The Winter Queen

Some reviews come easily, some just take time, and others, well, others never see the light of day.

And I’ve been sitting on my thoughts on The Winter Queen for a while.

But I don’t want it to sit in my ‘draft’ pile any longer.

While I didn’t love the book, I was intrigued by it. First, the setting – Russia. Then the main character – Erast Fandorin. What a name. I think I might have picked up this book mostly on that great name. Boris Akunin explained:  “I took a bit from every attractive character in Russian literature”, yet he thinks that as Fandorin is “cool, he’s cold-blooded, so he’s very un-Russian”.Then, there’s the fact that The Winter Queen is the first of a series of 16 novels (13 have been written so far,  in different detective/crime styles like spy novels, conspiracy novels), which makes me wonder how different these books in the same series can be. Then there are his villains, who, as Akunin told the BBC World Book Club : “sometimes I’m not sure myself, who is right and who is wrong”.

“This is what interests me the most – this invisible border between the evil and the good.”

And then there’s Boris Akunin himself. I first heard of him from the BBC World Book Club (the podcast is available online but I’d suggest you read the book first as there is a huge spoiler. Yikes).

Boris Akunin isn’t Boris Akunin. That is the pen name of Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili, who also goes by the names Anatoly Brusnikin and Anna Borisova.

Akunin isn’t even a Russian name. It’s a Japanese word that somewhat means ‘villain’. Akunin, or rather Chkhartishvili, is an expert on Japan as well as a literary translator.

And there it is. A review that is not a review. Because I didn’t exactly say much about the book.

So why do I bother? Because, who knows, it might intrigue you too. And Akunin has far too much up his sleeve for people to be wandering around libraries and bookstores and bypassing his books.

Thanks for reading my not-review.

All Quiet on the Western Front

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”

What I thought as I read this book: ‘What took me so long to get to this book?’

The answer – it’s a war novel.


That makes no sense because I read – and really liked – Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

And Erich Maria Remarque has written a heartbreaking, unforgettable story of World War One, from the eyes of German soldier Paul Bäumer.

“But when we go bathing and strip, suddenly we have slender legs again and slight shoulders. We are no longer soldiers but little more than boys; no one would believe that we could carry packs. It is a strange moment when we stand naked; then we become civilians, and almost feel ourselves to be so. When bathing, Franz Kemmerich looked as slight and frail as a child. There he lies now – but why? The whole world ought to pass by this bed and say: ‘This is Franz Kemmerich, nineteen and a half years old, he doesn’t want to die. Let him not die!'”

There is little need for me to tell you about this  book, for you have probably heard of it – or maybe read it in school. But if you, like me, have been hesitant to get hold of this book, let me tell you – go for it. It is a war novel, yes – and maybe for you that’s also a gulp, but it is a must-read. You cannot help but feel for these men – boys rather – as Remarque opens the book with discussions about food, a constant thought on their minds amid all the carnage and misery. And you feel all that wretchedness and agony. And as I type “wretchedness and agony”, I wonder if those are the right words to describe it, because that just doesn’t seem adequate. All the pain, all the suffering, all that fear, and those damn rats. How could anyone live through that? That is a huge part of Remarque’s tale, how these men-boys emerge from this experience, this incredibly traumatic experience, back into the world again.

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the  world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.”

Title: All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues)
By Erich Maria Remarque
Translated from the German by A.W. Wheen
First published in 1929
Source: Library

This is my first read for the War Through the Generations Challenge

I was curious to see what else Remarque has written, and just in case you are too:

(1920) Die Traumbude. Ein Künstlerroman; English translation: The Dream Room
(1928) Station am Horizont; English translation: Station at the Horizon
(1929) Im Westen nichts Neues; English translation: All Quiet on the Western Front
(1931) Der Weg zurück; English translation: The Road Back
(1936) Drei Kameraden; English translation: Three Comrades
(1939) Liebe deinen Nächsten; English translation: Flotsam
(1945) Arc de Triomphe; English translation: Arch of Triumph
(1952) Der Funke Leben; English translation: Spark of Life
(1954) Zeit zu leben und Zeit zu sterben; English translation: A Time to Love and a Time to Die
(1956) Der schwarze Obelisk; English translation: The Black Obelisk
(1961) Der Himmel kennt keine Günstlinge (serialized as Geborgtes Leben); English translation: Heaven Has No Favorites
(1962) Die Nacht von Lissabon; English translation: The Night in Lisbon
(1970) Das gelobte Land; English translation: The Promised Land
(1971) Schatten im Paradies; English translation: Shadows in Paradise

Other works
(1931) Der Feind; English translation: The Enemy (1930–1931); short stories
(1955) Der letzte Akt; English translation: The Last Act; screenplay
(1956) Die letzte Station; English translation: Full Circle (1974); play
(1988) Die Heimkehr des Enoch J. Jones; English translation: The Return of Enoch J. Jones; play
(1994) Ein militanter Pazifist; English translation: A Militant Pacifist; interviews and essays

Library Loot (8 March, 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire fromThe Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

This month’s goal is to read more non-fiction! So here’s some from the library.

Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir – Martha Gelhorn

“Martha Gellhorn was so fearless in a male way, and yet utterly capable of making men melt,” writes New Yorker literary editor Bill Buford. As a journalist, Gellhorn covered every military conflict from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam and Nicaragua. She also bewitched Eleanor Roosevelt’s secret love and enraptured Ernest Hemingway with her courage as they dodged shell fire together.
Hemingway is, of course, the unnamed “other” in the title of this tart memoir, first published in 1979, in which Gellhorn describes her globe-spanning adventures, both accompanied and alone. With razor-sharp humor and exceptional insight into place and character, she tells of a tense week spent among dissidents in Moscow; long days whiled away in a disused water tank with hippies clustered at Eilat on the Red Sea; and her journeys by sampan and horse to the interior of China during the Sino-Japanese War.

Now including a foreward by Bill Buford and photographs of Gellhorn with Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Gary Cooper, and others, this new edition rediscovers the voice of an extraordinary woman and brings back into print an irresistibly entertaining classic.

A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness – Pumla Gobodo -Madikizela
(Via Eva)

An acutely nuanced and original study of a state-sanctioned mass murderer. Not since Dead Man Walking have we seen so provocative a first-person encounter with the human face of evil.

Eugene de Kock, the commanding officer of state-sanctioned apartheid death squads, is currently serving 212 years in jail for crimes against humanity. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who grew up in a black township in South Africa, served as a psychologist on that country’s great national experiment in healing, the Truth and Reconcilation Commission. As this book opens, in an act of inescapable, multilayered symbolism and extraordinary psychological courage, Gobodo-Madikizela enters Pretoria’s maximum security prison to meet the man called “Prime Evil.” What follows is a journey into what it means to be human.
Gobodo-Madikizela’s experience with and deep empathy for victims of murderous violence, including those killed by de Kock and their families and friends, become clear in arresting scenes set during the TRC hearings, in which both perpetrators and their victims are given voice. The author’s profound understanding of the language and memory of violence, and of the searingly complex issues surrounding apology and forgiveness after mass atrocity, will leave a mark on scholarship as well as on our emotional lives. Gobodo-Madikizela’s journey with de Kock, during which she allows us to witness the extraordinary awakening of his remorse, brings us to one of the great questions of our time: What does it mean when we discover that the incarnation of evil is as frighteningly human as we are?

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting – Pamela Druckerman
Yeah so I read that excerpt and that other excerpt and I figured I would put a hold on it. And here it is!

When American journalist Pamela Druckerman has a baby in Paris, she doesn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” Yet, the French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play.

Motherhood itself is a whole different experience in France. French mothers assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children and they have an easy, calm authority with their kids that Druckerman can only envy. Of course, French parenting wouldn’t be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They’re just far better behaved and more in command of themselves.

With a notebook stashed in her diaper bag, Druckerman sets out to learn the secrets to raising a society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents. She discovers that French parents are extremely strict about some things and strikingly permissive about others. And she realizes that to be a different kind of parent, you don’t just need a different parenting philosophy. You need a very different view of what a child actually is

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec: terror Over Paris / The Eiffel Tower Demon (Vol. 1) (The Extraordinary Adventures of Adéle Blanc-Sec) -Jacques Tardi

Both a rip-roaring adventure series set in pre-World War I Paris and a parody of same, Adèle Blanc-Sec has been enchanting, thrilling, and puzzling readers worldwide through four decades.

With various American attempts to publish Adèle having dribbled into nothing decades ago, Fantagraphics Books, fresh from its triumphs with Tardi’s West Coast Blues and You Are There, launches a spectacular, newly re-translated, hardcover series that intends to collect every one of its nine (soon ten) volumes. In this premiere installment, Adèle becomes involved in an interlocking series of mysteries that involve a revived pterodactyl, a frightful on-stage murder, a looming execution by guillotine, and a demon from the depths of hell — plus of course moronic gendarmes, loyal (or perhaps traitorous?) henchmen, and a climax atop the Eiffel Tower.

The Adèle Blanc-Sec series is currently being adapted into a series of films by the renowned action director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element), bringing this quirky, very French series to a new worldwide audience.

Wee reader’s loot:

A Book of Sleep – Il Sung Na (Love the cover!)

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night – Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen
(recommended by Gavin)

1 Is One – Tasha Tudor

Animal Babies in Grasslands

In 1492 – Jean Marzollo, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman

Cloudette – Tom Lichtenheld

(too cute!)

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? 

See more Library Loot here

Is that a Fish in your Ear?

“Give a hundred competent translators a page to translate, and the chances of any two versions being identical are close to zero. This fact about interlingual communication has persuaded many people that translation is not an interesting topic – because it is always approximate, it is just a second-rate kind of thing.”

Indeed, I have never thought much about translation. Even while reading all these translated works this past month, I’ve never thought about the actual act of translating, and how incredibly difficult it must be.

And Bellos’ book makes me respect this job, this science, this art of translation.

And David Bellos knows what he is talking about. For he is a professor of French and comparative literature at Princeton University, and also the director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. In this book, he sets out to investigate:

“What is it that translators really do? How many different kinds of translating are there? What do the uses of this mysterious ability tell us about human societies, past and present? How do the facts of translation relate to language use in general – and to what we think a language is?”

One of the biggest eye openers was the seemingly simple Asterix comics. In the book, Bellos reproduces a single cell from the strip, where Asterix meets ‘Anticlimax’, who is in the original French called ‘Jolitorax’, a pun on “fair chest”, “pretty thorax” which doesn’t mean anything to English-speakers, but would to someone who speaks French. Translator Anthea Bell substitutes ‘Anticlimax’ for ‘Jolithorax’, and Bellos quips: “If you thought translating Proust might be difficult, just try Asterix”. For cartoon translators have to make it fit the picture, and the speech bubble, among other issues.

Of course translation of graphic novels is just a teeny weeny part of this book. Bellos discusses all aspects of translation, from dictionaries to oral translation to translating humour.

Quite a lot of this is out of my league, way over my head, or just too much information. And it all got too much towards the end of the book – I skipped the chapter on Language Parity in the European Union (seems to belong more in a textbook), and skimmed most of some other chapters like the one on automated language-translation machines.

But Bellos did make me think more about translation, translators, and their effect on language and the world.

An interesting example is that of a junior trader in the Dutch East India Company who translated the Gospel of Matthew from Dutch into Malay, using words from Arabic, Portuguese and Sanskrit when he knew no corresponding term. However, when the Dutch version talks of a fig tree, the translator used the Malay word ‘pisang’ or banana tree, which he justified by the fact that there are no fig trees on Sumatra. So it makes one wonder about the translations that we read, how much of it is interpreted in a different way for us, for those who may not understand that culture, that society, that style of humour, for instance. It goes to show much translators put of themselves into what they translate. As with the first quote right at the start of this post, no two translations will be identical. It is quite fascinating!

I could continue with many more examples from the book. I found myself sticking post-its all over this library book (of course I’ll remove them before I return it).

“English, for instance, doesn’t possess a designated term for the half-eaten pita bread placed in perilous balance on the top of a garden fence by an overfed squirrel that I can see right now out of my study window, but this deficiency in my vocabulary doesn’t prevent me from observing, describing, or referring to it.”

Is that a Fish in Your Ear? is incredibly informative, and far more humorous than I expected it to be, and the parts that I didn’t skip over were great reads, peppered with great examples. But while this book started out so strong and made me so interested in the act of translation, it’s a bit disappointing how  it ended – a little too tedious for the everyday reader. However, as David Bellos says at the end of the book about translation, “We should do more of it.”

And as readers, we should read more of it.

Title: Is that a Fish in your Ear?
By David Bellos
Published in 2011

The Last Brother

“Mangoes, lychees, longans, guavas, pawpaws, which I ate slowly, always thinking of my brothers. Breadfruit trees, jackfruit trees, avocado trees, which offered fruits all the year round, green or ripe, savory or sweet. Vines upon the ground concealed cucumbers, squashes, and zucchini; there were velvety bushes that produced tomatoes, pimientos, and eggplant. Beneath the ground, potatoes, carrots, red beets, and sweet potatoes ripened.”

Oh doesn’t it sound like an idyllic world. One of gorgeous colourful fruits and vegetables of all kinds, ripe for the picking or digging up. The heavy scent of these very fruits in the warm air of Mauritius.

But Raj’s life is far from blissful. His father is often drunk and a bully, but “I did not feel I was any more unhappy than the others, my universe began and ended there”. The title of the book soon lives up to its name when Raj’s brothers die in a storm, and he can barely live with the guilt of having survived: “I was sick for my brothers and I felt sure that if I played with the others, laughed, joined in their games, I would be betraying them, alienating myself from them forever.”

But when they move to where his father has a new job as a prison guard, Raj befriends David in the prison hospital. And Appanah captures their friendship, their boyhood so well.

“Games were our fraternal language. Listening to our footsteps suddenly muffled by the grass that heralded the dividing wall, following his mop of hair, not letting that blond halo out of my sight for a second, focusing all my strength on this goal, not losing him, listening to the approach of the wind that caused the dry leaves to rustle in the eucalyptus to our left near the women’s section, using our handkerchiefs to catch the insects fluttering around the oil lamps near the hospital, laughing when heard the policeman on duty humming a song, as he went hmm, hmm, hmm, very shrilly, and collapsing with laughter without uttering a single sound, just letting our bodies shake with merriment and giving ourselves a pain in the stomach. Teaching him how to put your foot down soundlessly, to keep your arms in your sides so as to slip more easily between two trees, to walk along an imaginary line without ever deviating – to close your eyes and imagine we were crossing a bridge over a swollen river – and, for the first time, to play at airplanes.”

He doesn’t realise though why it is that the prisoners are white. He doesn’t realise what is happening in the rest of the world. For it is 1945. And the world is at war.

When I saw this book’s cover (my version is the top image), I felt drawn to it. The vintage feel, that unknown hinted at by the black band and the skeleton beneath. It makes you wonder, makes your mind wander. And I opened the book half expecting the scent of cardamom and cinnamon to waft from its pages. Instead out poured a story from a remote corner of the world, a story stained with tragedy and heartache.

“It was for moments like this that there should be a word to tell what one becomes forever when one loses a brother, a son.”

Title: The Last Brother
Author: Nathacha Appanah
Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan
Originally published in 2007 (published in English in 2011)

Read in February 2012

I tried hard to stick to my personal challenge of reading books in translation for February. And I thought I did pretty well, until I actually look at the numbers. I only finished 9 books in translation out of the 18 in total I read. One book (Banquet Bug) I had mistaken for being a translated work, only to find out later that it was the author’s first work in English (she previously wrote in her native Chinese). Then there was the other issue of heavy heavy books. And I had to take a break and go for some lighter reads by finishing the Lemony Snicket series. The non-fiction books were also those I had started in January.

Excuses excuses, I know. I’m continuing with a few more translated works in March but my plan this month is to read more non-fiction.

Fiction (13)

The Confessions of Noa Weber – Gail Hareven
Brothers – Yu Hua
Out – Natsuo Kirino
To the end of the land – David Grossman
Voice Over – Celine Curiol
Detective Story – Imre Kertész
The Tale of the Unknown Island – Jose Saramago
Banquet Bug – Yan Geling
Tokyo Fiancee – Amelie Nothomb
Slippery Slope – Lemony Snicket
Grim Grotto – Lemony Snicket
The Penultimate Peril – Lemony Snicket
Girls of Riyadh – Rajaa Alsanea

Poetry (2)
Wonders and Surprises – Phyllis McGinley (ed)
A book of luminous things: an international anthology of poetry – Czeslaw Milosz (Ed)

Graphic novel (1)
Daytripper – Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

Non-fiction (3)
The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food – Adam Gopnik
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life– Sandra Beasley
The Essential Feminist Reader – Estelle B. Freedman (Ed)

Total: 19

Tokyo Fiancee (Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam)

“It went without saying that a foreigner could enjoy such Japanese refinement, whereas he had already had his fill of all things Japanese.”

I was in two minds about picking this book up. Nothomb’s Fear and Trembling was a rather weird read for me. An interesting look into the life of an employee in an international company in Tokyo, sure, but not exactly something that would pull me towards her other books.

But with Tokyo Fiancee, I was taken, I was swept up in this little book about a Belgian woman in Japan, rather autobiographical, as was Fear and Trembling. She meets Rinri when she advertises her French lessons. Rinri is a university student, son of a wealthy businessman. She converses in Japanese, he in French, although his French is so atrocious that “If I had not known that Rinri was speaking to me in French, I would have thought I was dealing with a very weak beginning student in Japanese”.

So here we have a Belgian speaking Japanese and a Japanese speaking French. This is the first translated book that I’ve read – this month? ever? – in which language has come into play. For instance, as they discuss Mishima’s popularity among Europeans, Rinri askes: “His sentences are music. How can you translate that?”

And indeed, there are so many times when I wish that I could read these works in their original language. However, while I may have taken French classes in university, I probably wouldn’t be able to get through the first paragraph – nay, the first sentence – of this book in French. I might fare slightly better in Chinese, but really, the only language I feel comfortable in is English. Sad but true.

Nothomb, who was born in Japan to her Belgian diplomat parents and left at the age of five, has such a love for Japan. Yet it is an observant, honest view of this rather unique country.

When they travel to Hiroshima (largely to buy more plum sauce for okonomiyaki), she remarks that “it was as if people were living more intensely here than anywhere else. Living in a city whose very name symbolised death to the entire planet had exalted their living fibre; this in turn led to an expression of optimism, which recreated the atmosphere of an era where people still believed in the future.”

Or when she and Rinri scale Mt Fuji, along with children, the elderly and pregnant women (I too visited Mt Fuji. It wasn’t to climb, as we were not equipped for that, and neither did we know what we were doing, we just hopped onto the bus and when everyone got out, so did we. I just remember a group of weathered old women who got off the bus at its first stop, backpacks, walking sticks at the ready for the long climb to the top. And it is no easy feat, for a lot of it is volcanic soil),

“I joined the group. We stood watching for the star in the deepest of silences. My heart began to pound. Not a cloud in the summer sky. Behind us, the abyss of the dead volcano.

Suddenly, a red fragment appeared on the horizon. A shiver ran through the silent assembly. And then, with a speed that did not preclude the majesty, the entire disc rose from nothingness and overlooked the plain.”

This reminded me of the sunrises I have seen. From a mountain top in Hawaii where my mum and I shivered in the cold as we waited and waited for what seemed like ages. From a hot air balloon somewhere above Melbourne, the fire above melting our heads, the promise of a champagne breakfast coaxing our appetites, another hot air balloon in the distance. And the early early mornings when I used to work the morning shift as an online content producer and work started at 530am – the hush of the lamp-lit streets and the darkened office – and the very welcome breakfast break a couple of hours later.

Unfortunately the breakfast was not as amazing as these persimmons on Sado Island:

“The pulp of the fruit, exalted by frost, had the flavour of a sorbet of precious gems. Snow possesses extraordinary gastronomic powers: it concentrates sapid juices and sharpens taste. It acts like a miraculously delicate form of cooking.”

Now one of the problems I have with this book is its title – well and its cover too, both of them (I believe that is Nothomb up there, but really? Couldn’t something more interesting be on the cover instead?). Tokyo Fiancee doesn’t quite work as well as its French title Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam, or ‘not of Eve or of Adam’, which according to this review by the Quarterly Conversation is a shortened version of the French proverb “Ne connaitre ni d’Adam, ni d’Eve” which means, “didn’t know him from Adam (or Eve)”. And I have to agree, this title is so much better. Because theirs is a strange relationship. Odd, awkward at times, but also kind of cute. However, and this is a big However, the narrator is not all that easy to like. She’s rather self-centred and the ending won’t please everyone.

After Fear and Trembling I wasn’t sure if I would read more of Nothomb’s books, but after Tokyo Fiancee, I’m going to have to see what else she’s done – and she’s written a lot although not all of them have been translated.

Title: Tokyo Fiancee
By: Amelie Nothomb
Translated by Alison Anderson
First published in 2007
Published in English in 2008

Library Loot (February 29, 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire fromThe Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.
Ok I know it’s the end of February but I decided for one last effort at works in translation, this time with some graphic novels!

Blacksad– Juan Diaz Canales

Interestingly, this series is published in French first, then in the authors’ native Spanish.

Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets. Guarnido’s sumptuously painted pages and rich cinematic style bring the world of 1950s America to vibrant life, with Canales weaving in fascinating tales of conspiracy, racial tension, and the “red scare” Communist witch hunts of the time. Guarnido reinvents anthropomorphism in these pages, and industry colleagues no less than Will Eisner, Jim Steranko, and Tim Sale are fans! Whether John Blacksad is falling for dangerous women or getting beaten to within an inch of his life, his stories are, simply put, unforgettable.

Buja’s Diary – Seyeong O

Another graphic novel in translation!

From Korea comes a collection of incisive observant short stories by a leading artist. Reading these thirteen exceptional stories is an experience similar to appreciating a touching poem or watching a series of stills from a silent movie. Combining the traits of different artistic genres, O has indeed created his own world of comic art. While eloquently presenting a universal human experience, O also brings a delightful and exotic insight into Korean society. Whereas Manwa (Korean comics) can be much more than we expect.

Winter’s End – Jean-Claude Mourlevat

In a gripping dystopian novel, four teenagers risk impossible odds to fight against tyranny in a world of dangerous choices — and reemerging hope.

Escape. Milena, Bartolomeo, Helen, and Milos have left their prison-like boarding schools far behind, but their futures remain in peril. Fleeing across icy mountains from a terrifying pack of dog-men sent to hunt them down, they are determined to take up the fight against the despotic government that murdered their parents years before. Only three will make it safely to the secret headquarters of the resistance movement. The fourth is captured and forced to participate in a barbaric game for the amusement of the masses — further proof of the government’s horrible brutality. Will the power of one voice be enough to rouse a people against a generation of cruelty? Translated from the French, this suspenseful story of courage, individualism, and freedom has resonated with young readers across the globe.

The Winter Queen: A Novel (An Erast Fandorin Mystery) – Boris Akunin

Another point for the BBC World Book Club, which is where I first heard of Boris Akunin.

Moscow, May 1876. What would cause a talented student from a wealthy family to shoot himself in front of a promenading public? Decadence and boredom, it is presumed. But young sleuth Erast Fandorin is not satisfied with the conclusion that this death is an open-and-shut case, nor with the preliminary detective work the precinct has done–and for good reason: The bizarre and tragic suicide is soon connected to a clear case of murder, witnessed firsthand by Fandorin himself. Relying on his keen intuition, the eager detective plunges into an investigation that leads him across Europe, landing him at the center of a vast conspiracy with the deadliest of implications.

And of course for the little fella, who patiently waited while I grabbed my books.

Round Trip – Ann Jonas

Not a board book but when I looked inside, I knew I had to pick up this book with the striking black and white illustrations.

Oliver Finds His Way – Phyllis Root, illustrated by Christopher Denise

Bears on Chairs – Shirley Parenteau, illustrated by David Walker

Mouse’s First Fall – Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Buket Erdogan

Teeth Tails and Tentacles (Animal Counting Books) – Christopher Wormell

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Best Translated Book Award 2012

25 translated works, 14 countries, 12 languages. What a list! (Here’s the official announcement). Unfortunately, I’ve never read any of them. Have you?

Leeches, by David Albahari, tr. from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac
My Two Worlds, by Sergio Chejfec, tr. from the Spanish by Margaret B. Costa
Demolish Nisard, by Eric Chevillard, tr. from the French by Jordan Stump
Private Property, by Paule Constant, tr. from the French by Margot Miller and France Grenaudier-Klijn
Lightning, by Jean Echenoz, tr. from the French by Linda Coverdale
Zone, by Mathias Énard, tr. from the French by Charlotte Mandell
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, by Johan Harstad, tr. from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin
Upstaged, by Jacques Jouet, tr. from the French by Leland de la Durantaye
Fiasco, by Imre Kertész, tr. from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
Montecore, by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, tr. from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Kornél Esti, by Dezsö Kosztolányi, tr. from the Hungarian by Bernard Adams
I Am a Japanese Writer, by Dany Laferrière, tr. from the French by David Hormel
Suicide, by Edouard Levé, tr. from the French by Jan Steyn
New Finnish Grammar, by Diego Marani, tr. from the Italian by Judith Landry
Purgatory, by Tomás Eloy Martínez, tr. from the Spanish by Frank Wynne
Stone Upon Stone, by Wieslaw Mysliwski, tr. from the Polish by Bill Johnston
Scenes from Village Life, by Amos Oz, tr. from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
The Shadow-Boxing Woman, by Inka Parei, tr. from the German by Katy Derbyshire
Funeral for a Dog, by Thomas Pletzinger, tr. from the German by Ross Benjamin
Scars, by Juan José Saer, tr. from the Spanish by Steve Dolph
Kafka’s Leopards, by Moacyr Scliar, tr. from the Portuguese by Thomas O. Beebee
Seven Years, by Peter Stamm, tr. from the German by Michael Hofmann
The Truth About Mary, by Jean-Phillippe Toussaint, tr. from the French by Matthew B. Smith
In Red, by Magdelena Tulli, tr. from the French by Matthew B. Smith
Never Any End to Paris, tr. from the Enrique Vila-Matas

Voice Over


“They have known each other for a long time. She has never quite been able to recall the moment when they met, the place, the precise day, whether she shook his hand or they kissed on the cheek. Nor has she ever thought to ask him. She does have a first memory, though. As she was climbing into her coat in the narrow hallway of an unkempt apartment, she had caught his look of distress. The woman he had flirted with all evening was refusing to leave with him. He was trying to persuade her with an insistent barrage of words, which fell to pieces in the face of the majestic creature. She thought the idea of being suddenly deprived on the object of his affections must have been more than he could bear just then. And seeing him this way, in love, had moved her. She had slipped between the two of them and said, I’m off. But he had not replied.”


One of the more difficult books I read this month. I was torn between feeling sorry for and being just so irritated by the nameless main character.

Somehow I ended up reading yet another story about a lonely love stuck woman. In love, foolishly oh foolishly so, with another woman’s man.

And she feels it so.

As I suppose does anyone in an unrequited kind of love. It hurts so much yet she cannot let him go.

There is a wistful kind of romance to this story. She is that voice you hear announcing the trains at the Gare du Nord. She has hardly any friends. And seems to be a magnet for weird men. She pretends to be a prostitute, she shoplifts, she is locked into the apartment of a man she had met in a cafe. And there is that hint of a childhood trauma, which is only detailed at the end. She is obviously desperate for attention. Yet she does get people’s attention everyday when she makes her announcements. But hers is a disembodied voice. One that will never be recognized. She makes all these announcements for people departing and arriving, yet she has never left France. It is a rather claustrophobic world that she lives in. I can hardly get a breath in.

So I pity her and yet I cannot stand her. She makes all these infuriating decisions. And I keep wondering, what? What is she doing? Why is she so naive? So foolish? And so I struggle to make my way through this book. I start and stop reading it, because I want also to read more of Curiol’s Parisian world and of her way of noticing the everyday things. And who doesn’t love Paris – or at least the thought of it. Although in the nameless woman’s Paris, there seems to be a predator lurking around every corner (!).

“The Jardin du Luxembourg and its hodge-podge of tourists. Rings of chairs arranged as if for the conversations of invisible characters. It’s up to anyone out for a walk to imagine, according to the layout of these metals remains, what went on here before his arrival.”

So while I didn’t quite enjoy reading it. No that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it’s more like that it was such a challenge reading Voice Over that I am surprised, glad that I managed to finish it.
It was a relief when Voice Over finally came to an end, but voice is vibrant, authentic, exacting. Paul Auster says it so much better in the foreword:

“Curiol’s eye for detail is so sharp, so exact in its renderings of the world beyond her character’s skin, that even as the narrative concentrates on the actions of a single individual, we are simultaneously given a crystal-clear picture of French society at large – the new France, the France of the early twenty-first century.”

Title: Voice Over
By: Celine Curiol
Translated from French by Sam Richard
Published in 2008