Tag Archives: InTranslation

The Savage Detectives Group Read

Coming in January.. a group read of Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives.  Thanks to Richard of Caravana de recuedos for organizing this event.  Many of the people I shared the 2666 read-along with, way back in 2009, are joining in.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while and  I am happy to be reading along with a great group if book lovers.  Are you interested?  Here is a link to Richard’s post.

Leave a comment

Filed under Events, Group Read, Roberto Bolano

Underground by Haruki Murakami

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel

Vintage International, New York, 2001

Borrowed from my local Library.

After reading Kafka on the Shore, and not being sure what I thought of Haruki Murakami, I decided to read his book on the 1995  Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo gas attacks.  Murakami says in his introduction that he was motivated to write Underground because he had been living away from Japan, wanted a deeper understanding of his home country and felt an obligation to those who had died in and survived the attack.  He wanted to have their voices heard.

Underground is actually two books that were published separately in 1997 and 1998.   The first part,. Underground, is made up of interviews with survivors of the 1995  attack in the Tokyo subway system, the second part, The Place That Was Promised, contains interviews with people who had been involved with Aum Shinrikyo.

From the interview with Toshiaki Toyoda, a Subway Authority workman.

    There were ordinary passengers who unfortunately lost their lives or suffered injuries just because they were traveling on the subway.  People who are still suffering mentally or are in pain.  When I consider their lot, I don’t have the luxury to keep seeing myself as a victim.  That’s why I say: “I’m not a sarin victim, I’m a survivor.”  Frankly, there are some latent symptoms, but nothing to keep me bedridden.  I’m just glad I survived.

The fear, the mental wounds are still with me, of course, but there is no way to flush them out of my system.  I could never find words to explain it to the families of those who died or sacrificed their lives on the job.  From page 38.

Murakami shows great respect for the people he interviewed, never interfering with their answers and yet drawing them out.  I am deeply impressed by his level of caring and by his commitment to his fellow citizens.  I am also moved by the survivors, their willingness to share their stories and their commitment to their culture and to each other. I find the difference between our two culture profound.

I also really appreciate the depth of Murakami’s intelligence, his clarity of thought and willingness to probe deeply into his own psyche.

From Blind Nightmare: Where Are We Japanese Going?

            …I am a novelist, and as we know a novelist is someone who works with “narratives”, who spins “stories” professionally.  Which meant to me that the task at hand was like a gigantic sword dangling over my head.  It’s something I’m going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on.  I know I’m going to have to construct a “cosmic communication device” of my own.  I’ll probably piece together every last scrap of junk, every weakness, every deficiency inside me to do it.  (There, I’ve gone and said it – but the real surprise is that it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do as a writer all along!)

So then, what about you? (I’m using the second person, but of course that includes me.)

Haven’t you offered up some part of your Self to someone (or something), and taken on a “narrative” in return?  Haven’t we entrusted some part of our personality to some greater System or Order? And if so, has not that System at some stage demanded of us some kind of “insanity”?  Is the narrative you now possess really and truly your own?  Are your dreams really your own dreams?  Might not they be someone else’s visions that could sooner or later turn into nightmares?  From page 233.

The second part of this book is made up of interviews with people connected to Aum Shinrikyo at the time of the attacks.  It is chilling how easily these people, all of whom seem intelligent and humane, were disconnected from their families, their peers and any sense of empathy or compassion.  They became “mindless” but sincerely thought otherwise.  Read that quote from Blind Nightmare again.

I will definitely read more of Murakami’s work, even as I struggle to make sense of it.

Other reviews:


Dolce Bellezza


The Parrish Lantern

things mean a lot

Thyme for tea


Filed under Culture, History, InTranslation, JapaneseLiteratureChallenge 5, Nonfiction, Review

The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich

Melville House, Brooklyn, 2011

Borrowed from my library.

This is another beautiful book from Banana Yoshimoto.  I now want to read all of her work.

The Lake starts out slowly.  I found I had to slow down, quiet down, before I could be comfortable with these pages.

Chihiro, a young mural artist, is trying to understand the relationship that is developing with her neighbor, Nakajima. After caring for her mother through a long illness, Chihiro has just returned from her funeral.  She feels disconnected from her father and can’t figure out her emotional attachment to the strange young man who has started sleeping over.

Yoshimoto’s writing is simple and subtle, her characters are  lovable and a bit odd.  The mystery pulls you in like quicksand, before you know it you are caught.  This story feels old-fashioned but Yoshimoto breaths life into language and plot in a way I find extraordinary.  There are little gems hidden in places that surprise.

That’s how it goes.  Things look different depending on your perspective.

As I see it, fighting to bridge those gaps isn’t really what matters.  The most important thing is to know them inside and out, as differences, and to understand why certain people are the way they are.  From page 127.

You don’t necessarily have to want to become an adult; it happens as a matter of course, as you go, making choices.  The important thing, I think, is to choose for yourself.  From page 136.

It would give too much away to tell more of this story.  If you liked Kitchen or Lizard I think you will enjoy The Lake.

I read this novel as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 5.  Why don’t you join in?


Filed under InTranslation, LiteraryFiction, Review

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

Translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne

Black Cat, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.  I have to thank Stu at Winstonsdad’s Blog for introducing me to this wonderful, funny and moving book.  This book was nominated for the Booktrust 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

What does a child do when the world around him starts to fall apart?  Kamchatka is a story of  a ten-year-old boy and his family living in Buenos Aires in1976.  The boy, who eventually calls himself Harry after Harry Houdini, and his brother, the “Midget”,  live in a world of school  and comic books, TV, friends and loving parents.  His biggest thrills are the games of Risk he plays with his father.

As the military takes over the country, Harry’s parents friends start disappearing.  Eventually his mother pulls him from school and the family travels outside of the city to stay in a country house.

Kamchatka is  Harry’s story, we hear him looking back on his life as a ten-year-old.  I found this to be one of the best portrayals of a young person I have read in quite a while, and knowing some of the history of Argentina during that time only added to the tension that Figueras creates in his novel.

Since the uncertainties of the present weighed heavily on me, I had been spending a lot of time thinking about my future.  The idea of becoming an escape artist struck me as clearly as a vision: once the notion was firmly planted in my brain, all my worries disappeared.  Now I had a plan, something that, in the near future, would tie up all the loose ends of my circumstances.  From page 95.

Then there is Harry as an adult, looking back on his life, his family, his country.

We get our first glimpses of the big wide world from those we love unconditionally.  If we see our elders suffer because they cannot get a job, or see them demoted, or working for a pittance, our compassion translates these observations and we conclude the world outside is cruel and brutal. (This is politics.)  If we hear our parents badmouthing certain politicians and agreeing with their opponents,  our compassion translates these observations and we conclude that the former are bad guys and the latter are good guys.  (This is politics.)  If we observe palpable fear in our parents at the very sight of  soldiers and policemen, our compassion translates this observation and we conclude that, though all children have bogeyman, ours wear uniforms.  (This is politics.) From page 39.

Kamchatka is presented not in chapters but in periods, like a school day: Biology, Geology, Language, Astronomy, History,  allowing Harry to integrate as an adult the lessons he learned as a child, allowing him to tell his story.  He constantly references his favorite books, books that help him make sense of his past and help him to move into his future.  Kamchatka, like most books I love, is a novel about stories.  It is through stories that we tell our truths and hold on to our histories.

I believe that stories do not end, because even when the protagonists are dead, their actions still have an impact on the living.  This is why I believe that History is like an ocean into which rivers of individual histories flow.  Everything that has gone before underpins the present; we continue those stories just as those who come after us continue ours.   We are bound together in a web that spans all of space; a web large enough to include all those alive today, but also all those of yesterday and tomorrow.  From pages 273/274.

I think Frank Wynne has done a fantastic job of translation, maintaining the spirit of Figueras’ intention. I hope there are other Figueras translations in the works,  I cannot wait to read more.


Filed under Argentina, ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation, Review

Agaat: A Novel by Marlene Van Niekerk

Agaat: A Novel by Marlene Van Niekerk

Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns

Tin House Books, Portland, 2010

Borrowed from the library.  Winner of the Three Percent 2011 Best Translated Book Award.

When I started reading Agaat, I wasn’t sure whether I would stick with it.  Milla, the widow of a white South African farmer, is dying of a creeping paralysis and struggling to communicate with her caretaker, Agaat, a black women born with a shriveled arm.  Parts of the novel are written from Milla’s point of view as she becomes unable to speak, move and breath.  I found it difficult to read.  Through first person and third person points of view  Milla mulls over her life on the farm and her disturbing history with Agaat.  It was these two women, one white, one black, and their connection through time, that held me,.

Their relationship is an allegory for South Africa’s final struggles with apartheid and that country’s history during the last half of the twentieth century.  Now it is Agaat who is in control, who cares for Milla, and who manages to work out her needs through a series of eye blinks.

The morning sun lights up Agaat’s cap from the back.  Full of embroidery holes it is, densely edged with shiny white thread.  The points of light in the weft flicker as she approaches.  She hesitates over my bed, inclines her head, feels along the high peak with both hands, touches the base on both sides, whether it’s well pinned, whether it’s properly seated.  If the caps is on as it should be, she’s empowered to walk through fire.  Her crown of glorified cotton, her mitre, her fire-barrel speckled with light, that gives her dominion over the underworld.  She deliberately touches it in such a way that there should be no doubt in my mind of her intention.  She is mustered, she is prepared, I mustn’t give any more trouble, she’ll sort me out here, she’s the commander of my possibilities.  From page 47.

But it hasn’t always been this way.  Childless after seven years of marriage, Milla “rescued” Agaat from a life of “misery” and raised her, grooming her to become a house-maid.  We learn of this history through a collection of diaries.

Today she is sitting in the corner in a little heap with her knuckles in her mouth.  A sign of progress already, I suppose, that at least she’s sitting up.  Yesterday she crawled under the bed.  I had to drag her out of there three times.  Clung to the bed-leg with the good hand.  Surprisingly tough, the little monkey, that hand I just about had to prise open to get her to let go.  The third time I gave her a sharp slap over the buttocks.  She must learn, my goodness.  She can’t come and play her tricks on me.  Showed her Japie.  A Good old-fashioned duster with a solid wooden handle.  From page 393.

She’s in thrall to my eyes now.  She looks everywhere that I look.  Ever more complicated bluffing games we play, surprise games, guessing games.  I could never have dreamed you can achieve so much with your eyes.  From page 403

As we begin to understand Milla and Agaat’s history, Grootmoedersdrift, the farm they live on, becomes another character in this novel.  The farm, along with others owned by white farmers, and what happens on them is as much a part of the struggle for freedom as the Afrikaaner owners and African workers who toil on them.

There is Milla’s husband, Jak, violent and abusive, unwilling to face the changes that are in the wind, and their son, Jakkie, a boy growing up with two mothers, one distant and demanding, the other offering only love and comfort.  It is Jakkie who sees the struggle coming, who is aware of the effects of apartheid, and who finally leaves, with Agaat’s help and support.

I am not a professional reviewer.  There is really no way I can completely do justice to this novel except to say that it is, in the end, a love story.   I can suggest, if this time and place in world history are of interest to you, that you read it.  Marlene Van Niekerk, a poet and novelist, has written what I consider a masterpiece.  There many layers of Afrikaans culture woven throughout this novel, bits of songs, games, rhymes and lore.  Michiel Heyns, also a  novelist and academic,  has done an extraordinary job of translation and has included a glossary of Afrikaans and South African words.

Other Reviews:

Literary License


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation

Touch by Adania Shibli

Touch by Adania Shibli

Translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar

Clockroot Books, Northhampton,  2010

Borrowed from the library.

A short book, just 72 pages, made up of brief pieces that read like prose poems.  It is as if I had up and read bits of paper that were scattered about, and by reading them, learned of the life of a Palestinian girl, the youngest of nine sisters.   Through everyday occurrences that gather weight and substance, in language that is ordinary and yet eerily dreamlike, Shibli tells the story of the tragedy that is modern-day Palestine.  It is beautiful.

Black swallowed all the colors.  She lit the lantern in the room, and the white paint jumped into it while the blackness stood on the windowsill , carelessly filling in the spaces between the windows bars…
Before the sun was created , black alone filled the universe.  Black was there before the creation.  Before she was born.  And after she would die , blackness would return to its place, her empty place.  From page 13.

Learning to read and write changes this young woman’s life.  Although we can not see into her future we can hope that her world will become a more peaceful place.  This book is layered and meaningful,  feel my understanding of Touch will increase as I read it again.


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation, Review

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I wrote this review before finding out about the earthquake and tsumani that struck Japan.  I thought about not posting it, but decided to go ahead.  For information about what is happening in Japan, and to offer help, visit this link. (Thanks, Google)

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel

Vintage, New York, 2006

I own this one.  Another book read for the TBR Dare.

I’ve been aware of and curious about  Haruki Murakami for a long time.  I tried reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle a few years ago and just could not get into it.  I found Kafka on the Shore much more accessible.

The novel revolves around the journeys of two main characters.  It follows them as they are unknowingly drawn together.  They never meet, but their lives connect through actions that are surreal and dreamlike.

Kafka Tamura, “the toughest fifteen-year old in the world”, leaves home to escape a curse or maybe to find his mother and sister.  He is well prepared but has no idea where he is heading until looking  at a map  he feels himself drawn to a particular place.   Eventually he ends up at a private library and developes relationships with the two people who run the place.

At the same time Nakata, a man who suffered a strange accident during the war that left him unable to read or write and with no memory of his past.  Nakata leads a quiet life and has the ability to talk to cats.  I found him the most intriguing and most likable character in this strange novel.

Nakata never went into these conversations with cats expecting to be able to easily communicate everything.  You have to expect a few problems when cats and humans try to speak to each other.  And there is anotherfactor to consider: Nakata’s own basic problems with talking – not just with cats, but also with people.  His easy conversation with Otsuka the previous week was more the exception than the rule, for invariably getting across even a simple massage took a great deal of effort.  On bad days it was more like two people on opposite shores of a canal yelling to each other on a windy day.  And today was one of those days.  From page 76.

In what seems an incident of mind control, Nakata finds himself drawn into an act of violence and must leave his home.  He also finds himself drawn to a particular place and eventually ends up at the same private library.

After ghostly appearances, fish and leeches falling from the sky,  possible incest real and imagined, and a journey into a dark wood, Kafka Tamura finds himself returning to his home to pick up his life again, but I found I didn’t really care what happens to him.

I admit Murakami is a fine writer.  There are many beautiful passages in Kafka on the Shore, but by the end of it I really questioned why I read it.  There is a great mix of philosophy, classical music, literature and mythology woven into the story but none of that made it real for me.  I guess this is considered  magical realism, a style of writing I usually love, but for me it has to have some warmth behind it, something real and human to hold it together.  Sadly, for me, I did not find what I needed in this novel, it seemed to fall to pieces in my hands.  I do not know if I will try another book by Haruki Murakami.

Other Reviews:

chasing bawa

In Spring it is the Dawn

The Reading Life

Things Mean A Lot


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation, Review

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

Archipelago Books, New York, 2009

The Twin won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2010.

From my TBR pile.

A spare and beautiful novel, the story of Helmer, the eldest of a set of identical twins.  Henk, his brother, died in a car accident at age nineteen.   Henk’s girlfriend, Riet, had been driving.  In her grief she turns to his family, only to be turned away by their father.  Helmer, who had just entered college, returns to the farm to work.  There he stays for 35 years, resentful, angry, lost, only half a man.

“When the frost flowers were on the windows, we lay in our pajamas under a pile of blankets.  When it was warm, we lay naked under a sheet.  We molded ourselves to each other’s bodies.  Together we rode our bikes to Monnickendam: Henk to the agricultural college, me to high school.  We were separated all day but in the afternoon we would come riding up from different directions and simultaneously lay our forearms on the handlebars to defy wind and rain together.  We celebrated our birthday together, we had friends together and, up to fourteen, we showered together.  Until the Saturday night that father split us up.  “First one, then the other,” he said.  “Now, now,” Mother said later, when we went to her to complain.  “You’re not little boys any more.”  So what? we thought, but we didn’t say it…We belonged together, we were two boys with one body.  From pages 198/199.

After all this time Helmer, taking poor care of his dying father, receives a letter from Riet.  She visits him and asks if her eighteen year old son, named Henk, can come and help with the farm work.  The boy’s presence opens Helmer to all kinds of memories and to the possibility of change.  Bakker’s language and Colmer’s translation give this simple, quiet story a driving force.  To me the themes and characters are mythic in scope but completely rooted in reality.  The reality of daily work and a brilliantly realized sense of place.  This simple book surprised me.  I will read it again.

Other reviews:



Filed under ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation, Review, TBR

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and the Professor By Yoko Ogawa

Translated by Stephen Snyder

Picador, New York , 2009

Borrowed from the library.  My thanks go to Amanda for first introducing me to this book.

A gentle, quiet novel that explores love, memory and loss.

An unnamed  Housekeeper is given a new client, a Professor of Mathematics who, through an accident, has lost his ability to remember things for more than 80 minutes.  She has been hired by his strident and distant Sister-in-law and ordered to care for his home and prepare his meals.

The Professor remembers everything from before the accident but the present is a mystery.  He tries to keep track of his life by attaching notes to his clothing.   His love of mathematics is really the only thing that keeps him going.  The relationship that grows between these two lonely people is a very fragile.  It is strengthened by the feelings the Professor develops for the Housekeeper’s son,  Root. Root and the Professor share a love of baseball and, they discover, a love of math.

He treated Root exactly as he treated prime numbers.  For him , primes were the base upon which all natural numbers relied; and children were the foundation of everything worthwhile in the adult world. From page 130.

Ogawa used numbers and mathematical formulas as conversational tools.  The math is like poetry and helps to build a delightful story from very simple ingredients.  Snyder’s translation into English seems flawless and natural.  I enjoyed this book, like an early spring morning filled with birdsong.

Other reviews:


In Spring it is the Dawn

My Cozy Book Nook

NC Bookbunch

Save Ophelia

The Zen Leaf

Did I miss your review?


Filed under 2010 Global Reading Challenge, Fiction, InTranslation, New Authors 2010, Review