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My interview with translator Charlotte Mandell is posted at The Millions (link). Charlotte Mandell translated Compass, by Mathias Enard. The novel was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International prize, which is co-awarded to translator and author. In April 2021 she received the honor of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband, the poet Robert Kelly.

Charlotte and I met years ago on a Buddhist retreat. I had no idea she was a translator, but we got to talking about books, and she mentioned she’d just finished the one-sentence novel Zone, by Mathias Enard. Aside from a few other conversations, we’ve talked very little with each other over the years. Our shared retreats are silent, or with minimal talking. If I may speak for her, we’ve always found each other’s company congenial and just right for the circumstances. Both of us enjoy conversation, especially about books, but we also enjoy and respect the richness of silence. I cherish the recollection of the walks we took, after long sitting sessions, in easy silence. When Compass was short-listed, I emailed Charlotte to congratulate her, and asked for this interview. It turned out to be the longest conversation we’ve ever had in one stretch.

In addition to the questions in The Millions interview, I also asked Charlotte what her work space is like. She answered with the photos and captions featured here. Like many writers, Charlotte has a somewhat fetishistic relationship to objects, as if their presence will bring inspiration, diligence, security — as if they will ease the struggle of creating. Most of the things Charlotte keeps close by have little apparent value, but much emotional weight — stones picked up at a beach, souvenirs brought by friends near and far, little chunks of crystal, and of course, books and paper. Lots and lots of paper.

Charlotte Mandell’s website / Mathias Enard on Goodreads

I love stones and crystals, and tend to accumulate far too many of both. Most of the stones here are from Cuttyhunk Island, where we have a summer cottage and where I grew up and learned to sail. I have a special connection to cardinals—I used to feed by hand a cardinal on Cuttyhunk—so there’s a cardinal feather in with the stones and shells, along with a blue jay feather. The icon in the back is from Westminster Abbey—I got it on my last trip to London for the Man Booker International (2017) festivities. There’s also a painted rock from Donegal hiding in there, from when Robert and I stayed at the Poet’s House in Falcarragh back in 1999. The postcard is a Van Gogh (one of my favorite painters) from my friend Ellen Eylers. There’s also a bone letter-opener peeking out from behind the postcard that I brought back from India, from one of several trips I took there back in the late ‘90s and early aughts.

Where I work: The picture to the right of the certificate is of Cuttyhunk Island. The book in front of my computer is an old copy of Proust, which I was translating just for the fun of it… That’s a duck Pez on top of the book, in case you’re wondering!
The shrine next to my desk, with photos of my teacher, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, and of Kalu Rinpoche, Robert’s teacher. The calligraphy is Tibetan script by Tai Situ Rinpoche. The birthday card on the right is from my mother, Betty Reid Mandell, who died in 2014.
To the right of my desk: The photo of Cuttyhunk. My mother, Betty Reid Mandell, taken when she was 16, holding her prize steer. She was a cowgirl in Colorado. My father, Marvin Mandell, when he was serving as a private in the army in WWII. He was the General’s orderly in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. The drawing might possibly be by Fellini, since it’s signed ‘F’ and he was known to draw American GIs in Rome during the war. My father said the person who drew it was very young.
All of these books are books I translated, with the original French versions next to them. I couldn’t fit them all onto two shelves so they’re starting to overflow onto the third shelf, and also onto another bookshelf. The photo on the left is of my father at three; on the right, me at three. Below, more books that I translated.
The red books are a prize possession, the complete Le Grand Robert French dictionary, in six volumes — although my most-used dictionary is the CD of Harrap’s Professional French-English dictionary, which I have on both my desktop and laptop computers. The Bard commencement program at left was my father’s.
More books I’ve translated.
An original 1870 copy of the Atlantic Monthly, given to me by its then-editor, Cullen Murphy, when I translated a series of articles by Bernard-Henri Lévy for them years ago. It contains a piece by Henry James.

At the top left: Some of my CDs, which I don’t really listen to anymore because of internet radio, especially Otto’s Opera, an all-opera station from Switzerland. Next down: More French reference books! The Dictionnaire des faux amis [false cognates] is especially helpful. The rest: French books. Lots of Balzac, Proust, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Mallarmé.

One of the Valentine poems by Robert. [Charlotte is married to poet Robert Kelly.]
These translations I’ve done have been published, but I can’t bring myself to throw away the manuscripts. I have been throwing some out little by little, since I was worried the bookcase would collapse, but it’s difficult.
The ten incarnations of Vishnu, given to me by the poet Thomas Meyer and his husband Michael Watt, from their last trip to India. The ram is from the French Alps, and the stone is from Cuttyhunk.
More crystals on the windowsill. I was born in November so I’m partial to citrine and amethyst.
More crystals on the windowsill. I was born in November so I’m partial to citrine and amethyst.


  1. Maria heng

    I wouldn’t have known about Charlotte’s translation of Enard’s Compass being shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker InternationalI if not for this post, and what wonderful news to share! Congratulations, Charlotte!
    Jean, you really did give over the room of this post to Charlottes room, allowing her pictures and commentary to give us a tour that feels intimate and spontaneous in it’s “as is-ness”. I loved the tour, am a fan of rocks and crystals myself, and am full of admiration for all the work she has accomplished that sits of her shelves. Therefore, I really enjoyed this post.
    I had no idea that you yourself are a writer and now look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Jean Huets

      Thanks, Maria! Credit really goes to Charlotte, since she supplied the captions & photos. I liked getting the peek into her working world.

  2. Kimberly Lyons

    I’ve known CM for many years but I learned newly of her interests in this fascinating interview . For instance, didn’t know about Charlotte’s prediliction for stones and crystals. I loved the window into a translator’s study, view of objets trouves and evidence of the working process.

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