Ann Goldstein: 'I try to make it really clear that I am not Elena Ferrante'

The Italian author’s translator on how they work together, New York’s terrifying lockdown, and her favourite novelists

Ann Goldstein is a New York-based translator, renowned for her work on the acclaimed novels of the enigmatic and pseudonymous Elena Ferrante. Goldstein has also translated Primo Levi and Jhumpa Lahiri, as well as a host of other great Italian language writers, living and dead. She is also head copy-editor at the New Yorker, which she joined in 1974. Her latest work is a translation of The Lying Life of Adults, the first Ferrante novel to be published since the bestselling Neapolitan quartet.

You have been translating Elena Ferrante for 16 years. How do you manage to convey the strange, rhythmic simplicity of her voice?
It’s hard to answer that type of question. A lot of it has to do with my relation to the Italian words on the page. The first draft is the words as they are, more or less in the order they appear. It’s pretty straightforward. But most of the time there is then some shaping of that language into an English that reads like English but still contains some suggestion of the Italian. I’m not sure quite how, but it does. In my first draft I look at the Italian; in the second I am still working with the Italian and trying to solve problems I couldn’t solve first time around. Then, eventually, I try to read just the English, without the Italian, but I never can, because there’s always something I need to go back to check. Sometimes I find I’ve gone too far away from the Italian; sometimes I find I need to go further away.

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