Nancy Oakes's Reviews > The Third Translation

The Third Translation by Matt Bondurant
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's review
Feb 12, 08

bookshelves: american-fiction, gave-away
Read in January, 2007

You know, after I finished this book I went to find reviews of it to see what others thought. I'm so amazed that it got a lot of negative reviews -- what -- did people expect Amelia Peabody? And here's the other thing: I keep seeing references to this book as supposedly being on par with the DaVinci Code, as if somehow since the publication of the DaVinci Code, it has become the standard by which all other books dealing with cryptography, hidden clues, secrets should be written. So when did that happen? Books that are very good, like this one, are not well liked because once someone promotes the book as being something like The DaVinci Code, readers buy and read the book expecting to find a DaVinci Code and are disappointed when they don't. Hence the negativity. Sad but true! Why do we have to put books up to a "standard" of any other book? I think that's what's happened here, and it's too bad, because there's a man's whole life story in here that gets overlooked for the "ooooh...what's the secret? What is the third translation going to reveal?" type of thing going on in the reader's head. Granted, there are many books I have not liked and some I have REALLY not liked, but not because they were measured to some artificial standard that the author failed to attain; rather, because they were poorly written and didn't hold my interest. The Third Translation was definitely not one of these books; I thought it was very well written and had a lot to say.

brief synopsis:
The main character of this novel is Walter Rothschild, currently working at the British Museum deciphering the Paser Stela (which actually exists, by the way), which has a curious characteristic: it is an example of clever Egyptian wordplay and notes that the stela should be read three times. So Walter has found a way to read it horizontally & vertically and have it make sense, but he has spent a great deal of time, to the exclusion of everything else, working on finding the third translation. His obsession with things Egyptian, however, started when he was a boy, while in Egypt with his father, and his passion for translation & antiquities became sort of his understanding of how the world works. Therefore, in the real world that didn't match his understanding, he was a bad husband, a bad father and deserted his wife & daughter when his daughter was just 3. Now he's just kind of living for his work.

The trouble begins when Walter decides to make a night of it with his friends and goes to a bar where his friend Alan (who has his own view of reality as well) introduces him to some people; one of them is a young woman Erin. He gets a little drunk, and takes her back to the Museum, where they do the do among some of the exhibits. The next day he is told that something of value has been stolen, an ancient papyrus, and that he'd better get it back. So the search is on for Erin through the streets of London, then on to Cambridge where he runs into a bizarre cult involved in what Walter believes is a conspiracy against him and his work on the Paser Stela.

So while there are elements of mystery and conspiracy, cryptography and translations, you really have to try to get into Walter's head to do this author and book justice - put things together for yourself about what is revealed to Walter during his attempts at finding the third translation and how it applies to his life.

I won't say more, but whatever you do, please do not read this book thinking you're getting The DaVinci Code, the adventures of Amelia Peabody, a "mystery of the mummy's curse" type thing or something mainstream, because this book is none of these. I have really learned a long time ago not to trust the book blurbs in most cases, because they're usually not accurate. If you want a very cool book to read that I would consider very good literature, then read this thinking that's what you're going to be getting.
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