Interview: Mia Kirshner

By SHAULA CLARK  |  December 9, 2008

How did you go about getting your interviews? Did you just go to the places and find people to talk to?
No, there was nothing casual about this book. I mean, the book _looks_ like it could have been haphazardly done, but you can't go to these areas without a tremendous amount of research. So first of all, before the book started, there was about a year of research that went into picking the places, and then Amnesty International — for the first two places, Ingushetia and Burma — they set me up with a local human rights organization, who acted as my fixer. And then from there, through the research, I had a list of stories that I wanted to do, and possible locations. But a list is just a list. Everything changes when you get there.

Reality kicks in.
Exactly. I think it's important to know what you're doing. It's not safe otherwise. So they were the ones who set up the interviews, but we were driving into the locations. But in the camps, you don't know. In the brothels, you don't know.

What was your relationship with your translators like? You must be so dependent on them.
They're really important, translators, you know, because they're basically your eyes and ears into the situation, and I definitely learned that very quickly, especially in the beginning. Well, I had a very good translator in Ingushetia, who would literally translate every single word the subject said, even if it was grammatically incorrect, even if there were inaccuracies in what they had said, because that's for my partners and myself to decide later how to use that material. And there were other translators who — somebody could be speaking to me for like a minute, and then I would get a one-sentence translation. That's not OK, so they were let go. I would say it was the translators I was probably the hardest on. And my prerequisite was that they translate absolutely everything that the subjects say, they don't give a commentary on what the subjects say, and that they're female.

Why female? For comfort?
Well, it's women and children, so you know, in many cases women were talking about sexual exploitation, and it made sense. Women feel more comfortable around women — safer.

In Ingushetia, were you and Joe Sacco traveling together all the time?
No, we went together, and we were at the hotel together, but with each person, we would split off during the day, because we were doing our own stories.

So he used his own translator?
Oh, yeah, everyone had their own translator. Phoebe Gloeckner [who contributed a graphic novella to the Juárez chapter] had her own. It's really essential. And then in terms of having the material translated, often it has to be translated more than once, to make sure that the translation was appropriate.

Oh, wow.
Yeah, that's where the real work came in with the book, because I literally would collect hundreds of pieces of writing from each place, so I have to make sure. I can't tell if this is a correct translation, so it had to go through a series of tests, I guess.

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