Tag Archives: Women In Translation

Read 207 of 2021. The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk. Illustrations by Joanna Concejo. Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk

Title: The Lost Soul
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Illustrator: Joanna Concejo
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
ISBN: 978-1644210345
Genre: Graphic, Illustrations, Picture Book
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Lost Soul is one of the best reads of the year, where I am concerned. It not only makes you introspect about life and everything in-between, but also makes you want to stop in your tracks and just be for a while.

The entire book is told in pictures, with very few pages taking up text. It is about John, a workaholic businessman in existential crisis who feels he has lost his soul, and all is gone. A doctor diagnosis his malaise as his soul has been left out in the running game and all he needs to do is wait for his soul to catch-up. This is the plot. The story of our lives.

Tokarczuk is empathetic, poetic, and above all has a sensibility that matches Concejo’s beautiful illustrations, and though the text isn’t so much, yet the translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones hits the spot, like a tonic that you need to get you rid of your ailment.

I think most picture books that I have read my entire life have been more philosophical in nature than literary tomes. They say what they have to quite simply and you have no choice but to go back and reread them. Concejo’s illustrations change with every emotion on page – from sepia tones to being monochromatic to colourful, they are breathtaking in every way.

The Lost Soul teaches us about stopping, slowing down, about the grace in standing still and doing nothing. I think I need to follow this in my life for sure. To just be calm and breathe. To try not to think so much.

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.

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández. Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches

Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández

Title: Slash and Burn
Author: Claudia Hernández
Translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 978-1911508823
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is war fiction to an extent. This is about the aftermath of a civil war and revolution, and what it mainly does to women. It is fascinating and almost entirely from the perspective of female protagonists. A conflict created by men, whose consequences the women have to suffer – almost every single day.

The country and the characters are unnamed. At the core of the novel is a woman who joins a guerrilla movement as a teenager, eventually becoming a comrade (compañera), suffering abuse by soldiers who terrorise the locals. The book is about family as well. It is about how several years after the war, the woman has four daughters, one of which she is forced to give up who is then sold to a French family in Paris (adopted) and lives there. The woman after getting to know of this decides to pay her a visit.

The novel moves from the past to the present and navigating back to the past. The sentences are long winding, the narrative moves slowly, sometimes it becomes a little difficult to figure who is being spoken about, direct speech is omitted, and yet it all flows smoothly. At no point did I feel exhausted by the writing. I was actually wondering how it would’ve been for the translator in terms of pronouns and no names structure.

Slash and Burn is an intense read. I am glad that men have taken a backseat in the novel and like I said it is all about the women. The idea of starting afresh after a period of war is indeed difficult and Hernández draws on that with great skill. Readers are constantly reminded of what it means to be in a state of war for normal people, how their lives change forever, and how nothing is in our control.

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.

Dead Girls by Selva Almada. Translated from the Spanish by Annie McDermott

Dead Girls by Selva Almada could have been set in any part of the world, and that’s a tragedy really. Dead Girls, as the title suggests is a story of dead girls – the cases of three small-town teenagers murdered in the 1980s – three deaths whose perpetrators went unpunished, and there was nothing done about it. Three deaths without culprits even – just being overlooked – a casual affair almost. 

Dead Girls is about a time when violence against women goes unpunished (still does, doesn’t it? For most part?). There was nothing specifically outstanding about the women who died, nothing spectacular – just the virtue of them being women. That was enough for them to be dead. And that made me stop and think about India. India and Argentina in that sense are the same. Well, like I said it could’ve been set in any part of the world – given how femicide occurs everywhere. In some parts of the world not very much, in some others too much to want to warrant forgetfulness. 

Almada’s story is about three women – Andrea, Maria Luisa, and Sarita – a journalistic record of sorts (yet fiction and yet not) about what happened – written in the vein of In Cold Blood by Capote. It could be the story of so many women who are victims of violence, and some whose stories don’t see the light of the day. Crimes that go unreported. Bodies that are never found, and lives that aren’t acknowledged.

Almada takes into account all of it – the story morphs from what the narrator’s mother said to what someone else’s friend said – the friend who lived, the sister who survived, and accounts of other lives that are spoken about by way of gossip and nothing else. The writing doesn’t give any closure to the deaths of these women – don’t read this book expecting that. People are always judging these three women – their career choices, what they wore, how they behaved, somehow making their deaths justifiable. What hits the hardest is that it still happens almost everywhere. The negating of women’s voices, the drowning of what they have to say, and almost whitewashing all that took place and happened. 

The translation by Annie McDermott is on-spot – from the smells of a small crowded bus, to the food they eat, to the description of a run-down building, each sentence shines – resonating the original – interspersed with words from Spanish, and making you at times as a reader feel the reading experience is complete. 

Dead Girls is steeped in mystery, patriarchy and what it means and does, and ultimately validating lives lost, not only of these three women, but of so many more, so many – every single day.