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 White Book by Han Kang (Translated by Deborah White)
As I’m writing down my thoughts for Han Kang’s latest book, The White Book, I’m realizing that I don’t remember much about it. I do remember it starting out talking about things that are white, I remember it being about grief and suffering, life and death, and the human experience. I remember that there were beautiful photographs. I remember it being a very quick read, since there is a lot of white space in the book. I remember it being quite a bit different from the last work by Kang that I read, The Vegetarian, but it still having that feeling that it is a Han Kang book – her voice is definitely recognizable.
But in the end, I’m realizing that while this book was good, it might not be for everyone. It’s very much a concept book full of prose and poetry and photographs, and it does have a general theme throughout, but I feel like unless you’re a huge fan of Han Kang, this probably won’t be the most memorable book. I did feel a wave of grief come over me as I read the stories of Kang’s sister, who died at birth, but I also had a hard time connecting with a lot of the book. I found that the photographs, while beautiful, didn’t seem to have any connection to the content, and probably wouldn’t have been missed if they weren’t included. Ultimately, I would have to say that if you’re looking to just try out Han Kang’s writing, maybe you should try The Vegetarian or Human Acts first.
The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Alright, so I of course have heard of Hans Christian Andersen (I have children who love Frozen so I don’t live under a rock), but I haven’t ever read anything by him – at least, not that I can remember. And I think I would remember because this collection of stories is really, really messed up. I recall Andersen being a children’s author, yes? HOW ARE THESE STORIES FOR CHILDREN?
The stories are definitely creative but man are they messed up. They don’t really have any messages for children, or other readers, like stories would nowadays, and some of his endings reminded me of the Brothers Grimm. I also both liked and disliked the writing style of the stories – they’re written in a very chatty way, like someone is sitting next to you telling you a story, but I think what I would’ve preferred is some more descriptions and less telling of everything. There were also endings that came after pretty much no tension and had me saying, “What? That’s the end?”
I honestly don’t know how Andersen is so popular because when I think about fairytales, I think of so many other beautiful fairytales that aren’t quite so morbid. So while I enjoyed this a little bit, it’s definitely not one I could see myself sharing with my children or anything – or even reading again.
Circe and the Cyclops by Homer (translated by Robert Faegles)
Even since I started watching Jean’s BookTube channel over at Jeans Bookishthoughts, I have been very very interested in antiquity. She talks with such passion of the Greek myths and Greek stories that you probably only hear about if you take a class in university. I did take one of these classes while in school and thought it was interesting, but I think Jean makes it sound even more interesting, and not only that — accessible.
Whenever I thought about stories by Homer or Dante or any of the ancient Greeks that are still read today, I always had this idea that the stories would be hard to read, hard to understand, not to mention dull and boring. BUT I decided to dive into this one one night and thought it was absolutely delightful! I loved this excerpt of Odysseus and his crew – and learning what a terrible person Odysseus was. I loved meeting Circe and going into the cave. This book was just so much fun! I read the whole thing out loud to myself and loved the flow of it and the way the whole story was constructed.
I may have had reservations before about reading The Odyssey, thinking it would be boring or unreadable, but reading this tiny little excerpt has made me very eager to try it out one of these days!
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)
I was so excited to read this book after seeing it on so many reading lists for the winter! It had been released in the U.K. as Lullaby and The Perfect Nanny everywhere else (personally, I prefer the U.K. title, as usual) and it just sounded like the perfect thriller, though completely horrifying since it opens up with the narrator saying that the baby was dead and the other child was going to be dead soon. What a gripping way to start a book!!
However, in terms of this being a thriller, I think that the opening was probably the most thrilling part of the book. We do get into the mind of this nanny that the family hires and it was interesting to see how she could just go from 0 to 180 in terms of mood with the children. As a mother, it reinforced that all kids can press buttons but also horrified me in the way that this nanny wanted to react.
As I said, I was so excited to read this, but something was missing from this story. It was a very intriguing idea and I think it was just executed poorly. I finished this wanting a lot more, and there probably could have been more, since it was a fairly short book.
As a side note, I read in another review that this story was written based on an event that actually happened in France, which makes this story even more creepy. And really, if you look at this story as a book about the people we invite into our homes, it really asks the question of how well do we know people? Especially the people we get to watch our children?
Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov (translated by Robert Wilks)
This was a book that was included in my 80-set of Penguin Little Black Classics. I picked it up to read after seeing that Katie from Books and Things had reread it and said how much she loved Chekhov’s writing. I had never read any Chekhov, but the way I move through my classics tends to be based on what other people are reading or current read-alongs, so I picked it up.
This was a collection of three short stories and a really nice introduction to Chekhov’s writing. I loved the first story, The Kiss, and thought it was hilarious how this one soldier who has a brief encounter in a coat room with a mysterious person (who was obviously there for someone else) suddenly starts dreaming up this life with this person, nearly falling in love. This was my favourite story in the book, but Chekhov really has some interesting scenarios, some great characters, and he can really pack a punch in one short story. I look forward to not only rereading these in the future, but also trying out some more Chekhov.
Have you read any translated fiction lately? What are some of your favourite translated works? Have you read any of these authors?