Tag Archives: translations

FMBD: Firsts

It's the end of the semester, so now I have some free time and I can really get after it and read some books.

I recently tried to quantify all the translated books I've read, and they pretty much fell into three categories: European, Latin American, and Murakami.* But there were no African writers and very few Asian writers (not even African writers writing in European languages).

This past month I listened to Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag - translated from Kannada (spoken in India) - it was a very short, but very well constructed family drama, with an undercurrent of violence.

And this month I'm picking up Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo. This is the first Malagasy novel that has ever been translated into English. Madagascar is already so strange and interesting, so I'm excited to see what the book is like.

So I've been expanding my reading in that direction, what have you all been reading?

* one notable exception was Han Kang's The Vegetarian (from S. Korea)- which is hallucinogenically great.

First Monday Book Day: July

Talking to Ourselves by Andres Neuman is a short novel from the Argentinian author that I read last month.  I had read the first novel of his to be translated (Traveler of the Century) a few years ago and that was a huge 600 page novel of ideas.  This book is very much the opposite of that, it is short and immediate and has a significant impact.

There are three narrators; Lito, the child, Elena, the mother, and Mario, the father who is dying of cancer, but hiding that fact from his son.  All three of the characters are hiding things but the father's illness and approaching death shadows the book throughout.  Father and son embark on a cross country trip that for the father is a last chance to create a memory, and for Lito is his first chance to truly enter his father's adult world.  All three narrative arcs continue to dance around each other always approaching, but never do they actually connect and find common ground.

It's a book about family and grief and illness.  Each of the three narrators is so fully realized and observed by Neuman that the book comes together very well.  Neuman has become one of those authors that I will follow and read whatever comes out from him next (a story collection is coming in October, I hear - consider me excited).

That was one of my favorite books I've read in the first half of the year. Hopefully, you all have had similarly great reading experiences this month and we can while away the next few days discussing them.

First Monday Book Day: Reading in Translation

J.M.G. Le Clézio - DésertLast week, as we rolled south toward Kansas, Mrs. Hayes and I occupied our minds with podcasts. The pillowy ride of the new (to us) full-size Buick sedan and the monotony of eastern Iowa might have lulled us to sleep were it not for The Incomparable, The /Filmcast, Roderick on the Line, and Radiolab. "Translation," last week's Radiolab episode, got me thinking about the books I've read in translation, particularly the book I'm reading right now –  J.MG. Le Clézio's Désert, translated in my edition by C. Dickson.

This is my first modern French novel. I dutifully read, as I'm sure many of you did, Voltaire and Victor Hugo and Guy de Maupassant in high school. I might be forgetting a few. Since I don't speak French, I never read any of them in anything other than English, just like I'm reading Le Clézio. Mostly, reading this book is flying blind. I'm ignorant of any conventions in French literature, and completely reliant on C. Dickson to convey Le Clézio's entire persona as an author – characterization, phrasing, pacing, voice, everything except the plot. If Désert were a film by Godard or Melville I might have more to go on; I wouldn't need a translator to help with anything other than dialogue. But C. Dickson's my only lifeline to the ship Le Clézio is sailing across the Sahara. I'm over halfway through it, and while I can't say if I "get" it yet, I can say with conviction I'm in awe of the writing. Or is it the translation?

I read and translated a little Russian literature in Russian as an undergrad: Pushkin and Akhmatova and Gogol come to mind. I don't speak or read Russian well enough to read a book anything but haltingly, but at one time I got along enough to form a few opinions, mainly about poets. Blok and Akhmatova blew me away. I know enough about Russian literature and culture to have a decent idea of what an author or poet is doing or the society his work is engaging. With the French, I have no idea. (I will be even more lost when I finally get to Ha Jin's War Trash, hopefully by the end of the year.)

It's funny. Some of my favorite authors are those I can only read in translation. Murakami, for example. There are books of his I like better than others, but despite my near-complete ignorance of non-automotive Japan and my total Japanese illiteracy, he is definitely near the top of my list of favorite writers. How much of that do I owe to Murakami, and how much of it to his English translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel? I suppose I could answer that by saying I never recommend anyone read Constance Garnett's translations of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or anybody else. (Please. Read the newer and superior Prevar & Volokhonsky translations.) A good translator gets out of the way and imparts as much of the original author's vision and voice as possible, and a bad one can completely destroy the original while leaving the reader completely unaware of the demolition. The problem is knowing which translator has been at work.

What are you reading?