Category Archives: Translated Works

Read 39 of 2022. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree. Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Title: Tomb of Sand
Author: Geetanjali Shree
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284611
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Literature
Pages: 730
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A book like Tomb of Sand comes once a while – encompassing everything – all of it – maybe all our stories, or some of our stories – intermingling, intertwining, greeting each other along the way, choosing whom to converse with, whom to ignore, and how to navigate life.  Stories that have a life of their own – breathing, living creations that only need an audience and Tomb of Sand will get its audience, and should – more than its fair share, because this book deserves it all.

I am gushing. I shall gush some more. So be it. Some novels do more than just provide entertainment or are more than means of passing time. They demand to be read, reread, reread some more, till they enter your consciousness and then refuse to leave. Sputnik Sweetheart is one such book for me. This one is definitely another.

Tomb of Sand on the surface seems like a book with a very simple plot-line. A mother of a family and her relationship with a transgender person, in the wake of her husband’s death. This causes some kind of confusion in her daughter who always thought of herself to be more progressive of the two. However, let this plot not fool you. This could very well be a book without a plot for the first two-hundred pages or so, and honestly it wouldn’t matter to the reader or deter the reading experience.

Tomb of Sand is so much more than just a story of a family or of a woman trying to come to terms with the past and the present as it shapes itself around her. Tomb of Sand is a book about families, about life lived in-between contemplating how to live it and the parts that you so want to live but cannot, and more than anything, it was for me – a novel about redemption, about so many what ifs, about the choices we make – intentionally and unintentionally, about empty spaces we choose to fill and sometimes the void is even more glaring than it was, and it is a novel about boundaries, about how we limit ourselves through identity and gender, about how we are much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Geetanjali Shree experiments with language, makes it her own, makes it fall flat on its head, and doesn’t bother with the rules of grammar. She makes her own rules as she goes along. I say this after also having read major portions of the book in Hindi as well. The translation by Daisy Rockwell is a different book – a unique entity, if I were to call it that. Daisy takes the book in Hindi and gives its English readers a new landscape to imagine and embrace. I do not mean the translation doesn’t do justice to the original, in fact, if anything it takes the playfulness of Hindi – makes it more than palpable to English and doesn’t transpose or transliterate, just for it to sound right, but gives it its own vocabulary, adding if I may call it the “Rockwell Touch”.  Her translation doesn’t miss a beat. It is lucid, clear, and gives the reader what they need, and also what they thought they didn’t need.

Tomb of Sand also seems like a rather simple novel, which again it isn’t. I do not mean only when it comes to structure or who is the narrator, or what is happening but also language that I have spoken about earlier. There is a sense of calm to the choice of words – both in Hindi and English – which makes the novel so relatable. I think that the “Indianness” of the novel is what lends it the added layer of appeal. For instance, the entire angle of the mother staying with the daughter in the daughter’s house while the son has his own family is something not permissible in an Indian household. The mother has to stay with the son. Shree breaks this mould and presents a new way of life. Rockwell takes that new way of life and brings to life the conversations between the two women (of course from the original) – without discussing a man – they discuss their bowel movements, they discuss childhood, life, what the mother thinks, what Beti feels, but not a man. This is perhaps intentional but does the job of meeting the Bechdel test than most other novels and movies.

Another instance that intrigued me the most was the class difference and the way Shree has highlighted it throughout the book. Domestic help have names attached – full names and personalities – from what they do to who they are and their role in the family. On the other hand, the members of the household are not known by names, except for one son called Sid. The rest are nameless, known by their roles and what they add to the plot.

Tomb of Sand also becomes a partition novel somewhere after four-hundred pages, and it didn’t surprise me at all, when that happened. I was so immersed in the world created by Shree and her magnificence, that I submitted myself more than happily to this plot-twist, if I can call it that. This again makes the novel even more profound and complex.

Tomb of Sand is shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022. I hope it wins. I hope it is known widely. I hope because of this other Indian language books get their place in the sun. Tomb of Sand is a delight to read and reread. If you have already read it, I recommend you go back to it. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Please read it. NOW.

Read 29 of 2022. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami. Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Title: Heaven
Author: Mieko Kawakami Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1509898244
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Heaven triggered memories that should’ve been left alone and not touched. The memories of being bullied at school, by four boys who called me their friend, and yet would bully me every single day for five years.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami is perhaps all our story – of the ones who were bullied at high-school, the monstrosity of it all, the nightmare, and the solace found in unexpected people.

The book isn’t an easy read. Kawakami will not make it easy and redemptive. The bullies will bully and will think of innovative ways of doing so, for instance, taking the unnamed narrator’s head and using it as a football. The description isn’t nice. It isn’t meant to be. It is raw and gritty.

The unnamed fourteen-year-old (who also has a lazy eye) goes through all of this and more, till he meets someone at school – Kojima – a kindred spirit, a classmate who is also being bullied by a bunch of vicious girls, through exchange of notes, their friendship blossoming, and they rarely meet. Over a summer break, they visit an art museum, where Kojima plans to show him her favourite painting about men and women who have discovered harmony and joy after immense suffering. She calls the painting “Heaven”.

The book is set in early 1990s in Japan and to me it was the most beautiful meditation on the nature of suffering, coming of age, and what it is like to perhaps overcome in some manner or the other. They aren’t lovers. They will never be. But they are bound by their suffering and constantly asking questions around it: What is it? When will it end? Why are they going through it?

The translation by Sam Bett and David Boyd is concise and to the point. Having read Breasts and Eggs by Kawakami, also translated by them, I can say that the tone is spot-on. The atmosphere of the school world of Japan in the 90s is clearly communicated. I loved how the translation does not ramble away to explain anything – it lets the prose be for people to see and doesn’t tell anything.

Heaven is a book that might seem YA as it did to me when I started off but worked on so many other levels. The poignancy of growing up, but to have to do so when being exposed to bullying made me go through all of my school life in my head, and it wasn’t easy at all. Perhaps it was extremely cathartic as I did find myself not reading after a point and tearing up, but it was also needed to revisit it all, for life like fiction to transform.

Read 27 of 2022. Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung

Title: Cursed Bunny
Author: Bora Chung
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur
Publisher: Honford Star
ISBN: 978-1916277182
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The best part about this book is that you cannot place it under any genre, and yet just to simplify it, I put it under a basic genre, that of short stories. These short stories are not just any run-of-the-mill stories though. There is so much more than what meets the eye.

Horror, magic realism, supernatural, the weird, folklore blending with the contemporary storytelling, and then of course the literary that slow slips into the prose.

Bora Chung’s stories may be bizarre but they after all only reflect the society, we live in. From the loneliness of people that need droids, to the idea of parenthood and self and ultimately how the two interweave, to the exploitation of people in a capitalistic world, each story resonates on different levels.

Yes, the stories are grotesque. Yes, the element of horror in these stories is perhaps a little more, and yes, some narratives may seem similar than most – the bottom-line being, Chung’s stories also work, because of the exquisite translation by Anton Hur.

The stories could’ve fallen flat to their face in English if it weren’t for the translator, given the landscape in which they are set. Each story is heavily nuanced, and culturally unique to the place, and that to translate to English, so readers get it all, is the work of an expert, which Anton is. No word seems out of place, nothing jarring in a sentence, and the emotions remain the same. Where I had to feel horror, I did. Where I had to feel pity, I did.

Cursed Bunny is all about placing the overlooked and the ignored at the center of things. From monsters to androids to ghosts to sometimes what comes out of us as well is exaggerated and placed in contexts for all to see, in all its glory or not.

Read 237 of 2021. The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi. English Text by Gita Wolf.

The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi

Title: The Women I Could Be
Author: Sangita Jogi
English Text by Gita Wolf
Publisher: Tara Books
ISBN: 9788193448533
Genre: Feminism
Pages: 68
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is hands down one of the best books I have read this year. It is intricate, empathetic, gives a world view in its own manner, feisty, feminist, and above all makes you check your privilege, and look at the world differently.

Sangita Jogi’s mother Tejubehan is an artist herself and has been working with Tara books since a while now. Sangita Jogi brings her own style to the fore. “My women are modern” she says, which is seen beautifully in this book.

The book is divided into sections – modern women, women I could be, roaming the world, appearing in public, good times, and the world has progressed.

Through each section, Sangita Jogi most uniquely tells us about her life, her dreams, her aspirations, how she had to get married early – tradition being what it is, and how she manages to still draw and paint and be her own person.

I love the part when she speaks of her daughter and how she will not be who her mother is. She wants better for her daughter, which she intends to give.

“The Women I Could Be” shows you a different India – of women who have the same dreams and ambitions – yet give in to circumstances and even then, dare to be who they want to. Jogi’s art is stunning, liberating, and makes you want to have it all. I was stumped looking at it and kept coming back to it again and again.

The text is sparse, honest, and hard-hitting. She admits to only wanting to draw modern women – they make her dream big and think even bigger. I guess that’s the power of imagination. Jogi’s women are feisty and fantabulous. Through her art we see how they only want to have fun and be themselves. Through her art, we get a glimpse of the person she is and one can do nothing but applaud her talent and what she stands for.

Read 224 of 2021. Trust by Domenico Starnone . Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Trust by Domenico Starnone

Title: Trust
Author: Domenico Starnone Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609457037
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Two people meet. They fall in love. Their affair is passionate and almost magical. They push each other’s buttons and finally make a pact about telling their darkest secrets to each other – with the promise of trust, thinking that they will forever be with each other. Till the young teacher Pietro and his young student Teresa aren’t together. Till they both find other people to love and the secrets shared continues to haunt them, and both stop trusting each other.

Starnone’s writing is simple. The emotions aren’t. They are messy and all over the place. The first part is told by Pietro and somehow you can see where the power lies in this relationship. But of course, it is quite obvious. The power shift only because Teresa knows what she does and the fact that he fears what might happen if the world knows of it.

Starnone’s writing is balanced and mostly to the point. He is aware of what his characters do, the way they feel, the dilemmas they are caught in, and with the understanding of the kind of control they have, they navigate their lives in the world. The second part is told by Pietro’s daughter Emma, and with this change of narrative, the reader doubts what was known before. How characters betray each other, and do they even know themselves is then the crux.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation is perfect. What is interesting is how she perceives the writing – given that the perspective is largely male and how she brings Teresa to the fore with her immaculate translation.

Yes there are moral blind spots in the book and yes you cannot take sides as you read it, or keep shifting sides if that happens, but this is what makes Trust such an interesting read.