Category Archives: Translations

Read 15 of 2023. Hospital by Sanya Rushdi. Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha

HospitalI read “Hospital” with trepidation. I was apprehensive about getting triggered regarding my mental health issues, but if anything, I am glad I read it, because while it may seem that the book is about descent into madness and maybe to some extent it is, but it is also about so much more. It is primarily about language, and Arunava Sinha being the translator par excellence that he is uses it sometimes playfully, sometimes using melancholia, mostly matter-of-fact, and sometimes as a means of self-exploration for the protagonist Sanya (yeah, it is a metanovel inspired by real-life events). He is in absolute sync with the mindset of the writer, the protagonist, and more than anything else with where the story unfolds – that in a hospital in Australia.

The story is told from the perspective of a patient – all in first person – of Sanya’s feelings, of what is unravelling slowly yet surely, of what is hidden behind a wall of caution when it comes to giving away too much, of safeguarding oneself and seeing the world as an enemy by and large, Hospital asks big questions: What is sanity? Who is sane? What is the societal parameter of someone being sane or not? And all of this is questionable a little more than ever, because you as a reader are made aware from the first page that the narration could be unreliable, but you cannot help it – you have to read it, you have to know how is it going to be for Sanya – what her life is going to turn out like – how her world is constantly shifting and changing.

Arunava’s translations are always a delight to read. He gets into the skin of language, and what emerges is something extraordinarily unique only to what he has translated from the source. Hospital cuts like a knife and makes you so uncomfortable as a reader, which I think should be one of the objectives of literature – to shake the reader, to get us to spaces that are suffocating, and make us see things – whether we trust them or not, rely on them or not, that is secondary – in fact should not even be considered, given how the story propels us further.

Hospital by Sanya Rushdi quietly takes you by the hand, and then leaves you to your own device in the mind of the protagonist. We live with her, and see the world through her, the places we know, and the places we are made aware of. The titular place then becomes most ordinary, turns extraordinary, lets us in, and makes us see all the failings and sometimes joy of living.

Read 14 of 2023. Greek Lessons by Han Kang. Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won.

Greek Lessons

Greek Lessons is something that needs to be savoured, and taken in slowly. You cannot read it in one sitting, and while it may seem a deceptively small book, do not be fooled. Its ideas, expression, emotions, and thoughts are huge, and take time to process, to understand, to make sense of, and ultimately connect with.

Greek Lessons also grows on the reader. I must admit that initially I thought it was going nowhere, but as the relationship between the two protagonists develops, takes a certain unnameable form and shape, you begin to see the layers Kang lays out for the reader – the several emotions that are in conflict, and done in both first person, for the man and third person, for the woman.

The woman has lost her mother, and is still processing the loss of her son to the custody of her ex-husband, and in all of this, she loses her ability to speak. The man is on the other hand trying to make sense of his life, of identity, of belonging, and to come to terms with the loss of his eyesight, that will eventually blind him. It is with all of this happening that the woman begins attending ancient Greek lessons taught by the man at a private academy, and their relationship forms shape from thereon.

There is no definite plot. There is no definite structure. The characters are unnamed, even though the entire book is about them. The discourse on language and what remains and what leaves during translation is almost meta, given the book is a translation from the Korean by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won – so it is almost surreal to see how language sometimes fails in expression of grief – to the point of learning a new one and yet not being able to express. In how ideas that come through by the use of language maybe aren’t enough – of how a man who has the words, doesn’t have the emotions, and the woman who has all the emotion, is short of words.

Greek Lessons is everything and nothing at all – all at the same time. You can clearly see the woman struggling with space – physical, metaphorical, and mostly when it comes to language. Han Kang’s women whether it is in The Vegetarian or even in Human Acts are constantly struggling with themselves and the world, and this beautiful translation depicts it in more than one way.

Read 10 of 2023. Pyre by Perumal Murugan. Translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.



Pyre may seem so simply written on the surface. It may seem so not detailed in one sense, and yet as you turn the pages, and discover more, you see Mr. Murugan’s brilliance shine through the pages. From speaking about caste to patriarchy (because after all, it is all interlinked) to the micro-agressions that aren’t micro given the lay of the land, they are just aggressions, he takes the reader through a journey of strife, using themes such as love, religion, hatred, and the inequities that exist in every rung of societal hierarchy.

Pyre opens with Saroja and Kumaresen getting off a bus and entering Kumaresen’s village. They are in love. They harbour a secret: Of their marriage being inter-caste. Saroja hopes she will be accepted by her husband’s family and extended village people. The entire village and Kumaresen’s relatives cannot come to terms with what has happened. Saroja still believes that her faith and love will conquer it all.

Pyre simmers on every page. You can feel the heat, the hatred, the remoteness of the village, Saroja’s claustrophobia, Kumaresen’s helplessness, and his mother Marayi’s constant nagging, taunts, and temper. It is a book that is evocative, beguiling, and at the same time so raw in its approach – there are tender moments, far and few and in-between, but they exist nonetheless.

The characters are few, the book is a short one, the sentences are sparse and simple, and so much is playing out for the reader. Murugan doesn’t allow you to breathe sometimes – it feels that sticky, humid, a breath caught in your throat, stuck somewhere deep inside, because of what you have just read – the traditions, the beliefs, the culture of the land that cannot bring itself to view love of two people.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan’s translation is superbly succinct, and goes where the author takes him. Vasudevan brings his own touch to the cultural expressions that I am sure Murugan used very differently in the Tamil, and while reading it in the English you can see the effortless transition, or rather hear it in your head, as you go along. Pyre is tense and will always keep the reader on the edge. It is not an easy book to digest. It is also not easy to imagine what is happening, and what might. It is brutal, empathetic, nuanced, and tender – all at the same time.

Read 9 of 2023. Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel.

Time Shelter

Time Shelter is a sublime take on how we live, on how we have been living, and perhaps also about how we will live in the time to come. It is a book that most elegantly blends the past, the now, and the future, in its large-hearted vision of what it means to be human, of what we choose to live in a certain moment of time, and why we make the choices we do.

This book is everything I expected from it – nostalgia with a dash of contemporary, of what it means to live in the past, of dementia, of memory and the role it plays in our small lives – of what it means to be alive in a world that expects you to remember, when all you want to maybe do is forget. Of wanting to jump time and been given the opportunity to do that. Gaspodinov’s writing is sublime – it is. It is everything and everywhere indeed all at once. I cannot put my finger on it but I love it so much – just spectacularly written and translated beautifully by Angela Rodel.

For me the characters don’t matter, as much as what is going on – how years jump – decades whiz by, the joy of not wanting to keep track as a reader – of all the cultural references as years roll by – music, art, literature, movies, the works. Not to forget the role history will still play even if time is recreated and you are technically still in the present which is soon going to be the past. Absolutely spectacular! I hope it makes it to the shortlist.

Read 110 of 2022. Bolla by Pajtim Statovci. Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston.

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci

Title: Bolla
Author: Pajtim Statovci
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 9781524749200
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I finished reading Bolla at a time when I am most disillusioned by love – more so when it comes to same-gender love. I am confused, whether it exists or not, whether it is possible for forever together, and happiness to be possible. If anything at all, can two men love each other? Can they truly love each other?

I am not going to say that Bolla answered these questions of mine, because they are too vague, and perhaps not to nuanced to be met with answers anyway. But what Bolla did was, it reaffirmed the fact that love isn’t easy, neither is it as simple as it seems on paper, nor is it moral, and almost never in sync with what you expect.

Bolla is a story beyond two men and their loves and lives. It is also the story of conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians, the Kosovo war, what happens to people torn by war, and in all of this – it is a story of self, identity, the confusion that rises from finding yourself, and the lengths one will go to, to do that.

Bolla makes you go through a series of emotions – from love, to lust, to wanting what the two men have, to not want it at all, to getting angry at one of them because of his choices, and perhaps then understanding his state of being, mind, and heart. You pick sides while reading this book, and then you don’t.

As a reader, I was overwhelmed in the beginning, angry at mid-point, sad right through the read, judgmental, and then wasn’t because you don’t take sides in a story where there are so many blurred lines. At some point, reading the journal entries of Miloš, I couldn’t tell if the narrator was then reliable or not.

Statovci is a genius. A master who doesn’t believe in telling all, neither does he show all. It is a beautiful balance of the two – a lyrical meditation on what we lose, how we gain, and what remains in the end.

Bolla is about self-loathing, how much are we willing to be honest to ourselves, and at what cost – it is about affairs and lives cut short, about the selfish nature of living, and all of this comes together so alive and beautiful only because of David Hackston’s most wondrous translation (whose name I wish was on the cover) from the original Finnish. Hackston never once made me feel that I was reading a translation. It was so clear, lucid, and made me feel everything that perhaps Statovci intended his readers to feel.

Bolla will not leave me very soon. It has nestled and made way inside my heart, like a snake – the mythical being the story refers and comes back to again and again. It is intimate, raw, questioning our endurance, how we don’t sometimes want the past to merge with our present, of how intertwined they all are, and above all it is about being graceful, tender, and learning to love and forgive ourselves, so we can perhaps heal.