The following is Dubravka Ugrešić’s preface to Damion Searls’s new translation of Marshlands, by André Gide, published earlier this month by New York Review Books.
Why a preface?
Prefaces usually offer the reader a guide to the book before them; they say a few words about the book’s author and place the book in its historical or contemporary literary context. In the pre-Internet age this was a job entrusted to literary experts. Today, with the assistance of the Internet, expertise is no longer considered necessary. I confess, I myself am no expert, arbiter, or competent interpreter of André Gide’s work. I am here merely as a literary interloper and I see it as my task to respond to two questions:
- How did this little French book come to be translated into English?
- Why did I once love this book, do I love it still today, and if I have loved it, why do I think others will?
Literature as Seduction
I made the acquaintance of Damion Searls—who has translated Marshlands into English—in 1998 at a literary event in Vienna. Our encounter was fleeting and superficial. Four years later, when he was on a Fulbright, Damion turned up in Amsterdam. This was our chance to spend more time together.
True book lovers—writers, critics, translators, publishers, and readers—can be identified (or at least I identify them!) by the way they allow themselves to be “seduced” by books. If the art of the word, meaning literature, is a form of interhuman communication, then “seduction” is one of the forms this communication takes. Literary seduction doesn’t know or respect age, nor national, ethnic, racial, gender, or cultural boundaries. Yet finding a true friend, a book lover, is a true rarity. Read More