“Twain Is the Day, Melville the Night” — Roberto Bolaño on U.S. Writers

The following excerpt comes from Raul Schenardi’s 2003 interview with Roberto Bolaño, conducted at the Turin Book Fair just months before the author’s death. The interview is written in Italian (although I’m not sure if it was conducted in Italian). The translation work is the result of two programs (Google Translate and Babel Fish) and a few dictionaries; I also used this Spanish translation as a second source for comparison.

. . .  in all Latin American writers is an influence that comes from two main lines of the American novel, Melville and Twain. [The Savage] Detectives no doubt owes much to Mark Twain. Belano and Lima are a transposition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. It’s a novel that follows the constant movement of the Mississippi. . . . I also read a lot of Melville, which fascinates me. Indeed, I flirt with the belief that I have a greater debt to Melville than Twain, but unfortunately I owe more to Mark Twain. Melville is an apocalyptic author. Twain is the day, Melville  the night — and always much more impressive at night. In regard to modern American literature, I know it poorly. I know just up to the generation previous to Bellow. I have read enough of Updike, but do not know why; surely it was a masochistic act, as each page Updike brings me to the edge of hysteria. Mailer I like better than Updike, but I think as a writer, a prose writer, Updike is more solid. The last American writers I’ve read thoroughly and I know well are those of the “Lost Generation,” Hemingway, Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolff.

2 thoughts on ““Twain Is the Day, Melville the Night” — Roberto Bolaño on U.S. Writers”

  1. I was disappointed when I followed the link and saw that the interview was in a language I didn’t know, but your use of Google Translate and Babel Fish seems to have paid off: a sentence like “I have read enough of Updike, but do not know why; surely it was a masochistic act, as each page Updike brings me to the edge of hysteria,” is exactly what I expect when I start to read Bolaño and sentences like that are exactly what I love about his writing.

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    1. To be fair, I had to take some license while translating (hence the need for dictionaries), particularly with a few phrases as well as (in fact especially with) the punctuation. However, I think that the sentences — especially the one you cite — show us that the English translation is not terrible: this is still the Bolano we know and love. My initial idea was to translate the whole interview but it proved exhausting. I’ll try another segment later.

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