Interview with Jonathan Kaplansky

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with people who are closely involved with Quebec literature on a daily basis as we continue to talk to publishers, readers, bookstore owners, and translators to get a feel for today’s publishing scene in Quebec.

Jonathan Kaplansky is a Montreal literary translator who has more than twenty-five literary translations to his credit. He won the French Voices Award to translate Annie Ernaux’s La Vie extérieure (published by University of Nebraska Press as Things Seen) and has served on the jury for the Governor General’s Literary Awards in Translation. His translations include Étienne Beaulieu’s Too Much Light for Samuel Gaska (Quattro Books), Simon Brault’s No Culture, No Future (Cormorant) and Hélène Rioux’s Wednesday Night at the End of the World (Cormorant)

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32What are you reading at the minute?

I just finished Chemin Saint-Paul by Lise Tremblay, a novel I’ll be translating for Quattro Books. It’s a powerful narrative in which the author, during visits to her mother in the hospital, recalls her father’s slow death a year earlier.  She describes her parents’ childhood on Chemin Saint-Paul, marked by poverty and madness, and their adult lives, as both try to escape the wounds of the past. It’s a sensitive unravelling of the author’s ties to the people who gave her life.


Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to reading this year?

I’m especially looking forward to reading the final volume of Hélène Rioux’s tetralogy, Fragments du monde/Fragments of the World. It is called Le Bout du monde existe ailleurs. I’ve translated the first two volumes and am working on a translation of Volume III, Nuits blanches et jours de gloire for Guernica Editions.


What is your relationship to Quebec writing?

As a literary translator, I work on novels, short stories, biographies and other non-fiction. I am especially interested in novels and for some reason seem to be drawn to women writers ─ at least I have translated more women writers than I have men.


What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?

I’ve no quick answer here, but if pressed I would say that Quebec literature is torn between looking inward (at the self, the local environment, and the community) and moving outward, exploring experiences in the world beyond with sometimes a taste for the exotic.


If you were to recommend that someone who has never read anything from Quebec pick up a book and start reading it today, which book would it be?

Hélène Dorion’s Jours de sable, which I translated as Days of Sand. It’s a novel that fuses autobiography, sensory fiction, and poetic prose, filled with memory and imagination. Dorion touches on her time in the hospital as a child, vacations spent along the St. Lawrence and the coast of Maine, and family stories. It depicts a child’s growing awareness of the world.

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32Finally, more generally speaking, what are some of the most important novels and books to come out of Quebec, in your view?

Among the most important books to come out of Quebec, I would have to include poetry by Anne Hébert, especially “Le Tombeau des rois” and “Mystère de la parole.” I read these poems when I was in my early twenties and the images remain still today. In terms of prose, a very important contribution is Gabrielle Roy’s Bonheur d’occasion. I also very much enjoyed Samuel Archibald’s Arvida with its sly humour and Denis Thériault’s Le facteur émotif, in which a couple corresponds using Haiku poetry.