A blog chain called “The Next Best Thing” is going around. Writers respond to questions about their recent or forthcoming work. My former student, Diane Glazman (thewritenote.blogspot.com), tagged me and now I’m it, so to speak.
What is your title of your book: The Translator, which will be published July 1, 2013.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Like any work of fiction, the idea is an amalgamation of the external world in conversation with the internal. The conversation mixes and stirs up memories, experiences, new ideas and inspiration. One piece of the mixture is an article I read in the The New Yorker, “The Translation Wars,” about Constance Garnett’s translation of Russian literature. As it turned out, without me even noticing it, I’d read Garnett’s translation of The Brother’s Karamozov. I pulled other books from my shelf and saw I’d read Dante through the filter of Sinclair, Proust through the filter of Davis and Homer through Fagle’s lens. The article noted that Garnett was a “woman of Victorian energies and Edwardian prose,” and Nabokov lambasted her translations (she translated all of Dostoyevsky’s novels) calling them “a complete disaster.” Joseph Brodsky said, “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.”
Around this time, I attended a Noh play (and didn’t understand a thing). I was studying Japanese and teaching Japanese to teens, thinking how difficult it can be to translate Japanese to English and vice versa. That reminded me of a trip I took to Japan alone, how I gathered my luggage and with my bare-bones Japanese stood in the train station, trying to figure out which train went where. I wanted to go to Hiroshima, but ended up on the wrong train. What a lucky mistranslation! I got off at a small town called Kurashiki, a place that wasn’t bombed in World War II. Here was the architecture of the Edo Period (1615-1868), the buildings standing like grand old dames along a quiet canal.
So began the first stirrings of a central character, a female translator who moves the Japanese language into English, who makes a grave error, one that will upend her career and her life.
What genre does your book fall under? Literature
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I can talk all day about Munro, Dostoevsky, Updike, Woolf, McCann, but know little about the world of movies and actors. I’m open to suggestions.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, she is left speaking only Japanese, an upheaval that begins her unraveling, hauling up the demons of her past and present.
Will your book be self-published? The Translator will be published by Pegasus Books.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Seven months or so. It was, by no means, done. I revise and revise and revise.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A thread running through the story concerns a mother’s determination to reach out to her estranged daughter. The story line raises the question, is it possible to see another human being, without the distortions of bias and interpretation? Woven into the novel is a bright light shining on the art of translation, and the controversial idea that language shapes thought. Oh, you also get to experience Noh theater and a mercurial unemployed Noh actor.
For Joan Gelfand's responses, take a look at her web site, www.joangelfand.com. She is the author of Here & Abroad, A Dreamer's Guide to Cities and Streams, Seeking Center, and blogs for the Huffington Post.
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