Roth in Translation

Philip Roth’s trusted translator into French, Tunisian-born Jose Kamoun, is profiled in this Time Europe article.

Before Roth had even published The Human Stain, his best-selling 2000 meditation on race, sexual scandal and identity in America, he was discussing its special challenges with Kamoun. “He told me, ‘Jose, this one’s got a word that might be a bit difficult,'” she recalls. The book’s narrative hinges on a misunderstanding of “spooks,” which is both a term for ghosts and a 1950s racist slur for African-Americans. Sitting in her book-filled Paris apartment, Kamoun, 53, explains that she quickly thought of the word zombies, which in French can have its own derogatory double meaning. But it wasn’t quite right. She was eventually forced to rely on the translator’s last resort a footnote to explain the two English meanings. “I’m still not happy,” she says. “Even now, three years later, I’m still on the lookout for a better word.”

Kamoun also translates John Irving and Stephen Marlowe.

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