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Mouthful of Birds interview

Mouthful of Birds interview


‘I’m fascinated by short stories that create a sense of tension.’ Read our Man Booker International Prize longlist interview with author Samanta Schweblin & translator Megan McDowell, who tells us why she thinks ‘Samanta should win all the awards in existence’. 


Samanta Schweblin, author of Mouthful of Birds

What has it been like to be longlisted and how does this differ from the last time?

It’s a great honour to have been nominated again. But this time I’ve been nominated for a book of short stories, and it’s unusual for short stories to feature on awards lists like this, so I’m doubly proud and grateful. I hope this decision by the judges sets a precedent and opens doors for other short story writers.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book Mouthful of Birds?

It’s a book of stories that take place somewhere at the limit of the familiar world of the everyday, and a strange, ominous alternative world. But this sense of something otherworldly is merely an echo, an expanded reality.

What draws you to writing short stories?        

As a reader, I’m fascinated by short stories that create a sense of tension, and deliver an exorcism of sorts, stories that force the reader to see things completely differently.   


Megan McDowell, translator of Mouthful of Birds

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s a joy. The Man Booker International Prize is such a special prize for translators. It’s a prize for great literature, period, and the fact that it recognizes translators as an integral part of great international writing is just so meaningful.

I’m also happy to see short stories on the list. I’ve always been a fan of the form and I feel like they get short shrift (pun intended?). And of course, I think Samanta should win all the awards in existence, so I’m delighted to see her recognized.

What did you most like about translating Mouthful of Birds

Samanta's prose is very carefully tended and surprising. Every word is there for a reason, and when the text catches you off guard, it's intentional. The ambiguity is well-placed. That kind of writing is really enjoyable to translate, it tells you exactly what you have to do and then you can play around within the parameters it sets.

Readers often comment on the dark menacing tones of Samanta Schweblin’s writing, what are the challenges of conveying this?

Probably similar to the challenges of writing it—you don’t want to tell too much or overdo it. But I don’t think it’s necessarily “harder” to translate. In fact, it’s always “easier” to translate works that you have an affinity for, and I’m definitely drawn to darker literature. I’d have a harder time translating a cheesy romance or something like that.