I FIRST MET THE RENOWNED BOOK PUBLISHER GEORGE BRAZILLER at a dinner party in 2002. There were some thirty people at two long tables, but good fortune placed us diagonally across from each other, and we talked all evening. A few months later he contacted me about translating a book from Italian into English. It was a first-time effort by a very young writer, Randa Ghazy, born in Italy to Egyptian parents. Her book, Sognando Palestina, was the story of a group of young Palestinians and their struggle for identity and dignity. A commercial success in Europe, the book engendered tremendous controversy. George acknowledged that it wasn’t great literature, but he was convinced that Ghazy’s was a voice that needed to be heard. A few days later George and I met at his office, and he had me sit next to him and read him passages in Italian. I don’t think he knew Italian well, but he wanted to hear the sound of my voice reading the text, wanted to discern how I connected to the author. He immediately asked me to translate the book, which went on to become Dreaming of Palestine, published by Braziller in 2003.
I sent George the translation in installments, and he would call me to discuss the text and raise questions. As we neared the end of the project, he said, “Margaret, I think we have a winner!” My given name is Marguerite, but everyone (except the IRS) calls me Meg. George always called me Margaret, pronounced “Mahhhgret,” and I never corrected him. I loved the way it sounded, coming from him.
Chance occurrences mattered to George, and they were never coincidental, always meant to be. One day we ran into each other on an East Side sidewalk, and he introduced me to the person he walking with, an Italian publisher. One thing led to another, and before long I was translating The Book of the Wind: The Representation of the Invisible (2011) by Alessandro Nova. Life went on, and George and I seemed to fall out of touch. After his beautiful memoir, Encounters: My Life in Publishing, came out in 2015, I sent a letter to one of his sons, Michael Braziller, who had taken over the publishing house. The letter was passed on to George, who immediately rang me up. “Mahhhgret!” My heart skipped a beat when I heard his voice again. I went to visit him two days later. He came down to his lobby, leaning on a walker but otherwise as energetic and dapper as ever. Big smile, eyes gleaming, he embraced me and said, “Mahhhgret, I remember you.” We spent the entire day together, talking, eating take-out, sipping sparkling cider. He invited me to his one-hundredth birthday party, held the day after Valentine’s Day, at his apartment.
At the party, surrounded by adoring colleagues and family, he spoke briefly, noting that: “In celebrating my birthday, I decided to have the wall painted by our house painter. While not a Matisse, I consider what he has done to be a stunning example of modern art.” It was an ochre wall, complete with creases and indentations, barely plastered over. George made an effort to speak to everyone individually and to introduce people to each other, as always encouraging the fortuitous connection.
He cannot be replaced, but he can and does inspire me to pursue what I love, to follow my instincts, to connect the dots in my life, and to try to never compromise. It was a privilege to cross his path.
Marguerite Shore is a translator, working from Italian into English, specializing in art-related texts. She has been associated with Artforum since 1980.