Povestea cea bună

The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy, by J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz, Viking, 2015

Romanian title: Povestea cea bună. Discuții despre adevar, ficțiune și psihoterapia psihanalitică, J.M. Coetzee și Arabella Kurtz, Editura Trei, 2016

J. M. Coetzee is an author I admire greatly, not only for his novels (so far, I’ve read Childhood, Disgrace, The Life and Times of Michael K, The Childhood of Jesus, and Waiting for the Barbarians), but also for his amazing accomplishments: the Nobel Prize for literature and two Man Booker prizes, and, as if that wasn’t enough, he is also a brilliant mathematician, literature professor, and literary critic.

Consequently, when I was offered one of his books to translate, I was beyond myself with joy. My delight was confirmed throughout both the reading and the translation process, as the subjects under discussion are highly interesting, and the diverging points of view of the two authors turn their dialogue into a dynamic and complex one.

Arabella Kurtz brings her experience as a psychotherapist (she is specialised in clinical psychology, practices psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic and she is also an Emeritus Professor at the University of Leicester). She helps the patients tell the story of their life so as to detect the source of their problems and guide them towards healing. J. M. Coetzee brings the perspective of the writer who creates stories for his characters. Their discussions lead to questions and answers related to numerous topics that both the psychotherapist and the writer are interested in, such as the objective truth (things that really happened and prevent the patients from living a full, happy life) and the subjective truth (stories people invent for themselves and which they come to believe, because this way they re-create a fuller, happier life), the ethics of the psychotherapeutic approach, the reliability of memories, justice, etc.

The exchanges are premised on the idea that something is to be gained by a therapist exploring their practice in the company of an outsider to the discipline of psychology, in this case a sympathetically disposed writer and literary critic. On the face of it the psychotherapist and the novelist have much in common, at least in terms of the focus of their interest. Human nature and human experience concern them both deeply, as do possibilities of growth and development.

The two authors’ answers include references to the fields of psychoanalysis (starting with Freud, naturally, and continuing with Melanie Klein) and of literature (Dostoevsky, Cervantes, W.G. Sebald, Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc.), but also conclusions drawn by Kurtz from her professional activity and by Coetzee from his life, work and readings.

To me, it was invigorating to see another face of a writer mostly known for his novels, it was fascinating to follow the connections between psychotherapy and literature, and it was also a challenge to translate such an authentic mix of psychoanalysis, literature, history and sociology. Quite an experience, which I hope will bring joy and intellectual satisfaction to many Romanian readers.