Episode 107 – Silence in Translation

Virtual Memories Show:
Yasmina Reza – Silence in Translation

“When you write a novel with a classical structure, you’re writing horizontally. [In Happy Are The Happy, I can] speak as a character, and the character is also somewhere in the spirit of another. It allows you to see the characters in many ways that naturalism would not allow.”

51PvahAbjAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Playwright and author Yasmina Reza joins the show to talk about her new book, Happy are the Happy (Other Press). We also discuss the confluence and divergence of love and happiness, her surprise when “Art” was produced in Iran and Afghanistan, the appeal of Sarkozy as a literary character, her love of The Wire, and why she let James Gandolfini transpose The God of Carnage from Paris to Brooklyn. We also get to talking about writing a novel like a constellation, being unapologetic for writing intelligent plays that are accessible, the playwrights in her theater pantheon, and why she’s French first, Jewish second, and nothing third. Give it a listen!


“A play is good if it can be seen in different cultures, in different languages, different actors. That’s the strength of a play. Just to be played in Paris would have been for me a kind of failure.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Yasmina Reza is a playwright and novelist whose works have been translated into more than 30 languages and include Art and God of Carnage, both winners of the Tony Award for Best Play. The film adaptation of the latter, Carnage, was directed by Roman Polanski in 2011. She has written six books, including Dawn Dusk or Night: A Year with Nicolas Sarkozy (Knopf, 2008). Her newest book is Happy are the Happy. She lives in Paris.

Credits: This episode’s music is The Paris Match by Style Council. The conversation was recorded 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. Reza by Pascal Victor.

Podcast: Linn Ullmann, part 2 – Persona

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Virtual Memories: Linn Ullmann pt. 2 – Persona

“Every time you start with a blank page, and nothing is a given. Knowing more just makes you less confident. A certain lack of confidence is good in writing, because you want to go places where you’re not on safe ground.”

Listen in to part 2 of my conversation with Linn Ullmann about her new novel, The Cold Song, from Other Press! (Part 1 is over here.) We talk about her writing habits and practices, her favorite Scandinavian authors, how she tweaked the book for its translation into English, and how August Strindberg got revenge on people. We also talk about the lengths she and her husband go to in order to get undisturbed writing time, when she realized she wasn’t going to become a ballerina, and how to convey the Norwegian concept of skavank to some zhlub from New Jersey.

“You have to do bad writing before it gets to good writing.”

Bonus: I let Linn interview me, and boy does THAT go off the rails! Give it a listen!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Linn Ullmann is a literary critic and the author of five novels: Before You Sleep (1998), Stella Descending (2001), Grace (2002), A Blessed Child (2005), and The Cold Song (2011). Grace won The Reader’s Prize in Norway and was named one of the top ten novels that year by the Weekendavisen newspaper in Denmark. In 2007, Grace was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK. A Blessed Child was shortlisted for the Brage Prize in Norway. In 2007, Ms. Ullmann was awarded the Amalie Skram Award for her literary work, and she received Gullpennen (the Golden Pen) for her journalism in Norway’s leading morning newspaper Aftenposten. In 2008, A Blessed Child was named Best Translated novel in the British newspaper The Independent, and in 2009 the novel was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in the UK. Linn Ullmann’s novels are published throughout Europe and the U.S. and are translated into 30 languages. The Cold Song was recently published in the U.S. by Other Press. Ms. Ullmann lives in Oslo with her husband Niels Fredrik Dahl, a novelist, playwright and poet. She has two children, Hanna and Halfdan, and two stepchildren, Dagny and Kasper. She also has a dog named Charlie.

Credits: This episode’s music is Double Feature by Camera Obscura. The conversation was recorded in the business center of an undisclosed hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Ullmann by Morgan Norman.

What It Is: 8/25/08

What I’m reading: I finished When Genius Failed on Sunday, and am slowly continuing Montaigne’s Essays. Oh, and I picked up the third installment of Richard Sala’s comic, Delphine. Guess I better reread the first two parts.

What I’m listening to: The Cosmic Game, by the Thievery Corporation

What I’m watching: Finished up the fourth season of The Wire, and caught The Life & Times of Hank Greenberg. I think this may be my favorite season of The Wire so far, inasmuch as the storytelling really seemed to surpass its police/crime roots. Throughout the show, Baltimore has been the central character, but this was the first season where it really felt to me like the police characters just weren’t sufficient for the writers to explore the themes they were going after. That was true in the second season, to some extent, but the amount of character development that went into the four schoolkids was an even greater accomplishment than the way season two made us (me and Amy) actually care about and feel sympathy for a union boss. How this show never got nominated for an Emmy is beyond reckoning.

What I’m drinking: Plymouth gin. Man, does that have a sweet botanical edge to it.

What Rufus is up to: Meeting neighbors, trying to lead me into their garages. Also, we took him up to Rusty’s Place, our local pet store, on Sunday, so he could pick out a new toy and meet more dog-lovers.

Where I’m going: I have a coworker’s wedding to attend on Saturday, down in Cranford, NJ. More importantly, I’m seeing my accountant today! Since that’ll put me in Hackensack, I may just make a side trip to White Manna for lunch.

What I’m happy about: My niece Liat (age 8) went to her first Springsteen show! And she and my brother made it up near the stage, to the videographers’ pit, where — well, here’s my brother’s description:

Bruce jumped down into the pit, held Liat’s hand and started singing ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’ to her. Her face was on the video screen the entire time. Minutes earlier, Clarence gave her a maraca as a gift (she couldn’t take her eyes off him the entire show when he waved to her after the first song). Needless to say, that kid now has a better childhood than either of us. I can die in peace.

What I’m sad about: Summer’s just about over, so my typically hectic September looms (big issue of the mag, plus our annual conference on 9/25-26). Also, only 10 episodes of The Wire left.

What I’m pondering: How lucky I was to be out of the country for both parties’ national conventions in 2004, and how unlucky I am to be stuck here for both of them this time around.

What It Is: 6/16/08

What I’m reading: Endless Things, by John Crowley, on my Kindle.

What I’m listening to: Hard Candy, by Madonna. It was on sale for $3.99 on Amazon’s MP3 store one day last week. Sue me.

What I’m watching: We finished the third season of The Wire, which was dramatic, but neither as fresh/exciting as the first season nor as complicated as the second (which ended terribly, but was awfully good for the first 8-9 episodes). The fourth season awaits us: No Corner Left Behind!

What I’m drinking: That Blue Point Long Island Blueberry Ale again.

Where I’m going: San Diego — this very night! — for the BIO Conference. (UPDATE: or maybe — this very tomorrow! — as a storm system has already bumped my flight from 7:30pm to 8:53pm.)

What I’m happy about: That R Kelly was acquitted, which finally gave us occasion to break out the first 12 episodes of Trapped in the Closet. It turned out to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of batshit-crazy musical artists.

What I’m sad about: Being away from my wife & dog for a few days.

What I’m pondering: The fact that I’ve lived in this house longer than anyone else has lived in it.