Thursday, July 28, 2005

a conversation with jachym topol - part two

Q: Well, let’s talk about translations for a second. Which book has been most translated so far? Angel?

A: No, Sister.

Q: Really?

A: Yes, it’s very strange. It’s been translated into Hungarian, which is perfect. It’s bizarre. And it’s published now in German and fifteen or so critics reviewed it there and that’s surprising for me. Sister has been translated into those two languages because the translators like the book. It’s only the personal activity of some people like Alex Zucker in America, for example, or the Hungarian translator or this woman in German that allows me to be translated. Maybe it’s just for people who have some personal interest. I think in Denmark the publisher wanted it but he couldn’t find a translator who would spend two years on the work.

Q: Obviously it would be nice financially to be translated, but other than the money, is it important to you to be translated into other languages. Do you want as wide an audience as possible?

A: It’s very good for the money, but of course it’s very tiring to talk to the journalists and travel to these countries and now I’m sick of it. It’s very new for me because when I was writing the books I wasn’t thinking that they would be published. Well, at least when I wrote Sister, I wasn’t thinking about publication even in Czech. It was very personal. Now maybe that’s changing, but I still don’t want to think about translators or the possibility of being published. You know, Czech writers who are well-known, like Kundera or Klima, for example, I’m sure that they are thinking about a translation. And I see their language. It’s gray. It’s language for translators. My dream is not to be a literary clerk, but maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I will change. But I don’t think I’m able to write a bestseller. I’m not able to think about what other people will think about my writing. For me it’s strictly personal.

Q: You said that Sister had been translated into Hungarian and that Hungarian was a good language for it.

A: It’s a very strange language. I don’t know if it’s good for Sister. The problem with the Hungarian language, for example, is that you can’t simply say sister. You must say whether the sister is older or younger. I spent many hours with the translator. He’s a genius. He speaks six or seven languages. I don’t know why he wanted to translate it. He’s a psychologist. He writes essays about Carl Jung and his hobby is translation so maybe only strange people care about this book.

Q: Have you been to America?

A: Yes. Three times. I spent three months in Arizona and Utah, all over the Southwest. It’s gorgeous, perfect. I went to the Navajo reservation.

Q: Is it important for you to have your books translated in English? Did you feel any kind of connection when you were in the States?

A: You know, I’m very skeptical about the American market. I think being a Czech or East European writer it’s very important to be published in Germany because it’s a neighborhood thing. But, of course, an English translation would make me feel good. I told you that I study Ethnology here and I’m mostly interested in folklore so it was interesting for me to be in this Native American territory but, you know, I’m just a student. I’m unable to talk a lot about it.

Q: But you’ve translated a book of Native American tales into Czech, right?

A: My English is very limited. It sounds very strange, but I know the Czech language very well so it was possible for me to do the translations.

Q: Where did your interest in Native American tales come from? On the surface, it sounds like a fairly strange interest for a young Czech writer to develop.

A: It’s a hobby. I like the cosmology and myth in this Native American folklore. My books, sometimes, are attacked by critics because they are not moral.

Q: Because the bad guys don’t get punished? They’re not telling others to go out and commit crimes but they themselves aren’t punished for their sins?

A: Yes. Perfect. And they are not good people. In our tales, our European titles are influenced by Christianity, and evil must be punished, but in this folklore of Native Americans, there is, for example, the coyote, and he’s the absolutely perfect hero for me. He’s not white or black, good or bad. He’s a mixture. And it was interesting for me to know more about these old myths which are older than Christianity. I found similar things in the folklore of Eastern Europe.

a conversation with jachym topol - part one
a conversation with jachym topol - part three
a conversation with jachym topol - part four
a conversation with jachym topol - part five

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