Tag Archive for Translated Literature

Book Review: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass I read at least part of this book in college — in the original German — but I’d forgotten just how strange and twisted of a book it is. It’s rather intense overall, especially with the style it’s written in. It’s quite detailed and rather heavy at times, but it’s well-written almost throughout. There were only a few parts, especially towards the end, where I didn’t feel as captivated, usually when there was repetition of certain events.

As for the story itself, it’s quite difficult in many ways, and quite often. Disturbing, emotional, twisted, tragic, and lots of other “fun” stuff. Not surprising given our narrator, who seems to be precocious and talented, but also wicked and a bit insane as well. The other characters are all quite intriguing in their own ways, but you end up questioning how much you can trust the narrator in all of this, especially given the things he does to the others.

I think I’m glad I read (or re-read) this book, but I don’t know that I will be re-reading this in future. It’s such an intense book, and I can appreciate it for what it is, but I think I’ve had my fill, for now at least.

Book Review: The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun I don’t get it. How on earth is this could this book be “hailed by the feminists?” The narrator is vapid and only seems interested in pursuing relationships with men to get things, namely clothes, accessories, and money. I really didn’t like the stream-of-consciousness / diary style either, and I kept questioning how true to the original this translation was, given some of the awkward phrasing.

Book Review: Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck I wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t do it for me. I felt like I was just swimming through a tangle of words, trying to figure out what was going on. This felt like writing for writing’s sake, like showing off you know about words, rather than to properly tell an interesting story.

Article: You’re Missing Out on Great Literature

You’re Missing Out on Great Literature

“Only three percent of everything published in the U.S. each year is translated from another language — and the majority of that is computer manuals and other technical material. Why don’t Americans read beyond their borders?”

(From Pacific Standard, February 11, 2014)

This article focuses on the lack of translations as an American issue, but I wonder how the US compares to other markets where English is primary or prominent. Is the UK also lacking in translated literature, for example?

I also wonder about the reasons behind it, some of which the article touches upon. Is it more that readers aren’t interested in books from other countries, even if translated into English, or more that publishers don’t want to invest the money translating something they aren’t sure will sell? My guess is that it’s more the latter, but perhaps this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

Personally, I’m very interested in reading works from other countries, to learn about people from different places and cultures, and just for something different to read. As long as it’s translated well though. I’ve read some translations that were pretty poorly done. Granted, there are plenty of native English books published today that aren’t written very well either!

Book Review: The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll

The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll A great collection of Heinrich Böll’s work, though with so many stories and novellas, it’s hard to comment on them here. His writing style is appealing, mostly clear and to the point, but with enough detail to paint a scene. The stories focusing on the war and just after seemed best to me; those touching upon religion and/or philosophy did not feel as compelling.

Book Review: Selected Stories from Sholom Aleichem

Selected Stories from Sholom Aleichem I liked the writing style of these stories, and they were interesting in terms of where and who they focused on. But a lot of the stories didn’t really go anywhere and felt incomplete. Some were more like portraits of individual characters, but without a story. Others seemed to be heading to a climax, but then abruptly ended without any resolution. A bit of a mixed bag, really.

Book Review: Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen

Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen Where to begin?…

In this book, we follow Simplicissimus, a rather simple man, as he travels throughout various parts of Europe (and other parts of the world), though not always by his own choice. Ongoing wars in Germany affect him in both good and bad ways throughout the book, as he alternates between fighting and avoiding fighting in various battles (and armies!).

The book isn’t entirely about war though, and you get a glimpse at what life in 1600s Europe was like for all sorts of people there. There’s also a fair dose of religion in the book, as SImplicissimus struggles with others’ sins as well as his own. Occasionally there are historical and biblical references, as well as a tiny sprinkling of fantasy mixed in.

Simplcissimus reminded me of another simple character from a later Czech novel: The Good Soldier Svejk (which I really should read the rest of!). The only difference is that Simplicissimus seems to overcome his simpleness, though not necessarily for good reasons or with good consequences.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I would definitely recommend it. The only negatives for me — besides the poorly edited edition I read — were the heavy religious content, the frequent rambling lists of things, and the strange second half of the last book and ending (that excerpt is a bit of a downer!).

Book Review: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll

Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll An intriguing look at one family’s experiences through two world wars in Germany, as seen from different perspectives and points in time. However, the writing can be a rather weighty and takes work to get through, especially with so many perspective changes and so many people to keep track of.

Book Review: A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov

A Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov Most of the stories have a humorous, albeit anxious, writing style to them that makes them entertaining to read, despite the (gross!) subject matter. A few towards the end are a bit more grim though, and they weren’t as appealing to me.

Book Review: The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov

The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this book, especially after the writing style seemed a little too full of itself, maybe even pretentious. And full of unfamiliar words — either outdated or foreign to me — that required a quick search of the dictionary to keep me going. It reminded me of other German historical fiction books I’d tried to read and quit on, but I kept going.

I am glad that I persisted, because it really was an enjoyable read. Not having known anything about Sir Richard Francis Burton, I became intrigued by this English explorer who was curious about the world and the people in it, and set himself apart from his fellow explorers in many ways.

The story is split into three main sections, each focusing on a different place Burton visited: India and Pakistan, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa. Each section switches between Burton and other individuals, either servants who helped him in his travels or outsiders trying to figure him out. We see his attempts to learn more about the places he visits and the people he meets, including his difficulty in sharing his interest and curiosity with his fellow Englishmen.

The only downside to the book is that it can take some work to get through, so don’t expect a bit of light reading. Some sections get a bit weighty in philosophy or theology, either due to the content or the flowery writing. And it’s best to have a dictionary (or the Internet) handy, since the included glossary — which I found a bit too late — didn’t have definitions for everything, and sometimes the meaning isn’t clear from the context.

That said, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that features traveling or a great adventure as the main theme. Although it wavers a bit towards the end, the story is a pretty intriguing one that kept my interest throughout.