The Millions

Best Translated Book Awards Spotlight: The Millions Interviews Linda Coverdale

Linda Coverdale’s translation of Patrick Chamoiseau’s novel Slave Old Man won this year’s Best Translated Books Award in fiction. Shortly after the prize was awarded, Coverdale and I sat down to talk about Chamoiseau’s work and the importance of conveying tone and style in translated works.

The Millions: When did you first encounter this book? It’s the first work of Patrick Chamoiseau’s to be translated in over two decades. You translated him before, Creole Folktales (1995) and School Days (1996). Texaco was published in 1998. What happened then? Was he someone you wanted to continue translating, and it just wasn’t working out?

The first Chamoiseau I ever read was (1986), for a reader report, and I fell instantly in love with this astonishing unknown voice coming bang out of the blue, so when Carcanet Press offered to buy it if I would translate it, I was miserable saying no, but an honest translator knows when she is overmatched, and I wasn’t anywhere near ready to jump into Martinique. When the late and very great offered me (1988), however, I knew that I could begin to learn to handle both the language and the terroir with one, so to speak. The New Press published it as in 1995, and that was the first time Chamoiseau appeared in English. Baby steps in Creole-inflected text for me, with children’s stories, but they are clever tales of survival in a colonized land, already imbued with the mystique of the storyteller that colors all Chamoiseau’s writing, both in fiction and his essays. The Creole storyteller on the slave plantation becomes a secret agent in enemy territory, where his words must carry out their soul-saving mission …I started amassing my now huge stashes of books, notes, glossaries, Xeroxes of things Caribbean, all

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