Some good reads from pre-blog days, and what I thought about them then… #12

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.

9 thoughts on “Some good reads from pre-blog days, and what I thought about them then… #12

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I read a lot in translation, but I think I always did. Interestingly, though, I never really gelled with Akunin and I don’t know why. I read The White Queen quite soon after it came out and expected to love it but didn’t. I do wonder how I would find a revisit though…

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I think I read the second one, then decided I wasn’t necessarily bothered with the Akunins. I’m very bad at carrying on with series though (excepting Maigret!)

  2. Café Society says:

    I read the first two pages of The Winter Queen and there was something about the translation that jarred so badly that I put the book down and never tried it again. For the life of me, I can’t remember now what it was, but it must have been bad because it’s really stuck in my memory.

  3. Calmgrove says:

    I read and enjoyed the first two Montalbano books — and then stalled. Maybe it was because I was enjoying the first outings here of the TV series on BBC Four. With Camilleri’s final Montalbano novel published posthumously around now (possibly today or tomorrow, according to Stefi at etinkerbell) I ought to pick up where I left off.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve read several of the other Montalbano books and really enjoyed them. I am terrible at series fatigue in general though – stopping most after 1, 2 or 3!

  4. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’ve not read any Marquez; I even had a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude that I got free from a friend, but I realized after years that I was never going to read it and sent it the way of the charity bookshop. I have a copy of Out Stealing Horses, though, and am very keen on it. I’ll have to find an excuse to read it this year. Lit in translation has been nearly 10% of my reading this year, which I’m pretty pleased with.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Kim is a big Petterson fan, I’d love to read more by him. On Marquez, I feel I ought to read 100 yrs… so for now that book will stay on my shelf. I’m running at 11% in translation at the moment this year, which is lower than I’d like – but I have two on the go at the moment, plus a couple lined up for #WITmonth in August which will up the %.

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