Tag Archives: Literary Translations

Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely

Snow by Orhan Pamuk Title: Snow
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Publisher: Everyman’s Library
ISBN: 978-1841593388
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 460
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk for the first time in 2004 I think. It has been thirteen years since I read it. This reread though has been a very different experience. First, because I was co-reading it with TheBookSatchel (a very famous blogger and Instagrammer. Please do look her up) and second, the discussions gave way to thoughts and opinions which sometimes a solitary reading experience cannot. Books such as Snow need to be read together and discussed because there is so much to talk about. You as a reader, will be bursting with ideas and thoughts at the end of almost every chapter.

“Snow” is also considered one of Pamuk’s difficult novels (I don’t think so at all) to read. If anything, I thought “My Name is Red” to be a little tedious. Snow on the other hand, reads very easy. It is also a book about Turkey (most of Pamuk’s books are, but of course, since he belongs to the country, or does he?) and its contradictions and how difficult or easy it is for the natives to move in time, as they are on the crossroads of East and West. Pamuk has taken this idea of Turkey and distilled the identity crisis to a border town Kars, and further refined it to the person, the poet, known as Ka (notice the wordplay here? More on it later).

Ka has recently returned from political exile in Germany for the funeral of his mother and he gets drawn to the suicides of young women in Kars, a border town. These women are committing suicide because they are being forced by the government to not wear head scarves. He is in Kars to find out more about these suicides and then there is also the question of the love of his life, Ipek (the girl from his college days) who is now in Kars and has recently been divorced. With this premise, Pamuk takes us to the heart of “Snow”.

Ka finds Kars to be a place of poverty, lack of intelligence and some violent people and yet in all of this, he finds beauty as it snows in the town, sometimes nonstop. That’s what worked for me the most about this book – snow. Pamuk describes snow as a matter of fact but the emotions that Ka goes through as it snows, transfers itself to the reader and it is a melancholic experience. Ka also finds poetry on this trip to Kars. At a certain level, he also is on the road to becoming a believer from an atheist. His pursuit of truth (or various versions of it) drive him to meet various people – the editor of a newspaper who predicts (quite surreal if you ask me) stuff, terrorists, the police, atheists, extremists and women on the verge of suicide.

Snow is not an easy book to read (in terms of all that is going on). I am not contradicting myself. You need to sink your teeth into it to truly understand it – completely. There is a lot of subtext and subplots that unravel themselves beautifully. At so many points, it read as a fairy tale to me and that’s saying a lot about the book. The lyricism of language helps move through but sometimes it gets a bit much. There is so much beauty in the book though – from the premise of Ka’s poems to the canopy of characters and their quirks and the question of faith that is constantly ringing like a fire-engine bell.

The translation is superb and the reason I say this is it feels that none of the nuances are lost. Maureen Freely’s translation, I am sure is just as empathetic as the original writing. “Snow” is to be read at its own pace. You cannot rush it. At the same time, don’t be distracted by anything else while reading it. Soak yourself into what Pamuk wants you to see and hear and you will not be disappointed.

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On Art, Literature and History: Essays by Naguib Mahfouz; Translated by Aran Byrne

51s8qRJdoUL Title: On Art, Literature and History: Essays
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translated from the Arabic by Aran Byrne
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386050007
Genre: Essays
Pages: 172
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It will take you some time to get into this book of essays by Naguib Mahfouz, one of the finest contemporary Arabic writers, however, once you do wade your way through and read a couple of essays, you are in for a rollercoaster ride. Mahfouz’s range is wide as the title suggests is diverse – right from art to history to literature, you can read his opinions (yeah it is that after all) and more than just opinions, you can feel what he tries to tell you because he does such a good job of using words to communicate, which to me most humans cannot.

Anyhow, back to the book. “On Art, Literature and History” is a collection of essays, most of which were penned in the 1930s, that bring to life not just Mahfouz’s views but also deal with the Arab world then and development of Islam. To me, it was a very interesting read, given how he blends philosophy and art with politics, without making it too boring or uninteresting for the reader. I think I was a fan anyway since the time I read his very popular Cairo trilogy and this one just pushed me over to becoming a major fan, I suppose.

This is the first volume that Speaking Tiger has come out with so I am expecting there to be more such volumes of his non-fiction writing spanning decades. A lot of people aren’t aware of his non-fiction pieces but I really hope that they go on and pick this collection and are more aware of what he could dabble in.

The writing is complex but only when it comes to language to some extent. The reading then becomes easy once you connect with the authors’ ideas and way of thinking. After all, essays aren’t easy to write. A balance between having to say so much and brevity must be maintained at all times. I most particularly enjoyed the literature section the most – as he spoke of Chekov to other Arabic authors as well. His sense of observation is superlative and that of course will be seen as you go along from essay to essay. At some points, I did feel the pace to be languid but that is I think true of most essay collections. Maybe some can read it in one gulp and some take their own time with it. Whichever way you’d like to read it, this one is one hell of a firecracker of a read.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

invisible-cities-by-italo-calvino Title: Invisible Cities
Author: Italo Calvino
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
ISBN: 978-0156453806
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 165
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Italo Calvino is a genius and one must read everything he has ever written. I first got to know of him when I was in college and a friend was reading The Path to the Spiders’ Nest without really understanding it. I think he reread it and loved it. That’s how I heard of Calvino. My first book of his was “If on a winter’s night a traveler” and I fell in love with his writing. I knew I had to read more, and more by him. My job at Crossword bookstore in 1999 as an intern changed that. I was all of sixteen and knew that I just had to read everything written by him. I then chanced on “Invisible Cities” and loved it. It was kind of the first magic realism novel I read and I wanted more from that genre (till of course Rushdie killed it for me, but may be more about that at a later time).

“Invisible Cities” is not an easy book to read. It demands a lot of time and attention for a 165 page book. You might think it will be easy, but trust me, it won’t be. This should not deter you from reading it though. What is the book about? Well, here is the premise: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talk about cities – more so Polo and he describes cities he has been to, to Khan, and surprisingly all of them seem the same and do not. Each city is magical and has its own aura and yet they all feel the same – they all seem to be Venice. The design of cities might be different, also the essence and what it is made of, but inherently they are all the same and how the entire book then converges with Polo and Khan’s dialogues is something you must read and find out.

There is the study of humans in this book, followed by the study of cities and how we inhabit them and sometimes how they inhabit us and last of all, I thought it was about fantastical tales – of how far imagination takes us and intermingle then with the philosophy of life and what happens next. Calvino’s style of writing is different and inimitable. I cannot think of any writer who has succeeded writing like him. You just cannot. Calvino’s imagination pervades every page of the book and moves on then to inhabit every city. Of course the book is poetic – the description is wondrous and each account is a metaphor for memory and loss.

Calvino writes like a spy in the darkness – he uncovers what is hidden, and will force it to sneak in your consciousness. I thought I almost knew how to classify this book but then I didn’t and I did something: Not trying to pigeonhole it and go with the flow. “Invisible Cities” as a book is a rarity and the translation is so beautiful that it makes you want to read the Italian edition.

2084: The End of the World by Boualem Sansal

2084-the-end-of-the-world Title: 2084: The End of the World
Author: Boualem Sansal
Translated by: Alison Anderson
ISBN: 978-1609453664
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The title “2084: The End of the World” was what intrigued me and I knew I would love reading this book. I think as you age, you also become a little more discerning about what you read. What is also true is that what you read is a reflection of your personality to some extent, but I shall not go there as of now. The book in question though is “2084” and if you’ve not guessed by now, then well, it is a play on 1984 by George Orwell and also tackles the same theme of a totalitarian regime, that is brutal, unreasonable and has no logic attached to it at all. Might I say that this book is a tribute to Orwell’s vision and craft.

2084 is the story of a near-future (I think it is already taking place as we speak and that should scare you enough) in which religious extremists have established a state of their own, and where autonomous thought is forbidden. It is funny how this book came at a time when Trump just got into power and to see and realize what is happening in the US of A is enough for this book and more of its kind to be almost prophetic in nature.

In kingdom of Abistan, named after the prophet Abi, an earthly messenger of god Yolah, there is no individuality and it is also not encouraged. In fact it is punished if anything. No one can think or speak other than what is laid out for them. New histories are being written. Memories are erased. The heretics are being put to death in the city square and for all to see. At the crux of the story is Ati, who has met other people in ghettos, who has heard tales of how it used to be and what does it mean to be a free-thinker. Ati then starts to think, to question and in all of this he has to not only safeguard his thoughts, but himself as well.

“2084: The End of the World” is also a mystery novel. What is the mystery of the number 2084? Ati has to find that as well. How did the world come to this? What happened? How did it lead to the formation of the most fundamental Abistan? This is the book that speaks of democracy and what threatens it, just as 1984 did. What is ironic though is that the world was reading 1984 (in the wake of Trump’s presidency) and I was reading 2084 – a book on similar lines. Sansal’s writing is raw and troubling. You know the future is happening right now and all that is mentioned in the book is being carried out one way or the other. He is almost prophetic when it comes down to delivering a hard-hitting apocalyptic read (in more than one way). “2084” will make you think, contemplate and wonder how we got to this – and this story isn’t just about one religion or one kind of society. It is reflective of all of us as humans – read it, lend it, buy it for people who need it the most.

Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan

Reading the World by Ann Morgan Title: Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846557873
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was about a year ago, when I was led to a site where I discovered a lady who was reading a book from every country. It was her reading project for the year and I was most intrigued by the concept. I then knew that I had to read the book of how it all began when it came out.

“Reading the World” by Ann Morgan is literally about a woman’s journey across the world through books from each country. It is obviously not as simple as this. There is more to the entire process and revelation which this book is all about.
I am a big fan of books about books and that also blends in cultures of various places, which Morgan manages to do beautifully in this book. I agree that initially I did have a problem getting into it, given the tone and structure, but once you do, it is an effortless read (at least for some I am sure).

If you are expecting reviews of every book she read, then you should check out her site, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and not the book, because the book is not about that. The book is about Morgan’s experiences to get to the project and how people all over the world contributed to it. “Reading the World” is about how she chose the books for the project, the things she learned about literature and the experiences that made her question everything.

Books about books and the experience of reading just goes to show that there is so much hope for the world. I say that because I genuinely believe in the redemptive power of books and each book that Morgan picked up led her to questioning, working it all over again and reading books which she otherwise would not have. I urge all book lovers to get hold of this one and read it. It will make you more mindful of the literature that exists in the world, which is not ridden only by American or British literature, but a whole lot more.

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