Working with Chejfec

Sergio Chejfec’s two main English-language translators, interviewed at Asymptote:

Let’s get back to the translating itself. You both have been very fortunate in that you live in the same city as your writers, which isn’t the case for most translators. What kind of collaboration do you have with Chejfec?

Carson: It was important to know Sergio personally and get a sense that he was invested in the project. He’s fascinated by what the translator is doing—it resembles, particularly in its uncertainties and ambiguities, the thought process of his narrator. I found Sergio to be very patient and generous with his time. At some point I was weighing, “Should I ask him this?” and I decided “I’m going to ask it because I really want to know and the translation will reflect the quality of this relationship.” He speaks of translation as a transmigration, which is another noteworthy point. Sergio’s not a translator himself but he respects translation, you don’t have to win him over. Translation seems like just another facet of his literary practice that he’d fold this into the novel in Spanish, expand it with this new chapter of translation.

Cleary: I’ve described working with him exactly that way—he’s incredibly generous. It’s always surprised me, the care with which he responds to questions. Getting to know him was also important to me because it became clear that his narrative voice, which seems so literary and so analytic, is actually very much the way he talks. And that came to inform the way I translated him. The questions we actually deal with over email, which I think gives us both time to reflect on how we want to phrase things. Because ultimately that’s what we’re getting at, those really specific points, which at least I have a hard time getting right over coffee.

Carson: The answer to my questions as a translator would often come back from Sergio as, “I don’t know what that means.” So how do you deal with that? But it’s part of the translation to reflect the meaninglessness. And I don’t know about you, but I also think that when I’m so closely going over each sentence I’m questioning everything. When you step back just a little bit you realize it doesn’t have to resolve quite as clearly as you want it to. The grey area is good.

Cleary: And that’s one of the hardest things to preserve in translation.

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