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Lost in Translation: An Interview with Douglas Robinson, author of The Last Days of Maiju Lassila

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Doug Robinson has been a professor of English and translation studies for four decades—in that capacity he has not only published thirty academic books on literature, translation, rhetoric, and semiotics, but translated several novels from Finnish. The Last Days of Maiju Lassila is his second novel.

You can buy the book here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The novel was distantly inspired by Jose Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis—my title was loosely based on that.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I can’t remember, actually. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and it seems like wanting to be a writer was a part of loving to read. I began writing things when I was ten—both fiction and nonfiction (and poetry in my teens, and plays in my twenties).

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve been a professor of English and translation my entire career. I suppose a side profession would be translating, and an interesting fact is that while I wrote both of my published novels in English, the first has only been published in Finnish translation and the second PRETENDS to be a translation from Finnish. I’ve always wanted to be a novelist, and for decades kept trying to write a novel, and failing—somehow my imagination wouldn’t sustain the effort. I write scholarly books with ease, two or three every year, but writing novels has been more difficult. What I found with The Last Days of Maiju Lassila was that imagining my Finnish narrator writing the book in Finnish and me translating it carried me almost effortlessly through. It’s like J I Vatanen actually did write the novel!

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

I was undecided about the metafictional aspect of the novel. A close colleague of mine who has published five or six novels and several dozen short stories advised against it—he said the story was compelling, so why clog it up with all this stuff that most readers wouldn’t get? So when I submitted it to Atmosphere, I moved the metafictional “translator’s preface” and all the notes to the end, so people could read the story without the tricky stuff distracting them, and then could go on to read the tricky stuff if they really wanted to. When it was accepted for publication, I asked Kyle McCord, my editor, what he thought: in or out? In the reader’s face up front or buried in the back? He said that the metafictional aspect was the most unique part of my novel, and I should showcase it up front. I loved that! I felt validated! Of course, as a result, the Kirkus reviewer didn’t get it, and so hated it, dumped all his filth on it—but Brendan Riley’s review in the Los Angeles Review of Books redeemed it with a brilliant and prominent review (

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Jester King and other songs by The Metafiction Cabaret; Punakaartin marssi (Red Guard March) and other songs from the Finnish Civil War.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope readers will enjoy not only the story but the play with the illusion of reality.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

You-Gin One-Gin, a novel about Vladimir Nabokov, Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, lingerie football, and alien abductions.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Great! Give it a try!

You can buy the book here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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