Also on rereading your own books in translation.
Last night here in Nice we had a dinner party. Everyone at the table was French, except me, including the hostess. In the course of the conversation I found myself several times searching for, and not finding, whatever word I needed to complete what I was saying. This has happened several times lately and is somewhat disquieting. It has to do with age probably, but also to the vagaries of language itself. At 23, alone here, with about ten French words to my name, I got married to the aforementioned hostess. French terrorized me then, not now. For as I sometimes joke, I have gone to bed with my dictionary every night since. Each person in a lifetime moves through many small worlds, each time obliged to learn it's particular jargon: sports, police, medical, banking, legal words, etc. Most of this happens very young. New words pour into a mostly empty head, and stick there. But after a certain age they don't. In France I entered certain of these worlds relatively late in life, and a number them, classrooms, for instance, I never entered at all. I have no trouble with French words learned long ago. New ones is another story. They just don't stick the way they did, and when I need them they are sometimes not there.
So I thought I should start reading French novels to keep my vocabulary up. Combing the titles on my shelves my eye lit on L'Année du Dragon. Why not, I thought with amusement.
Year of the Dragon, published in America in 1981, and in French the following year, was made into an extremely lousy movie by Michael Cimino and Oliver Stone, academy award winners both, though not here. It cost $24 million to make and earned back $18,7. But it was a big hit in France, it made my literary reputation here, and everything I wrote over the next 20 or more years came out in French translation.
I read L'Année du Dragon only once as I corrected the page proofs 34 years ago. I had forgotten nearly everything about it, and the words were the translator's, not mine, so none of it jogged my memory now. But reading it I was enthralled by the characters and the plot turns. I remembered the beginning and the end, but not the pages in between. What was going to happen next? I kept turning pages wanting to find out.
Which is what I had wanted to do when I wrote it.
It felt very strange, and I wonder if other writers have ever done this and felt the same.
And yes, I came upon many half forgotten words that ought to be closer to the tip of my tongue than they have been. So in that sense it was a good experience too.