Ready Steady Book has a very fetching interview with Charlotte Mandell, a translator of French poetry and philosophy. Apparently it’s her first interview, and she burbles happily: “Translators never get asked anything, so when someone listens to us we tend to rabbit on. I could give you an entire Proustean list of things (favorite number: 4; favorite color: burgundy; favorite flower: yellow sea poppy; favorite movie: tie between Cocteau’s Orphée and Renoir’s Rules of the Game…) but I won’t.” (I will interject here that Rules of the Game is my favorite movie as well.) She has interesting things to say about Maurice Blanchot:

Reading Blanchot is a little like watching someone think. You have to have patience, since his essays move by nuance and suggestion, and come to focus slowly. English readers – Americans especially – are used to being fed information; in the case of an essay, they’re used to the conventional statement-exposition-conclusion format. The nice thing about Blanchot (and the thing a lot of people find exasperating about him) is that he doesn’t follow that formula, or any formula for that matter. Often no conclusion is reached. The subject is examined, and questioned, and looked at from different angles, but never really resolved. I like that a lot – it’s sort of like reading poetry.

She provides a list of Books That Changed My Life that ends:

When I was 17: Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. I fell madly in love with Julien Sorel. Also The Charterhouse of Parma and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Dead.
When I was 18: William Carlos Williams’ Selected Poems. Also Rilke’s Duino Elegies and EM Forster’s Howards End.
When I was 20: Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I fell madly in love with Prince Andrei. Also Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. And also Robert Kelly’s Not This Island Music. I fell madly in love with Robert Kelly.

Reader, she married him!

(Via wood s lot [11.13.2005].)


  1. On the subject of translators not getting asked anything, this is not entirely correct. I recall having read interviews with translators of H. Murakami and U. Eco. Translators of S. Rushdi have sometimes gained publicity of a different, more melancolic nature.
    There was a whole series of interviews with translators on the (Russian language) site russ.ru – highly recommended to anyone who’s into translation and who reads Russian.

  2. Yeah, there is an interesting email roundtable between some of Murakami’s translators here:
    I seem to recall an interview with Eco’s translator William Weaver on Amazon, as well.

  3. Also contrary to the idea that translators are hidden and underappreciated (which I took to be Mandell’s implication) is Gregory Rabassa who is considered a superstar among those who love and enjoy Latin-American literature.
    He is the translator of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Days of Solitude. And GGM has famously remarked that Rabassa did not translate but instead “rewrote” the book and in so doing, improved upon the original.

  4. Yeah, but I don’t think she meant “there does not exist a translator who is ever asked anything,” she meant “if you’re not a superstar like Gregory Rabassa, you don’t get interviewed much,” which I imagine is pretty true. And opinions differ over whether Rabassa’s rewritings are in fact improvements; I was shocked when I compared his sloppy rendition of Rayuela/Hopscotch to the original.

  5. sredni vashtar says

    Hum. Her life changed about every five months. I envy that.

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