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The Impostor interview

The Impostor interview

Javier Cercas talks about The Impostor, a book he describes as a “reflection on lies (and, therefore, a reflection on truth)”, and translator Frank Wynne lets us know what it’s like to be longlisted for two titles – translating from Spanish and French!

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


Javier Cercas, The Impostor

What has it been like to be longlisted?  


Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel The Impostor?

I think this book is a reflection on lies (and, therefore, a reflection on the truth). More specifically, it is a reflection on the fact that, especially when it comes to the worst period of our history (personal or collective), humans tend to sweeten it, to mask it or simply to lie about it. This is what Enric Marco did, the protagonist of the book (or at least its apparent protagonist), who invented a heroic, romantic and sentimental life for himself as a hero in the Spanish Civil War, a victim of the Nazis and an anti-Franco fighter, to hide a life that was actually gray, pleasant and quite cowardly, more or less like everyone else's. In this sense, Marco is something like a monstrous hyperbole of what human beings are. This is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of his remarkable story.

The novel is based on the true story of a liar. Do you think it is possible to really know the truth of Marco’s life?

In theory it is impossible, and even more so in the case of a great liar like Marco, who was capable of inventing his life from beginning to end and deceiving a whole country. But for me, as a writer, I love impossible endeavours, and that's why I wrote this book. Faulkner said that the most that writers can aspire to is an "honourable defeat"; hopefully I have achieved this.


Frank Wynne, translator of  The Imposter    

What has it been like to be longlisted for two books?

It has been an extraordinary honour to be longlisted for two titles (especially from different languages) – though I had hopes for each of them, I never for a moment thought both would make the list. I read widely in translation, and know how vertiginously high the standard or entries was this year. I am thrilled for both my authors.  

What did you most like about translating The Impostor?

Javier Cercas’ is one of the most interesting writers to come out of Spain in recent decades. His blurring of the lines between novels and non-fiction have allowed him to explore some of the most painful wounds that still fester long after the horrors of the Franco regime. But, above all, I love his prose – his sentences are sinuous and winding, yet they are also resolutely precise, and the voices he creates are inflected with a cadence that is often incantatory. Striving to recreate his deceptively simple prose is a challenge, but a hugely rewarding one   

You have been longlisted for two books, one in French and one in Spanish. Do you prefer translating from French or Spanish or does it depend on the book?

It very much depends on the book. I have been translating from French for considerably longer than I have from Spanish (some twenty years). In fact, it was only when I began to work full-time as a translator that I learned Spanish – having moved to Central America without a word of Spanish beyond the lyrics of La Bamba (which proved to be of little use). What attracts me about Hispanic writing is how different the variations of the language are between Argentina and Cuba, Colombia and Mexico. But I have been rooted in French for more than half my life and love the language, and here too, some of my favourite writers are from la Francophonie – from North Africa and West Africa, from Mauritius and Reunion. French literature has been enormously enriched by its Diaspora, and by the range of writers from the Maghreb and elsewhere offering new visions of France and what it means to be French.