Category Archives: French Translations

Read 19 of 2022. Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga. Translated from the French by Jordan Stump.

Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga

Title: Igifu
Author: Scholastique Mukasonga Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Publisher: Archipelago Books
ISBN: 978-1939810786
Genre: Short Stories, Translations, Women’s Writing
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I read this slim collection of most autobiographical short stories in one sitting. There was no way that I would take a break. I was left wondering though about how a writer integrates national horror in their literature. How does an act of terror shape literature and at the end how does it impact the reader?

Scholastique’s collection of short stories, Igifu, is centred on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Tutsi Rwandans were massacred by their Hutu compatriots. 37 members of Mukasonga’s family were killed. She had to leave Rwanda earlier, and eventually settle in France. This atrocity has found its way in all of her works – fiction and nonfiction.

This collection of short stories translated from the French by Jordan Stump is no different. Stump’s translation is deep-rooted in understanding the Tutsi people, their loss, their trauma, and how to appropriately put it on paper. Each time you read these stories, you read it not with fascination or exoticism but with empathy and compassion.

These five heartrending stories not only capture the ordeal of the Tutsis, but also speaks of roots and family and what it means to live with a grief so immense that you cannot even name it.

Igifu means hunger and each story somehow depicts that. The hunger not only for food but also for the homeland from which you had to escape. The title story is that of a child who becomes so weak from hunger that she passes out, and what the parents do next to keep her alive.

“The Glorious Cow” is about Tutsis and their relationship with their animals. It is about a way of life that is no longer present, and Mukasonga tells these stories the way it is – the only way you can by talking about life and what happened through fictional undertones.

“Grief” is a story that is most autobiographical in nature. It is about a young Rwandan woman living in France, who receives a letter containing a long list of relatives who died in the genocide. She cannot cry till she does at the funeral of a stranger.

Mukasonga’s writing leaves you with a sense of loss that is universal but somehow the one that cannot be comprehended by all. We can only imagine, sometimes we cannot even do that. As a reader, all I could do was understand, learn, unlearn, and be left with a sense of empathy and appreciation as to how Mukasonga writes through it all – with great tenacity and resilience.

Read 14 of 2022. Blue by Emmelie Prophète. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Blue by Emmelie Prophète

Title: Blue
Author: Emmelie Prophète
Translated from the French by Tina Kover Publisher: Amazon Crossing
ISBN: 978-1542031295
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Blue isn’t an easy novel to read. It is short and requires work from the reader, in the sense to keep pace with what’s going on. Time is fluid and it travels without warning. There is a lot of back and forth – given it is a stream of consciousness novel, and that to me is one of its major selling points.

Blue is a lyrical memoir of Haiti. It is a story of the narrator and her life there before she moved. It is a story of her mother and two aunts and all of this is replayed as the narrator sits at an airport, waiting for a flight from Miami back to her native island.

Emmelie Prophète writes about Port-au-Prince through the daily lives of its inhabitants, the ones that aren’t visible sometimes – resisting and inviting voyeurism. We don’t get to see the city as much through its blueprint as much as we do through the narrator – in a minimal space of that of an airport. The comparisons are made – from where the narrator is to what has been left behind, and sometimes event similarities. That of women being subdued, of people making sense of their identities as they go along, and how Haitians are portrayed in North American media, and how it impacts them as people.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. From the outside world to the inside sanctum of thoughts and prayers, Prophète reveals the narrator’s emotions and thoughts in relation to incidents of the past and how it all ties up to the present.

Blue also conveys a sense of solitude – the airport, the island, the inner workings of the mind, the stream of consciousness, and more than anything – the distances between places gives the reader a strong feeling of isolation and contemplation.

The writing is fluid. The translation is reflective of it, on every page. Kover makes it a point to show most of the time and not tell through the translation. It makes you want more, and imagine the most. Sometimes it is tough to keep up with the plot – so much so that it seems like there is no linear plot and yet you know it is the story of a place, of home that is synonymous with the colour Blue, the one that is about forgotten memories, painful ones, that surface once in a while, as you wait to be transported.

Read 1 of 2022. Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin. Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins.

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Title: Winter in Sokcho
Author: Elisa Shua Dusapin
Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Publisher: Daunt Books Originals
ISBN: 9781911547549
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella, Translations
Pages: 154
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Dusapin’s debut novel is about a young biracial Korean woman living and working in a small guesthouse in Sokcho, South Korea, a beach town that is quite close to the North Korean border. It is almost possible to take a day trip over the border.

The narrator, the woman is unnamed. She has returned to her hometown from her university in Seoul to be close to her mother. She doesn’t know her father as he left before she was born. She works as a live-in receptionist and a cook at the aforementioned guest house and that is when she encounters a middle-aged French graphic novelist, Yan Kerrand, who has come to Sokcho to seek inspiration and work on his new project. He is perhaps old enough to be her father, maybe that’s why the strong feelings she feels towards him.

Nothing happens more or less. Time passes and then there are moments. There is no definitive action and maybe that’s when Sokcho plays such a huge role in the book – the broodiness of the town, the season of winter shining through and looming large on the lives of everyone – right from food consumed to the smells to the octopus to also the constant terror from South Korea, and mainly the isolation.

The protagonist’s relationship with food is the one she has with her life – always thinking nothing is good enough – so she eats and purges it all out. Her physical body then becomes a thing of critique by her mother, her aunt, and even Kerrand to a large extent.

Winter in Sokcho is an unusual book in the sense that it says so much in so little. The brevity of the prose had me from the start. Dusapin conserves her words, using them only if really needed to. Some sentences are staggering – like the one about not knowing the outside world, of just staying in Sokcho and nothing happening there. The translation from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins is sharp and precise.

Winter in Sokcho delivers such a potent story, that you cannot help but think about it later. There is this constant ache that lingers – of lost communication, of expressions that are not understood, and emotions that are better hidden than told. Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho captures desire, motherhood, life along a border town, loneliness, and above all the need to make sense of one’s surroundings most beautifully, also making us aware of the darkness beneath the surface.

Books/Authors mentioned in Winter in Sokcho:

Guy de Maupassant

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Title: Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 9789386338709
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 174
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy for those who live on the margins. It isn’t easy when you are surrounded by poverty and bitterness. How do you love when all you have seen is hate? How do you bring yourself to live then? Eve does that. She lives, on her terms. She doesn’t live, she merely survives, day after day, trying to get out. Hoping for a better future, till she doesn’t. You witness her story, her life, and hope and pray that she is redeemed – that others are as well, that at seventeen and perhaps a little older, they deserve better, but you don’t know how the story will turn out, and where will it go.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is set in Troumaron, an impoverish area of Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius Island. You see what you haven’t seen or thought of Mauritius to be. There is fear, there is violence, there is sexual assault, the air heavy with stench of yearning to get away, of dashed dreams, and broken hopes.

We meet four youngsters – fighting to survive. Eve, the seventeen-year-old that time forgot to nourish, that kindness overlooked, who moves from one man to another, always looking to get out but doesn’t want to. Savita, Eve’s soulmate in a sense, the only one who loves her selflessly. Saad, who is in love with the idea of Eve – who wants to save her and knows that she will never love him back. Clélio, a rebel waiting for life to happen to him, waiting for his brother to call him to France, waiting almost perpetually.

Through these characters Ananda Devi creates a world that is raw, belligerent, sometimes tender, warily poetic, and even forgiving. The world of Troumaron that is exploding at the seams – waiting to burst with energy that will only ruin these four. Ananda Devi’s characters are similar and so dissimilar to each other. In the sense they are all stuck, all perhaps wanting out, and yet don’t even know it. Her writing hits you hard. The poetry and the prose merge beautifully – they make you imagine as you read – the characters became more real than ever, and their emotions became mine.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is a small book with so much to unpack and undo. The lives of people on the margins, the lives they lead forever fluctuating between hope and hopelessness, brought out beautifully by the translator, Jeffrey Zuckerman. I could sense the French, and the Mauritian Creole rolling off my tongue as I attempted to read it when encountered it in the pages. This is a book that is not to be missed. I urge you to read it. Ananda Devi, we need more writing from you. A lot more.

When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Kazim Ali.

When The Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi

Title: When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Kazim Ali Publisher: Harper Perennial India
ISBN: 9789390351930
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Poetry and I share a tumultuous relationship. There are times I love it with all my heart, even though I fleetingly remember lines. There are times I hate it so much, that I don’t want to read the genre again. But it is always extreme. This love or the hate. Nothing in- between. Off late, it is veering toward more love, and for that I am grateful. We all evolve. Thank God for that.

Ananda Devi’s poetry takes a while to get used to, like any collection of poems. Just that this isn’t any other collection. Her tone, her structure, the subtle hints of expression – the saying and not saying – the exquisite way in which language lends itself – even though it’s a translation, is just stunning. There are poems and then there are three prose poems, which go on quite beautifully.

Her poems do take some time to get into. The themes are evident: sometimes a little bit of longing, a burst of emotions, surpassing all norms of gender (all these poems to my mind were gender-neutral and that was absolutely fantastic), speaking of the body, of sleeplessness, of desire that isn’t accentuated, and about aging and the body not in control as it moves through time.

The translation by Kazim Ali is what Ananda Devi intended. The translations were read by her, they went through a process – back and forth and reached the version we read. As Kazim Ali says the task of translation was “less karaoke and more full-blown drag”. There is an interview with Ananda Devi at the end of the book, and a note by Mohit Chandna (an Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India) that sum up the book beautifully – the poems from head to toe, from start to finish, from insomnia to deep sleep.