Thursday, May 7, 2009

Interview with Margaret Jull Costa (translator of Eduardo Blanco Amor)

What are the different stages involved in translating a short story?
It’s not really any different from translating a novel – just shorter! I do a good first draft, then a second draft – again reading my translation against the original – and then I keep rereading and editing until the whole thing feels as if it has a life and a voice of its own, going back and forth from translation to original. En route, there are often facts or names I need to check and, with this particular story, there were often Galician expressions I didn’t understand, which sent me running to the Internet, to online dictionaries, to Jonathan and, through Jonathan, to other Galician experts.

What, in your opinion, makes for a good short story?
The very best short stories encapsulate a whole world or a whole life in a few pages. That’s why they’re so difficult to write, so much has to be condensed, so much left unsaid. There’s no room for excess information.

Who would you say are the great short-story writers of the last 100 years?
Well, Chekhov (who just scrapes into the last 100 years) was, I think, the master of the short story, but others on my list would (in no particular order) be Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, Herman Melville, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Isaac Bashevis Singer, D. H. Lawrence, Alice Munro, P. G. Wodehouse (especially the Mr Mulliner stories), Richmal Crompton (her early William stories are comic masterpieces), William Trevor (to be taken in small doses), Garrison Keillor, Lorrie Moore… and two of ‘my’ writers – Bernardo Atxaga and Teolinda Gersão.

And your favourite short story?
Can I have two? The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad and The Little Shoemakers by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Why do you think a country such as Galicia has such a strong tradition of story-telling?
My impression is that story-telling thrives in cultures where the oral tradition is very strong, like Galicia, Russia, the southern states of America, Ireland, in Jewish and Yiddish culture, perhaps in cultures that are marginalised in some way, particularly by poverty. Stories are a way of shoring up your identity and having something of your own.

Thank you for talking to us!

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