Contemporary Translations in a Classic Voice: Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems by Colette, translation by Zack Rogow and Renée Morel

Review by Eric Weinblatt

Living from 1873 to 1954, French writer Colette penned countless articles, short stories, and novels such as Gigi and Cheri, both of which were turned into popular movies. Most recently, translators Zack Rogow and Renée Morel have combed through journals and past editions of French publications to collect a series of previously untranslated material. Fans of the French writer will rejoice at these treasures and newcomers will be captivated by the tenacity and poetics of this wonderful translation. Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems truly captures the voice and style put forth by Colette and is a welcome addition to English language literature.

The marvelous collection, spanning 195 pages, is broken down into ten sections. These sections vary based on period, form, and theme, flowing flawlessly between her advice columns and her short fiction. When the works were originally published in France, they were meshed together with such care that the bound collection reads from front to back with intent. Advice columns flow to memoirs which transition to anecdotes of pets and nature, rendering a binding that simply feels natural. Effortlessly, this encompasses essays critiquing wine, fashion, and of course the emerging roles of women as artists and performers in France during Colette’s time.

On the translation itself, the two authors do a stunning job of capturing the intent of the original work. Not being fluent in French myself, but having read a series of translated work by Colette,I’m familiar with the voice of Colette as it comes across in English. Rogow and Morel capture the whit and emotion fans will recognize from Gigi, when they read Shipwrecked on Traffic Island in which protagonist Hammond regretfully rescues his wife in a most dashing, yet remorseful way. Others will recognize the emotional outcries of Cheri as they read anecdotes like A Dream in which Colette speaks to a long-since-deceased pet whose name she cannot utter; as well as Colette Speaks to the Americans in which Colette herself broadcasts out to the United States, clamoring for assistance as France enters World War II.

Overall, new readers and fans alike will cherish this new collection as a stunning addition to any personal library. From beginning to end, readers will be captivated by Colette’s prose, poetry, memoir, and even the treat of one-act that up until now were separated and remained in their native tongue. Fans of Colette in translation will rave about Zack Rogow and Renée Morel as they offer up a truly poetic and charming translation that maintains the authority and voice put out by Colette. Fans of short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry all will not want to miss this edition, that sings in a voice worth remembering. 

Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems is published by Excelsior Editions and can be purchased on

You can learn more about Zack Rogow here