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The Flying Mountain interview

The Flying Mountain interview

Christoph Ransmayr tells us how The Flying Mountain takes inspiration from the fact song existed long before writing, and translator Simon Pare describes the journey in both years and geography of the novel's English publication.  

This is part of our series of Man Booker International Prize 2018 longlist interviews.

Christoph Ransmayr, author of The Flying Mountain 

What has it been like to be longlisted? 

Longlists, shortlists, laurels, applause or attentive, even breathless silence: each sign of recognition for a story, a novel, a play or a poem is a cause for celebration and shows how rewarding it can be to attempt to put the things and the creatures of this world into words. Such recognition is proof that someone who has raised their voice has found an audience, an ear. All storytelling moves between these two poles—a voice and an ear. If no one dares to break the silence to tell a story, there will be nothing to hear, understand and transmit. And conversely, if a story does not find a ready ear, its telling is no more than a sad act.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book The Flying Mountain?

Flying and mountains: this tale mingles apparent weightlessness with the heaviest objects imaginable, for in it mountains take flight. Not simply as a myth or in a dream, but as a fact of life. Anyone who has ever seen the head of a valley shrouded in clouds or glacier-clad peaks riding high above barriers of mist, seemingly cut off from the earth, can attest that, sometimes mountains really do seem to fly.

Two brothers—one steeped in virtual realities and computer programs, the other a seafarer, both weighed down by their family history and their country’s past—set out together from their home on Ireland’s Atlantic coast to scale a mountain in eastern Tibet that features on maps but does not yet appear to have a name. No route could embrace the earth more fully, taking them from sea level, the base from which all altitude is measured, up to a point—the summit—where one step more would carry them out into thin air. They learn that even this nameless spot was christened long ago and that their peak already has a name, at least in the local oral tradition: Phu-Ri, the flying mountain.

Eventually, however, each brother reaches a different destination. One meets the heaviest and most unbearable fate of all—death, while the other’s is the lightest and most mysterious—life, so improbable and ephemeral amid the gaping emptiness of space around us.

Why did you decide to write your novel in verse?

The structure of The Flying Mountain is actually very simple: it’s a song—and yet it is still prose. The nomadic, oral storytelling tradition of eastern Tibet keeps myths and folk tales alive and is the source of many stories of mountains that fly. Although inspired by this tradition, the verse form of this novel is not designed to elevate the characters to an abstract or lyrical plane, but to bring them back to a more archetypal form of storytelling. Song existed long before writing.


Simon Pare, translator of The Flying Mountain 

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s a wonderful honour. More importantly, it generates attention and coverage for a novel I hold particularly dear, and the more readers of English hear about it, the happier I’ll be. It’s great to feature in such a strong and diverse selection of international literature.

What did you most like about translating The Flying Mountain?

I had a lot of fun playing with the line breaks and finding a rhythm in English that mirrored the unique cadence Christoph Ransmayr has created in German by writing prose that resembles poetry. Reconciling such apparent opposites is absolutely essential to this novel, especially relating to the phenomena encountered at high altitude and sea level, and it was enthralling to test how the vocabulary and atmosphere of one could be applied to the other. The Flying Mountain strains syntax and language and yet, if I have done my job properly, it should be as pleasurable to read as it is in German.

You were instrumental in getting the book published in English. Can you describe the process?

It has been a long journey in terms of both years and geography. My translation appears almost a decade to the day after I first came across the novel in Paris while writing reader’s reports for a French publisher. I did a sample for the German publisher, Fischer, and together we pitched it to a host of UK and US publishers. Seagull Books commissioned me to translate it after a piece of lucky timing: my posted sample reached them soon after Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the eminent German man of letters, had recommended Christoph Ransmayr’s work to them.

The Flying Mountain