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Four Soliders interview

Four Soliders interview

Read our next Man Booker International Prize longlist interview with author Hubert Mingarelli and translator Sam Taylor, who explains why sometimes "what is not said is just as important as what is said".


Hubert Mingarelli, author of  Four Soliders

What has it been like to be longlisted?

First of all, I am very happy – and happy, too, that Sam Taylor should be included. An author and a translator work together side by side, but rarely do their paths cross.

To be read in other countries is something precious for an author because most of the time one does not write only for the people who live nearby.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book Four Soliders?

It’s the simple story of four soldiers in a revolutionary army who live and fight together, and who get to know one another so that they are able to bear their terrible life. For the narrator, it is also the start of being able to write.   

Tell us about the research you did to write the book.

I didn’t do any particular research. I remember being very moved when I saw the film Doctor Zhivago. I am also a fan of Isaac Babel, who took part in that civil war and afterward wrote a collection of short stories about it, Red Cavalry. Isaac Babel is a great writer.


Sam Taylor, translator of Four Soliders

What has it been like to be longlisted?

Less of a shock than it was last year, but I’m really glad for Four Soldiers, which is such a quietly beautiful novel that it might easily have been overlooked.

What did you most like about translating Four Soldiers?

Two things, I would say: first, the warmth and tenderness of the camaraderie that grows between the four main characters as they enjoy the meagre pleasures of early spring, which are intensified by the knowledge that they will probably soon be dead. And second, the challenge of translating Hubert’s prose, which is very spare and perfectly weighted. What is not said is just as important as what is said, so I think the main difficulty is not ruining that delicate balancing act; not leaving my big, clumsy translator’s footprints all over his words.

You’ve translated Hubert Mingarelli before. How much of a dialogue did you have with him when translating Four Soldiers?

Not much. Like his narrators, Hubert is a man of few words. He also doesn’t read English, so my translations are purely notional for him. For this novel, I sent him an email containing five questions and he answered them. We sometimes talk about his other books, the film adaptations of them, which of his Granta novels should publish next, and so on, but it’s a very laconic correspondence.