A weekly series that celebrates everyone’s favorite part of the author reading: the Q&A. This week, Colm Tóibín, Heidi Julavits, John Wray, and Álvaro Enrigue grapple with translation.

"/> Cheap Wine, Plastic Chairs: McSweeney's Multiples — The Airship
By Emily Morris
Credit: McSweeney's 

Credit: McSweeney's 

In "Multiples," the 42nd issue of McSweeney's, writers were asked by issue editor and novelist Adam Thirlwell to translate, re-translate, and re-re-translate (up to six times) a story previously unpublished in English. Colm Tóibín translated a story by Enrique Vila-Matas from Spanish to English, and coped in a very Colm Tóibín-esque way:

“Really, no matter how bad you translate, it gets through. Just the same way water pushes through certain types of stone ... Mainly what I did was stop translating and start writing at a certain point.”

Heidi Julavits was asked to translate a short French story, which had already been translated from Dutch to English to French:

“When I think of French, I think of cheating. I think of how I cheated my way through college. I didn't speak French, but I had to write papers in French. I'd read the English version of the novels, and then find the French quotes ... So my one rule for myself translating this was that: I would not cheat. I wouldn't look anything up on Google. I wouldn't ask any of my friends who spoke French. I was just going to try to figure this thing out ... I will say, the sort of happy upshot of this, which is why I've taken to translating other languages I don't speak, like Swedish, is that I never really heard voice or style in other French novels I'd read. I really felt like, after sitting with this for two days, that I finally heard the voice.”

John Wray had the daunting task of translating a previously unpublished Kafka story from the German.

 “It's like translating a joke that your very talented standup comedian friend told at a bar two nights ago. But you're not a standup comedian. But I do it all the time myself, so...”

Álvaro Enrigue re-re-re-translated an Italian story by Giuseppe Pontiggia that had already been translated into English, then into Chinese, and back to English again.

“Everyone else had so much fun with this. I'm realizing that I could have had much more fun. That's pretty much the definition of my life.”