Horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, autofiction—whatever the genre, the Spanish translator Megan McDowell is drawn to work that takes her by surprise. This is, in part, what compelled her to translate Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. The compact, urgent novel is told through an intimate dialogue between Amanda, a young mother on her deathbed, perhaps poisoned, and David, a mysterious boy who sits beside her, urging her to remember what brought her to the brink of death. Through their exchange, we learn of Amanda’s brush with lethal pesticides, of a possible transmigration of souls, and, most importantly, of the disappearance of Nina, her daughter. Though it takes place in Argentina, where agro-industrial production technologies pose a variety of health risks, the novel is a cautionary tale for us all about the dangers that come with the use of agricultural chemicals.
McDowell has translated more than thirteen works of fiction from Spanish, including books by Alejandro Zambra, Lina Meruane, and Carlos Fonseca. By the end of this year alone, she will have translated Mariana Enriquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire, Diego Zuñiga’s Camanchaca, fiction by Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, an autobiography by Virginia Vallejo. McDowell is currently at work with Schweblin on a new book of short stories titled Pajaros en la boca, or Birds in the Mouth. McDowell does all this while working a job in finance.
Our conversation began in New York City in 2016 and continued over Skype and email. McDowell is a seamless combination of upbeat and no-nonsense: she tells it like it is, but always with a sense of humor. Throughout our conversation, she spoke about the ways gender and translation are in dialogue with one another and of life as a translator in Portugal, Switzerland, Norway, the United States, and now Chile. Read More