Smarty Pants Podcast

The Author’s Accomplice

Susan Bernofsky on the art of translation

By Stephanie Bastek | May 28, 2021
Susan Bernofsky (left) with the author Jenny Erpenbeck (Jesse Ruddock)
Susan Bernofsky (left) with the author Jenny Erpenbeck (Jesse Ruddock)

If when you read a work of fiction you are never alone, since you can hear the voice of the author, then when you read in translation, you’re in sort of a threesome. The translator, as Cervantes is said to have said, is there at the edge of the frame, revealing the other side of the tapestry. Susan Bernofsky has been translating from German into English for decades, focusing on the writers Robert Walser, Yoko Tawada, and Jenny Erpenbeck. Her latest book is a biography of Walser, Clairvoyant of the Small, and she is now translating Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a (very) brief excerpt of which we published earlier this year. Bernofsky directs the literary translation program at Columbia’s School of the Arts. She joins us on the podcast to talk about the joys and struggles of bringing another writer’s words into English. 

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