Category Archives: Translation

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.

Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

Beauty is a Wound Title: Beauty is a Wound
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Translator: Annie Tucker
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755682
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Beauty is a wound” that borders on the mystical, the surreal, the magic realism and the unbelievable and scores full marks on each of these parameters. It is the kind of book that will not leave you that easy and you will keep going back to it, as you think more and more about the characters, some lines and the plot in general.

The book is everything you can possibly imagine it to be – it is historical in nature, a sweeping family saga, a book of tragedy, legend, humour, rape, monstrosity and more.

What is the book about though?

The book is about Indonesia – it is about the Indonesian way of life and more often than not, about its politics, freedom, culture and the ties that aren’t cut off that easy. It is about ghosts – multiple ghosts at that, about how Dewi Ayu refused to leave her homeland when the Dutch bolted, and how she rises beyond the grave when her family is at stake.

The allegory of the country being a woman is way too strong in the book, hence the rape and pillage scenes are extremely violent and you can only stomach it if you are metaphorically made of steel at that. “Beauty is a wound” also to me in most places felt heavily inspired by Marquez, but the sad part is that anyone who attempts to write in this genre, will be compared to Marquez, whether they like it or not.

Eka Kurniawan’s writing is very different and quite refreshing might I add. This also to a very large extent comes from the translation which shines on every page, as done by Annie Tucker. You don’t want to miss out on this book. It will be tough getting into, it will be raw and intense as you read it, but you will savour it and want more of this masterpiece.

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider

The Village Indian by Abbas Khider Title: The Village Indian
Author: Abbas Khider
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857421012
Genre: Literary fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Seagull books are most interesting. There is something about the list that makes you want to read everything they publish. Their fiction is superlative. Their non-fiction mesmerizes you as a reader. Their concepts and what they choose to publish is beyond anything that I have seen come from other publishers. So when I started reading “The Village Indian” by Abbas Khider, I knew I had struck gold.

“The Village Indian” is not an easy read – in the sense that it is difficult to get your teeth into – yes it is a difficult read from the look of it, but when you immerse yourself in the book – then you cannot get out of it, till it is done and finished with.

The novel though is drawn from the author’s experiences as a political prisoner and the years he spent as a refugee. It will not be easy for some to stomach this, but there is no sugar-coating in this book at all. The hero Rasul Hamid describes the eight different ways in which he fled his home in Iraq and how in those eight different times he failed to find himself a new way home.

This is the summary of the plot – so to say but there are so many layers to this book that will take you by surprise and throw you off-guard. The humour bites you and at the same time it has you wondering about the refugee condition and what happens to those who do not make it – what about the people living on the margins? Do they have a future at all?

Khider’s writing is razor-sharp and doesn’t miss a beat in any sentence or page for that matter. It is a joyride of a novel – that takes you through various turns and twists, and at the same time at some level makes you see what the world really is like, and surprisingly I was a little hopeful, a little bittersweet and a whole lot of happy after reading this book.


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