Tag Archives: Translations reading project

Read 202 of 2021. Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro. Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro

Title: Elena Knows
Author: Claudia Piñeiro
Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 978-1999368432
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Elena, all of sixty-three years old, knows that her daughter did not die by hanging herself. She knows there is more to it and wants to find out what happened to Rita. Why do they claim that Rita hung herself in the church belfry? How could that have been possible since it was raining that night and Rita would’ve never gone out in the rain as she was petrified of lightning? Elena wants answers about her daughter’s death, and no one is willing to help her. She is determined to find the culprit. Even if it means she has to venture out and journey through the suburbs of the city, to call on a favour from a woman named Isabel, who she and her daughter met twenty years ago. Even if it means that she has to do this as she suffers from Parkinson’s – the disease that will not let go of her and will obstruct her search to some extent. What happens next is what the novel is all about.

Piñeiro is well-known as a “thriller” or “crime” writer in Argentina and even around the world. Elena Knows, according to me is a good start to get to know her writing and fall in love with it. I’m surprised that with almost four books translated in English, Piñeiro is still not that well-known. I hope that changes when more people read Elena Knows.

Elena Knows is so much – a detective novel, a woman dependent on her disease to make all basic decisions – that of walking, turning her neck, seeing someone, and even sometimes breathing. It is a lucid and most disturbing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, and what happens when the child becomes a caregiver. It is also about the role of the government when it comes to providing medical care to its citizens – the red tapism, the bureaucracy, and the narrow-mindedness of it all. The book is political. It is about the agency of women and who controls their bodies. Piñeiro doesn’t hesitate to show society the mirror and make them realize what they stand for or not.

The plot unfolds in a day with clearly marked sections – Morning, Midday, and Afternoon – the times that are governed by Elena’s medication schedule. If she misses this, she will not be able to function. She will not be in control of her body and has to follow the schedule. This is another important element of the book. Let me also add here that Elena is not a likeable protagonist. There are shades and layers to this character and that’s what makes her also so endearing to some extent. There is no maudlin expression of her coping with her disease. There are facts, there are emotions, and sometimes the two converge most beautifully in the book.

Elena knows is so much more and I am stunned at how Piñeiro managed to say so much in such a small book. At the same time, Frances Riddle’s translation is on-point and makes you wonder what it would sound like in Spanish. The sentences gleam and I often found myself underlining passages.

Elena Knows is a book about patriarchy, structures, narrative (italics for dialogues), time, gender, motherhood, illness, and law and what we do with it, as we move on – day to day, hoping for a better tomorrow.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla. Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla

Title: The Windows in our House are Little Doors
Author: Vinod Kumar Shukla
Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna
Publisher: Harper Perennial India 
ISBN: 978-9353574819
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

It isn’t just magic realism that makes this book what it is. There is magic, yes. There is a lot of it, some which is mostly unseen or even unread on the pages. There is adventure, and a sense of listlessness as well. Vinod Kumar Shukla captures it all on the page. It seems as though his childhood years are encompassed in this book.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” is an English translation of Yasi, Rasa, and Ta from the Hindi by Satti Khanna. Vinod Kumar Shukla’s story takes place in an unnamed city, could even be an unnamed small town, a village even, or just somewhere in your vicinity. The time isn’t mentioned either. There is fluidity to it all. Yasi and Rasa are siblings. Their parents are Niya and Vendra. Ta is their cousin. Their uncle Bhoona loves to sleep and doesn’t want to do anything else. Ta is Bhoona’s daughter. But all of this doesn’t matter. Nothing matters since there is no plot as such to the book, but you continue reading it. The writing pulls you in. it intrigues and teases and doesn’t let go.

Vinod Kumar Shukla’s world is unique in that sense. Bicycles understand that they have been stolen and return to their owner. A single melon starts growing on its own, and adds to the weight of the cart, till slices are cut and sold. Houses make way for people. There is no concept of home, and yet there is. Home is at the heart of this book, told through twenty-six storeys (as it is said). Everything makes sense, and nothing does.

“Time bakes the present into the past. Sometimes, much later, shards show up in digs, buried under mounds of dirt. The shards are fragments of time. The ambulant present moves on; history keeps hiding behind it.”

See what he’s done here? I mean the writing is about time and yet he separates all of it – the past, the present, and the future, and again somehow gathers them together. The writing then isn’t just metaphorical. It takes on the shape of something else.

Shukla’s writing makes you believe like you are in a dream. Anything and everything are made possible. Sandals have a mind of their own and get lost. People get lost and are found in an instant. Bicycles smile and remind people to buy towels. Yes, anything happens. There is a jalebi store that is never shut, and the fire is always burning under the jalebi pan. I mean, I just gave in to what Vinod Kumar Shukla had to offer. I entered the world created by him and was happy being there.

The translation by Satti Khanna is magnificent. I say this with confidence, since at some points, I had the Hindi edition also in front of me and read from it a little to contrast and compare. Every sentence has been dealt with kindness and care, and perhaps that’s why the essence remains.

Worlds collide in Shukla’s writing. Day and night cannot be differentiated from. He writes, “A person wishes to become a tourist in the place he has lived for decades” and you relate hard and strong because you also have looked at your city that way. When he says, “We make our homes into prisons. Let us live in a house as if we could pack up and leave for another habitation any time” you nod your head with great affirmation because you have thought about it as well.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” has to be experienced and felt. It cannot just be read. But read it going blindfold. Do not read the synopsis. It is nothing after all. You won’t know till you read it.




 

Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa by Kenji Miyazawa. Translated from the Japanese by John Bester.

Once and Forever Title: Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa
Author: Kenji Miyazawa
Translated from the Japanese by John Bester
Publisher: New York Review Books Classics
ISBN: 978-1681372600
Genre: Mythology, Folktales, Folklore
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The month of May is also a slow one. A slow reading month. But this one was worth the time spent on it. Two dozen tales of joy, innocence, whimsical, sometimes tragic – but all deeply rooted to Japanese folklore and connected to the flora and fauna of the land.

Miyazawa takes you through a range of emotions with these tales. Whether it is the cautionary tale of “The Restaurant of Many Orders” to the heartlessness of “The Spider, the Slug, and the Raccoon”, Miyazawa had me enthralled and wanting more with every turn of the page.

I don’t think I’ve read something like these tales before. It isn’t about them being magical. But it is about holding your own as well in the face of the traditional ways of life. Most tales are also drawn from Buddhism which I loved. For instance, “A Stem of Lillies” which does incorporate the many images from the Lotus Sutra.

Once and Forever is a book that will stay for me for a long time. It is so underrated and I’m glad that New York Review Books decided to publish these tales. Read it. Lay your hands on it.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Hurricane Season
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 9781913097097
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is the last book I will be reviewing for the month of March 2020. I am just only too happy that I read Hurricane Season, and enjoyed it to the hilt. There is no way my review is going to do justice to the book, but I shall try.

The book starts with the Witch’s death. Yes, The Witch is dead (almost reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz). Her corpse is discovered by children playing near the irrigation canals (I absolutely loved the imagery of this one, I mean to make this seem so casual and yet not something children want to ever face. The bleakness was delicious). And the book then is about how and why this murder took place. I am putting it in a very simple manner though.

Hurricane Season is not for the faint-hearted in my opinion. There is a lot that gets uncovered and most of it is not pleasant. Yes, there is a lot of violence in the book, but there is a lot of hope and humanity as well. The book is told through the stories of Luismi, Norma, Brando, and Munra. The vividness of a small Mexican village comes through stunningly in Hurricane Season. It reminded me of so many other Latin-American writers, and their spaces, and yet it was so different and new.

Hurricane Season might perhaps be hands-down one of the best books I have read this year. The sheer intensity of the prose, while also showing the read lives wrought with poverty, violence, misogyny, and prejudice. Each chapter presents itself in a different voice – so yes, there is a different perspective, and all of it falls together at the end of it. Everyone says there is a bit of Faulkner in it, but I couldn’t find him. All I heard was Melchor’s distinct voice and the brilliant translation by Sophie Hughes.

The sentences do tend to go on and on and on most of the time, but if you concentrate, and comprehend the narratives, you will be just fine. There is anger, pain, and the understanding of the role literature plays when it comes to compassion and empathy.

 

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini Title: Snow, Dog, Foot
Author: Claudio Morandini
Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden
Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1908670564
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This for now is the strangest book I’ve read in 2020. I mean it with the utmost admiration for the author, Claudio Morandini to have the capacity to spin such a fantastical tale of a man, a dog, and a human foot that appears poking out of the receding snow.

I don’t know what to make of this novella. It is a thriller (in some sense of the word), it is also a meditation on loneliness and deliriousness, and more than anything else it is about the reality of hunger and survival.

Adelmo Farandola doesn’t like people. He doesn’t like animals. He doesn’t like anyone. At one point in the book, I was certain he didn’t even like himself given how he lives. Till he meets a dog and starts interacting with him (interesting, isn’t it?). The winter that comes upon them is harsh. There is nothing left to eat. The village is in the valley and it’s impossible to go down there. What remains to be seen is who will eat whom first: the dog or the man. In all of his, they chance on a dead body that adds another twist in the tale.

This in short is the plot of the book. Morandini’s prose is exact and full of brevity. There were times I cringed, there were times I also shook in fear, and there were times I found myself smiling at the delirious interaction between man and animal.

Snow, Dog, Foot is a strange book (like I said at the beginning) but it is also very satisfying. It checks all boxes and leaves a lot unsaid. The translation by J Ockenden to me seems exact and not at all out of place. The prose beautifully captures the scene and harshly tells us readers what’s in store for us as well. All of this is very gently and sometimes hastily communicated to us. It is a book that is part humane, part deranged, and part thrilling.