I support the premise, aspirationally, that translation “involves being a writer,” to quote this article. The premise piggybacks on something I took on board long ago — that the first asset of a capable translator is to write well in his or her native tongue; then comes fluency in the “foreign” one.
Ann Goldstein translates Elena Ferrante’s novels. She worked at The New Yorker copy desk for over 40 years, and learned Italian in the mid-1980s by attending an evening class with several colleagues. She wanted to read Dante in the original. The class spent a year each on “Inferno,” “Purgatory,” and “Paradise.”
”Before retiring in 2017, Goldstein did all her translations at night or over weekends and vacations.”
Goldstein describes herself as a highly literal translator. Being so is no mean feat. Discernment and judgment are involved; a translator must be a good reader as well as writer. The editor-in-chief of Ferrante’s U.S. publisher says: “It takes a great deal of humility and a great deal of courage to represent so closely what an author wrote in the original language.”
I admire Goldstein’s venturesome spirit respecting her craft. “I’m willing to try anything,” she said of the work she’s drawn to. “I don’t think it’s necessary to have an affinity for the writer….” It’s a stance that seems to gravitate against cultural silos.
Goldstein has remained in New York City through the pandemic, keeping busy with translation work. She still meets with her fellow Italian students, after all these years, over Zoom. “The idea was to read Dante,” she said, “and here we are, reading Dante again.”
(Joumana Khatib, “Reading Elena Ferrante in English? You’re Also Reading Ann Goldstein,” NYTimes, 8-21-20)
(c) 2021 JMN