Translating Coetzee: a panel discussion


  • Michael Hollington



J.M. Coetzee, translators


With Cristobal Perez Barra (Chile), Peter Bergsma (The Netherlands), Reinhild Böhnke (Germany), Miguel Temprano Garcia (Spain) and Jinghui Wang (China).

It was my privilege to be asked to chair a panel on translating J.M. Coetzee at the very end of the ‘Reading Coetzee’s Women’ Conference held at the Monash Campus in Prato, Italy from 27 to 29 September 2016, and now, to present an account of that occasion which contains versions, either of the papers presented at the meeting itself by three of the four invited participants who were able to attend, or submitted to me by two others who could not.

The text of the contributions has been very lightly edited by me on the few occasions where it seemed this might help to convey the writer’s meaning with maximum clarity in idiomatic contemporary English, and then submitted to the author for approval. In the same way a draft of the following essay as a whole has been submitted to all the participants for comment or suggested amendment. The result, I hope, is that this essay can be considered in large measure as collaborative work – or, indeed, a conversation.

Inevitably, the range of languages covered here is very partial, and indeed, a matter of chance. Before the conference began we were worried that, as a result of participants accepting and then finding themselves forced to withdraw and send in messages to be read on their behalf, real live translators would be rather thin on the ground, reduced to stalwart representatives from Holland and Italy. But we were in luck, discovering as conference delegates arrived that among them were two more Coetzee translators. Furthermore, these were of special interest: representing China and South America respectively, they would enable us to move out beyond the Eurocentric focus originally envisaged. Since both of them kindly agreed to take part at very short notice, we could go a little further than we had hoped, offering a glimpse of the world reception of a writer who, unquestionably, already belongs in his lifetime to Goethean Weltliteratur.


Author Biography

  • Michael Hollington

    Michael Hollington has held chairs in Australia and France, most recently from 1987 to 2002 at UNSW and from 2002 to 2007 in Toulouse. From 2012 to 2017 he has been Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent, Canterbury. He is chiefly known as a Dickensian but has written on writers in several periods, countries, languages. His most recent book is on Walt Whitman, published by Atlande of Paris.