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2016 Man Booker International Q&A: Charlotte Collins

By Eric M. B. Becker

Charlotte Collins is shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her translation of Robert Seethaler's A Whole Life. Charlotte's other translations include Robert Seethaler's forthcoming novel The Tobacconist, Nina Haratischwill's play Liv Stein, Marianna Salzmann's play Whitebreadmusic, works by Ingo Schulze, Navid Kermani, Illija Trojanow, and many more.

Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to Robert Seethaler's work?​

Charlotte Collins (CC): Ideally, when I pick up a book, I want to be transported into its world within the first couple of pages. A Whole Life did that. I absolutely fell in love with it: its clarity, sincerity, and quiet wisdom. I used to spend time in the Austrian mountains, so the setting was familiar to me; and I relished the precision of the writing, the vivid pictures it conjured up. It resonated with me very deeply. 

WWB: What was unique about this translation compared to others you'd done?

CC: This was actually my first full-length literary translation. Prior to this I’d worked a lot in the field of journalism; I’d translated plays, short stories, and samples, and attended literary translation summer schools, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to immerse myself completely in a literary text for a longer period. I especially enjoyed working with my editor, Kate Harvey: it was great having someone else reading the text so closely and giving me valuable feedback.

WWB: What are you reading now, or which writers from the language and literary tradition you translate do you think readers ought to pay attention to as potential future MBI winners?

CC: I’m currently co-translating, with Ruth Martin, The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili. Nino is quite a phenomenon. She’s only thirty-two and she’s already written three award-winning novels, as well as numerous successful plays. The Eighth Life is an epic story set in her native Georgia, a family saga with a huge and colourful cast, spanning the whole of the twentieth century. And it’s beautifully written; she has a very distinctive style.

Another playwright I’ve translated who’s both interesting and prolific is Marianna Salzmann. I don’t know whether she plans to write a novel, like her colleague Olga Grjasnowa (tr. Eva Bacon), but I hope she does. English-language publishers have already picked up on Saša Stanišić (tr. Anthea Bell); but the fiction of Navid Kermani, a very important figure on the contemporary German cultural landscape, still awaits translation.

More interviews with 2016 Man Booker International Prize-nominated writers and translators

Published Apr 13, 2016   Copyright 2016 Eric M. B. Becker

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