Tag Archives: Translations reading project

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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Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo. Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes

Iza's Ballad Title: Iza’s Ballad
Author: Magda Szabo
Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1681370347
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I haven’t read too many books about mothers and daughters. I am sure there a lot of them out there but I haven’t been able to cover that territory the way I have been wanting to. Every relationship when it comes to a parent gets a little complex. There are always disagreements for sure, but we don’t realize when it leads to becoming a dysfunctional relationship from an accommodating one. It happens too fast, too soon. Families are like that I suppose and a lot of writers have written and continue to write about it. I was floored by Szabo’s earlier work “The Door” – again the relationship between two women, so I knew what I was getting into and boy was I not disappointed by it!

“Iza’s Ballad” is about Ettie – the old mother from an older world. Her daughter Iza as expected is from the modern world, with thoughts that are not aligned to those of her mother’s. Ettie is recently widowed and goes to live with Iza (who is now a doctor) in Budapest. Ettie was born and brought up without a formal education and came from a poor background. However, she ensured her daughter was well-educated and did not want for anything. Her husband Vince was a magistrate and Iza has taken after him. Ettie cannot get used to Iza’s way of living. Iza on the other hand has stopped being answerable to anyone. The traditional and the modern clash just as they did in “The Door”.

Szabo’s writing is not easy. It takes some time to get into but the translation by George Szirtes is spot on to the last detail. The reason I say this without knowing a word of Hungarian is the nuances, metaphors and folk references aren’t lost at all on the English reader. To me that is some good enough criteria of a great translation. Also, being a man he gets the intricacies of a mother-daughter relationship beautifully and only too accurately.

The concept is universal and hence almost every reader can relate to it. Szabo doesn’t waste her words and that is quite evident. In fact, in so many places, she doesn’t try too hard telling the reader, but just shows and leaves and that’s how a good book should be. “Iza’s Ballad” is an emotional ride and yet restrained – balancing the old and the new, the relationship dynamics and above all love and its transformation.

My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame . Translated by Anne Ishii

51rq4hPobXL Title: My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
Author: Gengoroh Tagame
Translated from the Japanese by
Publisher: Pantheon Graphic Novels
ISBN: 978-1101871515
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“My Brother’s Husband” is a graceful manga by Gengoroh Tagame. It handles homosexuality, homophobia and xenophobia (to some extent) very tenderly and not once did I feel berated being a gay man or an insider looking out while reading this manga. Tagame tells the story of parents and in turn of children and how important it is for children to learn, believe and accept alternate sexualities. At the same time, this manga doesn’t get preachy at all. It doesn’t sermonize or ask you to change yourself. It provides different perspectives and that’s that to it.

Yaichi – a single Japanese dad is forced to confront his painful past when an affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan shows up at his door, declaring himself to be the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin Ryoji. Mike wants to explore Ryoji’s past, his family and his growing-up years. Yaichi takes him in reluctantly and thus begins a relationship of understanding, apprehension and fear not only between Mike and Yaichi but also between Mike and Yaichi’s young daughter, Kana. It is how Kana begins to question and understands Mike and at the same time Yaichi’s overcoming of homophobia is what the manga is all about.

Japan as a country is quite conservative when it comes to the question of homosexuals. It isn’t easy to talk about it in the open – more so in traditional societies of Japan. Maybe that is why this manga is needed now more than ever. Tagame explores each aspect – alienation, small incidents of homophobia, questions about the relationship that wasn’t mainstream and the differences of perception between the East and the West tenderly and with much insight.

There are multiple viewpoints, which is great because he then doesn’t give only one point of view and leave it at that. It also talks of how relationships can alter feelings and how life as it goes along, gives you the opportunity to keep embracing the new, no matter how different it might be. The story is beautiful and the characters are so well-rounded.

This book is definitely for those who want to understand what the LGBT people face, no matter how basic it seems in the book. This could however be the perfect guide and also not just for adults but children as well. “My Brother’s Husband” embraces differences and talks of cultural clashes at the same time. I cannot wait to read the second volume soon.

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg. Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak

51oe4dOcMOL Title: Swallowing Mercury
Author: Wioletta Greg
Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak
Publisher: Portobello Books
ISBN: 9781846276071
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 146
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How does one describe a book that gave you so much joy as you read it? It has been a while since I read anything like “Swallowing Mercury”. I think this book just made me realize that there is still a lot of hope and faith in the world, though it does have its own set of problems, having hope and faith I mean. Greg’s characters are unique, literally that with their eccentricities, and yet the naivety about them is endearing to make you smile and wish them happiness. “Swallowing Mercury” is that kind of book – it leaves you with a tingling feeling – I don’t have any better way to put it.

This book was read by me as a part of the Women in Translation Month – August 2017. I am so glad that I got to know of this book through this initiative. At the core of the book is Wiola, who lives in a close-knit agricultural community (this by itself is charming. There is a sense of old-world feeling to it which cannot be ignored and that’s the major portion of the book which I love the most. So Wiola also has a black cat named Blackie (you can’t help but love the tongue-in-cheek reference). Her father who deserted the family is back and is now a taxidermist. Her mother is a strange one (but then who isn’t when you come to think of it), who frequently warns her about not entering certain rooms and that one must not kill spiders or there will be storms. Might I also add that all this takes place in Poland.

“Swallowing Mercury” has this fable like quality attached to it. There are also a lot of fables in the book per se as Wiola is a Catholic girl, growing up on them and not to mention, superstitions. Greg’s writing has this feeling of wanting to finish the book (given it is so short anyway) and yet to pick it up immediately after.

The translation from Polish by Eliza Marciniak is beautiful – the book is written in fragments and yet the subtle transition of Wiola from a child to an adolescence is so lucid and more so the background of politics, morality, violence and faith makes it even more intriguing. Trust me when I say that you will not be able to put this book down – there are so many layers to it and more than anything else you get so engaged in the Polish life as a reader that you are almost melancholic as it ends.

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.