Category Archives: Translations – World – 2019

Elastic by Johanne Bille. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg

Elastic by Johanne Bille Title: Elastic
Author: Johanne Bille
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg
Publisher: Lolli Editions
ISBN: 978-1-9999928-0-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 161
Source: Publisher/Marketing Agency
Rating: 4 stars

Elastic by Johanne Bille is a book that just made its way to me at the right time. Women in Translation was coming up and a marketing agency offered me a chance to read it as a part of the Blog/Instagram tour and I jumped on it. I jumped on the opportunity because it seemed liked a read that I would most certainly enjoy, and I am so glad that it surpassed every single expectation.

Elastic is literally a book for the times we live in. Mathilde is the core of Alice’s existence. Mathilde’s force is so strong that everything changes. It is the kind of love and lust that is self-destructive and redemptive at the same time. A love that perhaps you encounter once in a lifetime. Mathilde on the other hand is also quite mercurial and happily married to Alexander. Alice is moving into a bigger flat with Simon who is back in her life. And thus, starts a relationship of four people – of love, sex, intimacy, jealousy, and the workings of the human heart.

Bille’s writing sets the tone from the very beginning. The open love affairs, the choices one makes in love, and also the satisfaction and loneliness arising from it are beautifully explored. The entire book is told through fragments and it works brilliantly for a novel of this theme and magnitude.

Elastic is the kind of book that must be read in one go and perhaps that’s the only way to read it. It defines the current emotional state of people so well that you might just identify yourself with one of the characters. It felt like I was reading the movie Closer – the same intensity but less brutal. Bille’s writing and Hellberg’s translation were a match waiting to happen. Read Elastic. Be taken in by what happens when love washes over you and doesn’t let go.

 

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata Title: Convenience Store Woman
Author: Sayaka Murata
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 978-0802128256
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The comfort in the constant. That’s how I have preferred to live life, to be honest. It never happens this way. Not all the time. Not ever, come to think of it. Yet, I have also learned how to turn the change into being constant over a period of time. Isn’t that what it is really? The humdrum of the sameness. The monotony of the constant. The familiar is utmost reassuring if nothing else. But that’s just for me, and rereading “Convenience Store Woman” got all those feelings to the fore, emerging one by one from the shadows, overwhelming me to the point of tears.

I shall try not to get the personal involved in this review. I try, but I do not guarantee. Anyway, back to the book. Sayaka Murata has written close to ten novels (I think) and this is the first time one of her books is translated to English. I read this book for the first time last year. There were too many emotions I was dealing with after finishing it. Most of them were a product of the read. The loneliness, the making peace with it, the awareness of using the familiar as a crutch, the times I had ideas or thoughts I shouldn’t have had – all of these were in sync with the protagonist Keiko Furukura’s way of being. I related so strongly with her (most of her, not all) that I was almost scared of reviewing this book.

August is the month of women in translation. This is my first read of the month and a reread that I enjoyed and loved. So here goes: As the title suggests, the book is about a Convenience Store and a person who works there. Keiko considered herself reborn once she joined the store. Her life is divided almost into two parts – before and after joining the store. She is awkward, she is clueless about how to fit in the world, and she struggles with day-to-day interactions. Yet, beneath the surface there is the Keiko that wants to blend in, wants to feel included, and live life according to the manual – get married, have kids, and get people off your back. Keiko has been made to feel like “damaged goods” throughout her life – by her parents, friends, baby sister, and colleagues. The idea of “change” or “cure” oneself runs deep in the book. It is in a way the plot-point through which Murata mocks the society we inhabit.

The book deals with so many broad questions that people face every single day. I will get to that in a bit. Though the book is set in Japan, it is universal in its approach. Murata touches on loneliness, middle-age, the way we see ourselves against the parameters set by society (marriage, child-birth, job satisfaction, what job you do, whether you fit in or not, and the gender stereotypes set for us from the time we are born), and above all of this the need to belong at a very basic level – that of acceptance.

Keiko and Shiraha (A part-time worker at the store. That’s all I can reveal about him) are so different and of course similar on all counts. Murata’s characters are constantly on the edge, on the brink of falling apart or coming together to save what they can of themselves, and more than anything they are about life being lived in the mundane with pragmatism and ironically hope at the same time.

The translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori is nuanced in every single way, and like I said would appeal to every single reader, in any part of the world. Ginny transports us to the store, and Keiko’s world with a sudden rush as it should be and before you know it, as a reader you don’t want to leave the world created by Murata. For every translation, it must be so difficult to get the exact phrase, the nature of the dream, aspirations, and thoughts of characters down to pat the way the author intended it. The translator also then is nothing but a co-writer of the book in the truest sense of the word.

Convenience Store Woman’s title when read in Japanese is Convenience Store Human or Person and that to me makes more sense. It somehow adds that layer of making it common – of the tonality it deserves even if it is also in the title. But that is something that can be overlooked in a jiffy only because the book is par excellence. It touches all the notes – the awkward ones, the peculiar, the bitingly familiar, the hauntingly real, the one that sets you apart, and achingly wants to be a part of the world at large. This August, it being Women in Translation, please do read this book. You must.

 

77 by Guillermo Saccomanno. Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

77 by Guillermo Saccomanno Title: 77
Author: Guillermo Saccomanno
Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger
Publisher: Open Letter
ISBN: 978-1940953892
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Books written to defy, to present various points of view, and above all to show us that we can and should raise voices against powers are books that I love to read. It makes me feel stronger, it makes me want to protest, and more than anything else it makes me feel that I have companions and not alone in the world when it comes to issues close to my heart. 77 is one such book that held me by my throat and being and I just had to finish it in almost three sittings or so. The book still lingers in my memory, and I know that it will for a long time to come.

 So, what is the book about?

 The book is set in Buenos Aires, 1977. A time that is considered to be a part of the darkest days of the Videla dictatorship, from the time he seized power in 1976. At the heart of the book is Gómez, a gay high-school literature teacher, trying very hard to keep a low profile as his friends and students begin to disappear. This is the time when questioning is forbidden, and people aren’t allowed to live the way they wish to.

 Things also start spiralling when he gives shelter to two dissidents in his house, and to make things worst he is having an affair with a homophobic cop who is loyal to the government and no one else. The book is told in flashbacks – from 2007 to 1977 – jumping back and forth.

 I was stunned reading this novel. I didn’t know what to feel for some time and then I realized that I was scared. Scared of such a regime being thrust upon us (though it seems that day isn’t very far) and how we would react or live in that case. Living under a dictatorship isn’t easy. At the same time, it isn’t very hard for people to get used to it, which is most fearful.

Saccomanno’s writing is fluid and clear. In most parts, I thought of it to be autobiographical and I don’t think I was far from the truth. The moral, social, and intellectual dilemmas that present themselves make the book so haunting and real. Is literature dead? Is sexual preference dead? Is raising your voice dead? What is alive anymore?

 77 is a book not just about a year – about people, their opinions, the regime that wants a mental shutdown of its people, a state that will have nothing but totalitarianism at the helm of things. 77, to me was more than just a book. It is about a literary soul that is trapped and is the story of one man trying to make sense in a world of madness and inhumanity, lurking in almost every corner. It is a book that shows you what shouldn’t be repeated. We can only hope and pray.

 

Why Read? by Charles Dantzig. Translated from the French by Renuka George

Why Read by Charles DantzigTitle: Why Read?
Author: Charles Dantzig
Translated from the French by Renuka George
Publisher: Yoda Press
ISBN: 978-9382579564
Genre: Books about Books, Bibliophilia
Pages: 206
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Why does one read? Why does anyone read at all? What is the purpose and point of it all? Is it a pointless activity? Does it add to our knowledge or does it enhance us as people? If we think about the other spectrum, then why do writers write? What is the point of it all?

Charles Dantzig was a revelation to me this month. Thanks to Yoda Press for publishing him in English and sending me a copy of delightful essays penned by him, answering the one elusive question in various ways: Why Read? I love books about books, books about reading, books about readers and writers, and writing in general. Why Read? is a book that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Dantzig is hilarious. He is real, and therefore oh so relatable. There are about seventy-odd essays in the book and each of them ponders about the pleasures, woes, ill-effects (you must have to embrace his humour as well), joys, complexities, and sometimes also the pains of reading. Dantzig’s world is all about books and that is seen most clearly, as you turn the pages. Whether he is speaking of his childhood reads, or how people read to show off (just too funny), how reading is a tattoo, the joys of marginalia, reading on the beach (what and how), every essay shines. Well, most of them at least.

Renuka George’s translation is perfect. She lets some French reside in the book so it doesn’t feel too translated (if there is something like that). The book is honest in the sense that Dantzig just says it the way it is, almost in most parts not romanticising the act of reading. While I did not agree with him when it came to those portions, I certainly felt that it made sense and rightly so. At the same time, there is a sense of solidarity when it comes to readers and books about books that speak to them.

Reading Why Read? is almost like hearing a friend speak about books, authors, and readers. Why Read? is comforting, hilarious, makes you think about what you want to read next, makes you also want to pick up a book on an unknown impulse, but above all it cements the relationship we have with books, authors, and reading stronger and does so with great joy and splendour.

The Cracks in Our Armour by Anna Gavalda. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

The Cracks in Our Armour Title: The Cracks in Our Armour
Author: Anna Gavalda
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1787701632
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I love short stories. A good short story is as good as a novel. Sometimes even better. Of course, some may think otherwise, but this is just my opinion. And to see one of my favourite writers venture into the short-story territory was a joy and she didn’t disappoint at all. The Cracks in Our Armour is a collection of stories that is right up her alley and completely what is expected from a writer of her calibre.

I will start right away with the translation. Alison Anderson by far is one of my favourite French translators. From the Elegance of the Hedgehog to Pétronille by Amélie Nothomb, her translation prowess is on point and she brings her very best game to The Cracks in Our Armour as well.

This collection of short stories, seven of them, are all told in first person. These stories are about everyday people – who show their vulnerabilities and admit their weaknesses. There is nothing new about the characters that Gavalda introduces us to – not new to her regular readers. For instance, her trademark elements of loneliness and despair starts from the very first story and continues till the very last one. From a trucker who decides to put his dog to sleep to an alcoholic widow trying to make sense of the world, Gavalda infuses the day-to-day nature of living in her characters in big doses. They are just like you and I, and hence the connect.

Gavalda’s stories are extremely quaint in their appeal – in terms of perhaps how people behave, feel, and think, and yet set in urban places. This then places a sort of bigger burden so to say in terms of writing and connecting. I loved how people in her stories find unique solutions to modern problems of love, dating, friendship, and marriage. Her characters maybe a gloomy bunch and forever stuck in the zone of low self-esteem, but they are also full of life – even while mourning the loss of a loved one. This to me is the power of Gavalda’s writing that makes you connect so much to the characters and place.

All said and done, The Cracks in Our Armour is a collection of stories that speak to the heart in all its simplicity, complexity, and the understanding of love and empathy that makes you see the world from a larger perspective of kindness and a whole lot of heart.