Tag Archives: translations reading project 2021

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Title: Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 9789386338709
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 174
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy for those who live on the margins. It isn’t easy when you are surrounded by poverty and bitterness. How do you love when all you have seen is hate? How do you bring yourself to live then? Eve does that. She lives, on her terms. She doesn’t live, she merely survives, day after day, trying to get out. Hoping for a better future, till she doesn’t. You witness her story, her life, and hope and pray that she is redeemed – that others are as well, that at seventeen and perhaps a little older, they deserve better, but you don’t know how the story will turn out, and where will it go.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is set in Troumaron, an impoverish area of Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius Island. You see what you haven’t seen or thought of Mauritius to be. There is fear, there is violence, there is sexual assault, the air heavy with stench of yearning to get away, of dashed dreams, and broken hopes.

We meet four youngsters – fighting to survive. Eve, the seventeen-year-old that time forgot to nourish, that kindness overlooked, who moves from one man to another, always looking to get out but doesn’t want to. Savita, Eve’s soulmate in a sense, the only one who loves her selflessly. Saad, who is in love with the idea of Eve – who wants to save her and knows that she will never love him back. Clélio, a rebel waiting for life to happen to him, waiting for his brother to call him to France, waiting almost perpetually.

Through these characters Ananda Devi creates a world that is raw, belligerent, sometimes tender, warily poetic, and even forgiving. The world of Troumaron that is exploding at the seams – waiting to burst with energy that will only ruin these four. Ananda Devi’s characters are similar and so dissimilar to each other. In the sense they are all stuck, all perhaps wanting out, and yet don’t even know it. Her writing hits you hard. The poetry and the prose merge beautifully – they make you imagine as you read – the characters became more real than ever, and their emotions became mine.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is a small book with so much to unpack and undo. The lives of people on the margins, the lives they lead forever fluctuating between hope and hopelessness, brought out beautifully by the translator, Jeffrey Zuckerman. I could sense the French, and the Mauritian Creole rolling off my tongue as I attempted to read it when encountered it in the pages. This is a book that is not to be missed. I urge you to read it. Ananda Devi, we need more writing from you. A lot more.

When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Kazim Ali.

When The Night Agrees to Speak to Me by Ananda Devi

Title: When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Kazim Ali Publisher: Harper Perennial India
ISBN: 9789390351930
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Poetry and I share a tumultuous relationship. There are times I love it with all my heart, even though I fleetingly remember lines. There are times I hate it so much, that I don’t want to read the genre again. But it is always extreme. This love or the hate. Nothing in- between. Off late, it is veering toward more love, and for that I am grateful. We all evolve. Thank God for that.

Ananda Devi’s poetry takes a while to get used to, like any collection of poems. Just that this isn’t any other collection. Her tone, her structure, the subtle hints of expression – the saying and not saying – the exquisite way in which language lends itself – even though it’s a translation, is just stunning. There are poems and then there are three prose poems, which go on quite beautifully.

Her poems do take some time to get into. The themes are evident: sometimes a little bit of longing, a burst of emotions, surpassing all norms of gender (all these poems to my mind were gender-neutral and that was absolutely fantastic), speaking of the body, of sleeplessness, of desire that isn’t accentuated, and about aging and the body not in control as it moves through time.

The translation by Kazim Ali is what Ananda Devi intended. The translations were read by her, they went through a process – back and forth and reached the version we read. As Kazim Ali says the task of translation was “less karaoke and more full-blown drag”. There is an interview with Ananda Devi at the end of the book, and a note by Mohit Chandna (an Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India) that sum up the book beautifully – the poems from head to toe, from start to finish, from insomnia to deep sleep.

The Gaze by Elif Shafak. Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely

The Gaze by Elif Shafak

Title: The Gaze
Author: Elif Shafak
Translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241201916
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations, Women in Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading Elif Shafak is a thing of joy. For me at least, and I am guessing for most people as well. I am also one of those who perhaps didn’t enjoy The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi as much as her other works, but even then, I will never write her off basis one book. Anyway, back to the point.

I have started an Elif Shafak Reading Project this year – to read one Shafak every month starting with The Gaze, which I reread in January. The Gaze still is my favourite book written by her. It unpacks so much. It is layered with so much – our preconceived notions about people, about the way they look, and how we look in that regard; of how the world views us, and how our desire to look at others takes life spinning in different orbits.

The Gaze is perhaps not Shafak’s popular book, but I absolutely adore it. A story that spans across time and characters that are embroiled in the concept of how they look and what it means to them. An obese woman and her lover, a dwarf, decide to reclaim the streets. They decide to step out in the world that ridicules them. So, they reverse roles. The man wears make-up and dresses like a woman. The woman sports a moustache on her face. This is their story.

There is then the story of Memis that takes place centuries ago – who decides to create a circus of people, and not animals – weird looking people to get others intrigued and curious to come and see them. At the same time, we see Memis’s loneliness and why he does what he does. In all of this, there is also the Dictionary of The Gazes that the dwarf is working on. It is based on incidents, and movies, and what does the gaze mean at the end of the day.

Shafak’s prose shines on every page. The writing is terrific and for me it was hard to believe (as always) that this was one of her earlier works. The translation by Brendan Freely is on point. At no point do you feel that you are reading a translated work. The book is suggestive. The book is all sorts of unique and perhaps even difficult to get into. The book isn’t linear in its narrative and I love that about it. Read The Gaze to get a sense of Shafak’s writing and the worlds she conjures, as an extension of the world we inhabit.

The Runaway Boy (Chandal Jibon Trilogy) by Manoranjan Byapari. Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari

Title: The Runaway Boy
Author: Manoranjan Byapari
Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy
Publisher: Eka
ISBN: 978-9389648850
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations Pages: 370
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari is the first volume of a trilogy, titled, Chandal Jibon. A story of a boy told in three volumes as he makes his way through life.

Little Jibon’s story begins in a refugee camp in West Bengal, as his Dalit parents flee East Pakistan in search of a better life (during the partition of India and East Pakistan), and well because circumstances make them. They do not get treated well in the camp. The harsh reality of it all hits them hard.

In all of this as Jibon grows, he only has one dream: To flee this life of misery and strife. The idea that Byapari’s character’s name when translated is life says a lot which doesn’t need to be elucidated on. So, once he turns thirteen, Jibon runs away to Calcutta in search of a better tomorrow. The elusive better tomorrow that most people who aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth are constantly aspiring for. All he wants is to work hard and bring back food for his siblings and his mother.

And then there is caste that plays such a big role in the book – the only one I guess when everything is determined by the caste of Jibon – the political that mingles with the personal, the inequalities that exist, the distribution of wealth and property that is absolutely unfair, and more than anything, the book holds a mirror to our society and the world we live in through Byapari’s unapologetic and razor-sharp writing.

The Runaway Boy is a semi-autobiographical book but somehow it doesn’t read like that, or maybe I didn’t bring that to fore while reading it. There is so much the book has to offer – a coming of age story, historical fiction, and in all of this, a story of a person’s life. It is extremely introspective, and yet provides such a holistic view of the world we inhabit. A must-read!

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only book-lovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.