Tag Archives: translation

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

multiple-choice-by-alejandro-zambra Title: Multiple Choice
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated by: Megan McDowell
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1783782697
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember loving multiple choice questions at school. I would actually look forward to that option at any exam or test, given that I could at least deduce some and get my answer and be almost sure that it would be the right option that I had chosen. Alejandro Zambra’s new book “Multiple Choice” is a book which is inventive, playful and based on the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test. It is one of the highly inventive books I have across in a long time (after Hopscotch by Cortazar I think and even he was Latin American) and I can in all honesty say that I loved it immensely.

“Multiple Choice” is a collection of micro-stories which engages the reader at every turn of the page – by giving them options to choose from. At the same time, it doesn’t really give you a choice and that’s when the clever writing of Zambra kicks in. This is not a novel for sure. It isn’t even a collection of short stories. I love the way this book breaks all norms and becomes something which no one can define. The irony lies in the postmodern prose where it challenges everything postmodern as well.

The book does take some time getting into and understanding the format – but once you do, you cannot help yourself but finish it. The book is divided into forms of multiple choice sections where as a reader you have to do either of these: exclude a term, reorder a sentence, decide on how to fill in the blanks in a sentence, eliminate sentences from a short narrative or show comprehension skills of stories. What the book then ends up doing is automatically laying ground for many perspectives to emerge from each short piece. What is interesting is the hidden political criticism that emerges in most short stories, almost defying a system in place.

Alejandro Zambra’s books are not easy to get into, as I mentioned earlier but what they do manage to do is leave a lot of thoughts lingering with the reader. “Multiple Choice” is a smart book that will make you feel clever and also underutilized at the same time. Some pieces are deeply moving as well – I loved the reading comprehension story on divorce which will choke you a bit. Sometimes the unconventional novel or a literary work challenges the way you think and rightly so. I strongly think more works of literature should do that, given the times we live in.

All said and done, “Multiple Choice” is also this good because of the fantastic translation by Megan McDowell. Every word, no matter how small stands out in the reading comprehension pieces and makes so much sense when connected with the questions at the end of it. I think that is the beauty of fiction that doesn’t follow the norm – it all ends up together one way or the other. “Multiple Choice” is deeply emotional, passionate, and political, and to forget a brilliant moving read. One of the best I’ve read in this genre and form in a while.

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.

365 Stories: Day 10: By the Grace of God (Allah ka Fazl) by Ismat Chughtai

a-chughtai-collection

I remember being fascinated by watching The Quilt being performed by Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre troupe Motley. I remember watching Chughtai’s four short stories being performed on stage. That was the day I was introduced to her writing.

The story read today (the 10th of January 2016) was Allah Ka Fazl, translated by Syeda S. Hameed. I know it is not one of her better-known works, but this is what I was aiming for. This story is about a mother, a daughter who is married to an older man – almost 65 and she cannot produce a child, an aunt (friend of the mother’s) who wants to help by getting her married to someone else she knows and what comes of it all in the end.

Chughtai’s stories are all about women, their issues and the ferocity with which they deal with them. Even in that time and age, I guess women were more liberated than they are today. True-blue feminists with issues to target bang-on seemed to be the order of the day. Anyhow, this story is superb. You might be able to predict the end, as you go along, but worth every turn of the page.

The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otfried Preussler

The Robber Hotzenplotz by Otfried Preussler Title: The Robber Hotzenplotz
Author: Otfried Preussler
Translated by: Anthea Bell from German
Publisher: NYRB Children’s Collection
ISBN: 978-1590179611
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I steer clear from most children’s fiction. I don’t know why but that has always been the case – more or less. There are some books though that catches my fancy and I happened to literally bump into “The Robber Hotzenplotz” by Otfried Preussler online and couldn’t resist getting my own copy (on request from publisher) and I was more than pleasantly surprised by the book.

The story is simply told. The plot is of two boys – around eight or nine year olds – who are best friends – Kasperl and Seppel and of the robber Hotzenplotz who works very hard to hide in the woods and wait for his next victim. His next victim happens to be Kasperl’s grandmother, who he attacks and steals her coffee mill. The boys then head out to rescue the mill from Hotzenplotz and find themselves in the midst of one adventure after another.

Preussler’s writing is funny – in the sense not only for children but also for adults. The translation by Anthea Bell is simple and works with every single turn of the page. The illustrations are magnificent and won’t let go of you that easily. I loved the simple and yet so human like illustrations.

To me the book was a breeze of a read and will be the same for you. I was just wondering also of the numerous tales that we do not pay attention to, either because we aren’t familiar with them or because our culture doesn’t expose us to them. NYRB Children’s Classics plans to change that I hope with the publication of such classics that more children will read from different countries and know more. I know, I for one will lap them all.

“The Robber Hotzenplotz” is a funny read for both children and adults and I highly recommend this one.

The Man who Snapped his Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi

The Man who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi Title: The Man who Snapped his Fingers
Author: Fariba Hachtroudi
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609453060
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

And so another book was finished this month. What a book I must say as I start this review. A truly close to life book, “The Man who snapped his Fingers” surpasses every expectation and predictability and goes to the heart of the matter, without the reader even realizing that that has happened.

The book is about two people – a colonel from the inner circle of the Iranian supreme commander who now lives in another country and is being constantly questioned, as he attempts to gain asylum from the country. He is being questioned about his past – and whether or not he had anything to do with the regime’s program of kidnapping and torture. Of course, since he is being questioned, his translator at the last interrogation turns out to be “455” – a prisoner under the regime, with whom he shares a past of torture.

In the chapters that come to be in the book, we learn more about their loves and how they come to understand each other, despite sharing such a tumultuous past. I was deeply moved by this book – given how regimes (and more so dictatorial ones) change people and how after years, when the same people are face to face, how it all comes back and the decisions you then make to save the ones you love.

There are interior monologues throughout the book (first person narratives are anyway kind of difficult to immerse into) – of both these people and at first, it might be a bit daunting to read it this way – but you do get used to it eventually. The book explores the concepts of power and memory so strongly and lucidly that you are completely taken in by it.

There are their conversations – half-truths and the murkiness that has been accumulated throughout the years – which make these two who they are. As you read the book yo realize that how difficult it is to face some pasts as they reenter your existence and they do, whether you like it or not.

“The Man who snapped his Fingers” is not an easy read. Nor is it the kind of book which is easy to forget. Fariba’s writing is stark, raw and unsettling. She does not sugar-coat anything and that would be a problem if you are used to reading literature that does not present the way facts are to be presented – just the way they happened. This is of course a fictional work, but still whose roots lay in reality. I absolutely loved what this book had to offer. This book is a treat. “The Man who snapped his Fingers” is the kind of book that sticks to you and stays. I know for a fact that I will reread it sometime soon.