Category Archives: Translations

Read 11 of 2022. Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki . Translated from the Japanese by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy

Longing and Other Stories by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

Title: Longing and Other Stories
Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy
Publisher: Columbia University Press ISBN: 978-0231202152
Genre: Translation, World Literature, Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is a collection of three stories by Tanizaki, which were published relatively earlier in his career between 1917 and 1921. Maybe that’s why you can as a reader sense the jagged edges, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this collection is highly satisfying as well. The stories are set in early 20th century, and all focus on the mother-son bond – its complexities and also exploring the subtlety of relationships using different styles, which were also used in his later works.

The book starts with the title story “Longing” – a story that is extremely poetic and possesses a dream-like quality. It seems to read quite simply – that of a young boy walking alone along a dark coastal road, recalling events, in search of something, constantly being played by the light and the darkness, along with eerie shadows and the atmosphere of dread, till it becomes clear what it really is.

Tanizaki’s style is out there for all to see – the playfulness, the sudden revelations, the vague memories of childhood he brings to fore – and in all of this the element of some unreliability which works in a most out of the blue manner, fitting in rather perfectly.

The second story “Sorrows of a Heretic” is about the protagonist Shōzaburo almost wasting away his life – living the life of depravity. In this story, I saw Tokyo being brought to life and seeing it in a point of time that was so different and unique. We don’t feel much for Shōzaburo but there is some feeling of sentimentality. Tanizaki gives his characters that from the readers.

In the final story “The Story of an Unhappy Mother”, the narrator Hiroshi is one of the five children in a family that talks about his family, more so his mother. Tanizaki paints a picture so vivid about the mother – her flaws, her mistakes, and her misgivings. Again, the relationship of the mother and child is told with great nuance and care.

The translations by Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy are on-point at almost every single page. Once again, the translators when it comes to a Tanizaki work have managed to communicate the sparseness of prose, the details when required, the elegance of Tanizaki’s descriptions, and in turn highlighting different aspects of Tanizaki’s writing.

“Longing and other stories” is a collection that is wholesome, intriguing, and speaks of lives that are lived on the border of imagination and reality. A must-read collection in my opinion.

Read 5 of 2022. Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey. Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.

Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey

Title: Legal Fiction
Author: Chandan Pandey
Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227509
Genre: Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Legal Fiction was one of the best reads for me last year. I reread it again this month because I was in conversation with Chandan and Bharatbhooshan and enjoyed every minute of it.

Legal Fiction is unlike anything I read and kept thinking about it a lot. The themes of disappearance of a Muslim man, love jihad – a term coined by the right wing of the country to bring to task Muslim men who love Hindu women, the struggle of people in a small town who are constantly under surveillance whether they like it or not (in one way or the other), the idea of democracy just being on paper, and ultimately that of rule of land being followed over rule of law.

Silences play a major role. Silences that force people to look within, to understand their spaces, look at the role of caste and religion that draw invisible boundaries, silences that reflect lack of agency of women, and how vocabulary defeats what we feel most of the time.

Legal Fiction put simply is about the disappearance of a man – a man who lives in a small town with his wife and is from a minority religion in Modi’s India. It is about the agency of an urban middle-class man, Arjun, who travels to Noma – the fictional village – to locate the man, Rafique. It is about what Arjun unearths in Noma, and what goes on behind closed doors, and sometimes right in the open, only because it can.

Chandan Pandey makes no bones about what he has to say. The writing is sparse, calls out the hypocrisy of the system, where things have gone wrong and continue to do so, and above all packs in a punch and more on almost every single page.

Bharatbhooshan’s translation reads like the original (I also read the book in Hindi). It is fast-paced, reads like a thriller but is so much more, mesmerizing, like a sort of fever dream, and above anything else a mirror for us to see ourselves in and understand what we have become vis-à-vis what we were.

Read 4 of 2022. A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky.

A History of Clouds - 99 Meditations by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Title: A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations
Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857425799
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 137
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I do not read much poetry, but this title caught my fancy and I had to read it. Well, I also believe that it is impossible to understand the essence of a poem in one reading. You have to read each poem perhaps multiple times before you get to the its bare-bone understanding. This becomes perhaps an even more difficult task when the form is in translation as this collection is.

Enzensberger’s poetry covers a vast range of subjects – private moments, long-term relationships and their trajectories, portraits of historical and literary personalities thrown in for good measure (an elegy to W.G. Sebald that is most moving: “Who touched us, / who seemed to have come from afar / to the sinister, unhomely homeland. / Little kept him here. / Nothing but the search for traces / with a divining rod of words / which twitched in his hand.” Translated by Martin Chalmers), cosmology, and even philosophy.

And in all of this, there are clouds. In various forms and ways – they exist in these poems – more so in the twelve-part title piece that ends the collection. The poems are transparent, sometimes very difficult to comprehend as well, but very empathetic at most, and there were times I also felt that I was left without any thing to hold on to.

The translations by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky are spot-on. The emotions don’t hold back, though there were times I felt I wanted more as a result of the translation. Having said this, A History of Clouds is a great start for anyone who wants to understand poetry and start somewhere.

Read 3 of 2022. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'Ichirō Tanizaki

Title: In Praise of Shadows Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9781784875572
Genre: Nonfiction, Design
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always wanted to read this book, and #JanuaryinJapan made me get to it sooner than later. I must say though that I loved it through and through, no matter how outdated some of the ideas may seem in today’s time and age.

Tanizaki’s book is about shadows and light when it comes to Japanese architecture or the layout of a home, but it is so much more than that as well. It is about how we approach darkness and the significance we give to light. Tanizaki appreciates shadows and the role they play not only in aesthetically but also in our lives and what they say about us as people.

It is about how shadows are all-pervasive in our ordinary lives and thereby then extending to the ordinariness of living and what encompasses it. When Tanizaki speaks of woodwork, sliding doors, walls and the projection of shadows on them, Japanese houses, the traditional restaurants, candle lights, and Japanese toilets, it all fits beautifully and merges with the reality of living, where harshness of light is preferred to the understated beauty of darkness.

Japanese aesthetic got me then thinking of how we also live our lives – more tuned to Western aesthetics than the Oriental and perhaps that leads to more restlessness and anxiety. Like I said, the book does seem outdated when it comes to some concepts of space and light and shadow but overall, it is a wonderful primer on not just design but also on how to live in the modern age.

Books and Authors mentioned in In Praise of Shadows: 

  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Saito Ryoku
  • Kôtei
  • Takebayashi Musôan
  • Pillow of Grass by Nastume Sōseki
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • The Key
  • Diary of a Mad Old Man
  • The Mother of Captain Shigemoto
  • Seven Japanese Tales by Howard and Hibbett
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Susan Sontag

 

Read 1 of 2022. Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin. Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins.

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Title: Winter in Sokcho
Author: Elisa Shua Dusapin
Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Publisher: Daunt Books Originals
ISBN: 9781911547549
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella, Translations
Pages: 154
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Dusapin’s debut novel is about a young biracial Korean woman living and working in a small guesthouse in Sokcho, South Korea, a beach town that is quite close to the North Korean border. It is almost possible to take a day trip over the border.

The narrator, the woman is unnamed. She has returned to her hometown from her university in Seoul to be close to her mother. She doesn’t know her father as he left before she was born. She works as a live-in receptionist and a cook at the aforementioned guest house and that is when she encounters a middle-aged French graphic novelist, Yan Kerrand, who has come to Sokcho to seek inspiration and work on his new project. He is perhaps old enough to be her father, maybe that’s why the strong feelings she feels towards him.

Nothing happens more or less. Time passes and then there are moments. There is no definitive action and maybe that’s when Sokcho plays such a huge role in the book – the broodiness of the town, the season of winter shining through and looming large on the lives of everyone – right from food consumed to the smells to the octopus to also the constant terror from South Korea, and mainly the isolation.

The protagonist’s relationship with food is the one she has with her life – always thinking nothing is good enough – so she eats and purges it all out. Her physical body then becomes a thing of critique by her mother, her aunt, and even Kerrand to a large extent.

Winter in Sokcho is an unusual book in the sense that it says so much in so little. The brevity of the prose had me from the start. Dusapin conserves her words, using them only if really needed to. Some sentences are staggering – like the one about not knowing the outside world, of just staying in Sokcho and nothing happening there. The translation from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins is sharp and precise.

Winter in Sokcho delivers such a potent story, that you cannot help but think about it later. There is this constant ache that lingers – of lost communication, of expressions that are not understood, and emotions that are better hidden than told. Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho captures desire, motherhood, life along a border town, loneliness, and above all the need to make sense of one’s surroundings most beautifully, also making us aware of the darkness beneath the surface.

Books/Authors mentioned in Winter in Sokcho:

Guy de Maupassant