August 22nd, 2018

book talk // women in translation month.

August is Women in Translation Month, which honors women authors in translation, primarily in the English-speaking world. I consider myself a student of translated fiction — I am passionate on the subject, but I know very little, and what I do know is only what’s made available to me in my own language. However, I would like to take a few moments to acknowledge the female authors that have blown me away recently.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky / Translated by Sandra Smith

Irene Nemirovsky was a Jewish novelist and biographer born in the Ukraine, who lived and worked in Paris prior to and during the Nazi occupation. She was eventually sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed at the age of 39. Suite Francaise consists of the first two parts of a planned five-part novel that she began in a small village in Central France, while attempting to hide from the Nazis. The handwritten manuscript was taken by her daughters into hiding and published sixty years after Nemirovsky’s death.

Still, weeks after finishing it, I keep thinking about Nemirovsky’s ability to paint an empathetic portrait of German soldiers, knowing that they were killing her people, knowing that she was likely to die at their hands herself, and yet she was still able to look at them as humans,.

Suite Francaise is the most tender depiction of war I’ve ever read. Nemirovsky’s interweaving of characters and narratives truly blew me away. A masterwork. An incomplete masterwork. She looked into people’s souls and told the truth about what she found there.

Rating: 5/5

  The Appointment by Herta Müller / Translated by Michael Hulse

Herta Müller was born in Romania. Her family was part of Romania’s German minority and her mother was deported to a labor camp in the Soviet Union after World War II. Müller is also the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In The Appointment, Muller tells the story of a young female narrator, a garment factory worker, who is being questioned by the authorities for treasonous activity, in this case writing notes that say ‘marry me’ and sewing them into clothing in an attempt to escape Romania. She is no longer a patriot, no longer trustworthy. But this is a world where no one trusts anyone and betrayal is simply the order of the day.

The Appointment is written in stream-of-consciousness prose and an elliptical style that sends the reader off on memories from the past, the history of the post-WWII camps, and then brings us back to the tram where the narrator is headed for her interrogation appointment. This book was a shock to read, it really makes 1984 seem like a walk in the park. The Nobel committee said Muller writes ‘the landscape of the dispossessed’ and I find myself agreeing with that assertion.

Rating: 5/5

  Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir / Translated by Brian FitzGibbonHotel Silence won the Icelandic Literary Prize 2016 and was chosen Best Icelandic Novel in 2016 by booksellers in Iceland. I have been trying to read more Icelandic translations lately, and this one in particular was a joy.Jonas Ebeneser is a 50-year-old handyman in crisis. He is divorced and in possession of a secret that has deeply affected him.

Tattoos cover up scars — he leaves Iceland with a waterlily over his heart and a toolbox with a drill, embarking on a journey to a war torn country (not named) with the intention to end his life.The people Jonas encounters after checking in to Hotel Silence are in want of help, fixing, they are in possession of scars as well. Olafsdottir also translates bits of poetry as epigraphs, mirroring, in many cases, Jonas’s own thoughts.

Hotel Silence is introspective, and mostly focused on the daily lives of the characters, there is no real plot. But it turned out to be just the type of book I like to read as well. Simple, silent, thoughtful, maybe a little quirky.

Rating: 4/5