Category Archives: Women In Translation

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

Elena Ferrante’s fiction is not for the weak. It isn’t for the ones who want happy endings, or maybe even believe in them. That doesn’t mean Ferrante’s characters aren’t happy or don’t aspire to be happy. If anything, because they are so broken, they want nothing else but that, or so it seems. 

The Lying Life of Adults is nothing like the Neapolitan quartet, which spanned more than half a century in the lives of two friends. The Lying Life of Adults is about adolescence and not the dreamy, rainbow-eyed, unicorn believing kind of adolescence (if you read Ferrante, you know you will never get that anyway), but a time when lies and deception loom large, and growing up means so much more than just changes of the body. 

The book opens amongst the educated, the elite, the affluent, and the ones who believe more in the nature of science than God (that also is a wonderful sub-text to the book). Giovanna’s father is all of the above and more. He is the center of her world whose validation is needed at every step in her life. Her mother teaches Greek and Latin and proofreads romance novels. Giovanna’s friends Angela and Ida are daughters of her parents’ best friends, the wealthy Mariano and Costanza. Everything is bright and happy in their bourgeoise world, until the day Giovanna overhears a conversation between her parents, which is also the start of the book. 

“Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly.” 

The story moves on from here, where we as readers are introduced to Giovanna’s aunt, her father’s estranged sister Vittoria, who he compares her with – the aunt that her father has detested for the longest time. Ferrante then turns the story on its head by moving from the affluent spaces of Naples to the not so affluent space, the dingy, the dirty, the filthy industrial neighbourhood where her aunt lives. Giovanna decides to meet her aunt and see for herself how ugly she is and whether she will grow up to be this person or not. From here on, Vittoria becomes a permanent fixture in Giovanna’s life and things change drastically. 

Giovanna lies. Her parents lie. Her friends’ parents aren’t telling the truth either. The entire construct and fabric of her life falls apart as incidents are played out, and the past is brought to life. No one is perfect. No one is a villain. Maybe they all are the villains in their lives, and try as they might, they cannot change that. 

Jewelry, mirrors, dolls, the smell, pleasure of adolescence and the need to derive it at any cost, education as a means of climbing the ladder – of proving your worth to others, keep constantly reappearing in the book. Ferrante shocks you with the familiar. There is no redemption for anyone. Characters accept the cards handed out to them, to point of them unabashed about their situations. It is what it is. 

Body image in The Lying Life of Adults is its own beast. We encounter it through almost every major and minor character and how they deal with it, is well not up to the people around them. Ferrante somehow ensures that it is only the readers that can feel pity, empathy, or any kind of emotion for Giovanna, Angela, Ida, or anyone else. In their interactions with each other, these people are harsh, cold, mean, and maybe rightly so. 

Ann Goldstein’s translation from the Italian as always is spot-on. You forget it is a translation, and most often than not you are reminded of the beautiful turn of phrase, or the clinical way in which emotions are dealt with, or the way somethings aren’t said and get stuck in characters’ throats – that you realise the beauty of a translation that makes you see this, feel this, and experience it to the optimum. 

“The truth is difficult, growing up you’ll understand that,” Giovanna’s told, when she points out that adults she is learning to lie to have been doing that to each other all their lives . “Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many,” she observes. 

There is a lot going on in the book. You get used to it as a reader. The book however is deeply moving, brutal, honest, wise, holding its ground – balancing itself in the beautiful and ugliness of everyday life, manifesting itself on the body, and making sense of it all through the women – old, middle-aged, and young, one lie after another.

Thank you Europa Editions for the review copy.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout. Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards. Title story translated by Charis Bredin.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout Title: The Sea Cloak & Other Stories
Author: Nayrouz Qarmout
Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards
Title story translated by Charis Bredin
Publisher: Comma Press
ISBN: 9781905583782
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 106
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Every book makes you want to know more about the world around us, the spaces we inhabit, and why are people the way they are. At least, well-written books make you want to do that. To research, to understand, and to view the story/stories from different perspectives. “The Sea Cloak & Other Stories” did that for me. The first thing I did in the process of reading this slim collection, was to not read it. Instead, I logged onto YouTube and watched a ten-minute video on the Israel-Palestine conflict (which I have tagged here, right at the end) to comprehend what I was getting into. This comprehension was purely from the view of empathy – to understand their lives as depicted in the stories and not be oblivious to the history of the writer.

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian author, and a women’s rights campaigner, living at the Gaza Strip. The stories in this book range from taking place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and also one on the Gaza Strip. I was overwhelmed reading every story from this collection. There was this tug at my heart, and this happened without judgement or taking sides.

Every story in this collection is not without conflict, of course, but at the heart of every conflict is just human emotion coming to fore – whether it is greed for land, the desperation to do better (Pen and Notebook, which is one of my favourite stories from the collection), or revenge (the story Our Milk certainly felt like that). Qarmout writes with such ease – the brutality of it all, without flinching (I think), making the reader uncomfortable, and forcing the reader to know more, ask more, and discover for themselves, which to me every well-written book should do.

As I read every story, turning page after page, I was taken in by what it means to be a Palestinian today. What does conflict mean to them? What do the words survival and freedom communicate? Do they say anything at all? When does history lose its significance? When do long-standing battles over land come to an end, so people can live without fear?

The writing of The Sea Cloak & Other Stories comes from such a personal space – it reflects on every page and through every story. The footnotes help in further understanding the conflict and how we get by in such times. For instance, the story “14 June” touches on the need of a mother to keep her daughters safe, at the cost of perhaps giving a part of herself. The stories hit you hard as they must. The translation by Perween Richards is as evocative as the original – the smells, sounds, objects come to life and become characters of the story – whether a glass of milk in “Our Milk” or lilies and what they mean in “White Lilies”. The title story translated by Charis Bredin holds up as a great start to this collection.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories will stay with me for a long time. It will prompt me to know more, to read more, to watch more, and to understand more about the Israel-Palestine conflict. But more than that it has taught me to see different sides of the story, various stories that are lived, and the ones that also go unheard.

Links: 

And here is a link to Reading List of Palestinian Prose: 

https://electricliterature.com/a-reading-list-of-palestinian-prose/

 

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.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.

The Memory Police by Yoko OgawaTitle: The Memory Police
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846559495
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book was on my TBR since the time it was published. I just took a while to get to it, thanks to the International Booker 2020 Longlist, whose shadow panel I am a part of. This book definitely is in my top 5 books from that list and I will tell you why.

The book is set on an unnamed island, where people and objects are disappearing at the hands of an authoritarian force known as The Memory Police. Things you do not seem to remember or know anymore. A rose. A book. A chair. More. It is not about the utility as it is about memory. In all this, is the unnamed protagonist, a writer who is close to her editor, and what happens after.

The Memory Police is  a meditation on loss, insanity when it consumes you, a comment on love, friendship, and what it takes to survive in a totalitarian regime. Memory of course plays a major role, but what hit home was the idea of nostalgia and what it does to you as a person. What you choose to remember, what you forget, and what you have to hide. Ogawa’s writing is subtle, graceful, and full of melancholy – of lost spaces, places, and the role of community when it comes to memories. This book is unlike anything I have read before.

Snyder’s translation to me was pitch perfect. I never felt at any point that some thing was getting lost in the translation or that I needed to know more. With translations that’s always the thing – the need to either know more or not. The Memory Police hits that raw never while reading, also providing that comfort at times (rarely), and making you see the world where you must do what it takes to maintain your sanity, humanity and remember.