Last night the fiction finalists for the Best Translated Book Awards were announced at Idlewild Books in New York City. The awards are sponsored by Three Percent, a program at the University of Rochester (the name comes from the fact that only ~3% of books published in the United States are works in translation). Of the finalists, original languages range from Hebrew to Norwegian. View the complete list here.
The awards caught my attention because two of the most recent books I’ve read have been in translation. I loved the simple, lyrical language in The Solitude of Prime Numbers (originally written in Italian), and I hope future reviews note the work of English translator Shaun Whiteside. I’ve read Isabel Allende in Spanish and in English, and I’ve always been impressed by the English translations—Magda Bogin’s work in The House of the Spirits was especially notable, capturing the author’s flowing prose and mystical imagery. Island of the Sea (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) is no exception.
If you’re unable to read a work in the original language, it’s hard to tell if a translation is great—although I think it’s clear if one is bad, based on clunky transitions, imagery and diction. What translated works would you recommend? Any you’d avoid?
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Harper, April 27, 2010
So far (I’m about two-thirds finished), the major event in the novel has been the Haitian slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture at the turn of the 18th century. The narrative is alternately told from a third-person point of view and from the perspective of Zarité, known as Tété, a mulatto girl who works as a house slave on a sugarcane plantation. Tété wants nothing more than to be free with her children and with Gambo, a slave-turned-rebel. After a rebel mob burns the plantation and takes over Le Cap, the remarkable Tété saves her master and her children’s lives and flees with them to Cuba, then New Orleans.
You’ll have to read the book for yourself to learn why Tété—brave and dignified in the face of cruelty—saves her insufferable master. And as I continue reading, I can only hope that she escapes from slavery and finds her lover.
Music is a wind that blows away the years, memories, and fear, that crouching animal I carry inside me. With the drums the everyday Zarité disappears, and I am again the little girl who danced when she barely knew how to walk. I strike the ground with the soles of my feet and life rises up my legs, spreads up my skeleton, takes possession of me, drives away distress and sweetens my memory. The world trembles. Rhythm is born on the island beneath the sea; it shakes the earth, it cuts through me like a lightning bolt and rises toward the sky, carrying with it my sorrows so that Papa Bondye can chew them, swallow them, and leave me clean and happy. The drums conquer fear. The drums are the heritage of my mother, the strength of Guinea that is in my blood. No one can harm me when I am with the drums, I become as overpowering as Erzulie, loa of love, and swifter than the bullwhip. The shells on my wrists and ankles click in time, the gourds ask questions, the djembe drums answer in the voice of the jungle and the timbales, with their tin tones. The djun djuns that know how to speak make the invitation, and the big maman roars when they beat her to summon the loas. The drums are sacred, the loas speak through them.
What are you reading today?
set in rural West Virginia in the aftermath of WWI, about a veteran who has lost his wife and is caring for their newborn, and finds himself steered in unlikely ways by an angel who has followed him home from the trenches of France
Due first is a five-part graphic series based on Witch & Wizard, Patterson’s YA novel. (“For those who have been waiting for a series as mouthwatering and addictive as Harry Potter, this’ll do it,” said Patterson of the book in a January interview with BookPage.) In June, Patterson’s The Murder of King Tut, a “deft blend of antiquity and whodunit,” will come out as a four-part series. (Both series will be primarily written by coauthors.) We wonder if Patterson will have to re-work the ending of King Tut. According to a report from today's New York Times, the boy pharaoh died from malaria—not murder.
Patterson claims he wants to expand to the graphic novel market so his stories can “reach as many people as possible.” Ted Adams, CEO of IDW Publishing, the company producing the books, wanted to work with the prolific author because he sells a ton of books and he’s a “creative genius.” What do you think, Patterson fans? Will the books translate well to the graphic novel medium?
Also look out for a straight-to-graphic-series from Patterson: Beer Belly and the Fat Boy. (Can’t wait until we get a review copy of that one!)
Actress Uma Thurman is in the news for her roles in two upcoming book-to-film adaptations. First up, she plays Medusa in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which hits theaters next month (director Chris Columbus says of the "seductive" star, "you'll look into her eyes and forget that she has 75 snakes on her head.").
But the role that's making waves this week is the one Thurman is taking on in the 2011 adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's Bel Ami: an older love interest of up-and-coming journalist Georges Duroy--who will be played by Twilight star Robert Pattinson. Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas are also on board to play two more women seduced by Duroy during his rise to the top in this adaptation of the 1885 classic, which is a fresh and vivid read even today. Over at iVillage, they're wondering if Uma is too old to play the love interest of 23-year-old RPattz, but I think it's more likely that this role fulfills some teen fantasies of his. How about you?
Readers might be most familiar with de Maupassant for his short story, "The Necklace," which also deals with intrigue in Parisian society.
I’ve made my love for the late Madeleine L’Engle known around the office, so I wasn’t surprised when Lynn showed me a notice from the spring 2010 Farrar, Straus & Giroux catalog: On April 27, L’Engle’s 1949 novel And Both Were Young will be reissued in hardcover with a new jacket (see left). L’Engle’s graddaughter, Léna Roy, will write an introduction.
My battered copy of And Both Were Young features the jacket to the right. Which do you like better?
The novel tells the story of Flip, an American girl away at boarding school in Switzerland, and her unexpected love for Paul, a French boy. Whether you prefer the retro jacket or the new one, the novel’s themes of love, alienation and growing up will no doubt still resonate with contemporary readers.
After learning of the book reissue, I was curious about L'Engle's graddaughter. Turns out that on Dec. 7, 2010, FSG will publish Roy’s debut YA novel, Edges.
It is a story of love and grief, addiction and redemption, set in both NYC’s Upper West Side and in the red rock desert of Moab, Utah. Seventeen-year-old Luke lives and works at the Moonflower Motel in Moab, having fled New York City where his father Frank drowns his sorrows after the death of Luke’s mother. Back in New York, 18-year-old Ava meets Frank at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. When these lost souls converge in Moab, what happens transforms them all.
Will you pick up Edges?
Happy President's Day! Has the holiday (whether observed with a day off of work or not) influenced your reading choices?
If you're looking for a presidential read, we have some suggestions. His Excellency, by Joseph J. Ellis, just might be the definitive look at George Washington, as BookPage contributor Alden Mudge said in an interview with Ellis about the book. For kids, What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven is pure fun. And last year, in honor of Lincoln's 200th birthday, BookPage published a great roundup of Lincoln books that should be out in paperback right about now, including Ronald C. White's A. Lincoln, as well as a feature on Lincoln books for the younger set.
But the Lincoln story that stands out in my mind isn't actually about the president at all--it's a fictionalized account of the life of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, that was published in 2006. As I said in my review of Janis Cooke Newman's Mary, it's a sympathetic account that paints Mary as "a deeply passionate, intelligent woman in a time when these qualities in women were discouraged and feared."
Do you have a favorite book with a presidential link?
The popular Welsh novelist and former RAF pilot and jockey died yesterday at his home in the Grand Cayman islands. His son, Felix, who collaborated with his father on four recent novels, says: “My brother, Merrick, and I are, of course devastated by the loss of our father, but we rejoice in having been the sons of such an extraordinary man. We share in the joy that he brought to so many over such a long life. It is an honour for me to be able to continue his remarkable legacy through the new novels.” Sounds like Felix may continue to write, or at least publish any incomplete manuscripts the two may have been working on?
Dick Francis' long string of mysteries set in the world of horse-racing have been solid sellers since the 1960s. Many were written with the collaboration and support of his wife, Mary, whose death in 2000 caused Francis to temporarily retire from writing. Perhaps his fascination with trackside mystery was spurred by his own involvement in one of the sport's most memorable moments: Francis was riding the Queen Mother's horse, Devan Loch, in the 1956 Grand National. In the lead, and just yards from the finish line, the horse inexplicably collapsed. But whatever his inspiration, it's clear that Francis' writing brought hours of enjoyment to millions over the past 50 years.
Related in BookPage: our review of Dick Francis' Under Orders.
For five more days, you can listen to a dramatized version of Dick Francis' Enquiry on the BBC's website.
The Random Number Generator has chosen a very suitable number for our love story giveaway: 14. Congratulations to commentator Angelo Crapanzano, who suggested we add Irene Hannon's Rainbow's End to our list of love stories we can't forget.
Keep an eye out for more contests later this month.
If you saw this holiday season's hit movie The Blind Side, you may think you know all about Michael Oher, the young black man who was taken in by a well-off white family and eventually became a star left tackle on his high school football team, then for Ole Miss, and now for the Baltimore Ravens. If you read Michael Lewis' book of the same name (you can read an excerpt on the NYT website), you'll learn more about both Oher and the couple who adopted him, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Now you can have the chance to hear about the Tuohys' experience in their own words. Publisher's Marketplace reports that the Tuohys' book (no title yet) will be published by Holt this summer, and will explore "the power of giving." Will you be interested to see what this extraordinary family has to say?
Related in BookPage: The power of giving is certainly a timely topic these days! Check out reviews of books on philanthropy and money management in our January feature, "Getting and Giving," or a review of The Power of Half, by an Atlanta family that sold their house and donated half of the proceeds to an organization working to end poverty and hunger in Ghana.