A Humanities Unbounded Collaborative Project in German and Romance Studies at Duke University

Month: September 2022

Literary Translation with Ann Goldstein

 The Global Jewish Modernism Lab hosted Ann Goldstein on September 8, 2022. At this event, the celebrated translator read selections from a few of her many translated pieces and answered questions regarding her work. She began her reading with the beginning of the chapter “Hydrogen” from Primo Levi’s text The Periodic Table. This was followed by a section from Elena Ferrante’s novel My Brilliant Friend, and she finished with a selection from the workReturn to Latvia, an autobiographical text by Marina Jarre whose translation is forthcoming.


Several professors and graduate students across various departments at Duke then posed pre-circulated questions related to the intricacies of translation. Aarthi Vadde asked Ms. Goldstein what a translator must do differently when working with texts which stray from normalized or standard forms of the respective language being translated (citing A Clockwork Orange or Ulysses as salient cases). To this, Ms. Goldstein alluded to the difficulties she has faced in translating dialect from Italian to English, utilizing her translation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Street Kids. For passages rife with dialect, she strove to make English appear more informal to differentiate it from the more formalized aspects of the narrative itself, though she avoided utilizing “slangy” language (her wording), as it can quickly date a translation. According to Ms. Goldstein, “Books don’t age, but translations do.”

Saskia Ziolkowski inquired how Goldstein’s view of Jewish Italian culture, literature, and tradition has developed through the process of translating certain Jewish Italian authors, such as Primo Levi, Jarre, Morante, Sonnino, and Piperno. Ms. Goldstein answered that much of her understanding about Jewish Italian culture came from the act of translation, though she had read translations of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table and If This is a Man in English before learning Italian. She noted the Italian Jewish phenomenon that many of the authors she has translated did not consider themselves to be Jewish or place much importance upon their Jewishness until they had to register with authorities as such during the Second World War (she cited Jarre being forced to register as half-Jewish as one such example, but noted that Jarre was ultimately more interested in her Waldensian heritage than her Jewish heritage). Additionally, for some authors, such as Sonnino, the cultural dissonance he experienced as a southern Italian who moved to Genoa was more striking than any perception of difference as a Jew. Ms. Goldstein reiterated how her translation work has provided her with a deeper sense of the importance of Jewish Italian culture.

Members from the audience also posed questions for the translator, often related to concrete aspects of her work, such as the drafting process. One such question centered around how Ms. Goldstein is able to transfer the soundscapes of Italian into English, though the two languages are so different. She replied that her primarily principle as a translator is to stay as close to a literal translation of the text as possible, as this allows the rhythm of the target language to best replicate the rhythm and tone of the original. Another related question was how Ms. Goldstein knows which words to retain in the Italian for the the English translation. The translator answered with an example of the term stradone, which often appears in Ferrante’s texts. Utilizing an English term like “main street” or “big street” as the equivalent would be too reminiscent of an American city, which would take the reader out of the world of the novel. Ms. Goldstein stated how important it is for the reader to retain the feeling that they are in Italy as they read the text. Thus, with words such as these, she feels the need to briefly introduce the term in her translation, then retain the Italian word to maintain the correct tone and connotation.

The final question, by Alyssa Granacki, related to Ms. Goldstein’s foray into Italian, to which she replied that her exposure to Dante in college left a lasting impression. She decided some years later to learn Italian so that she would be able to read Dante in the original, and Dante eventually led to modern authors such as Ferrante.

What is citizenship? October 6th, 2022, 4-6pm

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