Searls actually has three translations coming up (I mistakenly said two yesterday!):
On Reading, a collection of Proust's thoughts on our favorite subject here at Omnivoracious. (September)
Comedy in a Minor Key, a lost Holocaust novella by German-Jewish resistance hero Hans Keilson. (November)
The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams, a Rilke collection that won Searls a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 2007. (David R. Godine, October)
He also edited The Journals of Henry David Thoreau: 1837-1861 for NYRB Classics, which comes out in September, as well as a special edition from The Review of Contemporary Fiction on Melville.
Now, here's a bit from Searls on the art of translation, on paring down Thoreau's massive journal, and on the apparent lack of American fiction writers who translate:
Amazon.com: You’ve translated from a number of languages--most recently French, German, Dutch, Norwegian. Do you speak all of these languages?
Damion Searls: I know German best and have translated it the most; I speak it pretty comfortably, although no one would mistake me for a native speaker. French I read better than I speak, and Dutch I picked up because it’s halfway between English and German, and because I lived in Amsterdam for a year.
Luckily for me, the Germans translate and publish a much, much wider selection of world literature than we get in the U.S. (or UK), which has helped me to branch out. A publisher asked me to read Jon Fosse’s Norwegian novel Melancholy in a German translation, because they didn’t have anyone who read Norwegian. I told them it was a masterpiece and they should translate and publish it; they decided not to; and I tracked down an old friend, native Norwegian and fluent in English, so we could co-translate it. In the process I picked up enough Norwegian to tackle another Fosse novel on my own. Similarly, the Dutch writer I translate, Nescio, was recommended by a Dutch writer friend, and I could check it out in German before tackling the original.
In general I think poets understand better than prose writers (and editors and readers of prose) that it’s much more important to be a good writer in the language you translate into than fluent in the source language. It’s easy to work with native speakers and consult about difficult words or sentences; it’s hard to write a good sentence, and you can’t get much help with that. What matters is whether the result, the book in English, is as powerful as the original.
Amazon.com: So, in that sense, your work and practice as a writer is crucial to your success as a translator?
DS: Absolutely. If you write an interesting sentence people will want to read it, if not then not, that is the truth.