Since I’m hoping to read more translated fiction in 2018, I thought I would gather up reviews in a single post throughout the year. Hopefully you can find some titles that interest you!
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (Translated by Ted Goossen)
I decided to read this book late last year when I was striving to read 30 books in 31 days. I never did reach my goal (just two books shy!) but when I was putting books away in my home library I came across this small volume and decided to just jump right in. I didn’t realize that it would be so quick to read (just took one evening) or that it would be so much fun to read.
Right off the bat, I loved this book. I loved the flaps I had to open to get to the story, the illustrations throughout the story, the typewriter font for the story. Not only that but it’s so meta, reading a book about books! I had been wanting to read Murakami for quite some time now and I was honestly surprised that this book wasn’t just fiction but almost fiction meets horror. It comes across as a children’s book, just from the look on the outside, but the content on the inside is so much scarier than that.
This story takes something so simple – just going to the library to return some books and check some new ones out – and turns it into this scary and macabre tale. I absolutely LOVED it and am already looking forward to revisiting it in the future. And I can’t wait to read more Murakami!
The Nose by Nikolai Gogol (translated by Ronald Wilks)
The first book I read this month was The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol. I had actually owned a copy of his book Dead Souls years ago, but then I donated it, along with many other classics, to the local prison, thinking I wouldn’t ever get to them. Current me, who’s getting back into reading the classics is definitely not happy with past me. But I digress. I didn’t actually realize that this book was in my collection. I had seen it in my copy of 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die, and then when my daughter decided to rearrange my library by pulling out all of my classics and throwing them into a pile, I came across this one and immediately snatched it up to dive in!
For some reason, I thought Gogol would be extremely hard to read and some part of me has this idea that the classics are all series and not at all funny. This book was definitely funny, but not so much in the laugh out loud way, but more in that ludicrous, “how can this even happen” kind of way. The story was charming in it’s own way, what with it being the story of someone actually losing their nose – as in, they just wake up and their face is flat where the nose should be. The story takes off from there and has hilarious and absurd turns, and it’s almost like Gogol is saying, “hey! we can be serious writers, but we can also write about this, too!” Not only that, but the more you think about it, the more you think about what it really means to have no nose and what you’d be missing out on. On top of that, the main character goes through a lot of superficiality, thinking that no one could dare see him the way he looks and is concerned only with what people will think of him, especially those high up in society. This story is written so well and I flew through it, almost wanting more.
There’s another short story in this book, The Carriage, and it was equally hilarious. The ending of that one just had me in tears laughing. The story is so short but goes into so much detail and is almost a lesson in how to write a short story effectively. The story also deals with the absurdity of men and how things that seem ALL-IMPORTANT certainly are not. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read. I am looking forward to reading more Gogol in the future!
Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (translated by Phiroze Vasunia)
As you might know, I received the box set of 80 Penguin Little Black Classics for Christmas which includes SO MANY great classic titles. This is also a Little Black Classic, but one of the new 46 that have been published. I got the recommendation for this one from Jean at Jean’s Bookish Thoughts on BookTube – she studies the classics, but the way way way back classics, and this was one of her recommendations of a first book to read from that time period.
It’s so interesting because I always felt like reading the classics meant that I would be reading texts that would be hard to really get into, stories that wouldn’t make sense, and, frankly, stories that would be boring. Fortunately, as I weave my way through more and more classics, I’m realizing that none of those are the case! This story is super accessible and I couldn’t believe that it was written between 200 and 300AD. It’s very much a romance story between Daphnis and Chloe and it was very sweet when read in the context that it was written way back in a different time. I kept forgetting how old Daphnis and Chloe were, but the story was really enjoyable and entertaining. I loved that parts of it still felt relatable, and yet there were Gods and pirates bounding about throughout the story.
Obviously this book doesn’t have the social norms that we’re used to these days, but it’s still fun to dive into something written in the 2nd century. This would be a great afternoon read if you’re looking to try something different!
Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell)
I got this book from the library and I was very much prepared to enjoy it. In fact, I liked the first part of the story, the story of a 9 year old boy who lives in Chile and meets Claudia during the 1985 earthquake. They have a connection with each other because of the narrator’s neighbour, Raul. Now, this story I liked. The whole book was broken up into 4 parts and while I enjoyed this first part, I felt like the whole story started to fall apart in the next three sections.
I’m not sure what this story was trying to be – maybe the whole thing went over my head but introducing a story, going into the future, but then having the writer of that story making the reader wonder where the truth lies in the whole thing was confusing. I feel like this was almost the kind of book one would have to read a few times to really get. From what I’ve read, this was to be Zambra’s breakout novel from his previous two novels, a step towards being more literary. I feel like it might have worked – and lots of people did love this book – but it didn’t quite work for me. Maybe it would work as a reread in the future but I think the writing was just too messy for anyone to dive into unless you were familiar with Zambra’s work.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Megan Backus)
Kitchen is one of those books that has been on my radar for years. I am a big foodie and any book with the name of one of my favourite places in the house has to be good, right? I don’t know why I didn’t pick this up earlier because it really was a charming read and the perfect book to read over a couple of evenings. I loved Mikage’s character and how she found solace in the humming of the refrigerator. I loved her relationship with Yoichi and how they both help each other deal with grief and tragedy.
The last Japanese translation I had read was The Guest Cat and this book was very similar in its simplicity. There are two stories in the collection – Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow – and they were both beautiful and powerful and a wonderful introduction to Yoshimoto’s writing. Moonlight Shadow was really beautiful and also dealt with grief, in this case, Satsuki’s loss of her boyfriend, Hitoshi. I wasn’t expecting a relationship like Satsuki and Urara – the fantastical ending was unexpected and would probably be deemed as cheesy by anyone else, but written by Yoshimoto made it lovely. I really can’t wait to read more of her books – I think they would make great reads for a rainy afternoon with a cup of tea.
Have you read any translated fiction lately? What are some of your favourite translated works? Have you read any of these authors?