Ann Goldstein has one of the best literary jobs in the world, as chief copy editor at The New Yorker. But in her spare time, she translates some of the planet’s most popular books from Italian into English – the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.
Kelly caught up with Ann Goldstein at her first major literary event, the Auckland Writers Festival. (That faint sound you hear in the background from time to time is distant applause and discussion in the main theatre.)
And we also asked some readers at the Festival and beyond: what makes the Neapolitan novels so compelling?
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About our guest
Ann Goldstein began her career in publishing as a proofreader at Esquire in 1973. A year later
she joined the editing desk at the New Yorker, and has been the chief copy editor there since the 1980s.
In 1986, she and some colleagues decided to learn Italian.
Since then, Ann has become one of the world’s leading translators – in her spare time. In the last few years, she has edited new translations of the complete works of Primo Levi, and translated In Other Words, the new book by Jhumpa Lahiri, written originally in Italian.
But she is perhaps best known as the translator of the phenomenon that is Elena Ferrante, especially the dangerously addictive Neapolitan novels, beginning with My Brilliant Friend. These four books chronicle the lifelong friendship of two women – Elena and Lila – born into poverty in Naples, and growing up and growing older in a post-war Italy affected by crime, politics, identity, ideology, modernity and loss.
The novels have sold more than a million copies in English and led to Elena Ferrante being named as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine.
But Ferrante doesn’t want to reveal her real identity. Nobody knows who she is. Not even her translator.
Ann Goldstein’s translation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words is published by Bloomsbury. Her translations of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) are published by Europa Editions in the US and UK, and Text in Australia and New Zealand.
The Auckland Writers Festival is held each May. The 2016 line-up included Hanya Yanagihara, Gloria Steinem, Jeanette Winterson & Susie Orbach, Vivian Gornick, Tusiata Avia, Helene Wong and Eleanor Catton.