The Making of Threshold, the First English Translation of Gianna Manzini’s Sulla soglia

CoverThreshold

Italica Press has just published the English translation of Sulla soglia, the last work of Italian writer Gianna Manzini.

Threshold, translated by Laura E. Ruberto and me, is an experimental memoir of a kind, about a daughter’s symbolic journey in which she recollects her mother’s final days. With the intentionally unclear and ambiguous temporal-spatial-linguistic conventionalities used by Manzini, the reader navigates, not always effortlessly, through the writer’s emotionally spasmodic relationship with her mother, at the same time witnessing the apotheosis of the art of writing.

Laura and my own journey, the one leading to the publication of Gianna Manzini’s English translation of Sulla soglia has been a lengthy one. In 1993, Professor Natalia Costa-Zalessow, whose academic research centered around Italian women writers, brought an excerpt of this last work by Gianna Manzini as an exercise in translation to a graduate-level class at San Francisco State University that Laura E. Ruberto and I were both enrolled in. As a class, we translated a short passage, the first five or six pages, making notes on Manzini’s peculiar writing style, and left it there. At the end of that academic year Laura and I decided we would very much like to attempt to translate the whole work. We met on several occasions and exchanged notes. This was the era before the Internet and email, and our exchanges involved a hard copy of the work on which we made notes that we later input into our computer, which basically served as a word processor. Over the years and through spatial distance we nibbled at the translation at a slow pace; the advent of email sped up the process, enabling many revisions and, by 2008, a translation we were happy with. That year we started sending out submission inquires to potential publishers. Given their commitment to publishing women authors and works of different lengths, our first choice was Italica Press, but that same year they published Martha King’s translation of Manzini’s Game Plan for a Novel (Lettera all’editore), and they could not take on more of Manzini’s writing at that point. Other publishers rejected our manuscript either due to the length (too long for a journal, too short for a book), due to over-booking, or because of a non-fit with their editorial mix. We even considered hiring a literary agent, although the manuscript was rather short for such an approach to publication. At one point, we were offered the possibility of publishing a shortened version of the translation in an online literary journal. The thought of mutilating Manzini’s text to an abbreviated form was painful, but we agreed to do it; yet, nine months after we were ready with the extracts, we were told by the publisher that the text was not quite right for their magazine.

The communiqués and updates on the status of our inquiries that Laura and I exchanged in cyberspace through at least three time zones and over a period of over twenty years, gave a very special dimension to our relationship, both with each other (keeping each other posted about our respective families, work, trips, projects, weather), and with our translation, which we called “Gianna” as a term of endearment.

By 2010, after two and a half years and a half a dozen unsuccessful attempts to get our translation published, our enthusiasm dampened, as our email exchanges from January 2011 note — Laura: “It is such a shame that the work we did on this still sits unfinished.…I am hopeful that one day it will work out!”; Me: “Good luck to us and poor Gianna! May she ever see the light of day!” In order to cheer ourselves up, in February 2011 we entered our manuscript in The John Dryden Translation Competition. But we had no luck with the competition either. Our discouragement turned into inactivity. We sat on our translation for another three years, until [AU: delete “on”] April 29, 2014 when I again checked the Italica Press website and realized that in 2011 they had published a second Manzini translation, also by Martha King, this time of Manzini’s penultimate work, Full-Length Portrait (Ritratto in piedi). I immediately wrote to Italica Press about our translation of Sulla soglia. I got their positive reply the very same day, and the result is the present publication.

 

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Professor Natalia Costa-Zalessow for first introducing us to Manzini’s work. We are indebted and thankful to her and translator Joan Borrelli for offering us valuable advice and comments, which led us in our choice of some particularly ambiguous phrases.

Our sincere thanks also go to Eileen Gardiner and Ron Musto at Italica Press, with the hope that this third translated work of Gianna Manzini will nicely complete the triad[1] and provide an even better insight into and enjoyment of this important Italian writer for English-language readers.[2]

 

[1] The English translation of A Game Plan for a Novel by Martha King was published by Italica Press in 2008; in 2011 Italica Press published a translation of Manzini’s, Full-Length Portrait by the same translator.

[2] And many thanks to my friend and colleague Laura Ruberto; we have to find another project to keep us connected for another 20 years!