Patrick Modiano in Tin House

June 24th, 2015 § 0 comments

Tin House 64

Now out in the latest issue of Tin House (#64, Summer Reading 2015), my first time translating a Nobel Prizewinner: Patrick Modiano’s “Page-a-Day,” a memory piece blending fact, fiction, and intimate Paris geography, like much of the writer’s work. The original title “Éphémeride,” despite its poetic appearance, refers to a fairly mundane object in France, a kind of calendar we have several names for in English: Page-A-Day, Day-to-Day, Day-By-Day, One-Day-At-A-Time, or simply block calendar. The more esoteric definition for it is an ephemeride, a kind of astronomical almanac, but I found no backing for that meaning in the text, so I eschewed it. I like to think my title—a certain wistfulness in the original perhaps replaced by hyphens—suits Modiano’s unfussy style in which the accumulation of down-to-earth and matter-of-fact detail becomes haunting. I considered other possibilities—the more prosaic “Almanac,” and “Ephemera,” which shifts the emphasis—I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion when the piece begins that these recollections are necessarily ephemera; it’s only their later disarray that makes them seem hopelessly lost and scattered to the narrator. One challenge of this piece was finding ways to slip in glosses of the very French material marginalia that does so much memory work in Modiano: locations, brand names, acronyms, cultural signifiers of recent history.

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