Works that Work: Inside the Brilliant Mind of Translator Linda Asher

Linda Asher in her Manhattan apartment. She is the former fiction editor of The New Yorker, and has been translating books by Milan Kundera since 1986. (Photo by Bryan Schutmaat)

I was quite pleased to have come across the new twice-yearly international periodical, Works that Workan unexpectedly creative journal of original essays, stories, and images.

The pilot issue features contributions that range from a piece on urinals at the Amsterdam airport that provide 80% in savings, to an article on dabbawallas  (Mumbai's homemade food distribution), to--drum roll please--an interview delving into the role of the translator in contributing to an impactful human exchange that reaches beyond the confines of the page.

In the piece, "Translation is a Human Interchange," (follow the link to download the article for 1 euro), Peter Biľak talks with Linda Asher, former fiction editor at The New Yorker and translator of Milan Kundera’s French works, about her work, good translation and good translators.

Ms. Asher's observations about the process of literary translation ring poetic, "Translation is primarily performance, interpretation, more than it is ‘creation’, just as when Emanuel Ax plays Bach in a way that some other pianist doesn’t."

She continues with this deconstruction of the humanity of the interlingustic exchange, noting, "Translation is a kind of impersonation, I think. As a translator […] I am keen to observe the world consciously, and to notice dialogue, notice dialect, notice personal styles of speech, notice tics."

The interview is brilliant and worth shelling out the tax-deductible euro for a read. In particular, it is intriguing to learn about the translator-author relationship, in her case, as the translator of living literary legend Kundera.

Finally, here is a bonus video with Ms. Asher regarding her translation of Memoirs of a Breton Peasant by Jean-Marie Déguignet, as interviewed by the editor of the French edition, Bernez Rouz... en français bien sûr!