Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to Olga Tokarczuk’s work?
Jennifer Croft (JC): I stumbled upon Olga Tokarczuk’s first short-story collection, Playing Many Drums, in 2003 as I prepared for a Fulbright at the University of Warsaw, where I would continue to study literary translation. Right away I loved her soothing, nuanced style, but I think the thing that appealed to me most was her psychological acuity, her ability to distill the essence of a person—I say “person” since her characters are so alive it’s hard for me to call them characters—and set in motion relationships that might charm and shock us at the same time, all while feeling both familiar and fresh.
WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you’d done?
JC: Olga Tokarczuk calls Flights a “constellation” novel, which partly means she brings lots of different ideas and stories and voices into relationship with one another via the lines the reader draws between them. This made the translation process both challenging and particularly delightful, since I was able to tap into a fresh subject every time I sat down to my computer. One minute I was worrying about the woman who flies back to Poland from New Zealand to kill a dying childhood friend; the next I was amused by the foibles of the Internet; the next I was rethinking my own approach to travel, or to my body. I could go on and on. I loved translating this book.
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?
JC: From Polish literature, there’s Wioletta Greg, a poet whose first novel, Swallowing Mercury, translated by Eliza Marciniak and published by Transit Books, was longlisted for the MBI last year. I’m translating her second novel (also for Transit) right now, and it’s beautifully written—as a poet, Greg invokes a wild and sumptuous lexicon, which makes everything she writes a real treat to read.
I also translate contemporary Argentine literature and have just about finished the incredibly brilliant short-story collection A Perfect Cemetery by Federico Falco. I’m looking for a publisher for that and I do think it would be an ideal candidate for the Man Booker International Prize once it’s out.