The gift of translation for Christmas

Well yuletide is nearly on us and after a weekend of buying presents for the family I ve decided to put forward some gifts for people that loves books these may also spark a love of translation .


Now there isn’t many people who haven’t heard of the late Steig Larsson ,and his trilogy ,well Quercus via their sister press the Maclehose press have brought out a wonderful hardback box set .These are truly beautiful I ve looked at them a couple of times in the local bookshop .They’ll make a perfect gift for close family member or crime fan or anyone that loves pretty books like folio ones .

Peirene press 1,2 and 3 and subscription .

Peirene the wonderful translation press run by Meike ,that this year has been like an adrenalin shot and electric shock into the dying european novella in English translation .the three books have all feature female characters at the centre of the books a women on the edge in a French seaside town a stoic Spanish women and a young pregnant women in Rome have all feature this year and next year there are three male stories as Meike says the year of the man .There is a gift subscription for either three or six books available here


now a duo of books the very short introduction to Spanish literature from Oxford ,a book I reviewed a while ago a great guide to Spanish literature  this is an essential way to find out whats beyond Zafon and Cervantes .and the perfect companion to this is Granta 113 the new edition of granta on new Spanish writing that contains 20 of the rising stars of Spanish language fiction .

A Russian winter ?#

lastly is the new Oxford version of War and peace by Leo Tolstoy .This is the definitive version in English and comes with extensive footnotes .This is the version I m using for the war and peace readalong start in January .I know people have favourite versions but this is a lovely book to hold and is an ideal introduction to the long russian novels .



source – library book

Sofi Oksanen is a finnish Estonian writer based in Finland ,this book won this years

Nordic book prize .She he father is finnish and her mother is Estonian .she has been heavily identified with BLGT Lit and has been well praised in the Baltic states for highlighting this .

The book centres on two women’s lives fifty years apart one at the start of communism and the other at the end of it ,we see how there stories develop ,throughout the book the main body of the work is devoted to Zara a victim of human trafficking in the nineties her trial and tribulations and how she escapes the clutches of the people who made her take part in the sex trade ,this story is a story that needs to be told and is a common problem for young women in the former soviet states that end up on the streets and dark rooms of the larger cities in Europe

A light shone through the keyhole .Zara awoke on a mattress next to the door .Pus had drained from her inflated earlobe; she could smell it .She groped for the beer bottle on the floor .the mouth of the bottle was sticky ,and the beer made her throat feel the same way go from dry to sticky and rough .

Zara early on in Berlin held in a room for men to use .

The second person in the book is Zara’s  great-aunt Aliide Truu ,she has her own story to tell of love and jealousy with Zara grandmother her sister during and after the second world war that lead her to live in a remote part of Estonia and be estranged from her sister and the family ,in the middle part of the book we see the sisters story unfold during and after the war and how communism effected even the most normal of families as it did in their case ,this lead aliide to become a very strong and self-willed person she is at the very start when she finds the broken Zara at the front of her remote house as she has escape the clutches of the people who forced her into the sex trade .she is hesitant at first but then comes to care for her grand-niece .

Aliide tightened her grip on the scythe .Maybe the girl was crazy .Maybe she had escaped from somewhere .You never know .Maybe she was just confused ,maybe something had happened that caused her to be like that .Or maybe it was that she was in fact a decoy for a Russian criminal gang .

Aliide find her grand-niece in the garden .

This is a truly powerful novel ,it was developed from a play so there is a lot of speaking in places ,it seems to capture the female struggle before during and after communism for women in the Baltic states .The book is very violent in places but this is need as the subject matter shouldn’t be sugar-coated for the reader .a wonderfully powerful novel from a truly promising  Young female writer .the book was translated by Lola Rodgers who seems to have done a wonderful job retaining the characters voices .

what makes a modern classic (a translation point of view)

this weeks literary blog hop question is what makes a modern classic tough question from Megan is a teaser ,who knows what makes a classic it is a real mixture of luck and talent ,what may be a modern classic now may not be a classic in twenty or more years ,who is popular sways with taste and sometimes even the economic situation as is the case with the current resurgence in Ayn Rand books ,well to answer the question I ve chosen to talk about my main love works in translation what makes a modern classic in translation well there is books that were published soon after the writers wrote them that have grown into classics ,like Sebald his works we’re very fresh in the style of writing and quite unlike anything that had been seen in english or schlink where one book was a huge success the reader is a perfect modern classic .Now there is a second tier of books these are books that  considered huge in their homeland but haven’t straight away been translated into english or have been then the fallen out of print these include one of my favourite books this year Hugo Claus wonder which was a new translation of a Flemish modern classic a book that had been crying to be translated ,or Peirene press stones in the landslide a touching novella that was a huge hit in europe when it was written in the eighties but had to wait for Meike to translate it ,also the last few nobel winners have seen publishers diving to retranslated  or  republish their books Herta Muller and JMG LE Clezio both had books in new translation or reissued these are huge in their homelands and needed to be more widely available in english and thanks to there Nobel wins have done .Then the last books in translation I think could be considered modern classic are what I call refound treasures these are writers from the 30’s and 40’s that have just been republished or newly translated in to english ,these include Vasily Grossman ,Irene Nemirosvky ,Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth now these books are classics in the Natives but in english are modern classics as they’ve just become available to read for us .What hits the English market is really at the whim of publishers and I know there are writers yet to make an impact in english but are considered modern classics in their own languages ,I eagerly await these .


My all time Favourite modern classic in translation – rings of Saturn by W G Sebald a touching book that still touches me as I flick through it and read bits every week .

novella reading weekend

simon over at stuck in books is planning to read novellas over the weekend of 4 and 5th of december .Well I ve decide to join in I ve a number of novellas waiting to be read .

here are some –

Well thats them from top left –

The lover by Margurite Duras ,she was part of the noveau roman movement considered a french classic and was made into a film .

Incidents at the shrine by Ben Okri ,not strictly a novella a coillection of stories but love Okri !

A funny dirty little war by Osvaldo Soriano ,Argentina book set during the Peron era a violent book with a dark humour it says .

Danglin Man by Saul Bellow ,a reread need to put some Bellow on the blog and his debut be a great place to start .

The doctors dilema by George Bernard Shaw a story /play bit lkike bellow need to get Shaw on the blog he is such a important writer and one I think is dwindling in power at moment .

Glory Vladimir Nabokov ,a early book by Nabokov he wrote in Russian originally set just after the Russian revolution ,set in england .

Abba Abba by Anthony Burgess ,a reread belli and Keats meet in rome Burgess imagines the influence Belli may have had if the two meet also includes some of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli poems translated by Burgess .

Summer book ny Tove Jansson ,I read the winter book this summer so the summert book in winter seems a great idea ,loved the winter book and have simon of inside books to thank as we swapped our seasons .

The Pearl by John Steinbeck a fishermans tale about a man that finds a great pearl but it ends in sorrow .

Words by John Paul Sartre ,set in provincial france Sartre reflects on his childhood .and his fathers death .

Good morning ,midnight by Jean Rhys ,set in the 30’s in Paris ,follows a young women as she seeks independence .

The blind owl by Sadeq Hedayat ,Iranian classic full of symbolism and dreams and a little disjointed .

The Ninth wave by Russell Celyn Jones ,this may be left not sure it is the second part of the Mabinogion series modern retelling of the welsh myth this may be left as want use either this or the new books 3 and 4 for the reading the myth challenge .

Notes from the underground by Fydor Dostoyevesky ,russian classic a book about descending into madness .

Hotel du lac by Antia Brookner ,picked this up on a whim it seemed a unlikely booker winner set in a hotel follows a writer visit to hotel near lake Geneva .

Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood ,a present from Simon at inside books I love isherwood this follows a man working on a film .

thats it I will hope to read atleast four other the weekend .Any one else joining in ?

do you have a favourite novella ?





source – personnel copy published by Telegram books

Julio Cortazar was a Argentina writer spent his youth around Europe before his family settled back in Argentina ,on leaving university ,he became a translator in france for Unesco ,he lived there until his death in the eighties ,he is considered one of the most influential latin american writers of the period  and european writers including Roberto Bolano and Georges Perec ,he was part of the fifties Noveau roman movement .The book follows Cortazar and his third wife the writer photograph Carol Dunlop,on a trip down one of the main freeways of france from Paris to Marseilles .

The book is made up as a travelogue / guide book in the style of the great books of history by the likes of Marco Polo .We find the preparation ,planning for this Journey down the main road from Paris to Marseilles ,not leaving the road and visiting two rest areas every day and sleeping in the dragon the name they gave their battered VW camper they had got for this voyage of discovery ,so we see the guys organizing food drops gathering scientific equipment a typewriter camera ,so they set of and we see each rest stop described .How the struggle with washing etc . Then we get Julio’s daily observations a map of the route ,what they eaten and Carols photographs of the gallant troop as they try to conquer the route .

The parell highway we’re looking for perhaps only exists in the imagination of those who dream of it ; but if it exists I( its to soon to make categorical affirmations and nevertheless one would say we’re there and have been for the last twenty for hours ;let’s be skeptical reader think before denying reality to this new route by eliminating the “perhaps” from the phrase ,that may well disappear with it ;may he have patience then,at least wait until we’ve been able to gather evidence .

just before they embark on the journey .

What I loved about this book is Julio’s ability to take what may seem something very boring and uninteresting as I 33 journey down a single road not leaving it for that time .But what he does is like slow cooking is in this age of speed and jets ,that as he says you may notice more when travelling at camels pace .So every rest are thou similar to the last is like a new country awaiting observation and discovery with their woods ,dogs that may be there or bins that may look like a little knights helmet ,how will the dragon cope with the heat ? .as the pace is slow they notice little things that pass the every day motorist ,it shows how the ebb and flow of life has sped up  over time .even at the end there is a sadness that the trip went so quickly .I ve had this a good year on my shelves and wish I d pick it earlier to read as it was a book I knew I d love and it was finished in two evening not bad for a 368 page BOOK,I just want to see them reach the next rest area have that next encounter and see what Julio made of it and what pictures there was of this leg of the trip  .the book was translated by Anne McLean from the Spanish .

Have you read Cortazar ? if so what should I read next ?


source -review copy from New directions -this month

Sir Thomas Browne lived in Norwich and wrote on a myriad of subjects Medicine,geography ,Philosophy and Spirituality ,all during the English renaissance during the 17th century .His prose style influence both Jorge Luis Borges and W G Sebald .The book opens with a passage from Sebald’s rings of Saturn about Browne .

For Browne things  of this  kind ,unspoiled by the passage of time ,are symbols of indestructibility  of the human soul assured by scripture ,which the physician ,firm though may be in his christian faith ,perhaps secretly doubts ,and since the heaviest stone of melancholy .

Sebald on Browne’s view re the found urns mention in urn burial .

Urn Burial is a 86 page text from Thomas Brown ,that follows his reaction and musings on the meaning of some intact roman Burial urns that were found in Norwich ,so we go on a journey through Browne’s words from roman times and the reason for ashes in an urn ,things like a coin to pay your way to Elysian fields ,to Browne’s own time and how people celebrate remember and fear death .The prose drift here and their building up to last chapter a wonderful lament on life and death ,how every man has this struggle with his own mortality ,this last chapter is considered the greatest bit of renaissance writing and the beginning of essay and thesis writing in english .

Now since these dead bones have already out lasted the living ones of Methuselah ,and in a yard under ground and thin wall of clay ,outworn all the strong and specious buildings above it ; and quietly rested under the drums and trampling of three conquests ; what prince can promise such diuturnity unto his reliquesor might gladly say

sic ego componi versus in ossa velium .

The opening of chapter five of urn burial .

Now to be truthful I found this hugely touching and very deep piece I will definitely be reading more of Browne’s work and rereading this as I think I found a life long Passion in this man and his thoughts ,the link to Sebald and Borges is easy to see ,Brown darts and dash from here to there like the other two did in the later fiction ,it is like a child trying to take apart a clock picking at the workings ,this is how Browne tackles the discovery of these urns ,posing questions on them and trying to give us the reader the answer  .This is my first work by Brown for further reading and articles I strongly recommend going over to Kevin’s blog the aquarium of Vulcan where he has written numerous pieces on Sir Thomas Browne ,also his connections to Norwich and the surrounding area .so if you like Borges and Sebald I would try so Browne and see if you agree with me  on how this ,mans words influenced them .

have you read Browne ?

one last thought Borges on Browne

Well, I felt that I owed so much to Kafka that I really didn’t need to exist. But, really, I am merely a word for Chesterton, for Kafka, and Sir Thomas Browne- I love him. I translated him into seventeenth century Spanish and it worked very well. We took a chapter out of Urne Buriall and we did that into Quevado’s Spanish and it went very well- the same period, the same idea of writing Latin in a different language, writing Latin in English, writing Latin in Spanish.

Tail of the blue bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes


Nii Ayikwei Parkes is a Ghanaian writer ,social commentator ,he was BBC radio threes writer in residence in 2005 ,he has his own web page which is full of piece of his work and spoken word performances .

Tail of the blue bird is part crime ,part social commentary ,this is a true one-off mixing the best of African fiction with crime fiction for a heady mix .the Novel centres on a rural village Sonokrom in the middle of nowhere in Ghana ,this is a place were the traditional values and customs still rule over the people of the villages .But a discovery leads to an  investigation by two outsiders from the more modern world of Accra the capital ,Kayo one of these outsiders has just returned from the UK and is a crime scene investigations ,with a scientific mind that is the complete opposite to the villagers ,the pair struggle with the case .

So we have a case in a village near Tafo that we need your help with .It is not even a case we would have bothered with, but the minister for roads and highways is sleeping with a girl from Tafo .She discovered some human matter and the minister himself called me that day to deploy some men .

As we find out the case was a favour to a minister .The man’s struggle with events that at times see unnatural almost supernatural ,flocks of birds, ghost boys ,Also the reluctant villagers add to the struggle .

The writing is wonderful Parkes manages to pull you into the men as they head to this village ,he evokes the spirit of African villages as they struggle with the old way of life and the ever-increasing modern world as mobile phones computers , western ways  creep in from the capital Accra ,but even earlier in the book we discover that Kayo struggles on his return to the capital from the UK ,as the local police don’t initially seem to keen on his CSI skills ,but later accept him and his ultra modern ideas ,even thou Kayo at times struggles with the mystery’s of Ghana’s hinterlands .

I read this for KINNA READS  GHANA WEEK ,ps sorry its late and single vol Kinna ,I would go and check her blog as she has reviewed some great African fiction in the last year .

Literary blog hop -is there such a thing as literary non fiction ?

Well what a great question and here at winstonsdad the answers is of course yes ,how do you define literary non  fiction now that is a little harder I would think because it can really be books from  any form of non fiction .The best i feel range from the english travelogues of Patrick leigh fermor ,Eric Newby and Bruce Chatein ,through to theprose style pieces of Slavenka Drakulic and Andrzej stasiuk with there writings on eatern europe .

But to sum up in one book the best it would have to be Joseph Mitchells up in the old hotel ,which I have rob of robaroundbooks to thank for .Mitchell was a wtiter for the new yorker who wrote wonderful prose on the underbelly of america from the thirties to the early nineties his portrayal of the characters and events he cane across in the less well known parts of new York and America are a fitting testament to his talent to draw the reader in .

Winstons coffee and Muffins -2011?

well its post 301 here on winstonsdad ,I start really blogging in January ,the year has gone on ,I ve drifted  here and there ,What have I learned ,well my review style is poor (in my own opnion ) keep working on that .I have trouble keeping up with challenges ,so will cut back and maybe try one in a challenge .I ll be reading from around the world next year but this is a personal challenge had want to host a challenge but not most organized person  and don’t want let people down ,people can join in if they want .the blogs focus will be back on world lit and translation .Barring the couple of books mentioned the other day in my series post .so in January I ll be doing a week of Italian books have 6 books ready  and start war and Peace readalong .


Literary blog hop -most difficult book read

Well this weeks question for the blog hop is what is the most difficult book you’ve read ?

Now that is a hard one ,I ve read a lot of the books that may be classed as very difficult by people now two come to mind that I ve struggled with –

Savage detectives by Roberto Bolano ,two poets on the hunt another poet ,the book has numerous narrators and also interviews ,I struggled to keep track of who was narrating at times ,Bolano  was a genius but his prose need time to be read slowly and savoured like a fine wine and I sometimes don’t saviour books like this enough as I tend to read a little to quick at times .

the second book I ve chosen is B.S Johnsons the unfortunates ,the so called book in a box ,this is a collection of  25 sections that only have the first and last chapter marked the book can be read in any order so each reading of the book can have a different feel depending on how you order the chapters ,thus making it truely non linear narration ,It follows a sportswriter in the East midlands ,his dying friend that has cancer ,Johnson was a master of experimental fiction his other books feature cut out holes in pages so a word from next page appears ,Christie malary is all based round double entry bookeeping  .

What book has been your most difficult ?

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November 2010


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