October 30, 2023

MS in Translation & Interpreting Student Justin Sergi Publishes Translation in Asymptote

Center for Publishing and Applied Liberal Arts (PALA) student Justin Sergi publishes English translation of Chiliean writer Ana María del Río’s “Hems” with Asymptote Journal. Justin is a writer and translator pursuing an MS in Translation and Interpreting from PALA. 

Congratulations on your first published translation! What led to this choice of author, and to this short story?

Thank you! It was total serendipity, to be honest: I read an article in the Spanish language newspaper El País about thriving literary magazines, clicked on the first one I saw called “Casapaís,” and then clicked on the only story not blocked by a paywall. It happened to be magnificent, and I decided to undertake a translation.

What techniques from your various classes were you able to apply to this translation?

One aspect of translating “Hems” that surprised me at the time was how intuitive it felt. Ana María del Río’s writing is so intentional, so packed with dramatic gesture, that there was little to do other than follow her lead. Paradoxically, taking that lead, and listening carefully to the voices as they took shape in English, pushed me to take certain liberties which I’m not sure I would have agreed with at the time in theory.

Your translation provides such a strong sense of character, of both the husband and the wife, and how she’s writing about and recording him. How did you experience these voices in the source text and recreate them in English?

I really just tried to follow the tone created by Ana María; she wrote this story in what I would call “fragmented prose.” It’s more than just saying “short sentences”; rather, it’s as if she took completed thoughts and fractured them with full stops. During my first reading of the story, I kept having this image of looking in on this couple's life through a huge cracked window; the composite image of this couple’s home life is there and is strikingly clear, but it is told through a halting, broken-clutch prose, that prohibits a totally cloudless view of events. It gave to the voices a simmering sense of panic, which I endeavored to relay in my translation.

Could you share about your background and how you got into translation?  What kind of work were you doing before enrolling in the MS in Translation and Interpreting program? And how did you make the choice to attend NYU?

My background is in music. I went to school for classical piano and then worked at WQXR for a few years until the pandemic hit, at which point my partner and I headed to Spain in search of cheaper rent. What brought me to translation was many uninteresting things plus one mildly interesting one, which is essentially that translation is the literary equivalent of what I did as a classical pianist: interpreting strange symbols into something that can be experienced on another plane.  

An excerpt from Justin Sergi's translation of "Hems" by Ana María del Río.

"I also know that everything is my fault. Even that it’s cloudy. Or the depression she wakes up with some mornings. And her fears. And her tantrums. She bought padlocks for the entire house. For the closet, the doors, the windows. I wouldn’t know how to get out if she locked them all. She has the keys. From her desk, she watches over all my comings and goings. Especially my goings. I can see her up there, writing. A novel. About me. She’s caught me like a fly on a piece of sticky paper. Telling stories about my past. As a drug-addict. But I’m not one now, why don’t you write about things from now, I tell her. "

Related Articles