YFTS: Magaret Jull Costa Responds

Here are the responses to the questions posed earlier this week to Margaret Jull Costa:

Neil: One of the many pleasures of reading the novel was how there seemed to be a constant translation taking place in Deza’s head between English and Spanish and back to English. How did translating a character who already is constantly translating and playing with both languages affect your work on the novel? Did it add another layer to your translation? How was it different translating this than other books that may not have been as concerned with the differences and respective peculiarities of English and Spanish?

MJC: I think I took a pretty pragmatic approach, sometimes leaving a Spanish expression in Spanish and then giving an English translation or else leaving it unexplained–as I do occasionally when Wheeler is pondering various unfathomable Spanish idioms–because there the meaning wasn’t important. The narrator does occasionally comment that there is no English equivalent for a particular Spanish expression, but I have to find a translation anyway! Javier is the only one of my writers who does this kind of thing, but it’s obviously most marked in those of his novels set in England or America and where the narrator himself is a translator or interpreter. It does add another layer of difficulty in a way, but then again I do spend my working life moving between languages, so it’s not such a leap.

Jeremy Hatch: My question is kind of a more technical one and less about the book per se, but since I do so much copyediting in my professional life, it keeps striking me as I’m reading that the usage and spelling throughout is British–“realise” as opposed to “realize,” “colour” rather than “color,” decisions are “taken,” not “made,” double l’s in certain words, and so forth. Given that New Directions is an American publishing house, I was curious whether this usage choice was a conscious decision and therefore an integral part of the translation, given that what action there is takes place in London amongst Europeans, or if the choice was more of a circumstantial thing–you know, the first publication in English was a British edition and that’s the text ND used, or maybe you are British and those choices are just the choices that are most natural to you, or whatever. Thanks!

MJC: I worked as a copy-editor myself for a few years, and it’s such a useful skill for the translator to have as well. As for the British spellings, the novels are co-published in the UK by Chatto & Windus, and I myself am British. So the translation starts off in British spelling and, in this case, remains so. My wonderful editor at New Directions, Barbara Epler, does change certain excessively British turns of phrase into a more U.S. idiom, but I think it was felt that British spelling would not trouble American readers too much–apart from those who do a lot of copy-editing!

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And these trans-Atlantic conversations across oceans and friendly borders and time, time as represented by a bike, a train and a plane, which actualy seems to be slowing down and reversing in Marias’s novel. Cool.

Hi Scott,
Hearing from the translator was pretty amazing–thank you so much for getting that coup for us! She had some very interesting answers to these questions here, and your interview with her was penetrating.

I am wondering, though, when you might post some more of your own thoughts about how Vol I ended (or did I miss them? if so, my apologies–it’s certainly possible)…I’ve gotten a little ahead in my reading, and am now halfway through Vol II, so am taking a bit of a break to get even with the schedule, and find myself flipping back through Vol I and relating so much of it to some of the things that are taken up immediately again in Vol II (James Bond, women’s legs and thighs, one minute, fever, the next spear, my pain, sleep and dreams…etc…)…Anyway, I’m quite curious to hear your take–and others’–on Vol I as a “whole” (or, at least, as a “whole” section I to a long novel, as Marias sees it)…

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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