Category Archives: Translations Project 2020

Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa by Kenji Miyazawa. Translated from the Japanese by John Bester.

Once and Forever Title: Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa
Author: Kenji Miyazawa
Translated from the Japanese by John Bester
Publisher: New York Review Books Classics
ISBN: 978-1681372600
Genre: Mythology, Folktales, Folklore
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The month of May is also a slow one. A slow reading month. But this one was worth the time spent on it. Two dozen tales of joy, innocence, whimsical, sometimes tragic – but all deeply rooted to Japanese folklore and connected to the flora and fauna of the land.

Miyazawa takes you through a range of emotions with these tales. Whether it is the cautionary tale of “The Restaurant of Many Orders” to the heartlessness of “The Spider, the Slug, and the Raccoon”, Miyazawa had me enthralled and wanting more with every turn of the page.

I don’t think I’ve read something like these tales before. It isn’t about them being magical. But it is about holding your own as well in the face of the traditional ways of life. Most tales are also drawn from Buddhism which I loved. For instance, “A Stem of Lillies” which does incorporate the many images from the Lotus Sutra.

Once and Forever is a book that will stay for me for a long time. It is so underrated and I’m glad that New York Review Books decided to publish these tales. Read it. Lay your hands on it.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Hurricane Season
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 9781913097097
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is the last book I will be reviewing for the month of March 2020. I am just only too happy that I read Hurricane Season, and enjoyed it to the hilt. There is no way my review is going to do justice to the book, but I shall try.

The book starts with the Witch’s death. Yes, The Witch is dead (almost reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz). Her corpse is discovered by children playing near the irrigation canals (I absolutely loved the imagery of this one, I mean to make this seem so casual and yet not something children want to ever face. The bleakness was delicious). And the book then is about how and why this murder took place. I am putting it in a very simple manner though.

Hurricane Season is not for the faint-hearted in my opinion. There is a lot that gets uncovered and most of it is not pleasant. Yes, there is a lot of violence in the book, but there is a lot of hope and humanity as well. The book is told through the stories of Luismi, Norma, Brando, and Munra. The vividness of a small Mexican village comes through stunningly in Hurricane Season. It reminded me of so many other Latin-American writers, and their spaces, and yet it was so different and new.

Hurricane Season might perhaps be hands-down one of the best books I have read this year. The sheer intensity of the prose, while also showing the read lives wrought with poverty, violence, misogyny, and prejudice. Each chapter presents itself in a different voice – so yes, there is a different perspective, and all of it falls together at the end of it. Everyone says there is a bit of Faulkner in it, but I couldn’t find him. All I heard was Melchor’s distinct voice and the brilliant translation by Sophie Hughes.

The sentences do tend to go on and on and on most of the time, but if you concentrate, and comprehend the narratives, you will be just fine. There is anger, pain, and the understanding of the role literature plays when it comes to compassion and empathy.

 

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cámara Cabezón. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Title: The Adventures of China Iron
Author: Gabriela Cámara Cabezón
Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 9781916465664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I hadn’t read Argentina’s epic national poem Martín Fierro (1872-79) to which The Adventures of China Iron is a queer response. I just dived straight into this one and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is so much and much more. The layers of this novel are plenty and to uncover and peel each one took quite some time in my head.

The narrator China (Latin for female) is soon renamed Josephine Star Iron, is the teenage wife of Martín Fierro, left behind to fend for herself as her husband is press-ganged into the army. She soon takes refuge with Liz, who has just arrived from Scotland, and the two of them travel together. Liz is here to claim land she and her husband are about to manage for a wealthy British man. On their travels, China develops a crush on Liz. She has her hair cut and wears men’s clothes to travel safely and in turn, becomes Jo. Thus, their adventures begin.

I do not think I will ever read Martín Fierro, and not because it isn’t good or anything, but because The Adventures of China Iron is a book I will never forget. Fierro may not even live up to it at all, and of that I am sure. The complexities of China Iron are plenty. There is so much to take away from it, and not just about being queer, or a woman, but historically as well.

Gabriela Cámara Cabezón’s writing is so powerful that I literally had to reread so many portions, just to understand it at a deeper level. The translation by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre doesn’t disappoint – every nuance – traditional and otherwise is presented to the reader as is. The interactions of these women with men they encounter, the power dynamics, the inequality, and the punch of 1872 Argentina comes across vividly in so many ways.

The Adventures of China Iron is a treat for any reader – a romp of a read, but more than anything else, makes you understand what it means to not only be a woman but find your own at the end of it all.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann Title: Tyll
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1524747466
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

This is another International Booker 2020 Long-listed title which I finished this month. Mostly it worked for me, and mostly it did not. There is magic realism (which happens to be one of my favourite genres), history, and adventure. And yet there were times I just wanted to put the book down and not read it.

The book is about Tyll Ulenspiegel, a seventeenth-century vagabond performer and trickster. The book spans decades and traverses the Thirty Years’ War, and characters that Tyll encounters on his journey as a performer. It sounds all good on paper, even great, but somehow the book couldn’t hold my attention for the most part.

I just wasn’t involved in Tyll’s life or story and maybe that’s why the book didn’t work for me. At some points in the book, Tyll isn’t even at the center of it. There are other characters which take over, and that’s alright but the plot doesn’t move ahead or didn’t seem to for me. Tyll is atmospheric but that’s where the charm of this book ended for me.

The translation from the German by Ross Benjamin is perfect – when talking about the myth of Tyll, and what war does to humanity, and how art saves us all. Those portions had me wanting more, but not enough. When I started reading Tyll, I was really into the book for at least fifty pages or so, until it just became a chore, but spots of brilliance making an appearance now and then. I wish the moments of brilliance were more than a few.

 

Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes.

Mac's Problem by Enrique Vila-MatasTitle: Mac’s Problem
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes
Publisher: New Directions Publishing
ISBN: 978-0811227322
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This book was a treat. At almost every level – the plot, writing, characters, pacing of the novel, and the fact that a master such as Vila-Matas has written it, only adds to its wonder. The idea of life imitating art and vice-versa has always been a personal favourite, and then to find one of the few novels whose premise is seeped in it is a thing of joy to read and contemplate about.

At the heart of this novel is Mac, who is unemployed and dependent on his wife’s earnings. Being an avid reader and beyond, he decides to maintain a diary at the age of sixty. His wife who is dyslexic thinks he is wasting his time. A chance encounter with a neighbour – a successful author of a collection of stories, Mac decides that he will improvise his neighbour’s stories, which are in turn narrated by a ventriloquist who has lost the knack of speaking in different voices. The book then takes a strange turn and only gets stranger as you go along, with art imitating life or vice-versa.

Mac’s Problem is a book that had me in from the first page. Again, it is not an easy read, but there is something to it – the concept of a diary, and then someone’s short stories, and how they become personal after a while, and the paranoia that takes over. Vila-Matas’ writing is full of literary references, and stellar prose if anything. It is also quite funny in a lot of places – I am sure that was intentional.

The book does drag and something about it being two-dimensional worked so much for me. It takes time to get to the actual plot perhaps but if you persist, you will be massively rewarded in the end. A must-read if you ask me.