‘In Every Story There Is a Silence’: Translating Coetzee’s Female Narrators into Italian


Translating is not only an exercise in the restoration of meaning. The translator’s true challenge lies in restoring meaning while preserving the way in which that meaning is expressed, because style is what is unique to a text. While working on a book, translators find many obstacles along their path in the form of innate tendencies, that are very difficult to resist and that deform and manipulate the stylistic features of the text. Working on Coetzee’s novels, this is particularly true when the narrator telling the story is a woman, due to specific aspects of translating gender. In my article I will explore some of the issues I faced when I translated into Italian two of Coetzee’s novels, In the Heart of the Country (1978) and Foe (1986). On one side, in telling Magda’s and Susan’s stories in Italian, the translator has to resist the temptation to rationalise the narrator’s language or to fill in the silence pervading the two novels just to make the text more coherent. And on the other side, she has to find a suitable language with regard to both diction and syntax, and to look for a way to address the question of what Magda calls ‘the pronouns of intimacy’, when the female and the colonised subject are marginalised by patriarchal authority.

If we consider the triangle author-critic-translator, it is clear that the translator’s position is the weakest of all.1 Paraphrasing what Coetzee has to say about these positions in Doubling the Point (206) it is clear that the translator cannot claim the critic’s salvific distance; she cannot even pretend to be the same person as she was when she last undertook the translator’s task. To further complicate things by considering the contrast between writer and translator, the writer writes to understand what she still does not know; you write because you do not know what you want to say. Writing reveals it to you. But when you translate, the opposite is true. You first have to understand and give an interpretation if you want to be able to translate.

Since translation is a form of interpretation (Eco 16), the first obstacle that translators are faced with – as readers taking on…

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 25 February 2018 in Thematising Women in the Work of J. M. Coetzee. Subjects: Narrative voice, Translations & translating, Women - Literary portrayal, J.M. Coetzee.

Cite as: Cavagnoli, Franca. ‘‘In Every Story There Is a Silence’: Translating Coetzee’s Female Narrators into Italian.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, 2018, doi: 10.20314/als.1e27bf3fe3.