donal mclaughlin

on & off the page


Urs Widmer, Edinburgh 2011

Born in Basel in 1938, Urs Widmer is the award-winning writer of numerous novels, short stories, plays and essays. His much-loved novels My Mother’s Lover and My Father’s Book (both Seagull Books), are the first to appear in English. These two novels will be followed by a book of essays: the author’s Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics. Donal firmly expects to translate further titles by Urs Widmer for Seagull. The wonderful Herr Adamson is expected to be the next novel to appear in English.


From an American review of My Mother’s Lover:

Dichten = condensare” but it’s the rare German novelist who has the gift for it. Urs Widmer is a happy exception, and Donal McLaughlin’s translation of Widmer’s My Mother’s Lover (Der Geliebte der Mutter) renders that succinctness beautifully. (…)

My Mother’s Lover is pseudo-autobiographical account of the failed love affair that overshadows all events personal and political in the life of Clara, the narrator’s mother. (…) Add to this that Clara’s voice, her verbal tics, shine through and warp the narrator’s account, and you have one very complex narrative voice to translate.

The book’s pacing, and the translation of it, is truly stunning. (…) Here it’s a moment captured (or is it many moments?):

She liked the town, especially the countless streets, full of nooks and crannies, around the cathedral. The shops, the tradesmen. She saw a cobbler with such a long beard that it kept getting between his hammer and the sole of the boot he was working on. A goldsmith was bent over a ring, his magnifying glass up at one eye. A barber with round metal-rimmed glasses was soaping his client’s hair in a shop so small that he himself was out in the street. Green-grocers, potters, junk dealers. And again and again, old men: their black cloaks, black hats, long beards and plaited hair. They spoke with their hands — really! — My mother turned away so they couldn’t see how much they made her laugh.

Again and again the immensity of the world, of history, of time, contracts to fit into Clara’s withdrawn existence. You can feel the view magnify, from the town, to its streets and buildings to the people on them, the details of their persons, down to that magnificent ‘really!’ at which point we fall through the looking glass and into Clara’s consciousness. In my opinion it’s things like McLaughlin’s ‘really!’ (or maybe all of the work leading up to ‘really!’ and allowing me to be stunned by ‘really!’) that make this book what it is.

[Review by Chicago-based writer, editor and translator Amanda DeMarco,, 8 October 2011]


“Donal McLaughlin’s translation delivers all the charm, sweet sorrow and gentle humour of the original.”

The Independent on My Mother’s Lover


In 2011, Urs and Donal read from My Mother’s Lover both at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In January 2012, they travelled to India for eighteen days and read from both novels at events in Delhi, Jaipur and Kolkata.


Author and translator at EIBF, August 2011

Photos by Gisela Moohan

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