The Brooklyn Rail’s Jed Lipinski interviews translator Susan Bernofsky
Rail: As a fiction writer, have your translations had any effect on your writing style?
Bernofsky: Walser has such a strong, idiosyncratic style that I actually think he’s somewhat dangerous as an influence. If you wind up imitating—rather than just being inspired by—him, it’s pretty easy to start writing pastiches of his work. And pastiches of Walser tend not to be so good. His work is a balancing act, and it’s only because of his constantly startling imagination that he avoids toppling over into cliché and bad taste. He so often writes about things like being charmed by a landscape—now, that’s quite difficult to pull off. Fortunately, I stopped being tempted to try to write like him in my early twenties. For better or for worse, my own fiction is much more straight-faced and plainspoken than his. The only one of my authors with whom there’s any stylistic resemblance to speak of is Jenny Erpenbeck, but I came to her fairly recently as a translator, so I wouldn’t say she was a formative influence on me—I’d started writing the way I write years before. I do pay close attention to how she puts a story together though, because I think she achieves a great deal in her fiction with minimal means. There’s a certain restraint to her fiction—a sense that there are ten unsaid things for every one thing getting said—that I admire a great deal.
Read it: The Brooklyn Rail
My Friend “Mr. Waggish” who writes with great intelligence and insight, gives us some of his thoughts on Bolaño’s 2666. This is one of the bits that drew me in because I completely agree:
Failure and inadequacy replace the indulgence of earlier, but Bolano, with full certitude, tries to elevate the material to the level of truth. There’s a hard-boiled attitude to Bolano’s repeated myth-busting and proclaiming of the failures of the literary project and its world. The problem with such an attitude is that its effectiveness lies in the vividness of the portrayal, not with the attitude itself, or else people would be reading E.M. Cioran rather than Dashiell Hammett. And Amalfitano himself, unglamorous and earnest, is what makes it vivid. When the fourth section (about the murders) rolls around and Bolano abandons most of the embellishments for a flat recounting of the facts, he is at his best.
Scott Esposito reviews J.M.G. Le Clézio’s Desert at The Critical Flame:
Desert was acclaimed as Le Clézio’s íbreakoutë novel by the Swedish Academy, but the book’s mass appeal can be difficult to see at first — it is not the easiest read to get into. It starts with a gathering of thousands of Moroccans around the famous sheik Ma el Aïnine, a man who led an anti-colonial jihad in the first quarter of the 20th century and succeeded in deposing the Sultan before being turned back by the French military. Although we are introduced to certain characters in this opening scene, Le Clézio’s vantage is so wide that we never attain any degree of intimacy with anyone, and it is clear that what most interests Le Clézio is painting a portrait of this incredible accumulation of human beings and the environment in which they wait. Notably, in this opening section Le Clézio never once directly mentions the broader historical forces in which these people are caught up, or even the reason for which they will march. Though Desert is informed by those turn-of-the-century maladies, colonialism and warfare, it is not about either of these topics in the least. Le Clézio only cares for the lived experience of people caught up in these forces, and he does not dilute their lives with recourse to philosophical or historical abstraction. His panorama is powerful for its sense of humanity amassing in religious conviction from out of the wide and empty desert, but those looking to fiction for vivid characters and a strong sense of plot might be put off by these first fifty pages.
Read it: The Critical Flame