Category Archives: Translation

365 Stories: Day 10: By the Grace of God (Allah ka Fazl) by Ismat Chughtai

a-chughtai-collection

I remember being fascinated by watching The Quilt being performed by Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre troupe Motley. I remember watching Chughtai’s four short stories being performed on stage. That was the day I was introduced to her writing.

The story read today (the 10th of January 2016) was Allah Ka Fazl, translated by Syeda S. Hameed. I know it is not one of her better-known works, but this is what I was aiming for. This story is about a mother, a daughter who is married to an older man – almost 65 and she cannot produce a child, an aunt (friend of the mother’s) who wants to help by getting her married to someone else she knows and what comes of it all in the end.

Chughtai’s stories are all about women, their issues and the ferocity with which they deal with them. Even in that time and age, I guess women were more liberated than they are today. True-blue feminists with issues to target bang-on seemed to be the order of the day. Anyhow, this story is superb. You might be able to predict the end, as you go along, but worth every turn of the page.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

mohanaswamy-by-vasudhendra Title: Mohanaswamy
Author: Vasundhendra
Translated by: Rashmi Terdal
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-9352641260
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Literature, Translations
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Mohanaswamy” struck a chord. It had to. I knew it would. It is a book about a gay man and his life and how he combats every situation and is forever finding love. The resemblance was clear. I was almost terrified when I started this book. I thought I would break down and I did in most places, but I was prepared for it at some sub-conscious level. Books which are so rooted in real-life take you to another level – of deep pain, melancholy and also sometimes of laughter (which also happened by the way). “Mohanaswamy” is a book which I would love everyone to read and hopefully the read would make them more empathetic.

“Mohanaswamy” is the book which will resonate with anyone who has felt left out in the world. It is the story of the protagonist – of his journey – from discovery his orientation to heartbreak (I loved those stories or incidents because those were the ones I could relate the most) to the societal changes (or not) and how it views gay men. Also, the fact that it is set in Bangalore and goes back and forth between Mohanaswamy’s village and the city – one thing doesn’t change though – the hypocrisy of people surrounding him, even the ones he loves. It is everything that I felt as a gay man and still do. It is not a book really – but life, Vasundhendra’s life (I am inclined to believe that it is semi-autobiographical in nature) and that’s what makes it so heartwrenching.

The translation by Rashmi Terdal is fantastic – I don’t know Kannada, but I am sure the translation captures the entire essence of the book beautifully. Growing up gay and then living a life or preparing to live a life of loneliness isn’t easy. “Mohanaswamy” gets under your skin and makes you realize and face those issues. At least, it did that for me. It almost showed me the mirror and it wasn’t easy. We need more writers like Vasundhendra, who will write such books that reflect the times we live in. Vasundhendra’s writing is razor sharp, delicate, emotional and utterly honest. I think that is what connects with a reader and stays. Like I said earlier, I would recommend everyone to read this book. You might just understand some aspect of the gay life.

The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otfried Preussler

The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otfried Preussler Title: The Robber Hotzenplotz
Author: Otfried Preussler
Translated by: Anthea Bell from German
Publisher: NYRB Children’s Collection
ISBN: 978-1590179611
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I steer clear from most children’s fiction. I don’t know why but that has always been the case – more or less. There are some books though that catches my fancy and I happened to literally bump into “The Robber Hotzenplotz” by Otfried Preussler online and couldn’t resist getting my own copy (on request from publisher) and I was more than pleasantly surprised by the book.

The story is simply told. The plot is of two boys – around eight or nine year olds – who are best friends – Kasperl and Seppel and of the robber Hotzenplotz who works very hard to hide in the woods and wait for his next victim. His next victim happens to be Kasperl’s grandmother, who he attacks and steals her coffee mill. The boys then head out to rescue the mill from Hotzenplotz and find themselves in the midst of one adventure after another.

Preussler’s writing is funny – in the sense not only for children but also for adults. The translation by Anthea Bell is simple and works with every single turn of the page. The illustrations are magnificent and won’t let go of you that easily. I loved the simple and yet so human like illustrations.

To me the book was a breeze of a read and will be the same for you. I was just wondering also of the numerous tales that we do not pay attention to, either because we aren’t familiar with them or because our culture doesn’t expose us to them. NYRB Children’s Classics plans to change that I hope with the publication of such classics that more children will read from different countries and know more. I know, I for one will lap them all.

“The Robber Hotzenplotz” is a funny read for both children and adults and I highly recommend this one.

The Man who Snapped his Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi

The Man who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi Title: The Man who Snapped his Fingers
Author: Fariba Hachtroudi
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609453060
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

And so another book was finished this month. What a book I must say as I start this review. A truly close to life book, “The Man who snapped his Fingers” surpasses every expectation and predictability and goes to the heart of the matter, without the reader even realizing that that has happened.

The book is about two people – a colonel from the inner circle of the Iranian supreme commander who now lives in another country and is being constantly questioned, as he attempts to gain asylum from the country. He is being questioned about his past – and whether or not he had anything to do with the regime’s program of kidnapping and torture. Of course, since he is being questioned, his translator at the last interrogation turns out to be “455” – a prisoner under the regime, with whom he shares a past of torture.

In the chapters that come to be in the book, we learn more about their loves and how they come to understand each other, despite sharing such a tumultuous past. I was deeply moved by this book – given how regimes (and more so dictatorial ones) change people and how after years, when the same people are face to face, how it all comes back and the decisions you then make to save the ones you love.

There are interior monologues throughout the book (first person narratives are anyway kind of difficult to immerse into) – of both these people and at first, it might be a bit daunting to read it this way – but you do get used to it eventually. The book explores the concepts of power and memory so strongly and lucidly that you are completely taken in by it.

There are their conversations – half-truths and the murkiness that has been accumulated throughout the years – which make these two who they are. As you read the book yo realize that how difficult it is to face some pasts as they reenter your existence and they do, whether you like it or not.

“The Man who snapped his Fingers” is not an easy read. Nor is it the kind of book which is easy to forget. Fariba’s writing is stark, raw and unsettling. She does not sugar-coat anything and that would be a problem if you are used to reading literature that does not present the way facts are to be presented – just the way they happened. This is of course a fictional work, but still whose roots lay in reality. I absolutely loved what this book had to offer. This book is a treat. “The Man who snapped his Fingers” is the kind of book that sticks to you and stays. I know for a fact that I will reread it sometime soon.

Moonstone – the Boy who never Was by Sjón

Moonstone - The Boy who Never Was by Sjon Title: Moonstone – the Boy who never Was
Author: Sjón
Publisher: Sceptre Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473613133
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher, ARC
Rating: 5 Stars

“Moonstone – the Boy who Never was” by Sjón (pronounced Shawn) came to me in a boxful of other books. My eye rested on this one, because I had heard a lot about the author’s previous book “The Whispering Muse”. I wanted to find out for myself what the whole fuss was about this writer and his style. Let me tell you at the very onset that “Moonstone” will for sure be one of the top 10 books I would have read this year. Hands down!

It is the kind of book that doesn’t let you be till you are done with it. It is a historic novella in the sense. It is also a subtle love story. It is about struggle and the will to live against all odds and do what one must do anyway. It is about cinema- about the small things that make everything else seem so big and grand. It is a book set in 1918 and in Iceland – of course given the author is from there.

The book is about Mani Steinn (this is where Moonstone comes from – but again how it appears in the book is heartbreaking) – a 16-year old waif who is an enigmatic character. He lives with his great-grandmother’s sister. The volcano Katla has erupted and can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik where the boy lives. The Spanish flu will arrive. The Great War grinds on. Things change. Mani has two loves of his life – Sola G and the movies. He loves the movies and well what he does for a living is something you will find out as you read the book.

The flu changes everything – the place, people, their lives, dimming the line between reality and delirium. For Mani it is about coming of age in one of the most brutal ways, about loving from afar, and the idea of watching movies one after the other is what life is all about. He cannot comprehend any other life till incidents set in motion and life changes completely.

Sjón’s prose is heartbreaking, crisp and there is so much said in such few words. This is the kind of writing that leaves you wanting more. From Mani’s life to the impact the flu has on the town to the magic of silent movies to describing the year 1918 and that too in about two months when the novel is set, is no easy feat. At this point, I must also speak of the translation by Victoria Cribb which is superlative. I’m sure it manages to convey what the author set of to.

“Moonstone” is the kind of book that evokes this melancholy feeling inside you, it makes you want to reach out and hug the writer for writing something so remarkable. It is a short book with a very big heart. I know for one that I will most certainly read a lot more that has been written by Sjón and I highly recommend that you do the same. Start with this one.