Megan McDowell is shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream.
Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to the work of your writer?
Megan McDowell: Luck. I was offered the chance to translate the book by Laura Perciasepe at Riverhead. I sat down to read it and it eclipsed everything else; I read it straight through at the expense of everything else I was supposed to be doing. The feeling of being urged or dragged onward through the story was irresistible, and the growing sense of dread was addictive. Fever Dream is really not like any book I’ve ever read before. I’d say it’s the best kind of psychological horror in its way of delving into the soft and vulnerable parts of our anxieties. In the process of a sincere examination of things most of us would rather not look at head on, it leaves us raw.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you’d done?
Megan McDowell: Fever Dream is structured as one long dialogue between two people: Amanda, the main character who is on her deathbed in a rural hospital, and David, a mysterious boy who sits at the foot of her bed and urges her to think back over recent events to find out the reason she is there. So the book had to flow like a conversation, even during long narrative parts where it’s easy to forget someone is speaking. In general I like translating dialogue because I feel freer; it’s another way of thinking about a text, you worry about it sounding natural in a different way. Sustaining that approach to the text throughout the book was an interesting challenge.
WWB: What are you reading now, or which writers from the language and literary tradition you translate do you think readers ought to pay attention to as potential future MBI winners?
Megan McDowell: I’ve been working a lot and I have a big pile of pending books. I’m just now reading Knausgaard. I’m also reading Paulina Flores’s book of short stories Que Verguenza, which is quite good. She’s a young Chilean writer, this is her first book, and I think we can expect some more good things from her. I don’t think I’d dare predict who would be a future MBI winner . . . But in my humble opinion everyone should read Alejandro Zambra and Mariana Enriquez (I’m not biased).