Vanishing Acts: Two Posthumous Translations by Frederika Randall

In the new issue of the New York Review of Books, I have a review-essay of two terrific novels translated by the late Frederika Randall: Dissipatio H.G.: The Vanishing by Guido Morselli, from New York Review Classics, and Bug by Giacomo Sartori, from Restless Books.


Of our favorite writers, we say we would read even their shopping lists. I’ve never heard anyone say such a thing about translators, and yet there are translators to whom I am similarly devoted—not simply because they can take a book written in one language and render it beautifully into mine, but because I’ve come to trust their choices of what to translate, and they have come to serve me not only as translators but as curators.

One such figure was Frederika Randall, an American with an acute sense of political and literary history, a broad and deep knowledge of Italian, and a keen ear for the rhythms and tones of English who adopted (and was adopted by) Italy in midlife. She chose to translate only books that she admired and believed in, that were linguistically ambitious and politically astute, and that expanded our sense of Italian history and literature. With her death in May 2020 in Rome, her Italian authors, both living and dead, lost a fierce and discerning advocate, and American readers lost one of our brightest emissaries of Italian prose.

Before she died Randall had completed translations of two novels: Guido Morselli’s hauntingly misanthropic Dissipatio H.G.: The Vanishing (1977), a postapocalyptic “last man” novel, and Giacomo Sartori’s gently dystopic Bug (2019), a tragicomic riff on The Tempest, set more or less in the present day. Both books offer pungent critiques of their contemporary societies, and neither would likely have made its way into English anytime soon without Randall’s passion for them.

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