In my opinion, writers should never worry about trying to explain anything. I’ve recently been editing Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation of Carl de Souza’s fever-dream of a novel Kaya Days, which takes place during the 1999 riots in Mauritius after the death of the musician Kaya in police custody. The protagonist is a teenaged girl trying to find her brother in a suddenly broken city, and she just doesn’t have the vocabulary to make sense of what she’s seeing. In answering some of our questions, de Souza recounted to Jeffrey and me that a French editor told him if he were to fully develop everything in the book, it would need to be four hundred pages longer than it was.
One of the best parts about editing translations is being able to let go of trying to control the larger book—the book already exists and there’s nothing I can do to change it. And because I am working on books from all over the world, I am constantly faced with moments of dislocation in which I am not familiar with what’s being described. In an extreme example, when the translator Christina MacSweeney writes in Elvira Navarro’s Rabbit Island that a woman has a paw growing from her ear, it’s not my concern to ask why, but whether it’s actually best described as a paw or a mitt or a hand. Letting go of needing to explain everything lets you instead focus your energy on the precision of the details. I think all writers would benefit from editing as translators edit—letting go of the plot or the chronology or the “reasons” for things and instead zooming in to interrogate if the specific words, grammar, and syntax are really saying what you want them to say.
—CJ Evans, editorial director, Two Lines PressPortrait: Carmen Dunham