Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer

Sorry this week's review is so late, but I have been very busy this week traveling to the line of totality of the total solar eclipse that happened across the US on August 21! That was an incredible sight. It's also very weird seeing an astronomy event like that that I've never seen before in between reading a science fiction collection about interplanetary travel. After I saw the moon entirely cover the sun, I was more inclined to believe that Trafalgar, the tale-spinning intergalactic salesman, was actually real.

Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Amalia Gladhart, could be thought of as a connected collection of science fiction stories. The common thread running through the stories is that this swaggering salesman comes back from a trip, and then tells his wild stories to the narrator, who listens raptly and notes how much coffee Trafalgar guzzles.

I was kind of skeptical at first of the telling aspect of each of the stories, as the entire story is Trafalgar telling of his travels to the narrator. However, by the third or fourth story, I was hooked and both Trafalgar and the narrator's personalities added to the telling of these wild stories that never go the direction you expect them to go. I am blown away by the imagination and creativity it takes to create so many different worlds and just absolutely fascinating plots with time travel and characters and different ways of thinking on all these different worlds. Trafalgar reminded me why I love sci fi so much; it's fun, creative, and often completely ridiculous. I haven't had so much fun reading a book since Sputnik's Children.

So technically, you could read this as a collection of short stories - reading them out of order, one at a time here and there in between other things, but I suggest you not do that. Actually, once you get started, you probably won't want to do that. At the beginning there's a little note from the author (or narrator? never quite figured out where the distinction was, or if there was one) that suggests you read the stories in order, "because that way you and I will understand each other more easily." It seemed like an odd comment to make, but by the end I completely understood. At the beginning I was kind of put off by Trafalgar's personality, and not really understanding why these people who listened to his stories were so desperate for them. By the end, I was one of those people, hanging on every word and desperate for another, and also desperate to find this Trafalgar fellow to feed him coffee and make him tell me more stories.

I highly recommend everyone and anyone pick up this book and read it all the way through, and then join my hunt for Trafalgar so we can beg him to take us on one of his space travels.

Check it out on:

Thank you to the person who recommended Trafalgar to me on Twitter when I asked for sci-fi and fantasy recs for Women in Translation month! Check out the rest of my Women in Translation month reviews here and of course search through the #WITmonth hashtag on Twitter to get some amazing recs for great books!

Bonus: My favourite quote from Trafalgar: "He was furious, too, obviously, but on the theological side, and there's nothing like theology to sap the effectiveness of your punches." 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk

Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, translated from Inuktitut by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure and translated from French to English by Peter Frost, is a collection of stories of the regular, every day life of the protagonist, Sanaaq, and her family in northern Quebec. 

I think the best way to read this book is as a collection of short stories, and only read a few "episodes" at a time. While some of the stories have overlapping incidents, characters, and themes, there isn't really a consistent through narrative so they can easily be read and enjoyed separately. This was actually my second time reading it, and I think being prepared for the very straight forward, direct writing style helped me enjoy it more.

However, once you get used to the writing style, the stories are very enjoyable to read. The cover kind of makes it look like a dramatic and harrowing tale, but the tone is actually quite light most of the time.

There are plenty of funny stories of Sanaaq's kids getting into trouble (I lost count of the number of times Sanaaq's daughter, Qumaq, bumped into things or did things she wasn't supposed to. Actually, now that I think of it, I don't think Qumaq ever does anything she's supposed to...)

There are also a number of stories that are quite suspenseful; a few hunting trips that go horribly wrong, and an interesting story where one character gets possessed by a spirit. And, among these stories are a handful of just simple stories of everyday life for these Inuit people, and what is involved in that - skinning of animals, hunting, sewing up boots, interacting with the Qallunaat when they arrive. As always, I enjoy the insight into the life and culture of a people I don't know anything about, and a glimpse of their perspective on the world.

There is a lot more I could say about this book; that it was only recently translated into English, that it's regarded as one of the first Inuit novels, that it can be used as an anthropological document to understand Inuit life.... I'd encourage you if you did pick up this book, to read through the introduction which gives some background on how the book and translation came to be. I'm sure there's a whole bunch of nuance in the storytelling that I'm missing, too, but I did enjoy following Sanaaq and her family and the adventures - fun and scary - that they get into throughout the book.

Check it out on:
University of Manitoba Press website

Thank you University of Manitoba Press for providing me with a copy! Check out the rest of my Women in Translation month reviews here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar

I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar, translated from German by Sheila Dickie, is a book about two men - one young man who has been a shut-in for a long time, and one older man who lost his job and can't bring himself to tell his wife. It tells the story of their meeting on a bench in a park in Tokyo, and how they slowly open up to each other about their life stories.

At first, you might think this would be a small, boring story - two men who meet on a bench and talk about life? But the way it is written makes their small stories incredibly significant. The gentle, soulful prose made me want to read on to see what happened next. Will Hiro open up and talk to this stranger, when he hasn't talked to anyone in what seems to be years? Will Tetsu ever open up to his wife about losing his job? Will they be stuck on that bench talking forever?

This supposedly small story of two men of different generations actually ends up being much more than that - a sad, beautiful story about life, death, the pressure of society and mental illness. It's a short book, which is good because I don't think my heart could have taken much more. I think it's the kind of book you should read in one sitting on a gray, melancholy day when you want to cry and have your heart twisted a little bit and ponder the meaning of life.

Even with all the sorrow in this book, it still ends hopeful, which is probably my favourite thing about it. In the end, there is a happy ending, and hope for the world.

Check it out on:

Check out my other Women in Translation month posts here

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone

Happy Women in Translation Month!

My first review for this month is of Silvia Avallone's Swimming to Elba, translated from Italian by Antony Shugaar. Swimming to Elba is the story of two best friends, Anna and Francesca, and their journey as they grow up, drift apart, and then come back together again, interspersed with the stories of their family and friends, and the impact of living in an industrial town in Italy.

It started kind of weird, and was not really the gentle friendship story I was hoping for, but eventually  I did get into it and really came to appreciate the eloquent and passionate writing style. I think the distant third person perspective was the hardest thing to get used to, since I'm used to reading books where I'm very much inside the characters' heads. Swimming to Elba also slips in and out of many characters' heads, although of course the focus is on Anna and Francesca and how they pull everyone around them into their brilliant and entrancing orbit.

The best part, though, was definitely the writing; the kind of dreamy descriptive writing style that makes me realize why I love words, and as a result makes me want to write. It actually reminded me a bit of Melina Marchetta's books, as it's very much a story of family, friendship, and intense loves. However, it was very much just a glimpse into these character's lives at a certain period of time, with not really any significant plot, which is where I think it differs from Melina Marchetta's works.

I would recommend Swimming to Elba for anyone who is looking for a decadent, sensuous beach read to enjoy in the last weeks of summer. :)

Check it out on:

Follow the WITMonth hashtag for more great Women in Translation recommendations for this month! See you next week for another Women in Translation review.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Women in Translation Month Is Here!

It's August 1 today, which means that Women in Translation month is officially here!

So what is Women in Translation month? Well it is a month to celebrate translations of books written by women, started by Meytal Radzinski. I was so excited when I came across this challenge in April, because it encompasses a lot of things I'm passionate about.

As a native English speaker and monolingual anglophone through and through, I realize how privileged I am to have so many books available to me. But it's also frustrating, because there are a huge number of books out there that are written by people all over the world that I just cannot read because they are not in English, and they haven't been translated.

I think translation is so cool, because through translation I can have books available to me from countries and perspectives that I would never have access to otherwise. Own voices and diverse North American books are cool and important, but I'm still very familiar with North American culture and the perspective behind it. But I don't want to read from just the perspective of North Americans and the people that experience North America, I want to be able to read from the perspective of everyone around the world. (Can you tell that I am a cultural studies major...)

Unfortunately, translation is another thing caught up in privilege and politics like everything else in the publishing world. The world favours anglophones, and therefore way more books are translated from English than into English, and of those translations, there is an even smaller amount of translations from women authors. Meytal has some more statistics on her blog. Did you know that only 30% of new translations into English are of books by women writers? And there aren't a lot of books translated into English in the first place. Thus, Women in Translation month, celebrating the translations of books authored by women!

My blog is going to be WITMonth-focused all of August, and I'm going to try to do at least one review of a translated book per week. Let me know if you're going to join me, and any recommendations you have for translated books written by women! (Bonus points if they are translated from non-European languages!)

You should also check out this Women in Translation Month Bingo which might help you as you're picking out books to read.


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