Julia Sanches on translating Eva Baltasar’s Boulder

Julia Sanches is a literary translator working from Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Catalan into English. Among her translations are Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández, for which she won a PEN/Heim award, as well as works by Noemi Jaffe, Daniel Galera, and Geovani Martins. She is a founding member of the Cedilla & Co. translators’ collective.

Julia recently translated
Boulder, the latest from acclaimed Spanish writer and poet Eva Baltasar. We spoke with Julia about what drew her to Baltasar's work, the relationship between translator and author, and the need to publish more women in translation.

What drew you to Eva Baltasar’s work as a translation project?

The language, the atmosphere, the imagery. I wanted to be able to spend that very focused time in her work that’s so unique to literary translation.

What was your favorite part of producing this translation of Boulder? Or, your favorite part of the book itself?

I love the opening scene of Boulder, the metamorphosis of the men sitting on the dock from these amorphous lumps to quasi pre-historic creatures, the gloom, the way light and music burst into the scene.

Did you encounter anything unexpected or surprising in the process of translating this book?

There’s this climactic moment toward the end of the novel that I’d completely forgotten about by the time I reached it, which meant I got to experience a reader’s surprise, which doesn’t happen very often to me when I’m translating. 

When and how did you know your translation of Boulder was complete? 

Like most forms of writing, I don’t think translations are ever complete. My translation of Boulder is a product of who I was in the first summer of the pandemic. I’m sure I’d do things a bit differently today, and then next year, and the year after. But if I had to choose, I guess I’d say that Boulder will start feeling done once it reaches readers. 

Author Eva Baltasar reads from Boulder in the original Catalan.

What sort of relationship do you have with the authors you translate? How does that inform the translation?

Oh, it really depends! One of the first authors I translated for And Other Stories, Susana Moreira Marques, feels very close to me. We’ve been collaborating for almost a decade. She’s met my family; I’ve met hers. We keep in touch, and continue working together. But as a rule, the relationship between translators and the authors they translate tends to be skewed, it feels almost indecent; I know so much about them and their work while they know virtually nothing about me. I do love meeting my authors, but it also makes me very nervous for the reason above, and because they’re entrusting something very precious to me and I want desperately not to disappoint them. 

We are celebrating Women in Translation Month this August. What do you think can be done to address the underrepresentation of women writers in translations to English?

From the outside, it feels very straightforward to me: publish more translations; of the translations that are published, make sure more than half of them are women; also make sure that a good chunk are from underrepresented languages and regions. We speak of literary quality as if it were ex nihilo, not like it was something formed throughout centuries by people who were predominantly white and male, at least in the English-speaking world. But I’m speaking as the person who translates the books; I don’t have to worry about the finances of an operation (then again, publishing women shouldn’t be detrimental to anyone’s finances).

What are you currently reading? Are there any upcoming books that you are really excited about?

At the moment I’m reading Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall, which was put out last month by New Directions in a translation by Shaun Whiteside. It’s fantastic—eerie, unexpected, and wonderful in its portrayal of the relationship between a woman and the animals who become her only companions in a mountain cabin in Austria. I’m actually looking forward to reading Natassja Martin’s In the Eye of the Wild (tr Sophie R Lewis), even though it came out a while ago; it takes me a long time to get to things!

Check out Julia Sanches's picks and recent work on Edelweiss Community!