Anthea Bell and Jo Catling - Translating W.G. Sebald


11 September 2013

Timothy Mathews in conversation with translators Anthea Bell OBE and Dr Jo Catling about their work translating W.G. Sebald.

W G Sebald, who died in 2001, was a much loved writer of books about pain, especially the pain of the Holocaust. This is the residual pain filtering into the lives of individuals who did not live at the time of the Holocaust and were not there, but who are still affected in diverse ways, sometimes devastating, sometimes understated. These are life-enhancing stories, novels and essays, and they tell of experiences which are at the heart of literature, translation, and literature in translation.


Sebald’s writing is devoted to what is lost in translation not just linguistically, but temporally and emotionally. His works became internationally known as a result of their translation from German to English, in the magnificent work of Michael Hulse and Anthea Bell, each in its own way sensitive to Sebald’s digressive way of writing and his poignant sense of detail. Anthea Bell is also the translator into English of the 'Astérix' books, as well as numerous German language authors including Freud, Kafka and Stefan Zweig. She is joined here by Jo Catling who is writing the translations of Sebald's academic essays and articles which will shortly be published. Together they explore the ways in which the wonders of Sebald's world are illuminated by their life in translation.