Tag Archives: Translated Fiction

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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Book Review: The Resignation by Jainendra

Title: The Resignation (Tyagpatra)
Author: Jainendra
Translator: Rohini Chowdhury
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0-143-41524-4
Genre: Indian Literature, Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 178
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Indian Literature is under-rated. I have always believed that most Indian writers (great ones at that) are often not spoken about or mentioned at all. Some great books are never discussed. That’s a sad situation for a country that is so rich in literature – considering the number of languages stories are weaved in and then translated for the English reader’s (like me) benefit, only not to be praised.

One such Indian writer that needs to be spoken more about is Jainendra. Born in 1905, he was one of the first to join the Independence Movement in 1921. The interesting part is that most of his stories and novels are centered on the idea of freedom and the right to speech, which is what, pulls me to read his books. I have read his short stories in Hindi; however I must shamefully admit that it seemed like a mammoth task initially.

“The Resignation” or Tyagpatra is one of his most popular books published in 1937, and re-published in English (an amazing translation by Rohini Chowdhury) by Penguin India (God Bless them for that) very recently. The book though written in a time when every person was searching for an independent voice and way of life is still very relevant in our democratic society. The Resignation is a story of Mrinal, a young woman whose idealism is so strong that her family and the society around her rejects her completely and she is living on her own, facing situations as they come along.

That is the basic plot. On the other hand, Jainendra weaves the narration from the point of view of Mrinal’s nephew Pramod, who has adored and loved his aunt with deep passion. The themes of independence and family run deep in this book. Also hailed as a novel of psychological sensibility, The Resignation is an insight into life in those times and for a woman nonetheless as someone who is trying to live life on her terms.

What I found most interesting is that the novel is that Jainendra has taken many chances with its structure – from the plot to the way it has been narrated, which is quite refreshing. It almost reminded me of Tagore’s books and rightly so, considering that the themes of feminism (then I am sure not known as that) and individualism are clearly reflected in both their works.

The writing is fantastic. Every word is in its place and most credit goes to the translator (who often gets ignored) for the wonderful derivation of setting, meaning and the right words to add the much needed pace and communicative technique to the book.

The Resignation when it was first published; I am sure created a stir. It broke all rules of traditional sensibilities and that’s what makes it a great read. Indian literature is not what it seems most of the time till discovered and devoured. Great books such as these make it truly a niche genre.

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Book Review: Fever by Samaresh Basu

Title: Fever
Author: Samaresh Basu
Translated by: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 978-8-184-00194-5
Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction
Pages: 129
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Post-colonial literature in our country can never go out of existence or become outdated. That is also because the issues are the same, all the time – poverty, class, unemployment (to a very large extent), race issues and illiteracy. When a literary genre is named after something that so largely affected the entire nation, then one cannot ignore the genre and what works come out of it. Post-colonial literature is not just about literature post a certain period. It encompasses a shift – in rule, in defiance, in the government, the policies and the implications, which some authors try to document and make note of as literature.

One amongst many such writers happens to be Samaresh Basu. Translated fiction in India is another topic of discussion, maybe meant for a later time; however this post is about his book, “Fever”, translated wondrously by Arunava Sinha and republished recently by Random House India.

“Fever” is a book, though small in its size, took me some time to write a review about, mainly because of its content and what it represents. The book is a paean to the Naxalite movement and what it stood for or rather still stands for. Fever is about Ruhiton Kurmi – a once hardcore Naxalite, now moved from one prison to the next for seven years and eventually freed, looking back at his life – achievements and losses and the ideals he once believed in. Ruhiton not only looks back on the movement, but also his personal life – aspirations (whatever few that he manages), his wife, his youth, the friends he has lost along the way, and how he ended up where he is today.

At one point, I almost lost interest in the book (the pace is surreally slow) and got back to it, thanks to the translation. Arunava Sinha has been a doyen at translating Bengali literature (Tagore, Sankar, and Banaphool) and this one has been translated to the hilt, with excellence.

Samaresh Basu’s originality remains intact or so it seems while reading – for one I did not think the language or expression was lost in translation. Consider this, “He was reminded of all their faces, and of their voices, laughing, crying, talking in unison. He could not control the waterfall coursing down his heart”.

Personally, I do not enjoy novels with a political bent to them. The only other writer whose work I have enjoyed that remotely comes close to the Naxalite movement (very loosely though) is Mahasweta Devi, with her epic, “Mother of 1084”. Fever on the other hand is a representation of the movement through the mind and memories of a broken man, trying to make sense of the past and the present. A read that had me thinking for sure.

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