Ann Goldstein: The Forgotten Art of Translation

Ann Goldstein: The Forgotten Art of Translation

“It’s good for translators to be public because they’re sort of forgotten” Ann Goldstein, translator of the internationally successful novels by Elena Ferrante, said in conversation with Lennie Goodings at Edinburgh International Book Festival Online. She went on to say that huge amounts of text will be quotes “as if the author wrote that, but they didn’t, the translator did”.

Goldstein has achieved huge acclaim for her translation of Ferrante’s novels from Italian to English. She started to learn Italian after studying an English translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy at college and then challenging herself to read it in Italian. Goldstein began translating Ferrante’s work when she was first being translated into English, as one of several authors that completed sample translation tasks.  Goldstein was chosen and Ferrante has continued working with her ever since.

‘Elena Ferrante’ is a pseudonym and she has been an anonymous figure throughout her career, and also to Goldstein as she reveals they’ve never met or communicated directly. Goldstein explained that she only contacts Ferrante through publishers, “My relationship has stayed secondhand, it’s true that it keeps me closer to the text”.  She went on to say, “In my career I’ve translated a lot of dead writers, I’m used to not having a personal relationship with the authors.” About Ferrante’s decision to stay anonymous and stay in the “She’s written about this about not wanting to participate in the literary marketplace and it’s her choice”. Goodings remarked that it is often said, “the highest achievement of a translator is to disappear but in this case the author disappeared”.

The Lying Life of Adults is the most recent of Ferrante’s books translated by Goldstein. Like her previous novels, and most notably the Neapolitan series, the book is set in Naples, but there is emphasis on the role of class. The protagonist, a young teenage girl called Giovanna, lives with her family in a middle class home but when she meets her aunt Vittoria, Giovanna is captivated and sucked into the rougher part of the city from which her father has worked to escape.

As a translator Goldstein finds herself as both editor and writer “unfolding a new version of the book but you don’t have to think what happens next.” Her experiences seem all encompassing as she described translating the Neapolitan novels, “When I finished the third volume, I kept thinking there was something missing from my life and I realised it was the voices of the characters.”

She found it hard to choose one of the many impressive female characters that she relates to most, but in the end she had to choose one of the protagonists from the Neapolitan series, Elena (Lenú) Greco, saying “she’s more or less the same age as me and I think I feel the closest to her.”

The Edinburgh International Book Festival Online continues until Monday 31 August and all events are available to watch free of charge through the Book Festival’s website.

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