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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :In Translation:

Review: Agnès Desarthe’s “Five Photos of My Wife”

agnes desarthe five photos of my wifeElderly widower Max Opass commissions a portrait of his dead wife Telma – in fact, he commissions four in the end, and meets five very diverse artists of the Thirteenth Arrondissement along the way. A lovely novel, poised and subtle. Calm and impacting, but with tact. Well recommended.

Where it came from: Mega-opshop-books
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of bed and workroom reads
Where it went: D
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Mitch Albom’s pop-spiritual The Five People You Meet in Heaven – but thank goodness, this one was actually worth reading
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers looking for good stuff
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Review: Patrícia Melo’s “In Praise of Lies”

patricia melo in praise of lies

WARNING: Cover dysphoria!

This book was crap. Another in yesterday’s foreign authors acquisition, I was looking for a bit of witty crime fluff, plus it had an awesome cover (mine was a review copy; image couldn’t be found online so you could also share the pleasure, sorry). None of the good traits above. Uninteresting crimes with snakes and guns, badly written, intolerably idiot characters, jumbled in some sort of guru-writer plot. I only finished it because I hoped it may eventually make sense, and that perhaps it was in Brazilian cultural style that I may slowly come to understand. Nope. It was a crap book. The End.

Where it came from: Huge opshop with great book section
Time and manner of reading:
Bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Review: Maria-Antònia Oliver’s “Antipodes”

maria-antonia oliver antipodesAmong my day’s “foreign authors” haul, I was hoping this would be light but good. I was right in that it was light, but the calibre of (I suspect, both) the writing and the translation from the Catalan left too much to be desired. Crime thriller, female detective from the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, in Australia on a “holiday” – Melbourne, even though the cover image is of Sydney – of course immediately dragged into crime involving hotel heiress and eventually sex trafficking. It was interesting to read a Catalan analysis of Australians in the late 1980s, even though an edit with reference to an accurate map of Melbourne (the #19 “streetcar” doesn’t go to Toorak, etc etc) would have made it a little more credible. And a view of German-tourist-riddled Mallorca by a native was also interesting, but really, the crime was transparent, the writing was pretty poor, the violence and sexual predation was largely excessive, I wouldn’t recommend it for anything more than novelty reading value. Although the bad-tempered detective did crack an international woman-smuggling ring, so I suppose that’s something to be thankful for.

Where it came from: Huge opshop with great book section
Time and manner of reading:
Evening armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: “They started the proceedings for the two parallel trials, an international one for trafficking in women – the papers kept calling it white slave trade, as if it weren’t equally criminal to deal in yellow or black women.” (p.202)
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Review: Günter Grass’s “Peeling the Onion”

gunter grass peeling the onionGrass’s memoir of his early years, through to the composition of his spectacular The Tin Drum – it was entirely for the sake of that book that I read this one, which is also proved its worth. Using the image of peeling the onion’s layers to access his life, Grass is charming in recognising his memory lacunae, repentant in documenting his inattention as his mother dies of cancer, condemnatory of his teenage zeal that willingly lands him in the Nazi SS in WWII. Interesting how even this recounting of his dilatory years seems to reveal an underlying ruthlessness/determination, which seems to be what it takes to make one a Great. Recommended.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Kaleidoscopic reads over a few moving and settling-in weeks
Where it went: BE
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Grass fans, fans of an artful memoir
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac

Review: Tove Jansson’s “Travelling Light”

tove jansson travelling lightTove Jansson, a Finnish author, wrote the children’s Moomin series, and her writings for adults are now being rediscovered and translated into English. This collection of short stories, translated from the Swedish – so few writers are able to write fiction in more than one language! – is a very fine collection, aesthetically minimalist but strong, plus a nice slice of Finnish life. I look forward to reading a novel of hers, will have to keep an eye out. Recommended.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
One evening in bed
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers after another goodie
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; Moments of Desire edited by Susan Hawthorne and Jenny Pausacker

Review: Hella S. Haasse’s “The Black Lake”

hella s. haasse the black lakeI picked it off the library shelf for the foreign-looking author and put it in my bag for the fabulous cover – so simple yet emotive, and that summary holds true for the book itself. Originally published in 1948, this was Dutch author Haasse’s first novel, rooted in her upbringing in then–Dutch Batavia at the beginning of the 20th century. The narrator, who I now realised is unnamed, tells of his upbringing and close friendship with Oeroeg, the son of his father’s plantation majordomo (or mandoer in local Soendanese/Dutch). The two are closely bonded until they are 18, but getting drawn ever further apart as the Dutch hold on the Indies grows weaker, and Oeroeg comes into his own as a Javanese man in line with his country’s development. Beautiful and telling, I would even use a word I think has been worked to death – poignant. Great book, well recommended.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Bed and waiting reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: “I waited, but without any sense of fear or tension, in complete calm. It occurred to me that this moment was the inescapable culmination of all that had gone before, from the time Oeroeg and I were born. It had grown in us and ripened, though not of our own will or consciousness. Here for the first time we were at a point where we each faced the other in all truthfulness.” (p.111)
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers after the good stuff
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; Moments of Desire edited by Susan Hawthorne and Jenny Pausacker

Review: Monica Hejaiej’s “Behind Closed Doors: Women’s Oral Narratives in Tunis”

monia hejaeiej behind closed doorsI wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book but I found parts of it most interesting. Hejaiej, Tunis born and bred, returns to her home city as a Western-trained ethnologist to study the Beldi women’s oral storytelling tradition and its cultural role. (The Beldi are the old-world rich, educated upperclass of the city of Tunis, proud of their culture and refinement.) Hejaiej got access to three mistress storytellers, recorded their performed stories – that’s the bit that readers really miss out on – then conducted an ethnographic analysis of the content, meaning, linguistics, audience, etc. The ~100pp analysis which introduces the book I found fascinating, but the stories (like most written folktales divorced from their true, oral ambiance) I found dull and repetitive – not to mention horrifying, what with all those long-suffering women doing the right thing and letting their husbands kill their children to test the women’s fortitude. Etc. Culturally interesting and terrible, probably particularly useful for researchers.

Where it came from: Market book stall
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of armchair, waiting, bed and train reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Ana Castillo’s theory that women’s repression in Mexican culture can be traced to Muslim Arabic traditions in the Spanish colonisers’ culture
Who I’d recommend it to:
Culturally curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass