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New Yorker Interview w/ Primo Levi Translator
Thread poster: Kevin Schlottmann
Kevin Schlottmann  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:28
German to English
Feb 16, 2007

The New Yorker recently published a Primo Levi short story, translated from Italian. On the magazine's website is a short, sweet interview with the translator, Ann Goldstein.

Here's an excerpt (she uses Google, just like everyone else!):
What is distinctive, or particularly challenging, about translating Levi?

His language is very precise. It’s precise not only when it’s scientific but also when he’s just describing something. “Bear Meat,” which was translated by Alessandra Bastagli and published in The New Yorker in January, is a story about mountain climbing, and one of the characters quotes Dante talking about mountains. And he says, “Dante couldn’t have just invented these founding principles of rock climbing—he must have been here or in a similar place.” And I think in some sense it’s a comment on Levi’s wish to be precise.

He does use actual scientific words—for example, “adiabatic observatories,” “premature polymerization”—and for the translator there’s always a question: Are you going to use the scientific word that is likely to throw the reader? But such terms are unfamiliar to an Italian reader as well, so you just have to go with them and let the reader skip over them or go to a dictionary. There’s a story called “The Molecule’s Defiance,” which takes place in a paint factory during the mixing of a batch of a kind of varnish. Something goes wrong during this process, and there’s a near-disaster. Anyway, the container in which the paint is mixed is called a reattore, which you can probably tell means “reactor.” Now, English speakers might think of nuclear reactors, and I resisted using the word. But I went to Google and did some research into how paint is made. And in fact there is a machine called a reactor that paint is mixed in, so in the end I decided to use the word reactor.

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Vito Smolej
Local time: 08:28
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
"He does use actual scientific words" Feb 16, 2007

Primo Levi was (also) a scientist. Read for instance his Periodic system - a great book...

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New Yorker Interview w/ Primo Levi Translator

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