Translators rarely attain celebrity status. But as Elena Ferrante has achieved worldwide acclaim through her books, so too has Ann Goldstein. Her notoriety is spurred by the steadfast anonymity of Elena Ferrante, which is a pseudonym. Apparently distrusting the celebrity status of authors, Ferrante refuses to do book signings and interviews. Therefore, Ann Goldstein has occasionally been a “stand in” for the author. Her English translations of the Neapolitan quartet have sold more than a million copies in English-speaking countries. And more recently, she has appeared in virtual discussions of Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults sponsored by Europa Editions, the American publisher of her works in English
How did it all start? Since the mid 1970s, Goldstein has worked in the copy department of the prestigious weekly magazine, The New Yorker, becoming the department head since the mid 1980s. About that time, she and several colleagues formed an evening class to learn Italian. She had been enchanted by Dante in college; within three years of studying the Italian language, the evening class had read The Divine Comedy in the original language. Then, in 1992, Goldstein translated an essay from Chekhov in Sondrio, a book by Aldo Buzzi, for The New Yorker. It was Goldstein’s first published translation .
In 2004, when Europa Editions was seeking a translator for Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, the company asked candidates to submit sample pages. Ann Goldstein won the job. Nearly a dozen Ferrante books later, she is still on the job. Her colleagues and reviewers praise her humility and her translation style: “The virtues of a copy editor serve her well as a translator…she disappears, in a sense…in the way that a copy editor is a sieve for the writer and the language, the same is true of a translator.” Yet, translating also involves being a writer, and Ann imparts that talent as well.
Goldstein describes herself as a highly literal translator, an approach that serves well Ferrante’s idiosyncratic prose style. Ferrante is known for her long, emotive sentences, and Goldstein’s style closely represents what the author wrote in the original language. “I feel my work should be as transparent as possible so that you hear the voice of the author. While I don’t think it’s necessary to have an affinity for the writer, with Ferrante I do.” Yet, Goldstein has never met Ferrante. If she has a question, she communicates via e-mail with the publisher.
While Goldstein is most closely associated with Ferrante, she has completed many other translation projects, including The Complete Works of Primo Levi, Pasolini’s Petrolio and works by Elsa Morante, Giacomo Leopardi and Jhumpa Lahiri. For Goldstein, working on translations during the pandemic and quarantine have created feelings of both escape and longing. “The longing comes from being cut off, literally, from the country of the language you are working in. But as you’re working, you are absolutely being transported.”
In an interview with Corriere della sera, Goldstein concludes by saying, “The Italian language should absolutely be studied, by anyone. It opens up to other cultures, other points of view, not to mention other literatures. But is can also allow you to see your language and culture from a different perspective, which can be an enlightening experience. So I think it doesn’t matter where you start from: studying or learning Italian is precious.”