Lorin Stein is a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He edited FSG’s translations of Roberto Bolaño.
Matt Bucher: When did you first hear about Roberto Bolaño?
Lorin Stein: I first heard about Roberto Bolaño from my friend Monica Carmona Carmona. Monica is an editor in Barcelona, but she was doing an internship in New York. I happened to see a group snapshot that included her and Bolaño, who she explained was a friend of hers, a brilliant writer, and very ill. In fact he died a couple of weeks afterward. Eventually, Monica gave me a copy of By Night in Chile, in translation, to read on the airplane home. I read it on the flight between Barcelona and Madrid. That was an eye-opener.
MB: Did you acquire The Savage Detectives? What led you to believe that The Savage Detectives could be a hit in the US?
LS: FSG acquired The Savage Detectives and 2666 at the same time. My boss, Jonathan Galassi, was very much part of the acquisition. Jonathan had read some of The Savage Detectives in its Italian translation. I had read the New Directions novellas, plus some short stories in French. It was obvious to us that Bolaño was one of the most important writers of our time, and that we were in a strong position to make that case to American readers.
What’s more, Natasha Wimmer had read The Savage Detectives in Spanish, and she gave us an enthusiastic report. And of course the Spanish press had been ecstatic.
MB: How involved were Bolaño’s heirs in the publication of the US editions of The Savage Detectives and 2666?
LS: As is usual, we dealt exclusively with the agents.
MB: I’m sure you expected 2666 to be successful, but did its success exceed your expectations?
LS: It did. It outsold The Savage Detectives, which I did not expect. I find it a more difficult book. Emotionally difficult. Weirder. I was afraid it would stand in relation to The Savage Detectives roughly as Gravity’s Rainbow stands to V., or Finnegans Wake to Ulysses. The book for hardcore Bolaño-heads.
MB: Were there parts of the book that had to be retranslated multiple times? What parts needed the most editing?
LS: The one section where Natasha undertook heavy revisions, as I remember, was The Part About Fate. Between drafts she did research into boxing, the Black Panthers, etc. We also discussed Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick as a precursor to Barry Seaman’s motivational speech.
MB: Were there any other Bolaño books or manuscripts you wanted to publish with FSG that ended up at New Directions? What is that arrangement like?
LS: It is a very amicable arrangement. New Directions had already signed up their books by the time FSG came along. They continue to publish the shorter works.
MB: How do you think Bolaño would have reacted to his posthumous literary fame in the US?
LS: I had a dream about this, because of course I don’t know. In the dream Bolaño complained that he just wished he could keep writing.
MB: Without going into too many spoilers, but looking at all the plotlines and characters, what would you say is the overall theme or main idea behind 2666? What is Bolaño trying to achieve here?
LS: If there’s an overall theme or main idea, I don’t know what it is. The murder of women in northern Mexico is clearly central to the book. More generally, 2666 strikes me as preoccupied with death–specifically, with the fear of death. One’s own death, the death of people one loves. That fear erupts throughout Bolaño’s work. It is a kind of existential terror. In most of the books it’s an undertone. But in 2666 those murders make the fear concrete.
I hope that doesn’t spoil the plot.