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Words Without Borders is an inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winner!

2017 Man Booker International Prize Q&A—Don Bartlett & Don Shaw

By Eric M. B. Becker


Don Bartlett and Don Shaw are shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for their translation of Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen.

Words Without Borders (WWB): What drew you to the work of your writer?

Don Bartlett and Don Shaw: We have translated four of Roy’s books now. They are very different from each other, but always extremely challenging. What I (Don Bartlett) particularly like is the humanity that shines through all of them.

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

Don Bartlett and Don Shaw: Many translation commentators have written that if you are tempted to translate dialect into dialect, resist. However, dialect is a very important factor in the characterization of the “unseen” islanders described in this novel. At first we translated the dialogue into standard English, then we started developing the rudiments of a dialect that would not be associated with Britain and seem vaguely Scandinavian. I (Don Bartlett) have hinted at a dialect in past translations, but I have never risked creating my own until now.

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?

Don Bartlett and Don Shaw: I (Don Bartlett) am reading the backlist of Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum novels and will then start on his Bergen trilogy.

Read more interviews with 2017 Man Booker International Prize-nominated writers and translators

Read Don Bartlett’s translation of “MS Hitra” by Jo Nesbø


Published May 1, 2017   Copyright 2017 Eric M. B. Becker

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