Maria Gerhardt died of breast cancer soon after writing Transfer Window, a dark and futuristic novel informed by her own experience with terminal illness. In today’s interview, Asymptote‘s Jacob Silkstone talks with Lindy Falk van Rooyen about the experience of translating Maria Gerhardt’s Transfer Window, chosen as this month’s Asymptote Book Club selection, from Danish into English. Read on to learn how Falk van Rooyen discovered Transfer Window and how she navigated the challenges of translating a semi-autobiographical novel that defies categorization.
Jacob Silkstone (JS): When did you first read Transfer Window, and what initially drew you to the book? How aware were you of Maria Gerhardt’s previous work?
Lindy Falk van Rooyen (LFvR): I wasn’t aware of Maria Gerhardt or her previous work until Transfervindue was published in March 2017. I remember quite vividly that I was sitting on the top level of a red London bus on my way to a translator’s dinner during the London Book Fair when a colleague working for The Danish Arts Council told me how much the book had moved him, and shortly after my return from London, I requested a copy of the original from the Danish publisher. I think what drew me in during the first reading was Maria Gerhardt’s unadulterated honesty.
Empty Words by Mario Levrero, translated from the Spanish by Annie McDermott, Coffee House Press, 2019
“The best part about Coffee House Press books is that they are often difficult to categorise, difficult to describe . . . because they are pushing the boundaries of form, language, syntax, genre, and so on,” says Chris Fischbach, publisher for Coffee House, in a recent interview with Asymptote’s Sarah Moses. Empty Words, the first book by Uruguayan author Mario Levrero to be translated into English (by Annie McDermott), fits this description to a tee. The premise is simple: the narrator, whose voice Levrero claims to be his own with some (potentially heavy) editing, is determined to alter his personality through altering his handwriting. Since, according to graphology, “there’s a profound connection between a person’s handwriting and his or her character,” surely altering one’s handwriting through diligent daily practice would bring about discernible changes in personality.
Coffee House Press is an independent publisher of fiction, poetry, and essays. Since 2014, with the publication of Faces in the Crowd and Sidewalks by Mexican author Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney), the press has sought out authors from Latin America and farther abroad. Coffee House Press is also a nonprofit organization that collaborates with artists on Books in Action projects that expand the relationship between reader and writer. Over email, Chris Fischbach, CHP’s publisher, and Sarah Moses, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, discussed the press’s interdisciplinary collaborations, how they discover books by Latin American authors, and some of the titles in translation readers can check out.
Sarah Moses (SM): How did Coffee House Press come to be?
Chris Fischbach (CF): We were founded by Allan Kornblum in the early 1970s in Iowa, and we were purely a letterpress venture back then, publishing poets from both Iowa and from the New York School, where Allan had moved from. In the early 1980s, Allan moved the press to Minneapolis, where it became the first press-in-residence at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. A couple years later, we incorporated as a nonprofit, became Coffee House Press, moved down the street, and started publishing trade editions (fiction and poetry) as well as continuing our letterpress work. I joined the press as a letterpress intern in December of 1994 and was hired as an editorial assistant in August of 1995. I became publisher in 2011.
Prose and I are having a moment.
I don’t mean this in the glamorously ephemeral, André-Leon-Talley sense; I mean this in the emotionally fraught, tightlipped-dinner-party sense. I just can’t seem to enjoy it as much as I have in past twenty-odd years of my life. I find myself bored by the contrivances of exposition; I roll my eyes at narrative inventiveness, and quote-unquote characters and their grievances simply exhaust me.