I haven’t done one of these posts for a couple of months, so here are five books in translation that I read in 2007-8 – pre-blog – and the capsule reviews I wrote then from my master spreadsheet. I was heartened to find more than this handful in translation from countries other than my most-read France on my reading lists. (Publication dates given below are of the English translations).
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Do you ever really get over your first love? Are all other relationships a form of escape from the fiery passion of that first love – even if it is unrequited? It wouldn’t be spoiling the plot to tell you that Marquez’s answers are no and yes respectively to those questions – but it does take a lot of words and reading to time to get there. I found the central couple Florentino and Fermina very hard to like, whereas the pompous yet generous doctor that Fermina marries after rejecting Florentino is much more sympathetic. I didn’t find the jumps between present day and several times in the past particularly annoying, but did long for Fermina and Florentino to finally get it together much sooner than the time-shifts permitted. The language is florid, and detailed, but didn’t give me as much sense of place as I had hoped for. Slightly disappointing – but I will read more Marquez. (7/10)
[Now: Pub 1988, read in Jan-08. I think I read Edith Grossman’s translation. I’ve only read one more short Marquez since, really should try ‘100 Years of `Solitude’…]
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
A contemplative novel about the relationship between father and son and how it changes as events happen. A Norwegian, Trond retires to the country to try to find solitude in his old age now his wife has died, but meets someone from his youth that forces him to re-examine his teenage years when he and his father spent summers in the backwoods country close to the Swedish border where later WWII intruded.
Few words jar in this thoughtful translation, but there is drama and tension throughout – however muted. A recommended read. (8.5/10)
[Now: Pub 2005, read in Jan-08. Translated by Anne Born from the Norwegian. Now here is an author I’d really like to read more of.]
The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin
19th Century Russia and young policeman Erast Fandorin gets a lucky break in a case which gets him entangled in a conspiracy which crosses the continent, allows him to travel, gamble and use guns – indeed it nearly gets him killed several times, and he meets and loses the love of his life. A 19th century Bond? – In this first novel, I see him more as an Indiana Jones type, but I’m sure he’ll mature into a more suave, cynical and hardened special agent. As with almost all novels set in 19th century Russia, the sense of place and sheer ‘Russian-ness’ makes them so attractive. This is a fab novel, brilliantly translated, can’t wait to read the others now. (9/10)
[Now: Pub 2003, read in Nov-07. Translated by Andrew Bromfield from the Russian. I did read the second book in the series, but got crime series fatigue after that!]
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
Hampered by a clunky translation of a wordy and descriptive first few pages, I had my doubts about this novel; but once the characters started speaking, it found its voice and got me hooked. I liked Montalbano a lot, finding similarities in him to Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti, however he is more authentically Italian. I will read more of this series. (7/10)
[Now: Pub 2002, read May-07. Of course translator Stephen Sartarelli has gone on to translate all the Montalbano books and more, and I’ve enjoyed the others I’ve read a lot.]
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
It is hard to describe this extraordinary book that is the story of an ordinary guy whose wife leaves him. Ultimately, it is the story of how Toru finds himself again, but it is his journey that involves many unusual accomplices and their own life experiences, combined with his attempts to understand what’s happening through sensory depravation leading to bizarre dreams that makes it a page-turner. This higgledy-piggledy book was at first a challenge, then a delight, but ultimately is slightly unsatisfactory because it’s so hard to engage with the hollow shell that is the lead character.
[Now: Pub 1997, read Oct-07. Translated by Jay Rubin. I’ve had a hit and miss time with Murakami since.]
Do you find you’re reading more in translation these days? I definitely am.