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Interview with longlisted author Samanta Schweblin and translator Megan McDowell

Interview with longlisted author Samanta Schweblin and translator Megan McDowell

Longlisted with Little Eyesauthor Samanta Schweblin tells us how living in Berlin influenced her writing process and discusses the prevalence of the book's theme of worldwide interconnectivity in the current climate. We also speak with translator Megan McDowell about the process of 'recreating' text when translating and what it's like working with Samanta.

Samanta Schweblin

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s a real honour to see Little Eyes selected as part of such a special list, alongside several truly fascinating books, and a number of authors whom I greatly admire. And I also feel extremely lucky, because I’m aware that these lists can never include every deserving title and inevitably exclude some wonderful books.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book, Little Eyes?

Maybe Little Eyes can best be described as a contemporary snapshot of how a new form of communication catches on across the world little by little, how it can expand exponentially in the blink of an eye, and then, in an instant, fall apart. Or maybe it’s more accurate to describe it as a ghost story, a story about desire and the abuse of power, and of how the source of evil isn’t technology itself; it’s not the other user looking at us from the other side of the screen; it’s lurking in our own fears and prejudices.

Little Eyes explores worldwide interconnectivity – what are your thoughts on the rise of social media and similar apps?

Well at the moment, in the midst of the global COVID-19 crisis, it seems that we’re able to keep the world just about moving precisely because of social networks and modern forms of communication. Something like this is enough to make us forget the increasing cynicism that we had been feeling about social media and technology, and change our attitudes completely. At the end of the day, technology isn’t good or bad in and of itself. It’s a mirror that reflects our own fears and intentions back at us. And we’ve always viewed it with a mixture of fascination and fear, ever since mankind learned to create fire or invented cinema or electricity. Technology has always been there with us, as an extension of ourselves and as a looking glass.

Has living in Berlin affected the inspiration behind and process of your writing?

Absolutely. In fact, while I was writing Little Eyes, I didn’t see many connections between my own life in Berlin and the fictional world that I was creating. But now, with a little distance, I’m amazed by the parallels between the world of the novel and my own life. For one thing, I was writing about different forms of communication. I remain closely tied to my native city [of Buenos Aires], both sentimentally and for my work. During the year that I started writing Little Eyes, I spent many hours working on Skype, Facetime, WhatApp: I was more dependent on these networks than I had ever been before.

Secondly, Little Eyes is set in about twenty cities around the world. That year was also a year full of travel for me, and over the course of twelve months I visited almost all of the cities that come up in the book, mostly because international translations of my other books were coming out.

And then there’s the theme of language, which is very important in the book too: different dialects, translators, foreign languages. During the first few years I spent in Berlin, being surrounded by a completely unfamiliar, often incomprehensible language was both a blessing and a curse. Berlin is like a Tower of Babel, full of different tribes, languages and idiosyncrasies, a city that I find constantly disconcerting: it catches me off guard and creates a sense of distance when I encounter yet another thing that I don’t quite understand. I think this comes across in many ways in the novel.

 

Megan McDowell

What has it been like to be longlisted?

A bright, heartening light amid darkness.

What did you most like about translating Little Eyes?

It’s a joy to work with Samanta and her imagination. I learn so much about storytelling from translating her books. Little Eyes is ostensibly a book about technology, but more than that it’s about human beings interacting; the mediating technology shines a spotlight on their foibles, their loneliness, their capacity for cruelty and kindness. I love how creepy the kentukis are, I think it’s genius to give them cute teddy bear faces. I think Samanta is an expert in crystallizing a zeitgeist and implicating her readers in an urgent story that’s disturbing and yet extremely enjoyable.  

How do you go about translating? Do you try to preserve the original form or mould the text to obey the rules of the language in which it’s being translated? 

Well, I definitely obey most of the rules of English, while preserving what I can of the original. I don’t think it’s so much about “preserving,” though, as about “recreating.” You preserve something that’s dead or inert, but I think of the text as alive and growing, and translation as a creative act.

Do you work closely with the author whose book you are translating? 

Yes, Samanta is very generous in terms of answering questions and talking things through. A translator couldn’t ask for a better writer to work with.