Why Philip Roth Sounds So Good In French: The Method Of A Master Translator

Whether they realize it or not, French fans of Philip Roth and John Irving know the work of Josée Kamoun as well. The Parisian woman has translated novels by more than a dozen writers. The work is "painstaking and solitary" but fulfils a

Why Philip Roth Sounds So Good In French: The Method Of A Master Translator
Eléonore Susler

VEVEY – "The translator dances the tango with the text. When the text leads with the left foot, the translator steps back with the right. It is an extremely tight embrace, and, if possible, graceful..."

Josée Kamoun, the French translator for the works of Philip Roth, John Irving and Jonathan Coe, chooses her words carefully. But right now, she is preparing to take part in a translation festival in Switzerland where, for once, it is the translators who will be celebrated, rather than the authors.

Modest and joyful, Kamoun is having fun with this rare moment in the sun. "I like that people are talking about us, but not too much. I like being in the shadow of my authors," she says. "One of the reasons I do this work is because it allows me to avoid writing myself."

Kamoun describes the translator's "extremely ambiguously status' in the literary process. "He or she is a double agent, perhaps even two-faced. You can never be sure that the translator is telling the truth," she says. "The translator is an unpleasant witness to the fact that we are unable to read the original version of the book. The translator serves two masters, is even a bit seedy. But we like translators because without them we would not have access to the text."

Listening to her Latin teacher

For Kamoun, translation is the combination of a mask to hide behind, the possibility of performance – she compares her work to that of an art restorer or actor – and a rare pleasure.

It all started with a prediction, made in high school by her Latin teacher, who envisioned Kamoun doing just this kind of work. But this star translator also taught English literature for 15 years and still works in the national education system. She never wanted to make translation her only job. "I never thought about starving for translation," Kamoun says. "Besides, the work of a translator is painstaking and solitary. There are better things for your social life."

Teaching English has given her a deeper understanding of the texts. "If you don't understand both literary traditions, it is hard to be a translator. I've also read a lot of the French classics. Having taught literature for so long, I am comfortable with the written word. It defeats me. It excites me. It nourishes me. That's it."

The adventure, Kamoun explains, is in the texts – they're what leads to a certain intimacy with the author. Indeed, when she was translating Philip Roth, the publisher sent her to spend a week with him once a year. "It was surprising. He neither speaks nor reads French. My questions for him were frequently cultural. You don't translate words, you translate effects. But in order to do so, you have to be sure of the author's intended effect. Then I read my text and he read his. And he told me ‘That doesn't have the same rhythm!" And I told him, ‘I can't do exactly what you do, but I can do my best to get as close as possible.""

Turning down Toni Morrison

Has she ever turned someone down? "Before Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize, I refused her very beautiful novel, Beloved. I read it and had the option to do the translation, but I said no. It's a story about infanticide, where a woman slits her daughter's throat with a circular saw so that she won't be taken back to the slave plantation, and the daughter returns as a ghost. I couldn't live with an infanticidal woman for a year."

What about Jonathan Coe? "It was love at first sight. When I opened The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, I felt like I had been born into it," Kamoun recalls. "I translated it with ease, without pain, and very quickly, which is quite rare."

Read the original article in French

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!