Tim Parks is Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University in Milan. He is the author of many novels, translations, and works of nonfiction, the latest being The Novel: A Survival Skill and the novel Thomas & Mary: A Love Story. (March 2016)
by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Many readers will be aware of Jhumpa Lahiri as the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning collection of short stories The Interpreter of Maladies (1999), elegant, unsettling tales that invariably draw the reader into a state of anxiety for the welfare of a group of characters living for the most part …
In Samuel Beckett’s novel Malone Dies the eponymous hero becomes obsessed with the idea of reciting a complete inventory of his worldly goods in the few moments preceding his death: a unique occasion, he feels, for producing “something suspiciously like a true statement at last.” Needless to say, despite Malone’s …
Looked at closely, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is far from an epitome of elegance, the drama itself neither understated nor beguiling, the translation frequently in trouble with register and idiom. Studying the barrage of praise after the book won the Man Booker International Prize, it occurs to me there is a shared vision of what critics would like a work of “global fiction” to be and that The Vegetarian has managed to present itself as.
The curious thing is how differently literary influence plays out when you are transferring to another language. In the same language, influence can look dangerously like imitation. But transferring Natalia Ginzburg into my English world, linguistic and cultural, made something new happen.
Writing in another language is successful when there is a genuine, long-term need to switch languages (often accompanied by serious trauma), and when the new linguistic and social context the author is moving in meshes positively with his or her ambitions and talents. But changing languages doesn’t always work.
Michael F. Moore, one of the ten translators involved in The Complete Works of Primo Levi, writes, “While I share many of the concerns Parks expresses, his observations are undermined by odd notions about American readers.” Parks responds, “Moore says he shares my concern for ‘exotic renderings of everyday language.’ It’s hard to understand why he’s not with me on this.”