Published November 4, 2021
Laura Marris, an adjunct lecturer in the Department of English, will begin a series of events in the coming weeks to discuss her translation of Albert Camus’ “The Plague,” the first new translation of the iconic French novel published in the United States in more than 70 years.
Marris will join Camus biographer Alice Kaplan and book critic Adam Dalva at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 for a virtual discussion from Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore. The talk is co-presented by the National Book Critics Circle.
An in-person Buffalo book launch party and reading will also take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at Fitz Books, 433 Ellicott St., Buffalo, co-sponsored by the UB Poetics Program. That will be followed by a virtual lecture on the translation craft at 1 p.m. Nov. 12, presented as part of the UB English department’s Juxtapositions lecture series.
Reservations are not required for the reading at Fitz Books. Guests can register for the virtual presentations at the links above. These early events were arranged before supply chain disruptions pushed the book’s publication to Nov. 16. Readers can still pre-order copies, and an excerpt from Marris' translation is available on the Penguin Random House website.
“It was an honor to work on this text, though I could never have predicted that I’d be doing so during the pandemic,” says Marris. “I hope new readers, especially students, will feel closer to the text now that a new translation is available.”
Mention of Marris’ translation coming as the world begins looking toward its off ramp from the COVID-19 pandemic seems inevitable. But that apparent coordination of art and life is actually coincidental. The Camus estate and literary scholars have for years been interested in an updated translation of the novel.
Having secured the translator’s role from the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, which also published Gilbert Stuart’s 1948 edition of the book, the only other translation intended for an American audience, Marris began work late in 2019, a few months before public health officials had even identified the coronavirus.
The collision of fiction and reality, while not a motivation for the project, echoes in a collection of essays inspired by that timing. Marris and Kaplan have collaborated on an essay collection about the experience of working with Camus’ original text during the pandemic, essays that explore the author’s portrayal of illness and quarantine, and other moments when the reality of COVID-19 met with the novel’s text.
In fact, since Marris’ research started before pandemic travel restrictions were in place, she was able to visit the French Algerian city of Oran, where Camus sets his story, as well as other significant locations in the novel, like the cliff road, the opera house and the cemetery.
“Though contemporary Oran is nothing like it was under French settler-colonial rule, it was helpful to see the scale of the city and to speak with experts who know the stories behind the landmarks Camus describes in the book,” she says.
And just as the backdrops have changed with time, so too have Marris’ perceptions of the novel since she started the first of several drafts that led to her final translation of an author whose work she has always admired.
“For me, the practice of translation is actually one of deep reading, and what emerges from that work is always surprising,” she says. “This time around, I was struck by Camus’ ecological imagination, particularly his sense of the ocean, the weather and the interconnectedness of humans and animals.”
More information on Marris’ tour dates is available online.