Category Archives: Translated Works

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra. Translated by Megan McDowell

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra Title: Not To Read
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695630
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I discovered, “Bonsai” by Alejandro Zambra in 2014 and since then I have never looked back. I’ve read all his books and all I can say is that I am glad he exists in the same universe as we do and continues to write. This time it was a collection of essays, some old and some new, collected in a book “Not to Read” and published by the very erudite folks at Fitzcarraldo Editions.

The thing about Zambra’s writing is the high level of engagement he was with his readers, even without meaning to I guess. You instantly relate to what he has to say about libraries, personal libraries and books in general. At the very superficial level it is this, but at a more constant and deeper level it is his writing which seems so effortless thanks to the translation really. McDowell has done a spectacular job of giving words to his thoughts and words of course in another language so smoothly, that you almost want to read the original (written in Spanish).

The essays are spread over three sections and each section, without a doubt is a joy to read. Zambra makes you travel with him, through his literature and also through his pieces on literature. I will for one never forget how he and his friends photocopied books as they were (and still are) very expensive to buy when they were students. What is most endearing is that even when he could afford to buy the originals, the photocopy stacks still remained on the shelves. Or the time when he visits a friend’s house and comments on the shelving of books and the technique used (a hilarious piece by the way).

Zambra’s writing connects with the reader in all of us and that’s why it is so accessible. Another thing about reading books about books is the discovery. Just by reading “Not to Read”, I have chanced upon a dozen or more writers I would’ve never known. Well, the glitch is that most of them aren’t translated to English but hey, I hope wanting to read them will finally make me enroll for Spanish classes. Anything that would make you read new authors, I suppose.

Alejandro Zambra has not praised or touched on the big Chilean writers – either because he doesn’t admire their writing, which is fair or because he sincerely feels there are alternatives (which I was glad to know of). This is a very important aspect of a book about books in my opinion – giving alternatives to what already exists. The cannons of literature will remain and revered, but we need something else to hold onto as well.

“Not to Read” can be read in one sitting (like I did) or better yet dip into it time and again, read an essay or two and mull over its magnificence. I am only too happy that more authors are writing about books and reading. One of my favourite genres so far. I strongly recommend everyone to read this book.

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Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami. Translated by Lucy North.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami Title: Record of a Night Too Brief
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Translated from the Japanese by Lucy North
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1782272717
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella, Short Stories, Japanese Novellas
Pages: 156
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Record of a Night Too Brief” is a weird book and that I say in a good way. It took me some time to wind my head around it, but it proved to be a very satisfying read, nonetheless. This book is a collection of three fantastical short stories and on the surface, while they all seem to be rather easy and direct, they are anything but that.

In the first titular story, there are dream sequences (reminded me a lot of Murakami when that happened), talking animals, shrinking girls, mathematics, and a night-sky that you should only experience while reading this story.

The second one titled, “Missing” is about a sister mourning for her missing brother, while her entire family is rejoicing the fact of his would-be-wife entering the household. This is my favourite story in the book and you will know why when you read it.

The last story is called “A Snake Stepped On” where a woman accidentally steps on a snake, the snake is transformed to a girl and follows her home, thus living with the woman and her family.

You might think it to be super strange but like I said before, while these stories are strange, they are entertaining and profound to a large extent. These stories are about three women, trying to make their way in this world, surrounded by strange circumstances. In this way then, all these stories are sure inter-linked.

The writing cannot be bracketed in any genre. It is refreshing, haunting and almost new (Like I said, it did remind me of Murakami to some extent). I’ve read Kawakami’s books earlier and I must say that this happens to be her best, according to me. She has truly evolved as a writer in this one.

Lucy North has translated this book to perfection, because I didn’t feel anything lacking in it. If you want to start with contemporary Japanese literature and understand its people and way of life, I would most certainly urge you to read this collection.

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi. Translated by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi.jpg Title: The Armenian Champa Tree
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-8170461463
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 54
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading my first Mahasweta Devi book at the age of twenty-two I think. It was a long time ago or so it seems like. Since then, I have read and re-read her works. I have tried to make sense of her world or the worlds she creates from reality. I have often found myself helpless, not because I can’t do anything for the under-privileged but because I am perhaps lazy.

At the same time, reading her makes you feel so many things that you just feel them – you don’t fight her writing and you mustn’t. However, “The Armenian Champa Tree” is the kind of book which is layered by politics and caste system and yet doesn’t seem like that. It is one of those books by her which is easy to read (also given that it is so short) and yet makes you think about what she is trying to say.

Mato is a young Buno tribal boy of ten and all he does is daydream, which is mother despises. He is most attached to his pet baby goat, Arjun. A tantric saint demands Arjun’s sacrifice to the goddess Kali and thus begins Mato’s quest to save the baby goat, even if it means entering the Armenian church for it. This is where the stroke of genius of Mahasweta Devi lies. She talks of religious superstitions and makes us see the world for what it is through the eyes of a young boy and a goat. To me, just that was enough to pick up the book.

Also, might I add that the translation by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee is spot on. The reason I say this without reading this in the original form is that some words and phrases are as is which only add to the flavor of the book, at the same time, leaving not wanting for more.

“The Armenian Champa Tree” seems to be an easy book to read and absorb on the surface and it is. Till the layers start peeling and you enjoy it even more.

Vampire in Love: Stories by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas Title: Vampire in Love: Stories
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated by Margarey Jull Costa
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338822
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love long-winding stories, so much to the point that if the author rambles sometimes, I am okay with that as well. Maybe that is also because of the style of the writer. There is something to it which doesn’t let go of the reader. Enrique Vila-Matas is one such writer whose works have always eluded me – left me hanging for more and made me not want to make sense of them as well – because the stories and books he has written are enough. He is one of those authors who should just keep writing. Nothing else really matters. Maybe I am praising him too highly, but don’t go by what I am saying. Read him. No matter place to start than his short stories and this collection titled, “Vampire in Love” is just what the doctor prescribed.

“Vampire in Love” is a collection of stories that are mostly absurd but also fantastical and profound. It takes a lot of time to get into this collection, but once you do, it will have you by your throat and not let go. Vila-Matas creates a world within each story that can be books in itself but it is best when it isn’t. When the stories leave you wanting more and you don’t get it.

The stories are a ​matter of fact and to the point, so don’t be alarmed if your imagination isn’t soaring boundless. The thing to remember is the craft and the emotion each story will generate (because that it will). From empathizing with an effeminate barber who falls in love with an innocent choirboy to a lonely ophthalmologist, Vila-Matas’ characters are regular people and yet they aren’t. “Vampire in Love” is a collection which isn’t for all and yet I would urge you to read it, only to test your boundaries as a reader.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely

Snow by Orhan Pamuk Title: Snow
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: Everyman’s Library
ISBN: 978-1841593388
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 460
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk for the first time in 2004 I think. It has been thirteen years since I read it. This reread though has been a very different experience. First, because I was co-reading it with TheBookSatchel (a very famous blogger and Instagrammer. Please do look her up) and second, the discussions gave way to thoughts and opinions which sometimes a solitary reading experience cannot. Books such as Snow need to be read together and discussed because there is so much to talk about. You as a reader, will be bursting with ideas and thoughts at the end of almost every chapter.

“Snow” is also considered one of Pamuk’s difficult novels (I don’t think so at all) to read. If anything, I thought “My Name is Red” to be a little tedious. Snow on the other hand, reads very easy. It is also a book about Turkey (most of Pamuk’s books are, but of course, since he belongs to the country, or does he?) and its contradictions and how difficult or easy it is for the natives to move in time, as they are on the crossroads of East and West. Pamuk has taken this idea of Turkey and distilled the identity crisis to a border town Kars, and further refined it to the person, the poet, known as Ka (notice the wordplay here? More on it later).

Ka has recently returned from political exile in Germany for the funeral of his mother and he gets drawn to the suicides of young women in Kars, a border town. These women are committing suicide because they are being forced by the government to not wear head scarves. He is in Kars to find out more about these suicides and then there is also the question of the love of his life, Ipek (the girl from his college days) who is now in Kars and has recently been divorced. With this premise, Pamuk takes us to the heart of “Snow”.

Ka finds Kars to be a place of poverty, lack of intelligence and some violent people and yet in all of this, he finds beauty as it snows in the town, sometimes nonstop. That’s what worked for me the most about this book – snow. Pamuk describes snow as a matter of fact but the emotions that Ka goes through as it snows, transfers itself to the reader and it is a melancholic experience. Ka also finds poetry on this trip to Kars. At a certain level, he also is on the road to becoming a believer from an atheist. His pursuit of truth (or various versions of it) drive him to meet various people – the editor of a newspaper who predicts (quite surreal if you ask me) stuff, terrorists, the police, atheists, extremists and women on the verge of suicide.

Snow is not an easy book to read (in terms of all that is going on). I am not contradicting myself. You need to sink your teeth into it to truly understand it – completely. There is a lot of subtext and subplots that unravel themselves beautifully. At so many points, it read as a fairy tale to me and that’s saying a lot about the book. The lyricism of language helps move through but sometimes it gets a bit much. There is so much beauty in the book though – from the premise of Ka’s poems to the canopy of characters and their quirks and the question of faith that is constantly ringing like a fire-engine bell.

The translation is superb and the reason I say this is it feels that none of the nuances are lost. Maureen Freely’s translation, I am sure is just as empathetic as the original writing. “Snow” is to be read at its own pace. You cannot rush it. At the same time, don’t be distracted by anything else while reading it. Soak yourself into what Pamuk wants you to see and hear and you will not be disappointed.