Publisher talks about translator's 1.3M-word masterwork

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

Nov. 3, 2016 at 9:36 p.m.
Updated Nov. 4, 2016 at 6 a.m.

John O'Brien

John O'Brien   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

University of Houston-Victoria junior Kayla Deary, 20, was inspired when she heard Dalkey Archive Press publisher Sir John O'Brien turn negative criticisms into positives.

"My favorite part was how he accepted negative comments on Amazon and remained confident in his work," Deary said, explaining her interest in the 94th speaker in the American Book Review reading series.

O'Brien read reviews and comments Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium to show the difficulty he faces in translating.

"One review is titled 'Not even a good doorstop,'" O'Brien said, laughing.

John E. Woods was the scheduled presenter from Germany, but because he was unable to appear, O'Brien took his place.

The Dalkey Archive Press on Sept. 23 released the 1,496-page, 1.32-million-word version of "Bottom's Dream" translated by Woods into English, according to a UHV press release.

Published in 1970 by German author Arno Schmidt, the original book weighed 17 pounds and was considered almost untranslatable.

In his talk, O'Brien spoke about "The Art of the Difficult" and discussed the process of translating "Bottom's Dream."

In 1980, O'Brien started The Review of Contemporary Fiction journal, which led to the creation of the press.

He said Dalkey Archive Press has taken on many works to show various forms of fiction, he said.

"One book is not the next; one author is not the next," he said.

Topics from Edgar Allan Poe, sex in Freudian disguises and love are themes in "Bottom's Dream."

"Think of this book entirely in voices," he said.

The book is 13.75 inches long, 10 inches wide and 3.5 inches thick and took about 30 years to translate.

"Try it," he said. "I have a strange view of what is possible for people to like and read."

O'Brien recommends people read the work in a community or group.

Each of the three columns should be read by a different person. Afterward, the people should discuss what is happening in the reading.

"This should be fun if you have the right people," O'Brien said. "See what emerges as you try to put your heads together."

He said despite the challenges literary works offer when they are read or taught, the works are worth it.

"Think of reading as the one space in which you can separate yourself from everything so that it is you and the book," O'Brien said. "Think of this one as one you can read in a group."


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