Tag Archives: Women In Translation

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cámara Cabezón. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Title: The Adventures of China Iron
Author: Gabriela Cámara Cabezón
Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 9781916465664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I hadn’t read Argentina’s epic national poem Martín Fierro (1872-79) to which The Adventures of China Iron is a queer response. I just dived straight into this one and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is so much and much more. The layers of this novel are plenty and to uncover and peel each one took quite some time in my head.

The narrator China (Latin for female) is soon renamed Josephine Star Iron, is the teenage wife of Martín Fierro, left behind to fend for herself as her husband is press-ganged into the army. She soon takes refuge with Liz, who has just arrived from Scotland, and the two of them travel together. Liz is here to claim land she and her husband are about to manage for a wealthy British man. On their travels, China develops a crush on Liz. She has her hair cut and wears men’s clothes to travel safely and in turn, becomes Jo. Thus, their adventures begin.

I do not think I will ever read Martín Fierro, and not because it isn’t good or anything, but because The Adventures of China Iron is a book I will never forget. Fierro may not even live up to it at all, and of that I am sure. The complexities of China Iron are plenty. There is so much to take away from it, and not just about being queer, or a woman, but historically as well.

Gabriela Cámara Cabezón’s writing is so powerful that I literally had to reread so many portions, just to understand it at a deeper level. The translation by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre doesn’t disappoint – every nuance – traditional and otherwise is presented to the reader as is. The interactions of these women with men they encounter, the power dynamics, the inequality, and the punch of 1872 Argentina comes across vividly in so many ways.

The Adventures of China Iron is a treat for any reader – a romp of a read, but more than anything else, makes you understand what it means to not only be a woman but find your own at the end of it all.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.

The Memory Police by Yoko OgawaTitle: The Memory Police
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846559495
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book was on my TBR since the time it was published. I just took a while to get to it, thanks to the International Booker 2020 Longlist, whose shadow panel I am a part of. This book definitely is in my top 5 books from that list and I will tell you why.

The book is set on an unnamed island, where people and objects are disappearing at the hands of an authoritarian force known as The Memory Police. Things you do not seem to remember or know anymore. A rose. A book. A chair. More. It is not about the utility as it is about memory. In all this, is the unnamed protagonist, a writer who is close to her editor, and what happens after.

The Memory Police is  a meditation on loss, insanity when it consumes you, a comment on love, friendship, and what it takes to survive in a totalitarian regime. Memory of course plays a major role, but what hit home was the idea of nostalgia and what it does to you as a person. What you choose to remember, what you forget, and what you have to hide. Ogawa’s writing is subtle, graceful, and full of melancholy – of lost spaces, places, and the role of community when it comes to memories. This book is unlike anything I have read before.

Snyder’s translation to me was pitch perfect. I never felt at any point that some thing was getting lost in the translation or that I needed to know more. With translations that’s always the thing – the need to either know more or not. The Memory Police hits that raw never while reading, also providing that comfort at times (rarely), and making you see the world where you must do what it takes to maintain your sanity, humanity and remember.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin Title: Little Eyes
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786077929
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Samanta Schweblin has done it again. This is her third book (translated in English) and the second novel and I do not know how will I write this review without gushing. Little Eyes is a strange book, or so it seems as you start reading it. After a point, as a reader, you realize that you could be living this life at some point in the future. Or maybe you already are, given the rate at which technology is surpassing us minute by minute. Little Eyes is a book about human connections as well, through technology, and how it makes us think, behave, or react.

They are called Kentukis. They aren’t robots, or toys, or not even phones. They are devices that connect you with other humans without really connecting you. The world is that of voyeurism, narcissism, and the need to not be lonely, and yet not quite maintain social relationships. These are available throughout the world and have a different way of operating.

The book is split into very short chapters and set across the world. The techno dystopian world that Schweblin builds is scary, intriguing, and to a large extent almost a prediction of things to come. The larger themes of the book are atomization of society, surveillance, lack of privacy, and how we have reached a stage that we will hanker after every new technology that there is.

I enjoyed the different narratives and the worlds I was being exposed to as I turned the pages. Schweblin’s writing packs a punch, and even in those short chapters, you are looking forward to more. Different characters only add to the overall appeal. There is also so much hope and redemption in the book that at times it felt strange to understand that it was written by the same person. Megan McDowell’s translation makes for the story to be only more interesting, thereby driving the narrative. A read that will stick with you for days. It has with me.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar Title: The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
Author: Shokoofeh Azar
Translated from the Persian
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609455651
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Four days of frenzied reading. It should’ve taken me not more than two days, but I had to read and stop, stop and read, and read it in huge gulps – almost like breathing after being breathless for a long time.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a book seeped in reality and dreams. It is about oppression and how when it takes hold, you rely on what you believe and have faith in to make living bearable. The story is told by the ghost of a thirteen-year-old girl, Bahar, whose family was forced out of Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They also somewhere consciously are involved in the decision to move to maintain some sense of intellectual freedom which the current government does not allow.

They do this so their lives are spared, because they are all rebels in one way or the other. They do this because they do not believe religion is supreme, but humanity sure is. And their lives, loves, losses, and how you make sense of the world when all is lost is the story that Azar tells through the lens of one family, more families in the village, and interconnected lives.

The book had me by the throat from the first chapter. The characters – the father, the mother, Beeta the sister, Sohrab the brother, and the narrator (why and how she became a ghost is for you to read) all became a part of my life – still are actually. More than anything else I think I related to the book because I can see what is happening in India, in what once used to be a democratic and secular state – it is now held hostage by people in power and they will go to any lengths to hurt minorities and ensure there is one kind of “religion” that is supreme (the irony). Just as Iran in the 80s and perhaps even today, culture and arts, and the way of living respectfully is tearing at the seams and that became so clear as I turned the pages.

Azar writes in a way to also escape reality. The stories and stories and stories within stories in the book made me want more. Of how a young woman turns into a merperson, to how black love consumes someone, to what happens when dragonflies of different colours enter your life, to the stories of djinns that inhabit your day to day living – everything about this book made me sit up and take notice.

There is a lot that goes on in the book. The entire thread of magic realism is a befitting tribute to Márquez (who is also mentioned several times in the book). I guess it only shows what we want to believe in when life is too unbearable, and you’re at the crossroads of living and dying, and neither come easy. There are a lot of portions that depict solitude – and then there are many that rely heavily on the oral tradition of storytelling, which works fantastically for this book.

I felt like I was being oppressed while reading this book. That all my senses were numbed, and I was pushed into a corner. I felt that the regime was burning my books (which the family loves by the way, so all the more reason to love them). I felt hopeful. I wanted to dance when something nice was happening to them. I wanted to sing when I saw a glimmer of hope in their lives. I cried when things took a tragic turn. I wept as the book ended. This book is about hope, about surviving through the darkest times, and sometimes also understanding that someday you give up and live a little. I thought about what to say about it, and then ended up relying on my heart. Read this book. I can only say this for now.

 

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano Title: Faces on the Tip of my Tongue
Author: Emmanuelle Pagano
Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-1908670540
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am glad I reread it because of it being on the 2020 International Booker Longlist, and me being on the shadow panel. This is the first of the 13 that I have read (reread) and 12 more to go, but it has been such an enriching read – both in terms of content and style of writing.

“Faces on the Tip of My Tongue” by Emmanuelle Pagano is a collection of thirteen interlinked short stories set in France, across several decades. It is the third book in the publisher’s 2019 “There Be Monsters” series. As the stories progress, meanings become clearer, like a jigsaw puzzle it all starts making sense. Initially it did feel a little tiresome and maybe I was lost as well, but I am glad I persisted the first time around and even now.

The collection starts off with a story called, “The Lake’s Favourite” which sets the tone of the book. It is a story of an ideal childhood and how things then turn in the life of the narrator. Don’t be fooled by this story alone. The rest of the stories are nothing like this one. They are real, hard-hitting, and make you ponder long after.

One of my favourite stories is “Mum at the Park” – a snapshot of a child’s view about their reading parent and how she gets when she is at the park. How the city doesn’t suit her and so on and so forth. “The Loony and the Bright Spark” is about misfits in society and the ever-eternal question: What does one do with them? Does one do anything with them at all?

The recurring characters, their lives in different times is at the heart of this collection. Pagano’s writing is raw in most places, tender in some, with the sense of place being at the center of the book. The translation by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins never seems choppy throughout the book. There is a balance of sorts – that manages to capture the essence of time, place, and events in the most beautiful manner. Personally, I am rooting for this one to make it to the shortlist.