On first impressions, this interview with Margaret Jull Costa, happening as it did – for the most part – before we had ever met, might seem like the subject matter of a mysterious novel or short story by one of the many writers she has translated from Spanish or Portuguese. The reality, of course, is much more ordinary. Put in contact by the people at Norton, publisher of her most recent translation, The Land at the End of the World by António Lobo Antunes, we embarked on an interview via email.
Though beset by the occasional problem, either technological – both of us – or organisational – just me – in nature, this written correspondence seemed appropriate, allowing her as it did the opportunity to reflect upon her answers, revising and editing her words in the painstaking manner that is the duty of any literary translator, however accomplished or experienced. We then met up in Russell Square on a rather overcast day last July, where, contending with confident pigeons and disoriented tourists, we discussed her relationship with Spain and Portugal, with the novelists she has translated and their texts, and the identity of translated fiction, both in its own right and its standing in the UK publishing industry.
Margaret Jull Costa has translated the works of many Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American writers, including José Saramago, Javier Marías and Eça de Queiroz, bringing them – and herself – great critical acclaim in the English-speaking world. Our correspondence revealed her to be modest and humorous, passionately committed to the translator’s craft, though pragmatic too, unwilling to overcomplicate its process or overly lament its perception among readers. Her success in this most complex and vital of tasks can be owed to meticulous close reading, constant consultation and tireless revision, all channelled through a mind ever alert to the nuances of meaning and tone absorbed through reading and being in different cultures.