NINA SCHUYLER: THE TRANSLATOR WAS INSPIRED BY DAVID REMNICK’S ARTICLE
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
“A pure, sheer pleasure”, “Wonderful story”, “Absorbing,” are just few of the opinions about Nina Schuyler’s book The Translator. The novel was published in 2013 and since then was receiving very positive feedback (av. 4.4 stars from 50 plus reviews). It’s a great pleasure to introduce you our next guest Nina Schuyler.
– Nina, What is THE TRANSLATOR about?
– When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, she suffers from an unusual but real condition–the loss of her native language. Speaking only Japanese, a language she learned later in life, she leaves for Japan. There, to Hanne’s shock, the Japanese novelist whose work she recently translated confronts her publicly for sabotaging his work.
Hanne sets out to find the inspiration for the author’s novel–a tortured, chimerical actor, once a master in the art of Noh theater. Through their passionate, volatile relationship, Hanne is forced to reexamine how she lived her life, including her relationship to her daughter.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– In 2005, The New Yorker published an article by David Remnick, “The Translation Wars,” about a married couple that was busy re-translating all the great Russian novels into English. The couple was Richard Pevear, an English speaker, and his wife, Larissa Volokhonsky, a Russian emigree. Finally, what Nabokov called a “complete disaster” of Constance Garnett who had first translated Russian literature into English could be set aside.
What caught my eye wasn’t the word “translation,” but “Tolstoy” and “Dostoyevsky” in the subtitle. As I girl, I fell in love with the great Russian writers. I remember one summer when I was 12, I devoured Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. It turned out I’d read translations done by Garnett, who learned Russian during a difficult pregnancy and started translating. When she didn’t understand a word or phrase, she’d skip it. I felt cheated. At the same time, I became intrigued by the art of translation.
– What was the biggest challenge during the writing process?
– Finding time to write. I have two young children and I teach creative writing at the University of San Francisco.
– Tell us something about your main character, Hanne. Is she close to someone from your real life?
– Hanne is invented from a combination of interviews and my imagination. To write the novel, I interviewed translators who move literature over from Japanese to English. I listened for trouble–a good sign of a story. I remember one day, a translator told me that she wouldn’t take a translation project, unless she felt like she could understand and relate to the main protagonist in the story. So what if a translator thought she understood a main character before or in the absence of complete understanding? What if the translator unknowingly made a mistake?
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– Frankly, it’s hard to keep track of time. When I’m writing, there is no real sense of time. I’ve entered the world of story, immersed in the narrative and time sloughs off like an unnecessary coat. If I had to guess, I’d say 4 or 5 years. But remember, I have small children. So some days, I would write only for fifteen minutes.
– You won the Next Generation Indie Book Award for General Fiction. What was the first feeling when you understood that you were awarded with such recognition?
– Thrilled, beyond thrilled–and also, are you sure you meant to send this email message to me?
– Give us some insight about your debut book THE PAINTING?
– THE PAINTING takes place in 1869 and has a parallel story structure, with part of the story taking place in Japan and the other in Paris, France, during the Franco Prussian war. It was inspired by ukiyo-e, the floating art world of Japan, which flourished during the 17th to 19th century and influenced many Western artists.
A young woman escapes the confines of her arranged marriage by painting memories of the man she loves on mulberry paper. When her husband, a talented potter, arranges for his next delivery of wares to Europe, she hides her painting in the shipment. In France, a disenchanted young man works as a clerk at an import shop. When he opens the wooden create from Japan, he discovers her brilliant artwork of two lovers locked in an embrace under a plum tree. He steals it and hides it in his room only to become obsessed with the painting and its meaning.
– You are writing poetry and short stories. Is it easy for you to switch between different writing formats?
– Yes, in fact it’s a relief to step out of the enormous story that is a novel and roam around in the smaller confines of a poem or short story. When my writer’s group is reading a draft of a novel, I dive into a short story or poem and let my imagination play.
– Who are you?
– Someone who places writing on the same plane as breathing.
– What are your writing habits?
– Now that my four-year-old is in preschool, I write during the morning hours, from 9-12:00. And sometimes, if I have the energy, at night, after the children have gone to bed.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– I’m satisfied with how much writing nourishes me, lets me roam in other worlds, in other perspectives. In many ways, I feel like I’m cheating death by imagining deeply into so many other ways of being.
– What are you doing to promote your books?
– It’s an interesting landscape now, with social media. So in addition to the traditional promotion paths– giving readings at bookstores and talking to book clubs–I also am on social media–Facebook, Twitter. Now, whether that does anything, who knows, but it gives the illusion of control. I also teach classes at a wonderful, independent bookstore, Book Passage, and have begun writing a column about stunning sentences that appears at http://www.fictionadvocate.com.
– When will we see your next novel and would you unveil something about it?
– I’m hoping the next one will soon find a home. And I’ve finished a first draft of another novel. It is this latest one that is a departure for me, because it is supposed to be humorous.
– You are teaching creative writing at the University of San Francisco. What are the three pieces of advice that you would give newbie writers?
– If you are new to writing, write a lot. Try to write something every day. You are developing your creative play muscle and experimenting and developing a writing practice. A notebook is a nice thing. It opens you up to inspiration–let the world inspire you. Write down interesting tidbits of dialogue, an image that, for some reason, makes you hold still. Sit in a café and describe how a person nearby is eating, talking, gesturing. Read. A lot. Take note of what fills you with awe. Read it again and figure out how the awe was created.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview, what would it be?
How do you keep growing as an artist?
– For me, the writing of a literary novel takes years. Whatever I’m writing, it has to engage my interest for a long time. I love what Grace Paley has to say about this: “If, before you sit down with paper and pencil…it all comes suddenly clear and you find yourself mumbling, of course he’s a sadist and she’s a masochist, and you think you have the answer–drop the subject.” Because if everything is evident from the beginning, if there is no mystery, it won’t hold me for very long.
Learn more about Nina Schuyler at her Web page
Take a look at her book