The following is Dubravka Ugrešić’s preface to Damion Searls’s new translation of Marshlands, by André Gide, published earlier this month by New York Review Books.
Prefaces usually offer the reader a guide to the book before them; they say a few words about the book’s author and place the book in its historical or contemporary literary context. In the pre-Internet age this was a job entrusted to literary experts. Today, with the assistance of the Internet, expertise is no longer considered necessary. I confess, I myself am no expert, arbiter, or competent interpreter of André Gide’s work. I am here merely as a literary interloper and I see it as my task to respond to two questions:
- How did this little French book come to be translated into English?
- Why did I once love this book, do I love it still today, and if I have loved it, why do I think others will?
Literature as Seduction
I made the acquaintance of Damion Searls—who has translated Marshlands into English—in 1998 at a literary event in Vienna. Our encounter was fleeting and superficial. Four years later, when he was on a Fulbright, Damion turned up in Amsterdam. This was our chance to spend more time...