Diego Marani: Essayist and novelist

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Diego MarniBorn in Italy in 1959, Diego Marani is a man of many talents.

A highly regarded translator, he is the creator of Europanto, a mock ‘international auxiliary language’ (a language invented for use by people who don’t share a common mother tongue), in which he has published short stories, articles and video clips.

He is also an accomplished essayist and novelist, best known for New Finnish Grammar (2000), a novel which explores the role language plays in the creation of identity. Published in English in 2011, it has won a number of awards including the 2012 Best Translated Book Award. It has been followed into English translation by his latest book The Last of the Vostyachs.

We sat down with him at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to discuss the intricacies of language translation, his love of writing and where he thinks his creative career will take him next.

Click play to listen. Running time: 9.35

The Last of the Vostyachs

Transcript

* Please note that these transcripts have been edited for readability

Danielle:  
Hi, I’m Danielle from the Australian Writers’ Centre. I’m here at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about to chat to Italian author and essayist Diego Marani. Hi, Diego.

Diego:
Hello.

Danielle:
First of all, tell us about your latest book in English, The Last of the Vostyachs.

Diego:
Well, it is the story of a man who is the last speaker of a disappeared language. He becomes the bone of contention between two persons: a teacher from Finland that wants to destroy any tracks of this man and a professor from Russia who wants to save him, because his language is the missing link between the Finnish language and the North American Indians’ language. Well, all of this looks/sounds very linguistic and intellectual, but actually it is the adventure of a lonely man and his fight to survive and to preserve his heritage and his culture.

Danielle:
How did you come across this story? Where did the idea come from?

Diego:
Well, I had this idea because I always wonder about language and identity. In Europe, above all, we are shaped by our language. If you think about it most of our face is shaped by the muscles we move to pronounce the sounds of our language. And, so I’m exploring this topic. Do we need just one language to be ourselves? Can we have an identity despite our language? Can we change our language? Can we become someone else, speaking a different language? All of this is a matter of exploration and inquiry for me. I don’t have answers. I ask questions.

Danielle:
Has fiction become a way for you to attempt to answer those questions?

Diego:
Well, no. I don’t pretend I have answers. To me, it is just wondering, exploring. I live in Europe, I have been learning different languages in my life. I work for the Europe Union, and so my big wonder is what is Europe? What is a European – does such a thing exist? Can we build a European, or is he already there? A true European? And we just don’t recognise him?

Danielle:
The Last of the Vostyachs
is your second book to be translated to English, the first one was New Finnish Grammar. What’s the translation process like, as an author?           

Diego:
I have profound respect for the work of the translator, first of all because I know what it is. It is a creative process, it is not just transposing words from one language into another, it is really creating a new universe where a story fits into a different culture. So I have absolutely no problem with my translators and my translations. I never impose myself or ask for things to be done in one way or another. I put myself at the disposal of my translators, to give them any information they want in order to have a clear idea of what I meant, then the translation is their job.

Danielle:
I guess, in a way, similar to handing a manuscript over to an editor and trusting them?

Diego:
Yes, it is like that. Yes, because, well, the translator’s work does not belong to you completely anymore. It is your book, but into another language it is also the work of the translator. Without him I could not be read and understood by other people, so his work is crucial.

Danielle:
When you are writing your novels now, are you conscious that there’s also going to be an English speaking audience?

Diego:
Well, I’m glad to see that what I write and the topics, the subjects I want to develop, have an interest also for a lot of other people. this is very flattering. But when I write it’s my language, it’s what I have to say, and it is already demanding like that, to be able to say what I want to say, to express my ideas with my language. Because words, you know, in any language are always the same, and it is with these same words that we want, we writers, want to express our feelings.

Danielle:
As a writer, you’re an essayist as well. What brought you to writing fiction? When did you make that decision to start writing novels?

Diego:
It was not a decision, it was some kind of blessing or my addiction. I always wrote. I never believed I could be published. I was never sure of the value of what I wrote. When I was 40 I tried to find a publisher and I found one that was very happy with me.

Danielle:
For you, how is writing a novel different to sitting down and writing everyday for a newspaper?

Diego:
Writing a novel is something where you need inspiration, but also discipline. Yes, the blessed artist that writes under the push of poetry is quite a romance, quite a myth. Then there’s everyday work and discipline. Inevitably there must be in the creative process something that gives your writings more than just when I write essays. Essays require more preparation, documentation and study. Novels require more soul, poetry, spirit.

Danielle:
Do you find it difficult to switch between the two?

Diego:
No, there are moments for one and moments for the other. It depends. I cannot stay a lot of time on my novels. I have to empty my mind to let it go to play with my dog, to go around, to not think to anything, and this is some kind of exercise, I think, I’m not sure. It’s just a technique I’ve developed with experience, it is not planned. On the contrary, when I do my everyday work, then there, it’s well, it’s something I have to finish, something I have to prepare, and so it is more squared, more easy to prepare and to do.

Danielle:
Just one final question, what’s one piece of advice you can offer to writers? Particularly people who want to write novels.

Diego:
Believe in it. Don’t do like I did, don’t wait until you’re 40, but believe in it and work serious with it. Read a lot, reading is the beginning of writing.

Danielle:
That’s excellent advice. Thank you very much, Diego. Enjoy the festival.

Diego:
Thank you.


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