Congratulations to MS in Translation and Interpreting (MSTI) Adjunct Instructor Sandra Smith, on her translation of Inseparable, the newly discovered novel Les Inséparables by Simone de Beauvoir. Sandra Smith has published over thirty translations, including Suite Française (Irène Némirovsky), But You Did Not Come Back (Marceline Loridan-Ivens), The Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times, The Stranger (Albert Camus), Jacques Schiffrin: A Publisher in Exile, (Amos Reichman), Create Dangerously (Albert Camus), among others. She has won the French-American Translation Prize, the PEN Translation Prize, the Independent British Booksellers Book of the Year Prize and the National Jewish Book Award. The New York Times describes Inseparable as as "fluidly translated by Sandra Smith," and Harper Collins describes the novel as “vibrant,” stating that it will “be long cherished by de Beauvoir devotees and first-time readers alike."
November 15, 2021
MSTI Instructor Sandra Smith Translates Inseparable by Simone de Beauvoir
What was the journey of discovering Inseparable by Simone de Beauvoir? What were the next steps into its translation and publication?
Simone de Beauvoir adopted a woman named Sylvie Le Bon - who now adds ‘de Beauvoir’ - to her last name, and left her the literary estate. Last year, Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir discovered this never-before published novel, along with several letters and photographs, and got them published in France.
Needless to say, many publishers wanted to buy the rights, and I was fortunate enough to have Ecco (an imprint of Harper Collins) ask me to if I wanted to translate the book. Of course, I said yes! The odd thing, though, was that Ecco only bought the North American rights, so the UK publisher hired a different translator to do the same book. (Theirs is translated by Lauren Elkin and is called The Inseparables.) I haven’t seen her version but hope to get a copy. It will be interesting to compare and would make a useful exercise for my students as well.
My US translation has a wonderful Introduction by Margaret Atwood, but sadly, I never got to meet her!
How does this translation project compare to some of your recent past projects? Were there particular challenges in translating Inseparable?
The translation was fairly straightforward, apart from one section that had a very long list of kitchen items that I had to research. The ending was very tricky and I went through several versions before settling on the last sentence – but I’m not giving that away!
I was very busy during the pandemic – fortunately – with 3 books to translate that all came out this autumn. Apart from the Beauvoir, I translated a novella by Irène Némirovsky that I really enjoyed – The Prodigal Child – and also wrote the Introduction to that book. The third book was the most difficult, both in terms of style, subject matter and editing: In the Shadows of Paris: the Nazi Concentration Camp that Dimmed the City of Light by Anne Sinclair. The author is very well-known in France as a journalist, TV presenter and writer, but not so well-known here. She did research into her paternal grandfather who was deported to a concentration camp but survived, only barely.
On the whole, I prefer translating fiction to non-fiction, and the subject matter of course was very distressing. But it is important for people to know these things.
What was your favorite part of translating this book?
It’s always very exciting to translate something by an extremely famous writer that is newly discovered. I had also done a lot of research into Existentialism as an undergraduate and even written my Senior year thesis on Sartre. It was fascinating seeing Beauvoir’s style when she was young and also discovering her close relationship with her best friend, and her early encounters with Sartre. Some of my favorite parts, though, were the letters at the end of the novel and the photographs, which I got to see but which, unfortunately, were not published with the novel.
Any advice for MSTI grads?
Keep taking courses and try to pace yourself so you don’t take on too much and feel overwhelmed. That only leads to frustration and not doing a good job on anything. I also always advise students to make sure they have a good network of both native speakers who can help with sticky linguistic problems and English speaking friends who can read translations with a completely different eye and tell you when something ‘sounds translated’ or is overly complicated or awkward. But most importantly, enjoy your work!
The first few times I went to play at Andrée’s house on the Rue de Grenelle, I was dumbfounded. Apart from her brothers and sisters, there were always masses of cousins and friends; they ran, shouted, sang, dressed up, jumped on the tables, overturned the furniture. Sometimes Malou, who was fifteen and bossy, intervened, but then you’d immediately hear Madame Gallard’s voice saying, “Let the children have fun.” I was astounded by her indifference to the injuries, bumps, stains, broken dishes. “Mama never gets angry,” Andrée said to me with a triumphant smile. At the end of the afternoon, Madame Gallard came into the room we’d wrecked, smiling; she picked up a chair and dried Andrée’s forehead, saying, “You’re drenched in sweat again!” Andrée hugged her tightly, and for an instant, her face was transformed. I looked away, feeling uneasy, probably because I was a little jealous, perhaps envious, and I felt the kind of fear aroused by the unknown.
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