Category Archives: Women In Translation

Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

Strike Your Heart by Amélie NothombTitle: Strike Your Heart
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454852
Genre: Mothers and Children, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction,
Pages: 135
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am still reeling under the influence of Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. It is a short novel (could have been a novella if fifteen pages shorter) but the impact it has is tremendous. What a book! What a treat! And yet, it will drain you emotionally – of almost everything you possess – of course temporarily but it will.

Do not be fooled by its size. 135 pages pack a lot more what 350 pages cannot in most novels. This one is a firecracker and how! While I was reading it initially, I thought it was modelled after Madame Bovary and some of it sure was, but it was only in the first couple of twenty pages or so and then the similarity ended.

The book is about Diane but first let’s talk about Diane’s mother Marie, the one with whom it all begins. Marie who had to marry early on and give birth to Diane when she was just twenty. There is no bond between mother and daughter. Marie can’t bear to see her daughter. Diane does what she can to gain approval of her mother. Diane’s father Olivier is merely a spectator. With two more siblings, Diane’s love for her mother doesn’t diminish, till she sees her smothering her sister Célia and decides to step back and live with her maternal grandparents (there is a lot more that happens which I cannot say for now, because spoilers).

Years pass. Diane wants to pursue her dream of becoming a cardiologist (the heart connect) and at university, she befriends an assistant professor, Olivia. Olivia is strangely similar and yet so different to Marie (which Diane realizes much later). Olivia loves power and wants to feel superior to everyone around her, including her own eight-year-old daughter, Mariel. Diane’s life is thrown into a whirlwind and how it all ends up makes for the rest of the story.

“Strike Your Heart” – the very title comes from the quote by novelist Alfred de Musset, “Strike Your Heart, that is where genius lies”. This is what inspires Diane to take up medicine, this is the core of the book – the intensity of emotions and relationships – comes all from the poor old heart.

Nothomb writes with a force of a tsunami, really. Every word and sentence is not wasted. Nothing is out of place. Nothomb is cruel and yet so gentle all at the same time. She moves at a quick pace and doesn’t manage to lose out on all the essential incidents, lives, moments and the on-goings of almost all characters. Even the ones that are hidden – Diane’s brother Nicolas, her best friend Élisabeth, her father, her grandparents, and even Olivia’s husband and daughter. Nothomb has a role to be played by everyone.

“Strike Your Heart” in so many places feels so autobiographical – like it must have happened to someone the author knew or to her. The translation by Alison Anderson is spot on. She is one of my favourite translators of French to English. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is one such example of her genius translated work. Every line seems that it was meant to be there. No syntax changes and the emotion is perfect.

Here is one of my favourite lines from the book:

“She stayed for hours at the side of an old lady who was allergic to solitude”

“Strike Your Heart” will stay with you for a long time. I know it will stay with me for sure. The bitter-sweetness, the longing, the desperation, all of the validation and not to forget jealousy which is so much at the core of this wondrous read.

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Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors. Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

Karate Chop by Dorthe NorsTitle: Karate Chop
Author: Dorthe Nors
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1782274322
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Collections
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Dorthe Nors’s stories or books are not easy to read. Well, they are superficially easy so to say, till you think about them, mull over them a little and before you know it, you want to go back to the worlds created by Nors. The stories in this collection like I said may seem ordinary, almost run-of-the-mill really, but there are glimpses of the extraordinary lurking beneath the ordinary, which appear as you go along. These stories are also more like vignettes than anything else – fifteen compact stories – all about life and its ongoings, layered with multiple emotions, splattered all over its pages.

Nors’s characters are also quite twisted and strange. They aren’t the sort of people you might bump into the street or maybe they are but concealing their quirks as they go along life. A relationship between a father and son is tested and beyond emotions at that. A woman in an abusive relationship reflects on how she got there and takes responsibility without passing blame or trying to. A daughter and a mother’s tender and almost brutal relationship as the daughter is witness to the mother probably going insane. A man on the other hand is obsessed with female killers. A woman who suddenly finds herself in the possession of a giant tornado. You get the drift of these stories, don’t you?

I cannot categorize them under magical or magic realism as they say (though it might seem like that for most part). The only reason I am not categorizing them that way is there is more to them – the underlined human emotion and its complexity. All of Nors’s characters are lonely – wanting some companionship to get through life. At the same time, these stories do not end the way you would want them to. Most of them are open-ended and it is to the reader to decide the fate of these characters.

The translation by Martin Aitken is superb in the sense that you do realize of course you are reading a translated collection of stories and yet you do not. All nuances are there. All vignettes seem intact and the prose flows like it should. Also, since August is the Women in Translation month, I was so happy that this was the first book read as a part of that theme/project.