“There were a lot of books in the school library, and they weren’t in English, and I was mad keen to get at them.”
Renowned literary translator Anthea Bell joins the show to talk about getting her start in foreign languages, the schisms in the world of literary translation, the most challenging authors she’s worked on, the one language she’d love to learn, translating everything from Asterix to Zweig, and more! Give it a listen!
“Heinrich Heine goes into English with almost suspicious ease, but Goethe is very, very difficult.”
We also talk about where she thinks WG Sebald’s fiction would have gone had he not died so early, why Asterix has never gotten over in America, the one word that’s the bane of her existence for U.S./UK split editions, her worries for the future of translation, her family’s history during the War, and her theory for why Asterix’s druid-pal should keep the name “Getafix”!
“If we had to have the Romantic period — and I do say we did, although I like the Enlightenment a lot better — I say the Germans did it better than anyone.”
We talk about a ton of books in this episode, so here’s a handy guide!
- Le Capitaine Fracasse
- The Little Water Sprite
- The Blindness of the Heart
- The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr
- On the Natural History of Destruction
- Apple Acre
- The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
- Death in Venice
- In Times of Fading Light
- Happy are the Happy
- The World of Yesterday
- The Post-Office Girl
- Chess Story
- War and Peace
- The Brothers Karamazov
- How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone
- How to be both
- Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words
About our Guest
Anthea Bell is a freelance translator from German and French. Her translations include works of non-fiction; modern literary and popular fiction; books for young people including the Asterix the Gaul strip cartoon series; and classics by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Freud, Kafka and Stefan Zweig. She has won several translation awards.
Credits: This episode’s music is Where Are We Now? by David Bowie. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Bell’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Bell by me.
On Friday evening, Amy was over at a neighbor’s, so I spent some time downstairs in the library, looking at my books and pulling ones that I hope to read in the year ahead. I’m going to list them here so I can check back in December and see how far I deviated from plan. Also, so I can look like a smartypants:
- The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway (re-read)
- For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway
- Tender is the Night – Fitzgerald (re-read)
- Money – Martin Amis
- Under the Frog – Tibor Fischer
- Chronicles, vol. 1 – Bob Dylan (re-read)
- The Learners – Chip Kidd
- The Aeneid – Virgil (tr. Fitzgerald)
- The Metamorphoses – Ovid (tr. Mandelbaum)
- The Dictionary of the Khazars – Milorad Pavic
- Life – Keith Richards
- Cultural Amnesia – Clive James (I’ve been winding my way through this for quite some time, and hope to finish it this year)
- Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
- Stories – Anton Chekhov (tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky)
That’s only 14 books, so I’ve left myself plenty of wiggle room. I don’t think I’ll start a major reading project this year, like tackling Caro’s biography of LBJ or re-reading Proust. I’ve been thinking about re-reading Middlemarch, or taking up David Mitchell’s newest one, and there are a bazillion other books downstairs to discover or return to, but this seems like a good starting point. I’ll let you know how it goes (like it or not).