A South American fable about a thief who learns the true meaning of life by searching for a gold coin. A picture book with great colorful illustrationA South American fable about a thief who learns the true meaning of life by searching for a gold coin. A picture book with great colorful illustrations, and translated from Spanish.
The book would be good for beginning, and transitional readers.
This book was read for a college reading/teaching project for children years ago....more
Mini Synopsis: Benny is a thirty something, single, hard working, Swedish dairy farmer living on his failing family farm. His mother whom worked diligeMini Synopsis: Benny is a thirty something, single, hard working, Swedish dairy farmer living on his failing family farm. His mother whom worked diligently with him to keep the farm running has just passed away. “Shrimp” is a librarian whose intellectually based life is in the near by city. She has just lost her husband of several years. Although opposites, the two cross paths numerous times with one another in the local cemetery when visiting their dead loved one’s graves. While both note their extreme differences and apparent incompatibility with the other, they soon cannot deny their physical chemistry. An unlikely and complicated relationship develops ending with unexpected and unconventional results. My short thoughts: It was a short, slightly sad, funny, and refreshing romantic story which did not end with everyone living happily ever after. I highly recommend this to any one who wants to easily step away from the conventional romance and who enjoys reading novels with a taste from another culture – or in this case two. I say this because the story was originally written in Swedish and then translated into “British English”. The text reflects this and makes the writing charming and quirky having idioms from both cultures which are interesting and enjoyable....more
A translated Italian crime fiction novel, that’s another thrilling read for the fans of this popular and eOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A translated Italian crime fiction novel, that’s another thrilling read for the fans of this popular and emerging genre. A very dark psychological read, with a paranormal element, which is not for the faint of heart, or stomach.
About: Six children’s arms are found in a desolate wooded area and the police are distraught, wondering where are the rest of the girls’ bodies? Half assuming they are all dead, it turns out that one may still be alive. The local police team is in a panic to find the living girl (or her body) and to capture the perpetrator who has done this horrific crime, before another child goes missing.
Mila Vasquez, the main protagonist and profiler, has a gift. She has the ability to locate and save live abductees. Naturally, she is brought in to help find this missing girl. And this is only the beginning of a convoluted chase, which includes insights into the darker elements of human nature and inside the lives of the damaged professionals, who are dealing with a child-preying, twisted, yet intelligent killer.
Thoughts: This is dark, very dark. If you do not like reading about pedophiles then don’t read this book. Conversely, If you love translated crime novels and can stomach some gore then this is a book for you. You will get loads of entertainment here in this intelligent page-turning book while at the edge of your seat.
I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I imagine fans of that novel will also enjoy The Whisperers. The book is definitely literary with writing that is involved, and it’s also a fabulous translation. The psychological insight is enlightening and the story line is convoluted enough to keep one guessing, which is so very important in a book like this. I also liked that the story line contains a slight paranormal element giving it even more of an eerie feel.
The characters are complex and will surprise. Mila’s past and future are linked inextricably with the story line and she is deeply emotionally scarred. So is her impromptu partner, and readers will not realize how lost some of the characters are until close to the very end.
An amazing début, it’s an intriguing, involved, intelligent crime novel that I enjoyed quite a lot, so I think it deserves 4 stars. I was particularly pleased with the ending since it was surprising and gut wrenching - and the reader will finally find out who and what a “whisperer” is. Scary stuff! ...more
A “literary tragicomic” that is translated from Norwegian. It’s a short but challenging read which is at tOriginal review posted on Layers of Thought.
A “literary tragicomic” that is translated from Norwegian. It’s a short but challenging read which is at times brilliant, heart-wrenching, sadly funny, and with some interesting bits which require mathematical knowledge to fully understand their references.
About: It is told in the first person by an aging woman Mathea Martinsen. She is a cerebral individual, currently obsessed with death, and perhaps possessing a social anxiety disorder. She stays in her apartment with little desire to connect with anyone other than her husband. With no children, her life consists of the television and going to the store, while simultaneously trying to avoid and connect with her neighbors.
When she finally realizes something is missing from her life – that she wants to be and feel important - she attempts to set things right in a dilapidated series of too-late actions. It seems the harder she tries to be someone, and to connect with others, the worse things become. While she remains oddly positive, as the title suggests she only feels smaller. As her muddled attempts become more desperate, her descent leads to a culmination which is not entirely expected and completely heartbreaking.
Thoughts: One of the reasons I love translated literature is that it helps me to think differently. This book definitely did, and then some. It pushed me to re-read passages, research references, and to do quite few “Googles”. I would even say that with so many looking up of references while reading this ARC, it felt like it was not completely finished.
However, many of the analogies were brilliant and curious. The author has a variety of these interesting tidbits scattered through the story line coming directly from Mathea’s thoughts and actions. An example is that Mathea puts many thing into numerical concepts and theories, speaking to her connection with the world and her relationship to her husband – his nickname and even the title is a reference to a numerical theory.
So, I was a bit conflicted about this book. But remembering it is an ARC I will be searching for a finished copy to compare the two. Perhaps footnotes for the Norwegian cultural references and math connections would help? I don’t always want to stop reading to find an answer to a question.
Recommended for readers that enjoy translated fiction, mathematical logic, and for those looking for a much deeper read. I give this short and intellectually intense book 3 stars as it is in its ARC format; more if my concerns have been addressed in the finished copy. ...more
A purportedly true, but billed as fiction, tale of a young man’s harrowing travels outOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually.
A purportedly true, but billed as fiction, tale of a young man’s harrowing travels out of Afghanistan into various countries. Struggling as an illegal immigrant he eventually obtains political asylum in Italy.
About: Enaiat wakes up one morning to find his mother has abandoned him in Pakistan, after their small family’s flight from their home village in Afghanistan. Their village had been overtaken by the Taliban, who believe that Enaiat’s people have no value and treat them as such.
His mother, forced to leave her son for her survival, advises him on how to behave while he is asleep as she departs. So begins this young boy’s travels to many different countries where he is all but accepted. He finds that there are crocodiles not only in the sea but almost everywhere, with the title referencing an attempt to cross the Mediterranean in a too small rubber dingy to find relative safety. This is Enaiat’s amazing tale as he tries to find a home, sustenance and survival.
Thoughts: A short and engrossing novel at only 224 pages, it’s been translated from Italian to English. Author Fabio Ceda tells Enaiat’s story to the reader from the boy’s perspective – in the first person with occasional interjections and questions for the boy by the author. Due to the nature of memory and the lack of concrete evidence to support a factual book, the story has been designated fiction.
I listened to the book in audio and found it was hard to put down. I couldn’t stop rooting for Enaiat while admiring his ability to get by in the most horrific circumstances. This is my favorite kind of narrator – one who overcomes the odds no matter how difficult the situation, and Enaiat’s experiences where at times terrifying.
This book is a testament to the human spirit and the will to not only survive but to thrive no matter the situation. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in the Middle East and particularly Afghanistan. It’s a 3.5 star read in my opinion and is also done well in audio. Recommended for adults but especially teens....more
A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blacOriginal review post at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blackly humorous, told by a narrator who is definitely misguided and “unreliable”.
About: Set in Russia in the 1970s, The Hottest Dishes is told in the first person by the self-centered Rosa. It starts with Rosa’s daughter Sulfia becoming pregnant in her early teens and not willing to disclose who the father is. Understandably Rosa is not delighted with the situation, but claims her “troublesome” granddaughter Animat as her own and attempts to mold her into an image of what she believes a child and a Tartar should be (Tartars are descendants of Genghis Khan or “mountain people”).
As the reader is lead though the changes, deaths, and difficulties during the deterioration and dissolution of the Soviet Union (most historical details are easy to miss due to the extensive family drama), the tale culminates in a family visa finagled through some twisted means by Rosa from a German native who is researching Tartar Cuisine.
My Thoughts: Rosa is an intriguing character who is definitively an unreliable narrator, possessing a vision of herself that is unreasonably high. She navigates her life with a positive flair that ignores the perspectives and feelings of her family, creating situations which are painful and heartbreakingly sad. All the while she downplays the difficult reality in her world and country, which is more than a bit askew. Although her ability to get by in a harsh world is at times mildly admirable, in the end I was left asking myself the questions: How far would you go to get by or survive? What would you be willing to sacrifice for a chance at a better life for yourself and your family?
This is a short novel but one which I would consider a “chewy” read; it took me some time to finish due to its denseness. The text was not difficult, and the translation is excellent, but due to Rosa’s complexities and the unusual family dynamic she inadvertently creates it took a bit longer than normal. I had to stop to digest what it was about Rosa that I empathized with and what it was that I had a hard time understanding, and why her horrific opinions were in fact humorous. In the end I decided that at her best she is an extremely misguided “mother hen”. But as the adage goes “when does the means justify the end result”?
In conclusion I think that the story can be seen as dark fable for those who “do way too much”, providing lessons on what not to do even though one may think they know what is the best for everyone. Rated at 3.5 stars I enjoyed this translated story, and recommend it for readers who like literary fiction, unusual and complex characters, black humor, or those who would like a lot to think about. This is another book which would be perfect for a discussion group, as there could be so much to talk about. ...more
A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making iOriginal review at Layers of Thought.
A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making it all the more terrifying.
Set Up: A story taking place in Sweden at some undisclosed time in the future, where there has developed a truly warped social system.
The main character is a single women turning fifty. She has no family connections and is struggling financially. Dorit is required to enter a governmentally mandated enclave called “the unit”. A place where all persons – men of sixty years and women of fifty - move to if they are deemed “dispensable”. That is if they do not have anything which is considered of economic value to give. In turn they live a life of luxury yet must submit to medical testing and donate vital organs.
My Thoughts: I really enjoy dystopian novels and this one appeared to have an unusual twist with a character to whom I could easily relate – a middle aged women with bohemian tendencies. There are a number of things that I liked about the book.
It felt like a translation and I love translations. You can explore the locale and psyche of another country through the text with its unusual language nuances. This book was no exception with its lovely description of the local plants, landscape, and weather, as well as subtle differences in its cultural perspective.
There is a secondary plot line which could be described as a romance. I particularly liked that the few unusual sex scenes included are not like your standard fare, which I usually skip over or laugh at.
There are a few political topics which come up in the novel such as ageism and a subtly twisted version of feminism, which make for great for discussion topics.
The novels I enjoy the most leave me with questions, and The Unit poses a few good ones. What kind of a democracy would value economic growth so much that it would sacrifice its older members? Is the nature of democracy only about growth? How could a political system purportedly concerned with freedom develop like the one which is represented in this book?
A fairly short novel it starts out slowly yet picks up considerably where it becomes both illuminating and heart wrenching. It summarizes a few subtle elements of human experience in enlightening and relatable ways. And the best part is that it was just plain scary. It is because of these things it will be placed in my favorite’s list - on balance 4.5 stars....more
A dryly humorous and intellectual literary story about the fickleness of human love and all its entanglemeOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A dryly humorous and intellectual literary story about the fickleness of human love and all its entanglements.
About: Set in contemporary France we have Anna, who is a doctor, and Louise, an attorney. Anna's therapist falls for Louise, and Anna falls for a writer. Both women are beautiful, intelligent, Jewish and of very comfortable means. They also look so similar that they could be the same person or sisters. As these two women with loving families and husbands find romantic entanglement with different men (not their husbands), we see the complexity of their feelings, the inevitable consequences of their choices, and some of the inner workings of their lives – complex and mundane.
Creating a story which is – “enough about love”.
Thoughts: I enjoyed this literary novel partly because it’s not your ordinary romance and because it was perfect to read around Valentine’s day. As is often the case in real life romance all the character’s lives are intertwined, overlapped and connected. Labeling each chapter with the character’s names, Le Tellier tells us about their daily lives as they connect throughout the story.
The author also offers the reader elements with heart wrenching depth such as a glimpse inside the Jewish psyche – one an incredible metaphorical link, inside a legal speech given by Louise about the holocaust; another gives a view inside the daily workings of a woman’s mind. Le Tellier’s attention to details is intriguing - for example he lists the clothing purchases of one of the main character’s - where he cleverly juxtaposes the heavy (as in the holocaust speech) and the light (represented by the gorgeous descriptions of each item such as lingerie and shoes).
It is a quirky novel which is often the case with translations - which is why I adore them. I was challenged and did not understand every little element; I was shocked, amazed and laughed. I give this realistic novel 3 stars. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy translations, like an intellectual read, are intrigued by the French, or are looking for a large step away from fluffy romance....more
A sweet and mostly realistic tale, with touches of the magical. The story addresses connections to loved ones after death.
Mini Synopsis: This is a translated work which is a sweet and fantastic tale about a young boy whose family moves to Israel from New York to care for his aging and dying grandfather. Michael, his American name, is a loner of a child and prefers adult company to that of children. He is comfortable with this move since he does speak fluent Hebrew.
Upon arrival to Israel, he meets his grandfather and they become very close. Over their time together his grandfather shares his knowledge of his special gift, that Michael also possess. Only Michael doesn’t realize how special he really is.
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this tale with its many interesting themes, such as addressing dreams, death, respect for the old, thinking about rebirth, reincarnation, sharing past lives, vegetarianism, morality and recognizing special gifts.
Several problems I had with the book is that it did not feel completely translated in a few small areas; there were bits which could be confusing for an American reader. I imagine that this was remedied since the copy that I read was an ARC – advanced read copy. Another is that one of the characters, Michael’s grandfather’s housekeeper/girlfriend, was portrayed as a difficult person. My problem was that although she cared for his grandfather, his grandfather’s home, did all the cooking, and after a move did these things for Michael's family as well, she was treated with disrespect by the entire family. Not a great role model for a child.
All in all, I adore translations and when looking beyond the annoyances mentioned above, I give this book 3.5 stars. I liked it a lot....more
Synopsis: Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and “shell shocked” population, a number of diverActually 4.5 stars
Synopsis: Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and “shell shocked” population, a number of diverse individuals relay their lives via an omnipresent narrator in separate yet interrelated chapters. They all live in the same dilapidated building where the plumbing has been non existent for several months. They are coping, but it seems there is nothing they can do about the situation. Most significantly the group experiences a death of one of their fellow residents via suicide. Because the “dead guy” is not buried properly in contravention of the demands of his Muslim tradition, he haunts the others with hilarious, heart wrenching, and smelly results.
Layered within this story are the difficult and sadly comical experiences of each of the individuals. Each leading lives with a shared, conflicted yet accepting, desperation. All with differing perspectives due to varying ethnicity, age, and gender. Each are both thoughtful and dark.
As the characters are developed, the story starts to revolve around several American museum facilitators of “Russian Extraction” who will visit and determine if they are to help the Russian group and their local “handmade” museum. It is a promise of a monetary donation, but as the residents try to meet the Americans’ exacting standards and try and plan out a reasonable way of showing the donators that their museum is worthy of support, that they lead normal and sane lives, havoc ensues.
My Thoughts: The above description of this book unjustly simplifies it, since there is so much more complexity within the book than can be described within three paragraphs. There were so may wonderful examples of complex and unusual word usage. I found myself laughing and amazed. The most fun aspect of the book is the way that the author seamlessly incorporates folktales, knowledge and tradition from each of the respective religious backgrounds. “Magical realism” melded with the reality of life - heartbreaking yet hopeful. The book is a linguistic mix of metaphor and imagery.
Key concepts which I found interesting within the book are the nature of truth and how cultures define what they choose to relay to the population through the media, what they hide, and who it is that decides what is shared. It is here that we see that Russians as indirect by cultural default. But we also see how frustrated and powerless they feel about their country’s conflicts. Here is a wonderful example where the main character Olga struggles with her job of translating for a local newspaper, where she is required to create euphemisms for the public to read:
Through the snow Olga trudged, dimly aware that in faraway places people spoke with purer words of unvarnished meaning. Or maybe not. Maybe at other news agencies in other countries people simply told more palatable lies. And as she rounded the corner and climbed over the remains of the broken stone archway that marked the entrance to the courtyard, she felt despair sliding down her throat, setting up quick residence in her stomach. Language was, after all, just word shaped stains, simply another way to evade and obscure the truth.
As I read, I felt the cultural angst. It was a fascinating glimpse into the Soviet psyche which I now understand is more complex than many of us realize. We find that the country has residents of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian background – all with their generalized terms and stagnant beliefs about themselves and others, not unlike the US or any other country for that matter. Here the author sums up human character via Olga:
Olga wagged her head slowly from side to side. It never ceased to amaze her what the human animal was capable of. What great great acts of generosity and cruelty. And how a human could harbor the inclination for both within the same heart! She wished she could say it was beyond her. But it wasn’t, because she felt it, too: compassion and rage, love and hate. Even good people could – and did – commit acts of cruelty. Even people like Olga. How many times had she wished Afghanistan and everyone in it would simply fall off the map?
There are many other examples in the book which exemplify its wonderful language as well as its important concepts. It is a lovely and complex book which was originally published in Great Britain in 2009. The version I read had language appropriate for the area, and will be changed for the American audience. The quotes reflect the UK version. It did feel like a translation, however I could find no evidence of it being one.
I loved this book, and recommend it for people who enjoy unusual and creative language, metaphor and imagery, slipstream/magical realism, as well as art, art history, and cultural perspectives. I rate it at 4.5 stars. I will be looking for a hard copy of this book for my personal collection and I have also included Gina Ochsner on my list of authors to watch. ...more
A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. TranslatOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. Translated to English from Japanese, it is a novel that has the distinct feel of its country’s setting.
About: There are a a number of story lines in this complex and layered story, with the two primary ones based around Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. The story starts with fifteen year old Kafka in the process of running away from his home in Tokyo, perhaps due to his emotionally unavailable father or to find his mother and adopted sister, who left when Kafka was little. As a usual sort of intelligent teen with some unusual attributes (he has an imaginary boy named crow who advises him on various issues), he takes his “road trip” to escape.
Then there is Mr. Nakata, a lovely “simple” older man who cannot read but can amazingly speak to cats (and boy are the cats amusing and well done). He has a “Zen” like characteristic to his attitude and also to his speaking quality in the audio version. Although the two men never actually meet, they move inside the story with their own personal quests overlapping frequently - with the intricate connections becoming clear as the story progresses.
Thoughts: Kafka on the Shore has a variety of themes which may intrigue potential readers, as they did me. Some of these are - cats; World War II; philosophical musings; discussions around literature; the use and discussion of literary tropes such as metaphor, allegory and more; and the arts, including music. Murakami addresses gender and feminism in an indirect way. He has also woven in Asian spiritual themes such enlightenment and rebirth, and some interesting imagery regarding body fluids. The strongest thread in the story is its connection with the mythical story of Oedipus, that creates an unusual twist within the book. For a bit about this myth, here is a short definition:
As a Freudian psychological metaphor describing son–father psychosexual competition for possession of mother, the Oedipus complex derives from the 5th-century BC Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother… (via Wikipedia)
It’s interesting that several of Murakami’s major themes for Kafka on the Shore are metaphor and the myth of Oedipus, and that this shocking complex is also considered a metaphor in its definition above.
I felt that the readers’ voices for the characters where done very well, giving life to the various and well developed characters. I liked that so many of the themes stimulated an intellectual side for me and that better yet I learned a few things. However, I had a conflict – there were too many sexual references and scenes, some were too detailed. Indeed the end of the novel became more about our main protagonist Kafka’s sexual desires and experiences than anything else. Otherwise a very worthy read and well done in this audio version. I give this intriguing audio book 4 stars; more if the sex had been a bit more subtle. ...more
A classic feminist translation from French that’s a “romantic” story told by a heartbroken performer named Renee, who must choose between freedom andA classic feminist translation from French that’s a “romantic” story told by a heartbroken performer named Renee, who must choose between freedom and love during Victorian times.
About: Published in 1910 this is a short book that is supposedly a semi-autobiography from the interesting bohemian author – Colette. The story is told in first person by Renee Nere, the main character who has divorced her wealthy, philandering, artist husband after eight years of emotional torture. Damaged, much wiser, yet lonely, she has managed to support herself as a dancer and actor in Paris. Although not considered an acceptable profession for her social standing, it never-the-less gives Renee a sense of independence which is hard earned during a time when a woman’s independence was not common and, indeed, shunned.
When a wealthy gentleman falls in love with Renee and promises her the moon, and the dancer attempts to decide between marriage and independence - that is when the reader gets a glimpse into why this book is considered a feminist classic.
Thoughts: I truly enjoyed this book in audio, with its UK-English accented reader and its esoteric French phrase usage. (I speak 4 words of French and received horrible grades for it in high school, so did not understand most of it). Yet the English part of the book is descriptive and pleasant, if slightly long winded at times. At one point Renee travels the French countryside, and the letters Renee writes her would be lover are sweet indeed.
When doing research about the author, I found Colette to be an intriguing subject. Living a life that was not standard, she broke many social rules including affairs with a tabooed family member and women. Although this book does not have LGBT elements, it’s still feminist in nature and is not your happily-ever-after romance. But I think that is where its value lies, in a “realistic” example of a woman who goes against the social norms of the times and lives her life to the fullest.
I give this wonderful short novel (especially in its audio version) a 4-star rating and recommend it highly for those interested in anything French, Victorian classics, and feminist fiction....more