“But it always happens, and at a certain point the torpor broke up as if the whole garden had completely awakened at the same moment; I believe it coincided with the appearance of Baroni. The oppressive fragrance turned into the air’s perfume, the trees and plants regained their habitual splendor, and even the dog felt the beneficient effects of the change as he gave up on sleep and headed over to his mistress.”
—from “Baroni: A Journey” which appears in our Summer issue (Volume 58, Issue 2)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you translated.
I translated a story from the 1950s by the Spanish author Ignacio Aldecoa, “Un buitre ha hecho su nido en el café” —“A Vulture Has Made His Nest in the Café.” The café in question was the famed Café Comercial on the Glorieta de Bilbao in Madrid, now closed. The story itself was very old-fashioned but there was a paragraph at the end with a fantastic description of the café’s Old World interior: the marble-topped tables, the chandeliers, and the mise-en-abyme effect of wall-to-wall mirrors. It was never published, but that was my start.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write/translate now?
Lydia Davis, as a writer and a translator. I recommend her Proust, Blanchot and a Woman in Red (no. 5 in The Cahiers Series, Sylph Editions). It’s a wonderful meditation on translation by someone who believes in sticking very closely to the original text. That’s been my recent approach in translating Sergio Chejfec.
What did you want to be when you were young?
When I was young my two passions were playing basketball and learning Spanish. There was no way I could make a living from the first, although I probably dreamed of it. I just happened to pick Spanish from the menu of languages offered at my high school, no other reason, and it’s turned out to be a lifeline for me — job-wise, people-wise, culture-wise.
What drew you to translate this piece in particular?
The central narrative is about a woman artist, a rarity in literature anywhere. It was my choice a few years ago to translate it—no publisher had expressed any interest beforehand. That of course can be risky. So the good news is that there’s a small press in India (Almost Island Books) that’s as enthusiastic about the novel and about Sergio Chejfec’s writing as I am, and the entire translation will be coming out later this year.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the translating or editing process?
Just white noise (the A/C for example).
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to translate?
If I have a deadline I start early, first thing in the morning. I open up the online dictionaries I use (wordreference.com, the OED, and the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, rae.com), take out the thesaurus out, and pick up where I left off. I use “Freedom” to block out Internet distractions and try to get a set amount done every day. That’s it!
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’d make collages.
What are you working on currently?
I’m completely caught up in revising my translation of Baroni: A Journey, due next week. When that’s done I’ll go back to my translation-in-progress of writings by the Spanish artist Remedios Varo, which will be published next year by Wakefield Press.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing/translating?
Right now I’m traveling via translation to the different towns the narrator is visiting in the mountainous region of western Venezuela—Jajó, Betijoque, Boconó, Isnotú, Valera, and other places. It’s fun to use Google Earth to locate these towns and to see things described in the text.
What are you reading right now?
After I’m finished with Baroni, I’ll get back to The Importance of Being Iceland, a collection of essays by the poet Eileen Myles.
Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 2) here to read an excerpt of Margaret Carson’s translation of “Baroni: A Journey” by Sergio Chejfec.
MARGARET CARSON’s translations include Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds, Mercedes Roffe’s Theory of Colors and José Tomás de Cuéllar’s The Magic Lantern. She is currently translating the writings of the Spanish surrealist artist Remedios Varos.