and others, like Yade Kara’s Selam Berlin, had received prestigious literary prizes. After that experience, I decided I would translate a book by one of these writers. That is what drew me to Bronsky initially; reading Broken Glass Park convinced me it was the right book.

SE: I’d like to ask you about how you, or you and your editors, marketers, etc, arrived at the title The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine. It plays rather comically off the book’s story–about a decidedly undesirable young woman’s immaculate pregnancy–but to my ears it doesn’t quite sound right . . . something that, if I saw it in the bookstore, I wouldn’t want to read.

TM: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is actually a very direct translation of the German title. The only question was whether to translate it as “hottest” or “spiciest,” and since hottest had a more obvious double meaning, we went with that. Like English, there’s no word in German for the sensation we call “hot” or “spicy,” and they, too, are stuck having to describe it metaphorically–in German hot food is described as “sharp,” so the original title also had something of a potential double meaning given the barbs and jagged edges of Rosalinda’s personality.

SE: Can you talk a little about German immigrant writing, as I’m sure this will be something of interest to the people who follow this site, in particular books that should be translated into English.

TM: Well, I first became aware of it because of Russendisko, which was published in 2000. Russendisko was a collection of short stories based on Kaminer’s experiences following his emigration from the Soviet Union to East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin wall. Taken together, the stories created a kind of pointillist image of Berlin in the 1990s. Kaminer also DJed at Kaffee Burger, a great little sweatbox of a club where I had played, too, so I was intrigued by the whole thing. I suppose in part because his book sold so well, soon after came a wave of writers with Soviet-era East European backgrounds. But the trend also broadened to include writers like Kara, who grew up bilingual in Turkish, Sasa Stanisic, whose family fled war-torn Bosnia, and, more recently, Mariam Kuehsel-Hussaini, who has Afghani roots. What interested me in this writing wasn’t exoticism or the off chance of spotting linguistic innovation or the desire to find a common thread in works that didn’t really share one; I just thought Americans should know that voices beyond ethnic Germans were represented–and quite extensively–in the German publishing world. Particularly now, at a time when renewed anti-immigration sentiment has allowed statements in the political arena unthinkable just a few years ago–I mean, when the chancellor calls multiculturalism an utter failure, as she did last fall, you know things have changed–it’s important to realize that non-traditional voices have a stronger presence than ever before on the cultural front.

SE: If I’m not mistaken, Guantanamo was your first novel-length translation. What were the circumstances of you doing this book? Did you get involved with the idea of moving into translation more seriously, or was this more only the lines of a one-off project that drew you in to the world of translation?

TM: It’s sounds kind of cheesy, but when I moved back from Berlin I felt a strong sense of obligation to the city specifically and to Germany in general. Basically, I took away so much from living in Berlin that I wanted to try to repay that philosophical debt somehow. This was ten years ago, back before Berlin was known as the coolest city on the planet, and I wanted to help get the word out about what a great place it had become and facilitate the exchange of ideas between Germany and the US in whatever small way I could. One of the things I did–on the side, while I was still at Playboy–was to start writing reader reports and doing sample translations for US publishers considering buying the rights to German books. Guantanamo just sort of fell into my lap as a result of that work. Richard Nash at Soft Skull needed the book translated quickly and somehow heard my name. He had me prepare a sample of the first few thousand words. I had no further credentials, but he took a chance on me based on that sample. I’m very grateful he did.

SE: Obviously releasing a book titled “Guantanamo” in 2004 is going to evoke politics, but after reading a lot of the coverage around it, I get the sense that this isn’t a book strictly “about” torture, imprisonment, etc. Do you see this as a book tied to a particular historical moment, or more as a book that uses a very particular set of circumstances to make an interesting work of art?

TM: Dude, I’m just the translator. I’ll let others make that call. Though I will say the writing in Guantanamo had more musicality than anything else I’ve translated–Dorothea Dieckmann’s original text had a churning, rhythmic feel that I thought very important to try to recreate.

For more interviews, follow this link.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Seven Questions for Translator Jan Steyn on Edouard Leve’s Suicide Without a doubt, one of the best things I've read this year is a small book called Suicide. It was written by the contemporary French...
  2. Six Questions for Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Translator of The Explosion of the Radiator Hose by Jean Rolin As I noted earlier this month in my interview with Charlotte Mandell, I'm hoping to run more interviews on this site in 2011. This is...
  3. Six Questions for Charlotte Mandell, Translator of Zone by Mathias Enard One of my New Year's "resolutions," if you will, is to do more interviews in this site in 2011. I like to do them, they're...
  4. Der Turm Review You have to give the Complete Review credit for reviewing a 1,000 page work in the original German. That said, this book is being promoted...
  5. YFTS: Javier Marias as Translator Turns out we’re having a bit of a translation theme this week. As I noted on Monday, Javier Marias is not only one of Spain’s...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

1 comment to Seven Questions for Translator Tim Mohr

  • [...] “Charlotte stressed to the German press that she hoped to help facilitate women talking about their bodies the way men do—she wanted to create a new vocabulary, in part by creating nicknames for various body parts. Probably the hardest part of the translation was coming up with English equivalents for the nicknames she invented in German. I had to jettison the literal translations of some of them since they wouldn’t function fluidly in English, the way any decent nickname needs to.” At Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito talks with Tim Mohr, translator of (among others) Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands a…. [...]

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>