Starting the Women in Translation month with this promising read:
Because August is Women in Translation Month!
Let’s celebrate it and put the limelight on more women writers!
When the Doves Disappeared is an intriguing tale about Soviet occupation of Estonia which is told through the interweaving of two separate timelines!
I am excited to dig into my first book from Estonia!
Click here to read more about Women in Translation month and about endless lists of books by women writers that have been translated.
Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, written in Japanese by Matsuo Basho and translated by Sam Hamill, is published by Shambala Classics. Matsuo Basho is famous for reinventing the haiku and imbuing it with true qualities of simplicity and natural beauty. This book is a beautiful haibun that chronicles Basho’s travels to the northern parts of Japan in late 17th century. Haibun is a form of writing that combines haiku and prose. Essentially, Narrow Road to the Interior or Oku no Hosomichi is a travelogue wherein Basho beautifully pens down his thoughts and journeys using both prose and haiku. The haikus often remark on particular incidents or scenes that Basho found memorable.
Read more about haibun here.
The travelogue begins with these inviting lines,
The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
Such an alluring beginning immediately pulls the reader in and reflect on the idea of journey itself.
The Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents it fourth review!
Quite honestly, it was actually the cover of The Red Room that caught my eye itself, yet it was the detailed back cover or the blurb that finally made me decide to lend the book from the library.
Despite the mention of trauma, I couldn’t help but gawk and be awed at the deep red of the cover and wonder at how pretty it is! Don’t you think so?
My interest in Korean literature is a recent development. So I ideally wanted to pick up this book just to broaden my perspectives about books and stories from Korea. However, since trauma was mentioned, I debated whether I wanted or had the mental space to read something heavy, dense and thought provoking.
But, it was the beautiful blurb that sealed the deal!
The Red Room, translated by Bruce and Ju Chan Fulton, has three stories about “trauma in contemporary Korea.” The stories narrate how traumatic experiences have become a part and parcel for many Koreans especially because of the Korean War and the Gwangju/Kwangju Massacre. The Red Room is bookended by in depth forward and afterword that help the reader to know more about the specific events that the stories in the novel talk about.
A Quick Word
The first story, In the Realm of the Buddha, by Pak Wan-so is about the how a mother-daughter duo have yet to come to terms with the death of their father and brother, twenty years later. It is a heart felt story about what binds the living together, despite their differences in the way they share this unresolved grief.
The second story, Spirit on the Wind, by O Chong-hui is my favourite and employs two point of views to present its story. Un-su is the wife who often abruptly leaves her home at random for short intervals, without any consideration for her husband or son, Sung-il.
Watch out: Spoilers Ahead:
Set amidst the Naxalite movement during the Emergency in the 1980s’ in Kerala, The Gospel of Yudas by K.R. Meera is a story that revolves around the two lovelorn protagonists, Yudas who is lost in love in the past and Prema who is deeply affected by the Naxalite ideology and falls head over heels in love with Yudas, whom she in her youthfulness dreams of as an ideal Naxalite who will save her.
Yudas’ past looms large in his psyche, affects his movements and his mindset. To try and run away from his past, he moves from place to place and dredges corpses drowned in different water bodies close by to eke out a living. He lives frugally and through his nomadic life attempts to wander away from his past – a past that is marred by betrayal, vicious torture and loss of his beloved. Yudas was tortured for participating in the Naxal movement and his betrayal haunts him much like his Christian namesake, Judas. It is this betrayal that does not allow him to accept Prema’s infatuation. He runs away from her while she keeps searching for him far and wide, trying to uncover the secret that lurks in his eyes and shapes his rejections.
Translated into English from Malayalam by Rajesh Rajamohan, The Gospel of Yudas is a short and quick read that is flush with depth and metaphors.
The Maharaja’s Household: A Daughter’s Memories of her Father is a unique memoir told from a daughter’s perspective. This non fictional account is about Maharaja Churachand, the erstwhile ruler of the current Indian state of Manipur, told from the perspective of his youngest daughter, Princess Wangol or as she is more widely known, Binodini. It is an informal account, based on her own memories of how she saw her father and also based on stories she heard from people that surrounded the Maharaja.
Binodini is a humble narrator who admits that the book is not a historical account. The key word to remember is also memoir. She admits often that some stories might not even be accurate and that they are based on stories she has heard from other sources or from her own memories. Continue reading
What happens when the devil and his henchmen including a pet demon cat walk into a bar?
A. Utter Chaos.
B. Nobody believes this can happen.
Both happens in the utterly eccentric masterpiece by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita. Except that it takes place in Moscow’s streets and theatre and not in any bar!
The novel begins with two characters, Berlioz and Bezdomny, who talk about the latter’s poems when they run into “an eccentric foreigner” who joins in the conversation and rants on while also claiming to have met the likes of Kant and even Pontius Pilate!
He even predicted how Berlioz would die!
And what do you know! That is exactly what occurs.
So who is this mysterious person?
Bezdomny goes berserk after the stranger’s prophecy comes true and now wants to find where he is but alas no one believes his story at all!
When the protagonist, Fugui, loses all his money and property because of his addictive gambling right at the beginning of the novel, To Live by Yu Hua (translated by Michael Berry) , we know that it will not be a typical hero who succeeds in all his endeavors.
What is the book about?
After squandering all his family’s wealth that was accumulated over a long period of time, Fugui is consigned to a small piece of land on the outskirts of his village. Not able to take the shock of Fugui’s mistake, his father soon dies while he is left to take care of his wife, mother and daughter, Fengxia.
Thus, from being a landowner’s whoring and gambling son, he becomes a mere peasant. The whole family now struggles to survive.
Based on a true story of the Mirabal sisters and their bravery, In the Time of the Butterflies, is a luminous and an imaginative story of the lives of the four sisters and how it was intertwined with the brutal regime of the Dominican dictator, Trujillo at that time.
Julia Alvarez has infused the truth with her own creativity and has skilfully sketched out each sister’s lives and thoughts.
In the Time of the Butterflies has been told from the point of views of the four Mirabal sisters: Patria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria Teresa. Each sister has her own unique personality and way of thinking which shines through when the story moves through their different point of views.
Who else wants to take a trip all the way from Norway to Greece to search for their long lost mother?
Well, the father son duo of Jostein Gaardner’s novel, The Solitaire Mystery, sure did that.
Hans Thomas and his father come across their mother’s photo on a magazine cover and they decide to (after a lucky draw win) take a car ride across Europe to bring back their mother who had left several years ago to search for her own self.
But that is not where the story starts.
It starts a long time ago with Frode’s playing cards when he got shipwrecked onto a magical island in the middle of nowhere where he made his own characters come out from his own imagination.
Let’s take a step back.
I am sure many hardcore Murakami fans will swear by the magic realism and surreal feel of his novel, Kafka on the Shore.
And it sure has a touch of the bizarre and the other worldly.
Kafka on the Shore starts with a 15 year old boy deciding to runaway from his father to live on his own under the pseudonym, Kafka Tamura. The novel than traces his journey where he meets other characters such as Sakura who is a hair dresser and who he thinks might be his sister. Then he stumbles on a job in the library that he had visited and finds a home there. At the library, he meets Oshima, who is the assistant, and the owner, Miss Saeki, who has her own melancholic back story.
Parallelly, the novel touches upon a curious incident that happened in the Yamanashi Prefecture where a group of children suddenly became unconsciously. It then focuses on one of those students, Mr. Nakata, who after the accident lost the ability to read and write but could mysteriously talk to cats. Consequently, he was the cat finder of his area in Nakano where he stayed.
Talking to cats is just one in the series of bizarre things to pop up in the novel.
In the Honduran novel, The Ships by the Honduran author, Roberto Quesado, the protagonist, Lopez Guillermo is proud to be working on the pineapple plantation for the Standard Fruit Company despite being a city person. That is because there are not many jobs that pay well in the city.
What he would like to do is write but he is not sure if that too will bring in the money. However, that does not stop him from always thinking about how to write about certain things that are happening around him such as when he visits the town of El Porvenir, he thinks about how to write about that town where one is greeted by headless hands. He is always thinking about how to make his writing interesting and unique even though we do not really see him writing.
In July, The Book Cafe had stated an interesting idea about how one needs to read books from all the states in India-be it in the original language or translated. Click the link here to see the full list of books The Book Cafe has read from different Indian States!
Meera Baindur, a bookworm and philosophy faculty at Bengaluru Central University, shares her own thoughts about reading translations of different Indian languages.
What do I know about the country?
Next to nothing!
Which is why I lapped up onto the suggestion when a colleague mentioned about how she has books by a Honduran author.
The Big Banana by Roberto Quesado has a protagonist named Eduardo Lin, who comes to New York City to become an actor along with a parallel story of Mirian, in Honduras, who has a Cold War spy obsession which culminates in her obsession with the character of James Bond.
While in New York, Eduardo lives in a rented house along with other immigrants who each have their own stories and reasons for being there. Back in Honduras, Mirian’s obsession goes out of control and she regularly visits a psychiatrist, who takes Eduardo’s helps to fix this obsession when he had been in Honduras. With this, Mirian and Eduardo, becomes long distant lovers.
And that brings me to the opening scene of The Big Banana where Eduardo is busy cursing the New York Telephone that regularly sends him huge bills to pay.
Intrigued? Read more!
Come September and we are to celebrate the world of translations!
That is because September is the National Translation Month!
Take a look at this below to find more translation picks!
Here are my Top 5 translations! There are of course many more but these are the ones I picked for this post!
Vintage Minis is a series launched in 2017 by Penguin that is characterised by its brevity and universal themes of what makes us human.
Desire is the theme the publishing house chose for Haruki Murakami’s five short stories that are taken from three of his following short story collections:
- Elephant Vanishes
- Blind Willows, Sleeping Women
- Men Without Women
While I did not really go looking for the theme of desire in each short story, I did enjoy all five of them since each had its own unique tale to tell.
Starting with The Second Bakery Attack that is narrated as an anecdote of the past of how a newly married couple found itself gnawed by a hunger that they had never known before and which they could only satisfy through a curious robbery!
Albert Camus is well known for his Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, through which he pioneered the idea of the absurd and made a relatively lesser known Greek mythic figure, Sisyphus, into a worldwide celebrity for the absurd task.
Even in his classic 1947 novel, The Plague or La Peste (in French), he uses the motifs of absurdism predominantly.
The opening of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum – a child of fifteen setting out to join his foster father’s mission to ambush the Japanese – sets the tone for the rest of the novel: not only violent but intensely detailed violence.
Within that violence is embedded the story of three generations of a Chinese family that lived before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution up to the 1970s.
The part which is most emphasised on is the first one: the life of the family before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Keep on Reading!
Albert Camus, the celebrated French writer and pioneer of the absurd thought, began The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays with this dramatic opening:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
Well it may not be, but it immediately forces you to contemplate on the meaning of life as that opening lingers on in your mind.
Keep on Reading!
Recently, in my hunt for reading stories from across the world, I came across this excellent website, Korean Literature Now.
It has a great collection of reviews of works, translations, poetry and short stories written by Korean and other authors.
Take a look at the short stories!
I have read just one other book that was translated from Japan – The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto written by the acclaimed author Kenji Nakagami, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
So when I saw a copy of a book that was a translation yet again from Japan titled The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura; translated by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates, I jumped at it.
Was it worth my time? Yes and no – because this is a short and easy read.