Nicholas de Lange is shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for his translation of Amos Oz’s Judas.
Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to the work of your writer?
Nicholas de Lange: I met Amos Oz back in the 1960s. He had a residency in Oxford, and had just finished writing a novella set in the time of the Crusades, and written in an interesting style reminiscent of medieval chronicles. I was intrigued by the challenge of finding an appropriate English style, so offered to translate it. That first attempt led to a contract to translate his novel My Michael, a story held together by its words alone. I have always been fascinated by words. We worked very closely together on those early translations, and we found it easy to develop a working relationship and indeed friendship.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you’d done?
Nicholas de Lange: Judas is a novel of ideas, and a good deal of it focuses on the history of Jewish scholarship about Jesus and his disciple Judas. As a professor of Jewish studies with a strong interest in Jewish–Christian relations, I was familiar with this scholarship and interested in the idea of weaving it into a novel. There are also many quotations from the New Testament, a text written in Greek but familiar to English readers in translation. Other works of Amos Oz contain indirect allusions to the New Testament, but this is the only one where they are so explicit. Indeed, one chapter presents a depiction of the Crucifixion, a subject that is virtually taboo in Israeli literature, told from the perspective of Judas, and therefore more than a little subversive in English too. For me, such games of subversion are integral to the challenge of translating.
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?
Nicholas de Lange: I mainly read fiction in French. I am currently reading Samarcande by Amin Maalouf, a book about the life of Omar Khayyam. Amin Maalouf is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I am astonished he is not better known in the English-speaking world. Another favorite French author who deserves to be better known is Albert Cohen. I do not know if there are good translations of either. As for Hebrew literature, I am currently engaged (with a cotranslator, Yaacob Dweck) on a daunting project: translating the longest and perhaps most challenging Hebrew novel, Days of Ziklag by S. Yizhar. This massive modernist novel was first published in 1958, and it had an enormous influence on a whole generation of Israeli writers. The translation will take several years. We have previously translated another, much shorter, book by Yizhar, Khirbet Khizeh, and it was very well received. We hope that our translation of Days of Ziklag will help to give it its rightful place as a classic of world literature.