AUDIO: Peter Bush in Conversation with Katherine Silver on Josep Pla’s Grey Notebook


On January 27th, Two Voices celebrated the release of Josep Pla’s The Grey Notebook (NYRB) in English by inviting the translator, Peter Bush, and renowned Bay Area translator Katherine Silver to discuss the non-fiction work. Bush received the Ramon Llull Award for his translation of Pla and has translated dozens of books from Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese, including works by Juan Carlos Onetti and Quim Monzó. Katherine Silver is an award-winning translator and the director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. The conversation took place at San Francisco’s B44 Bistro and was set amid tapas and drinks. The two translators examined Pla’s life and work, provided historical context, and engaged with the audience to further the discussion about Catalan literature.

00:00 Introductions

05:30 Katherine Silver shares what will be discussed: a look at Catalan Literature, Josep Pla’s role in that, Peter’s translation of the non-fiction work, The Grey Notebook, and audience questions

06:10 Peter Bush provides historical background on Catalonia

08:46 Recuperation of Catalan as a literary language (1830-1860)

10:07 Peter begins discussing Josep Pla’s life

12:03 How Josep begins writing

14:42 Katherine asks Peter about the narrative voice in The Grey Notebook

16:10 Peter on Pla’s thinking as a writer: “I want to write something that reflects the movement of life”

19:20 Peter discusses how Catalonians benefitted during World War I and how Pla places those experiences in his work

22:46 Peter reads and discusses several entries in The Grey Notebook about translation, language and life in Catalonia

26:30 Catalan as a minority language and discovering Catalonian writers that are the literary equivalent of Dali, Picasso, Miró

29:00 How Peter ended up translating Pla

30:25 Critical mass of Catalonian literature

31:17 Peter reads a food related passage from The Grey Notebook

34:00 Katherine discusses the craft of Peter’s translation

34:52 Audience Questions

34:54: Q/A I was wondering if he [Pla] knew George Orwell?

*Follow-up: Katherine –I wonder if he knew Joseph Roth?

38:55 Q/A To what extent can you consider Catalan Literature, as a whole, part of the Spanish Literary canon, especially the 20th century when Pla wrote?

41:16 Q/A I was wondering if you knew anything about the tax situation in Andorra?

41:13 Q/A Pla seems to have said that the Catalan language was a tragedy, could you explain that further?

46:05 Q/A How often is Catalan translated into other languages, for instance, Spanish?

48:25 Q/A Is there a similar resurgence with French Catalan writers?

50:05 Q/A Considering how there isn’t much of a tradition of passing on literary traditions in Catalan, how often do you think (directly or indirectly) you see some of the brazenness in Josep Pla’s writing influencing other writers? Do you think that part of the reason Catalan works aren’t translated as often is because Catalonians’ take pride in their language and think it might get muddled through translation?

58:08 Q/A I’m curious, you mentioned the political position that Pla had and this position on the Catalan language, both of which could cause some discomfort for Catalan readers. You refer to it [The Grey Notebook] as a classic, but how do people over there actually feel about it and is there discomfort about him as a figure generally or is that water under the bridge because he wrote in Catalan?

1:03:32 Q/A Did Josep Pla have a different point of view on his work when he was older? Since he wrote The Grey Notebook when he was young and then didn’t edit it until he was older and had more life experience.

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