We’re pleased to welcome Tobias Carroll as the new curator of WWB’s Watchlist. Tobias is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn and the author of the short story collection Transitory (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and the novel Reel (Rare Bird). His fiction, nonfiction, and criticism have been published by Tin House, Rolling Stone, Hazlitt, The Scofield, Bookforum, and more, and he has taught writing courses for LitReactor and Catapult. We spoke with Tobias about some of his favorite translated works and how international literature has influenced his own writing.
Words Without Borders (WWB): Have you always been an avid reader of literature in translation and, if not, what first drew you to it?
Tobias Carroll (TC): That’s a good question. I don’t know that I can pinpoint the first time that I ever sought out a literary work in translation that I hadn’t been assigned for a class. I do distinctly remember buying Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun when I was in my early twenties after being fascinated by a New York Times review of it. (I’m pretty sure that the review was passed around in one of the last classes I had before graduating from college, but I could be wrong.) Since then, it’s been a little of everything: indie bookstores that make it a practice to stock work in translation and emphasize it to readers—I wouldn't have read Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring without a shelf talker at Elliott Bay Book Company, for instance, and WORD in Brooklyn has led to my picking up a couple of Wakefield Press titles.
That said, when I was sick as a child, my mom used to read Heidi to me. So you could also say that literature in translation has been a part of my life for a very long time.
WWB: What is your personal relationship to language and/or translation?
TC: It’s not as in-depth as I’d like it to be. I studied French in middle and high school, but don’t retain much of it. I have a lot of family in Austria, but I don’t speak much German. I have a number of friends who are bilingual, and I’m very envious of that ability—and that sense of being able to look at words and language and see an increased sense of possibility.
WWB: What are your favorite reads-in-translation or who are some of your favorite writers?
TC: Javier Marías, for sure. I came to his fiction via his column in The Believer, and really admire what he’s done—that command of pacing, of memory, of history. I’m in awe of Valeria Luiselli’s work as well, both for the quality of it and for the sheer range: Sidewalks is nothing like The Story of My Teeth, which is in turn nothing like Tell Me How It Ends—but they all constitute parts of a collectively amazing bibliography. Lately, I’ve been deeply impressed with works in translation by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel and João Gilberto Noll, and hope to see more of their books appearing in English editions before long. Bae Suah’s work has also been incredibly captivating in its use of memory and place. And in the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to read more from Kobo Abe, who I’d say has been one of my literary blind spots up until fairly recently.
WWB: Are there languages, themes, or genres that you’re eager to see more of in English translation?
TC: I’m excited by the work presses like Tilted Axis, Deep Vellum, and Transit Books have been doing lately, as far as publishing works in translation by writers from countries that aren’t necessarily represented en masse when it comes to Anglophone publishing.
WWB: In addition to being an editor and critic, you’re the author of the novel Reel and the short-story collection Transitory, along with many works of short fiction. Has reading international literature influenced your own fiction—or your approach to the writing process—in recent years?
TC: Marías was one of two big influences on Reel, I’d say. I think the ambiguities and atmospheres of the work of João Gilberto Noll may have influenced some of the short fiction I’ve been writing lately . . .