Grazie WIlliam Weaver

italian literature, translations, books, The world lost a master translator last month on 12 november. For the past 50+ years, William Weaver was the finest translator of Italian literature into English. I discovered his excellent work when I first read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities many years ago. It’s one of my favorite books, and Mr Weaver helped make it such a wonderful read – along with many rereads. Then I worked my way through all of his translations of Calvino’s books: Cosmicomics, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and on and on.

Weaver also translated many other modern Italian writers including Umberto Eco, Primo Levi and Giorgio Bassani. His translations encompassed nonfiction, poetry and librettos.

I‘ll never know how the books read in Italian, but when I read Weaver’s translations – with the nuances, the beautiful flow, and the ease of the storytelling – it’s almost as though the works were written in English. Mr Weaver made me love jumping into Calvino’s worlds – and especially traveling with Marco Polo in conversation with Kublai Khan.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Weaver in The Paris Review / 2000 as Weaver discussed his process.


I don’t know whether to ask whether the translator is born or made, but certainly there are people who could be absolutely bilingual and not make good translators. There must be some gift of nature or temperament that allows you to take on the role or take on, ventriloquistically, the persona or voice of another writer, through another language. You really are performing a kind of sacrament.


I think ear has a great deal to do with it. And I mean that literally. I often read my translation aloud. Quite often it can be technically correct but not sound right. The rhythm isn’t quite right, and maybe it just needs a comma somewhere, or something like that. This is particularly true of Calvino. With Invisible Cities I read the whole book aloud. Charles Darden, an American friend who was studying music in Siena, about twenty miles away from my house, would come over for weekends because I had a huge Steinway, which he liked to play. And on Saturday after dinner we would have an extra glass of wine, and I would read three or four “Invisible Cities”—my week’s work—to him. It was an enormous help. It wasn’t a question of getting the words right; it was a question of getting the sound, the pace and the cadences right.

Riposi In Pace Mr Weaver. The world has lost an artist and a cultural connector.

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