Tag Archives: Translated Fiction

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi. Translated by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

The Armenian Champa Tree by Mahasweta Devi.jpg Title: The Armenian Champa Tree
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Translated from the Bengali by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-8170461463
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 54
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading my first Mahasweta Devi book at the age of twenty-two I think. It was a long time ago or so it seems like. Since then, I have read and re-read her works. I have tried to make sense of her world or the worlds she creates from reality. I have often found myself helpless, not because I can’t do anything for the under-privileged but because I am perhaps lazy.

At the same time, reading her makes you feel so many things that you just feel them – you don’t fight her writing and you mustn’t. However, “The Armenian Champa Tree” is the kind of book which is layered by politics and caste system and yet doesn’t seem like that. It is one of those books by her which is easy to read (also given that it is so short) and yet makes you think about what she is trying to say.

Mato is a young Buno tribal boy of ten and all he does is daydream, which is mother despises. He is most attached to his pet baby goat, Arjun. A tantric saint demands Arjun’s sacrifice to the goddess Kali and thus begins Mato’s quest to save the baby goat, even if it means entering the Armenian church for it. This is where the stroke of genius of Mahasweta Devi lies. She talks of religious superstitions and makes us see the world for what it is through the eyes of a young boy and a goat. To me, just that was enough to pick up the book.

Also, might I add that the translation by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee is spot on. The reason I say this without reading this in the original form is that some words and phrases are as is which only add to the flavor of the book, at the same time, leaving not wanting for more.

“The Armenian Champa Tree” seems to be an easy book to read and absorb on the surface and it is. Till the layers start peeling and you enjoy it even more.

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Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. Edited & Translated by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets Title: Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
Edited and Translated by Ken Liu
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765384195
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love science fiction and when it came from China, somehow it became even more special and I don’t know why. I guess I do. I think because of living in the conditions that they have and do, the Chinese write some brilliant sci-fi stories. I’ve read a couple in the past and absolutely loved them. I also think reading other genres from other lands just broadens your world-view, even if it is science-fiction, because hey it is after all rooted in reality. Invisible Planets takes readers of English outside their comfort zone and introduces us to futures imagined by people whose lives are vastly different from ours. To me, that was the most rewarding thing about reading this anthology.

Invisible Planets has it all – dystopia, western science-fi, science opera (thank God not too much of it), futuristic for sure, and stories also by Liu Cixin whose The Three-Body Problem was a brilliant piece of science fiction which I urge everyone to read.

Some stories of course stand out and some not all that much. My personal favourites were: The Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan about young men trying to control mutant rats (this might give some sleepless nights), then there’s also Ma Bayong’s The City of Silence which almost reminded me of the times that we are living in (more so in India where freedom of expression is going away day by day) and was quite a chilling tale at that. Another story that stood out for me was Folding Beijing – which is all about money, money and more money and how it impacts the future. Taking Care of God again presents a very unique vision of the world. I will not say more about this short story as the title also gives something away.

Invisible Planets is a fantastic anthology. It is edited brilliantly by Ken Liu and for one it will introduce readers to new Chinese authors who have an uncanny flair for science fiction which is not only unique, but also very literary at the same time.

Attachment by Florence Noiville

Attachment by Florence Noiville Title: Attachment
Author: Florence Noiville
Translated by: Teresa Lavender Fagan
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 9780857422330
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages:128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A young girl and an older man fall in love. She is all of seventeen – not yet an adult. He is close to fifty and her professor. She loves him and he loves her. He is but obviously married and that is how the novella is played out – between the two – not to forget her daughter, who after years is trying to make sense of her mother’s life, her affair and what love really is in the larger scheme of things – if it is anything at all.

“Attachment” by Florence Noiville is a stunner of a novella. It is epistolary – letters written by Marie (which her daughter chances upon) to her lover H and that is how the novella opens to the reader.

The book explores the obsessive nature of love – how it can resurrect you and how it can ruin you completely. It is also about that one thing inside of us that makes us attached to people whom we shouldn’t have approached to begin with.

The writing is crisp and to the point and that is what I guess any reader will love first and appreciate about the book. The book doesn’t go on and on without any end. To a very large extent, credit must also be given to the beautiful translation by Teresa Lavender Fagan and the ability with which, the translation is able to stick true to the aesthetics to the original – or so it seems, given the flow and the meanings that emerge.

“Attachment” to me is an immensely powerful novella – that very skillfully manages to integrate pasts and presents of people alive and dead. Honestly I would give this book to anyone who has ever been in love or is in love as of now, just for the poetry of prose that it has to present.

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Book Review: Pages Stained with Blood by Indira Goswami; Translated by Pradip Acharya

Pages Stained with Blood by Indira Goswami Title: Pages Stained with Blood
Author: Indira Goswami
Translator: Pradip Acharya
Publisher: Katha Books
ISBN: 9788187649113
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 168
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I do not know how to start this review. The words are a little difficult to come by but I shall try. “Pages Stained with Blood” is not going to be an easy book to talk about. It is about 1984 and what the country saw in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The riots were not an easy time. They never are. No tension is. It is the people who suffer ultimately. It is the people who pay the price.

“Pages Stained with Blood” is a fictional book, but at the same time, because of the nature of the plot, it always resonates as being non-fiction and rightly so. It is the human frailty which depicts itself so starkly, that as a reader, I did not know after a point how to react to it.

The book is about Delhi and its adjoining places. It is about the capital, through the lens of a young woman who is collecting material for her book. She meets people along the way – telling her stories, falling in love with her and showing her new aspects of the city. This leads to the connections with people and their stories during the riots and what happens thereafter.

The writing was originally in Assamese, translated by Pradip Acharya in English. The writing is lucid and also fragmented which gives it the linearity and over all atmosphere is lent to the book. Goswami describes a time and place, which is unknown to most of us of this or the past generation. We have not gone through it and I can only thank God for it. The book tells it the way it is. The author at most points becomes one with the book. The narrator cannot be differentiated as well. “Pages Stained with Blood” is a marvellous piece of work which otherwise would have been hidden, had Katha not published it.

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Book Review: The Island of Last Truth by Flavia Company

Title: The Island of Last Truth
Author: Flavia Company
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1-60945-081-6
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 124
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Some books take you by surprise. Some books have the capacity to shock you, and more so some books have the capacity to do the both, in equal measure. The Island of Last Truth by Flavia Company is one such book.

What is the book about? This question is a little difficult to answer. Mainly because it is almost everything rolled into one – a literary story, a mystery, a love story and a story of isolation and distress.

The book centers on a surgeon turned explorer, Dr. Matthew Prendel and how an experienced sailor’s ship was shipwrecked by a bunch of pirates five years ago. The story focuses on how that happened and why the doctor did not speak of it till he was alive. He wanted his story to be told after his death and that was left to his then partner, Phoebe, who chronicles his adventures (for lack of a better word) in a book called, “The Shipwreck of Matthew Prendel”.

The novella is all about the doctor’s experiences on an island post the shipwreck and how he got to New York after five years. The anguish and solitude of being on an island with no one else to speak or interact with and at a deeper level, the dark secrets held close, unravel one by one in the book, which makes it an amazing read.

I had never heard of Flavia Company before reading this book that is also because she doesn’t write in English. I need to change that and know about writers who write in other languages, besides the famous ones. The Island of Last Truth has a tone of honesty and most of all adventure and suspense to it, and holds its roots strong at the same time in literary fiction, which I love reading.

The narrative is written in third person, as it is Matthew’s story as told to Phoebe. The writing is sharp and not a word is out of place. For instance, this excerpt from the book should give you an idea about Company’s writing:
“He hadn’t thought of it because it’s absurd. There is no boat to be seen. And faced with miles of sea, and more sea, his voice seems ridiculous. He shouts, shouts, shouts. Help. Help. He knows it’s pointless. But how many times do we do pointless things?”

The translation is perfect. I wouldn’t know how it reads in the original, but the translation is exquisitely done. In most of these books, the translator does not get the due credit, but I would like to mention the effort of Laura McGloughlin as a translator. I am sure it must not have been easy to translate a book from the Catalan.

“The Island of Last Truth” is a uniquely written book. Company has achieved a feat with this one. I had never heard of her earlier, but now I will be sure to read her other eleven books (provided they have been translated). “The Island of Last Truth” is full of surprises and shocks at almost every page. A must read.

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