I didn’t want to write you about this book. I don’t mean like “never”, of course. Just, not right now.
So I waited. And then I waited some more.
I don’t know if I should have waited even more.
On the other hand, I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t waiting. That is, I didn’t want you to think that I wasn’t writing you due to another reason, which wasn’t “waiting”.
So I decided to write.
And here I’m. Writing.
I really hope it’s o.k.
I read The Interpreter by Susanne Glass.
Usually, this was a book I actually wanted to read.
Normally I don’t make such judgmental decisions. I take a book because it’s on my list, “recommended”. But there was something about The Interpreter that just drew me in, from the very moment I held it in the library. I don’t know what is was – it just felt promising.
Luckily, it held up to its promise.
It was special: poetic and quiet and resonating.
A true literary experience.
Remember when I spoke to you about the interpreter’s work? I myself don’t quite recall – so if it doesn’t echo familiar, it’s o.k. Way back then, when I thought we spoke, I told you (or wanted to) about an article where interpreters spoke about their craft, and some authorized figures explained, just how important and significant translation really is, mainly, because on-one ever really considers it to be a critical element in book – reading.
Don’t believe me?
Name five of your favorite translators, if you may.
Know what? I’ll make it easier for you: when did you even choose a book by its translator?
The literary field considers them to be imperative: criticism will say something like “oh, the translation was wonderful” or “oh, the translation was horrible” (doesn’t happen that often – or maybe I didn’t pay much attention…). In between, away from the spotlight and fame of mass publication, the translators are servicing as a bridge between the people who don’t speak the language (or are just too lazy to bother) and a new world, literally. It’s understandable and we take it for granted, but eventually, someone is performing this extremely hard work.
The Interpreter is a story about someone like that. Dominique. It needs to be pointed out that there is hardly a language Dominique doesn’t master and can’t translate from or to: Hebrew, English, Italian, French, German. Did I miss anything? I probably did. She maneuvers in all of them like a native speaker: she can write and she can read and of course, she can translate – accurately and fluently – back and forth while interpreting, not only words, but whole sentences, ideas, essays, complex biological terms – you name it. It’s not just delivering the verbal aspect of the speech. It’s conveying the notion – and that’s certainly not as easy as it sounds.
At the beginning of the story, Dominique states that interpreters are in the highest risk group most likely to have strokes and \ or cerebral hemorrhages due to stress.
She talks a lot about effort, which sounds complicated like brain surgery, or orchestrating an orchestra.
She talks about the tension, about the constant preparedness, about the little rituals like a small bouquet of flowers in the translation cubicle, about the way they work – in pairs, two at a time, patting gently on one’s shoulder, staying in the booth even one someone else is working, and most importantly – about their constant attentiveness. Always nervous, always ready (the writer speaks from personal experience – it says so on the cover).
It’s a difficult task – a challenging task, no doubt about it. It’s demanding to such an extent that a layman would not understand. But it has a rather distinctive, unique characteristic about it that adds an additional burden to the physical – mental endeavor: translation is a profession that forces one to renounce oneself. Whatever you are – your words, your thoughts – they don’t matter, and not only don’t matter – it is prohibited to articulate them.
Being who you are will get in the way of one’s work. It will defect the honesty of your interpretation. One has to convey the speaker’s message – not yours. Your notions about the matter are not only superfluous – they are intrusive.
This is the commitment. The greatest sacrifice a craftsman can perform. It’s basically saying – don’t be human. Just do the work.
The story’s ending – Dominique’s choice to work in a radio station, symbolically meaning – I found my voice, or – more accurately – I’m talking from my point of view – indicates just how crucial this aspect really was. The story touches those subjects in a more settled manner, weaves them into a beautiful love story – a truly beautiful love story – between Dominique and Nicholas.
Nicholas is a doctor – a researcher, Italian who lives in New York. He too feels the sense of alienation, the way Dominique does. He too has his own trials and tribulations. He too is drawn to Dominique with the same magical bonds of love in which she is drawn to him.
It is not an ordinary attraction, but an attachment of two souls who identify with each other, even before they have actually met. It’s like the opening sentence:
“Twice or thrice had I lov’d thee,
Before I know thy face or name;”
(Air and Angels by John Donne)
Doesn’t it sound poetic? I mean in a good way, of course.
It sounds poetic at Susanne Glass’s, too.
It’s beautiful poetry, nothing artificial or corny about it.
The connection between Dominique and Nicholas also services the “finding of the voice” purpose – his and hers; Nicholas discovers a transforming revolution concerning AIDS’s treatment. Dominique has a close friend, a soul mate, who is dying from AIDS. She accidentally overhears a conversation that takes place in the conference hall, a discussion relating to Nicholas’s discovery, but she holds her tongue and says nothing. The interpreter’s oath compels her to secrecy, thus silencing her twice: it’s not only her opinion that she is not allowed to articulate, but also the opinion of others, when they are not given at the appropriate time.
At that moment Dominique doesn’t know that Nicholas is the scientist (in fact, she hasn’t even meet him yet). Of course she also doesn’t know that Nicholas, out of business considerations, had agreed to postpone his research, according to the multi – million dollars contract, which had purchased his ideas. Therefore, the research is put on hold and Nicholas reconnects with his job, the one he was actually hired to do: Cancer research. Dominique, at the end, almost bursts, out of hope and effort, to find the mysterious man who could bring a cure to her friend.
Although I understand the idea of the forced silence, I find it difficult to comprehend the turn of events, especially on Dominique’s side. When Nicholas confesses to her, that he is the scientist behind the discovery, thus forming the connection between the facts that she already knew and himself, Dominique leaves him. Her turbulent state is understandable: her best friend is dying. She admits that her entire reaction to Nicholas’s story has resulted from her emotional involvement, but her over – the – top response is completely defeating the point. Dominique accuses Nicholas personally. She goes against him in a personal vendetta and exposes him over the radio: she tells the world about the lab and the confidentiality agreement and the forced pause in the research. She reveals it was initially forbidden, because it was conducted privately and therefore it was unauthorized. Nicholas wasn’t given a permission to use the laboratory and its equipment (if you can refer to blood samples as “equipment “). But in spite of everything, Nicholas – according to Dominique – should not have stopped, but because he did, she attacks him.
Dominique tries to explain that she just had to do it. Otherwise, she could not bring herself to attend her best friend’s funeral. That is to say, she could not face herself. But, and that’s the most absurd point: her best friend, who was a medical student, deliberately postponed conventional medical treatment. Instead, he conducted his own experimental therapy. It failed and thus escalated his condition. He is to blame for everything that happened. Nicholas’s discovery, even if he hadn’t kept it a secret, could have never fully developed into a substantial solution in time to save anyone. The rejected conventional treatment could have saved the friend, or at least, lengthened his life up to a point until – maybe – Nicholas could have succeed.
Why is Dominique angry at Nicholas? What is she blaming him for?
That he was silenced? That he didn’t do his “job” to save her friend?
Isn’t that just another way of saying she’s actually blaming herself?
I understand that “to speak” and “to find a voice” are the two major themes in The Interpreter. They are essential and central – I agree. But the fact that this notion translates into harsh, painful deeds, such as Dominique’s outburst, and supports them, by providing them pretension of justification – to me, that is illogical and irrational.
We are willing to accept irrationality when it comes to love, because love is – most of the time – the overwhelming response to all the unanswered questions. I heard recently someone who objected to this belief. He didn’t say much, just that it is a Hollywoodic perspective that doesn’t really last in the actual world. When his 17 years old daughter came up to him and said that love is everything, he replied – fine. Wait ten years and then we’ll talk.
I don’t think it’s a matter of love so much that it’s a matter of commitment: a commitment to sentiment, to relationship, to the person next to you.
There is love between Dominique and Nicholas. Amazingly enough, they are also very much committed to each over – it’s the commitment to their work ethic that stands in their way and makes it difficult to turn their connection into something more substantial. This commitment hasn’t fully evolved just yet. It’s not their fault, really. It’s the nature of their uncompromising occupation that adds further demands to the professional requirements. It’s the personal renunciations they are compelled to make. Dominique and Nicholas had to relinquish their identity, their individual expressions, their own voice, in order to keep their jobs and to be successful in what they did.
Eventually, the very rupture that tore them apart – reunited them. It wasn’t easy for them to find each other again – technically as well as emotionally. But when they finally break free from the shackles of their profession, they stop being a cat’s paw and become someone who has a place in world. They are reborn and consequently create a new language and a new connection, with each other and with themselves.
At the beginning I felt that there was a resemblance to the movie with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. That turned out to be an educated guess – the book indeed influenced the movie. But The Interpreter is so much more than that.
It’s not just a story about people who shape their lives through words.
It’s not just a story about people who eventually find their own voice, as in The King’s Speech, which did so gracefully.
I think it’s a story about of human connections and of how one soul ties to another in a special union, that can’t be broken or canceled.
I think it’s a beautiful message.
And I certainly think it was presented in the most beautiful way.
I hope you agree with me.
I hope you’re reading this.
I hope it’s o.k. I’ve sent it over, and that I’ll continue to do so.
All me very best,