Novelist Francisco Goldman and translator Natasha Wimmer will discuss Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 this Thursday at Idlewild Books in New York City. Brought together as part of the Words Without Borders “Conversations on Great Contemporary Literature” series, there are not too many people who could carry a more interesting discussion on Bolaño’s masterwork.
Francisco Goldman, author of The Long Night of White Chickens, most recently wrote a non-fiction book on the 1998 murder of Guatemala City’s Bishop Juan Gerardi, who documented the deaths of over 50,000 civilians in Guatemala’s civil war, in The Art of Political Murder: Who killed the Bishop. In his overview of Bolaño’s work in the New York Review of Books last year, Goldman said…
“The inseparable dangers of life and literature, and the relationship of life to literature, were the constant themes of Bolaño’s writings and also of his life, as he defiantly and even improbably chose to live it”
summing up very much that almost singular characteristic that makes Bolaño an improbable literary hero, much like Jorge Luis Borges.
Natash Wimmer is the translator of The Savage Detectives and 2666 as well as works by Mario Vargas Llosa and others. She’s lived with his work in Spanish and English on word-for-word terms. Here’s a bit from her recent interview at New York Magazine that I think, even in the question captures something of the scope of Bolaño’s writing:
What was your experience of translating the ex–Black Panther’s ten-page monologue?
Wimmer: To be frank, lots of back and forth with my editor, Lorin Stein, whose counsel was invaluable here and elsewhere. I reworked this section more thoroughly than most, trying to triangulate between the Spanish and the language a U.S. reader might expect an ex–Black Panther — and barbecue master — to speak. Bolaño’s cues here are ambiguous. I tried to capture that eccentricity with some slightly folksy, again, American English, but I didn’t want to take it too far.
And here’s an excerpt from an interview with her at the Quarterly Conversation where she talks about the gains of living, to some extent, the novel you’re translating:
NW: By far the most helpful thing I did was spend two months in Mexico City while I was translating the novel. I lived in an apartment on Calle Abraham Gonzalez, which is parallel to Calle Bucareli and only a few blocks from Café La Habana, which is the real-life version of The Savage Detectives’s Café Quito. In fact, I spent quite a few afternoons there having coffee with Mexican friends and asking questions about Mexico City slang. I was always passing some building or walking down some street that appears in The Savage Detectives, and all kinds of cultural references became clearer to me.
Hope to see you there.