“A Strange Kind of Vibration” — Chris Andrews on Translating Roberto Bolaño

The Australian is running a new article about one of Roberto Bolaño’s English translators, Chris Andrews. Reporter Bernard Lane reveals that

Andrews had been badgering publishers for translation work. In 2001 he badgered the right publisher, Christopher MacLehose of Harvill Press in London, at the right time. MacLehose had just bought the first English rights to Bolano and his translator had fallen by the wayside. Andrews knew and admired Bolano’s [sic] writing, thanks to his acquisition of Spanish at the universities of Melbourne and La Trobe. He got the job and out came By Night in Chile.

Andrews on Bolaño–

“I think of him as a pan-American author, as an author of the western hemisphere,” says Andrews. Bolano’s reception in Britain had been slow at first, not that his prose was a problem.

“There are a lot of important features of Bolano’s style that can be transferred from one language to another,” Andrews says, “The big syntactic patterns, the patterns of repetition, the long sentences, the bursts, the parenthetical remarks; that comes across.”

The article centers around Andrews’s translation of Nazi Literature in the Americas. We absolutely love the Picador edition’s cover for the UK, Australia, and similar markets. It captures the book’s apocryphal tone, its violence–and also its sharp sense of humor. On that book specifically (and Bolaño’s work in general)–

In a sea of allusion, English readers may feel adrift. “I don’t think it matters very much,” says Andrews. “It’s probably going to be read by people who have already got an interest in Bolano.

“One of the nice things about those bits of Bolano that are full of references and allusions is that it is hard to draw the line between the historical characters and the fictional ones.

“In different literary cultures, there are different norms about what you need to explain. In the French translation of Bolano, there are footnotes.”

Wouldn’t readers halfway familiar with Bolano suspect they were dealing with yet another level of artifice? “I think they would,” Andrews says, “even if it said ‘translator’s note’.”

The article details what techniques Andrews employs when stuck, particularly with regional dialects and slang. Andrews also talks about his correspondence with Bolaño himself,  in the last few years of the Chilean’s life. Here’s Andrews describing his attraction to Bolaño:

The prose has a mesmerising quality that intrigues Andrews.

“There’s a character in one of the stories I’ve just been translating who’s an actor called El Pajarito [Little Bird] Gomez. He’s a skinny, unimpressive-looking guy, but as soon as he appears on camera he vibrates in a weird way that almost hypnotises the viewer.

“When I read that, I thought, that’s a bit like what happens with Bolano’s prose for many readers, that it has a strange kind of vibration.”

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