The Rumpus Book Club chats with author María Sonia Cristoff and translator Katherine Silver about Cristoff’s innovative novel, Include Me Out (forthcoming from Transit Books on February 4, 2020), language and the way it is manipulated, what happens when an author comes out from behind the curtain within a book, and more.
This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Every month The Rumpus Book Club hosts a discussion online with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. To become a member of the Rumpus Book Club, click here. Upcoming writers include Jenn Shapland, Paul Lisicky, Chelsea Bieker, Tracy O’Neill, Alysia Sawchyn, Lauren J. Sharkey, Alison Stine, and more!
This Rumpus Book Club interview was edited by Marisa Siegel.
Marisa: Hi, and welcome to the Rumpus Book Club chat with María Sonia Cristoff and Katherine Silver! I’m excited to talk with you both about Include Me Out.
Katherine Silver: Hello! I’m here.
María Sonia Cristoff: I’m here now!
Marisa: María Sonia, I’d love the hear you talk about how the idea for Include Me Out came to you. What drew you toward Mara as a protagonist? Can you share some of the inspiration for the book with us?
María Sonia Cristoff: Mainly my obsession with saying goodbye, and have a completely new life. Which is precisely what I’m doing these days in the countryside! But, coming back to Include Me Out, also my years as a translation student helped, and came out there—I took many of the anecdotes from those days to build the character.
Katherine Silver: Ah, but if you are starting a new life you’ll have to change your name and no longer be the author of Include Me Out.
Marisa: I’m curious whether you think Mara is sane? I felt unsure during my reading of the book what her motivations were, and would love to know your thoughts.
María Sonia Cristoff: Her motivations had started long before. When she started to feel tired of the work, mainly, and of all the social interactions that came with it. All the speeches she had to be repeating all day long, all her life long. And also feeling tired of being part of a world that is full of understatements she didn’t share.
Marisa: Yes, and that doesn’t seem crazy to me, to react that way to the way our society insists people exist. It seems almost logical.
María Sonia Cristoff: She’s not crazy at all, you’re right!
Marisa: I have lots of questions about the translation process, but first, just a few more about the story itself. Can you speak a little about how you structured the book? And specifically, how did you regard the “Notebook” sections? Those were very interesting.
María Sonia Cristoff: I wrote the story first, the fictional story. Then I thought, where in that story could some of the materials I had used in the investigation for the book enter?
Marisa: I wondered if those sections might be from your research.
María Sonia Cristoff: These materials—the books, the movies, the expositions, etc.—were really part of the Preparation for the Novel, as Roland Barthes says. I left many of them out, only choosing the ones I felt could open the story into directions and dimensions readers could follow.
Marisa: Do you usually do a lot of research when you’re working on a book?
María Sonia Cristoff: Yes, lots of research; I love that part. I’m addicted to it, and with these series of annotated sections I thought I could share that dimension with readers. I think readers enjoy precisely those things the author enjoyed.
Marisa: That makes a lot of sense. The “Notebook” sections felt like they offered context, something grounding. It was like a window into your process!
María Sonia Cristoff: Yes, precisely—I wanted to point out the process itself. Break the illusion of the novel, let’s say.
Katherine Silver: As the writer/novelist, come out from behind the curtain.
Marisa: I think it was very successful in doing that, yes.
María Sonia Cristoff: Yes, exactly. Go in the opposite direction the classical novel does.
Marisa: Why choose to have Mara interact with a taxidermist? He primarily exists to disrupt her efforts at silence, but why taxidermy in particular? Is there meaning for you there, and also with what the taxidermized horses might represent?
María Sonia Cristoff: Well, I saw those horses as another idea she, Mara, would hate. The idea of “The Nation.” Our Argentine nation denying certain kind of lives…
Marisa: Certainly here in the US, too.
Katherine Silver: Aren’t taxidermized animals a bit like reality TV? I bet Mara hates that as well.
Marisa: Mara would definitely hate reality TV! She seemed to me like someone who sees the manipulations in our culture happening on a big scale. She’s very perceptive.
María Sonia Cristoff: Yes, definitively. When I say speech I mean the manipulations underlying them.
This is why I chose taxidermy. A pantomime of a life. So again, she feels she has to work to give support to another speech construction she doesn’t agree with. The only thing in the middle of her experiment was this taxidermist, so she chose to take direct action.
Marisa: The art of translation is always fascinating to me—walking the tightrope of staying true to the original work within the constraints of, and for an audience reading in, a different language, and maybe also a different culture. Can you each talk a little about the process of translating Include Me Out?
Katherine Silver: In some ways, translating this book for me was paradoxical. I strongly identified with Mara’s having had enough of finding the words to say what somebody else wanted to say, and seeing the manipulations, as María Sonia says, so clearly. But that is what made translating this book more fun for me. I laughed a lot while translating.
Marisa: I wondered about that, Katie, what it was like to translate a book about an interpreter who had become so frustrated with the machinations of language.
Katherine Silver: I don’t think I’ve ever identified so much with a character in a book I’ve translated. But, then, I translated (past tense) too many male authors.
María Sonia Cristoff: The sessions discussing paragraphs with Katie were one of the best thing this book brought to me.
Katherine Silver: And meeting María Sonia has been one of the best gifts my career in translating has brought me!
María Sonia Cristoff: It’s very strange to find out what you yourself wrote without noticing… Like going to the shrink!
Katherine Silver: Maybe that will be my next career move!
María Sonia Cristoff: I mean, Katie has this capacity to see nuances or meanings I really had not thought about before. We always laugh a lot together. I think the novel has a humor that Katie grasped from the very beginning.
Katherine Silver: I was actually surprised to read other people’s responses to the book about it being grim and dark. Maybe I missed that side a bit!
Marisa: María Sonia, how hands-on and involved were you in the translation?
María Sonia Cristoff: Katie worked completely on her own. And then, when she had already finished, I was invited to go to San Francisco, for the launching of a previous book of mine Katie already translated.
Marisa: Oh, what is the other book Katie translated? I’d love to read it.
Katherine Silver: False Calm. (Also published by Transit Books.)
Marisa: I didn’t know! I’ll definitely pick that up.
Katherine Silver: Translators really differ in the extent to which they consult with authors. I grew up as a translator translating authors who didn’t speak English or were dead. I probably worked more closely with María Sonia than I’d ever done with an author before, because of her excellent English and generosity.
María Sonia Cristoff: So there we had those “sessions” I was talking about…
Katherine Silver: Yes, ironing out a few tough spots, and, indeed, laughing a lot…
María Sonia Cristoff: We would meet at Katie’s and talk for hours.
Marisa: I’d love to know, for both of you, who are your literary influences? And María Sonia, are there particular works or writers that influenced Include Me Out, or that you were reading while working on Include Me Out?
María Sonia Cristoff: In my case, most of them are there in the book! Xavier de Maistre, Joris-Karl Huysmans, etc. etc.
Marisa: Yes, that makes sense! Because of the “Notebook” sections. I didn’t think of that.
María Sonia Cristoff: Roland Barthes, too. Katie’s latest novel, Echo Under Story, reminded me of him.
Katherine Silver: The question of literary influences is complicated. Sometimes I think we are not necessarily influenced by the authors we love most. Sometimes we have to consciously eschew the writers we love best. Late Henry James and Virginia Woolf are two of my favorites who come to mind. Must banish them… Beckett in his trilogy. But, heaven forbid one should be influenced by that!
María Sonia Cristoff: Yes, indeed.
Katherine Silver: I wonder if Barthes wrote “against” Proust, as well…
Marisa: We have a strange, lovely essay partially about Beckett publishing in the next few weeks.
María Sonia Cristoff: I feel my writing influenced more by specific books than authors. Authors as a whole, never.
María Sonia Cristoff: Beckett is very present in the following novel, the one I published after Include Me Out. The trilogy, mainly.
Marisa: What’s next for each of you? Are there any projects you are working on now you can tell us about?
Katherine Silver: I’m only translating poetry now. I can’t face prose. And “assembling” two or three collage-like writing projects.
Marisa: Katie, I’ve found poetry to be especially comforting in the last few years. Sometimes, the only comfort.
Katherine Silver: So many fewer words… Love translating the white spaces… Lol.
María Sonia Cristoff: Working on a new novel now. In the second half. I wanted to explore contemporary work as a topic.
Katherine Silver: Can’t wait for it, María Sonia…
Marisa: Will you two plan to collaborate again?
Katherine Silver: I hope! I’ll make an exception to translate prose if it’s another Cristoff…
Marisa: I hope you will! Thank you both for your time tonight, and for this wonderful novel. It felt very timely to read in the last few weeks.
María Sonia Cristoff: I can imagine. Thanks a lot for your interest!
Katherine Silver: Thank you, so much, Marisa, for your work (!) getting the word out about this wonderful novel. I really do love it.
Marisa: Yes, I hope it finds a big American audience. We can definitely stand to think more about the way language is used to manipulate.
Katherine Silver: Indeed…
Marisa: I wish you both a good night, and look forward to reading the next book!
Katherine Silver: Hasta luego!
María Sonia Cristoff: Buenas noches!
Photograph of Maria Sonia Cristoff by Gabriel Díaz. Photograph of María Sonia Cristoff and Katherine Silver courtesy of Transit Books.