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‘Doppler’ by Erlend Loe ****

In Loe’s native country of Norway, Doppler, which was first published in 2004, has sold over 100,000 copies, and the author is seen as something of a Scandinavian bestseller – for good reason. This novel is described as ‘a charming, absurd and cleverly subversive fable… about consumerism, existence… and a baby elk called Bongo’. An intriguing premise, certainly. So what is Doppler all about? 9781781851050

It tells the story of Andreas Doppler, a citizen of Oslo, who has recently lost his father and is about to become a parent himself for the third time. At the outset of the novel, Doppler states his current status in rather a matter of fact way: ‘My father is dead. And yesterday I took the life of an elk’. He goes on to say: ‘well, how can I put it, after I moved into the forest, for that is actually what happened, that’s what I do, I live in the forest’.

This move into the forest came as something of a shock for Doppler’s family. After a cycling accident, in which he tells us ‘I fell. Quite badly’, he is happy to find that his mind is finally void of all of the trivial everyday thoughts which once filled it, ranging from theme songs of his young son’s favourite television shows to the kinds of tiles he and his wife should buy for their bathroom. In jolly naivety, he believes that his wife, teenage daughter and young son Gregus will be better off without him. Doppler as a character is straight to the point and certainly knows his own mind. His prose is often blunt: ‘I don’t wish to meet people. They disgust me’. Something about this brutal honesty and the no-holds-barred approach to the events which pepper the text is endearing.

The baby elk, Bongo, comes into the story after Doppler kills his mother, and is soon the main focus of the man’s attentions. At first this feeling is one of loathing: ‘That bloody elk. If it comes back, I’ll split its skull open’, but it soon turns to understanding: ‘It’s all alone and it’s beginning to realise the world is a harsh place, and it cannot see any future or meaning in anything. Of course, it’s immature of it to take out its frustration on me, but what else can you expect? After all, it’s only a child’. Just one page after this occurs, their friendship is cemented: ‘We slept together in the tent that night. The calf supplied a surprising amount of heat. I used it as a pillow for most of the night, and when I woke up this morning, we lay looking at each other in a close, intimate way that I had seldom experienced with people’. He soon comes to think that he has actually done the elk a favour by separating it from its mother, stating: ‘… and by the way, I continued after a short pause, your mother would soon have brutally broken the ties between you two in any case. She would have shoved you away from her and told you to push off…. You lot seem so good-natured, but you treat your kids like shit’. During these one-sided conversations, the elk – and the reader – becomes Doppler’s confidante, seeming to listen patiently to his every outburst and pearl of wisdom.

The narrative style which Loe has crafted throughout Doppler takes us right inside the head of our protagonist. He talks directly to us as though he trusts us with his every secret, and this creates a kind of camaraderie between the reader and character almost immediately. The prose style does not follow general conventions, and there are often commas where full stops should be, but therein lies the beauty of the book. The narrative is quite philosophical in places, and is filled with complex ideas which mingle with Doppler’s wilderness existence in interesting ways.

Don Shaw and Don Bartlett have provided a wonderful translation of the text, which I am sure rings true of the original. Sadly, there are quite a few editorial mistakes throughout the book; this does not detract from the wonderfully engrossing story, but it is a real shame.

The book as an object is lovely – a cream hardback with dark red endpapers and lovely red and white illustrations adorning the slipcover. The story is lovely too – witty, satirical, humorous and even quite touching in places. We meet Doppler’s friends as he himself does, and it feels as though we are right there beside him on his grand adventure.

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Translation Database: Day Five

Today marks the final instalment of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.  I hope you have found some books in this week’s showcase which have piqued your interest.

 

1. The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (translated from the Portuguese 1159038by Daniel Hahn; Simon & Schuster)
The narrator of this novel is a rather charming lizard. He lives on Felix Ventura’s living-room wall, Felix, the lizard’s friend and hero of the story, is a man who sells pasts – if you don’t like yours, he can come up with an new one for you, a new past – full of better memories, with a complete lineage, photos and all.”

 

176987392. The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal by Tytti Heikkenen (translated from the Finnish by Niina Pollari; Action Books)
Brainy, rambunctious, gross and sad, the poems of Tytti Heikkinen’s debut English collection make clear why this young poet has become a major force in contemporary Finnish poetry. By turns lyric, limpid, lightly encrusted and slightly mad, these poems knit together the language of “where we are now” until it reads like where we’ve never been and where we are always sentenced to be.

 

3. Collected Body by Valzhyna Mort (translated from the Belarusian by Elizabeth 11505557Oehlkers Wright; Copper Canyon)
Valzhyna Mort is a dynamic Belarusian poet, and Collected Body is her first collection composed in English. Whether writing about sex, relatives, violence, or fish markets as opera, Mort insists on vibrant, dark truths. “Death hands you every new day like a golden coin,” she writes, then warns that as the bribe grows “it gets harder to turn down.”

 

254892154. Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson (translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death; Other Press)
Ester Nilsson is a sensible person in a sensible relationship. She knows what she thinks and she acts according to her principles.  Until the day she is asked to give a lecture on renowned artist Hugo Rask. The man himself sits in the audience, spellbound, and when the two meet afterwards, he has the same effect on her. From then on Ester’s existence is intrinsically linked to that day, and the events that follow change her life forever.  Bitingly funny and darkly fascinating, Willful Disregard is a story about total and desperate devotion and about how willingly we betray ourselves in the pursuit of love.

 

5. Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin (translated from the Estonian by Ilmar Lehtpere; 21918964Unnamed Press)
A woman cultivates a knack for walking on water, but is undermined by her husband’s brain, which he removes each night when he returns home from work; a couple overcomes the irksome mischief of the gods; a skeptical dragon wonders what sex is all about: this is the world of Kristiina Ehin. From the 2007 British Poetry Society Popescu prize winner for European poetry in translation: a series of comic, surreal adventures. Kristiina Ehin’s quirky voice takes each story directly from the dream state, at times stubborn and resistant, at other times masochistically compliant. Ehin offers up modern folktales in which the very nature of our human identity is at stake-rampant with images and archetypes both new and old, and mediated by the abrupt changes we can only experience in dreams.

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Translation Database: Day Four

With the first day of February comes the fourth instalment of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.

 

211905961. The Knot in the Rug by Mahsoud Behnoud (translated from the Persian by Sara Phillips; Garnet Publishing)
“The Knot in the Rug” encapsulates the massive upheavals of the first half of 20th century from a point of view that the English-speaking readership rarely glimpses. A gripping read that also sheds light on traditional Persian customs of birth, marriage and death still followed in modern-day IranThe book ‘s heroine, Khanoum, is in the courts of Persia ‘s Qajar dynasty. The twists and turns in Khanoum ‘s life make for a gripping read, whilst at the same time shedding light on traditional Persian customs of birth, marriage and death, still followed in modern-day Iran. Forced to flee Persia during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, Khanoum is brought up by her uncle and his immediate family. Her teenage years are marked by her struggles: family tragedy, her horrendous journey through Persia, and her uncertain future. Once in Russia her aunt, a woman of great strength and wisdom, manages to bring some sense of order to their exiled gathering by creating a home akin to what they were accustomed to. However, some years later, the Bolshevik revolution brings another upheaval and they flee once more; this time to Istanbul. In the fairy-tale palaces of the Ottoman Empire Khanoum marries a member of the Ottoman Court. But the newlyweds hardly have time to make plans for their future when they face yet more turmoil; learning of the downfall of the ruling family, they hurriedly escape to France. In Paris with her husband, Khanoum at last finds a resting place, but it does not take long before her eventful and tragic destiny once again beckons and she finds herself alone and destitute.  The story contains a rich and compelling record of how these historic events affected the lives of a group of people from different parts of the world. It presents an overview of the fabric of the Iranian society with an emphasis on the last century ‘s privileged class.

 

2. Styx by Bavo Dhooge (translated from the Flemish by Josh Pachter; Simon & Schuster)25111050
A serial killer is on the loose in Ostend, Belgium. Nicknamed The Stuffer, the mysterious killer fills his victims full of sand and poses them as public art installations—and the once idyllic beach town is in a panic. The fact that Rafael Styx is on the case is no comfort. The corrupt, middle-aged cop has a bum hip, a bad marriage, and ties to the Belgian underworld, but no leads. And if he wants to catch the killer before he’s replaced by the young, ambitious, and flamboyant new cop, Detective Delacroix, he’ll have to take matters into his own hands.  When a chance encounter puts him face to face with The Stuffer, Rafael’s life is cut short by a gun to the chest. But the afterlife has only just begun: Styx wakes up a zombie. Gradually he realizes his unique position. Not only is his body in decay, now that he exists between life and death, he can enter a “different” Ostend, of the Belle Époque in all its grandeur. There he meets the surrealist painter, Paul Delvaux, who gives Styx his first clue about the killer.  With a fresh lead and a fresh start, the dirty cop decides to change his ways, catch The Stuffer, and restore his honor. But as his new hunger for human flesh impedes his progress, he’ll need his old rival, Detective Delacroix to help him out. Only one thing is for sure, even death can’t stop Styx from catching his own murderer.  Complex and compelling, full of suspense, action, and black humor, Styx is an exciting thriller with an intriguing protagonist and evocative setting.

 

183398773. The Walls of Delhi: Three Stories by Uday Prakash (translated from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum; Yale University Press)
A street sweeper discovers a cache of black market money and escapes to see the Taj Mahal with his underage mistress; an Untouchable races to reclaim his life that’s been stolen by an upper-caste identity thief; a slum baby’s head gets bigger and bigger as he gets smarter and smarter, while his family tries to find a cure. One of India’s most original and audacious writers, Uday Prakash, weaves three tales of living and surviving in today’s globalized India. In his stories, Prakash portrays realities about caste and class with an authenticity absent in most English-language fiction about South Asia. Sharply political but free of heavy handedness.

 

4. Killing Auntie by Andrzej Bursa (translated from the Polish by Wiesiek Powaga; New 23282253Vessel Press)
A young university student named Jurek, with no particular ambitions or talents, is adrift. After his doting aunt asks him to perform a small chore, he decides to kill her for no good reason other than, perhaps, boredom. Killing Auntie follows Jurek as he seeks to dispose of the corpse—a task more difficult than one might imagine—and then falls in love with a girl he meets on a train. Can he tell her what he’s done? Will that ruin everything?

 

232820165. Smugglers by Ales Debeljak (translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry; BOA Editions)
The poems in Smugglers move through rapid historical shifts and meditations on personal experience, exploring the depths and limits of comprehension through the people and geography of the Balkans. Ultimately, Aleš Debeljak’s urban imagination creates a mosaic—intimate and historical—of a vanished people and their country. Every poem in Smugglers is sixteen lines long—four quatrains, a common form for Debeljak. This structural regularity is reinforced by a commitment to visual balance, with each poem working as a kind of grid into which the poet pours memories and associative riffs.

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Translation Database: Day Three

We have reached the third day of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.

 

1. The Sea by Blai Bonet (translated from the Catalan by Cathy Sweeney; Dalkey Archive 16284823Press)
A profoundly touching contribution to the tradition of the metaphysical novel as exemplified by Dostoyevsky and Bernanos, and likewise a worthy counterpart to the vibrant and polyphonic work of fellow Iberians Camilo Jose Cela and Juan Goytisolo, The Sea is a cornerstone of postwar Catalan literature. Set in a tubercular sanatorium in Mallorca after the Spanish Civil War, it tells the story of three children sharing a gruesome secret who are brought together again by chance and illness–two patients and one nurse. A love triangle, a story of retribution, and an exploration of evil, The Sea is “a profound and radical descent into the depths of the human soul.” (Gerard de Cortanze).

 

363344402. Tomas Jonsson, Bestseller by Gudberger Bergsson (translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith; Open Letter)
‘A retired, senile bank clerk confined to his basement apartment, Tómas Jónsson decides that, since memoirs are all the rage, he’s going to write his own—a sure bestseller—that will also right the wrongs of contemporary Icelandic society. Egoistic, cranky, and digressive, Tómas blasts away while relating pick-up techniques, meditations on chamber pot use, ways to assign monetary value to noise pollution, and much more. His rants parody and subvert the idea of the memoir—something that’s as relevant today in our memoir-obsessed society as it was when the novel was first published.  Considered by many to be the ‘Icelandic Ulysses‘ for its wordplay, neologisms, structural upheaval, and reinvention of what’s possible in Icelandic writing, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller was a bestseller, heralding a new age of Icelandic literature.’

 

3. Zoo in Winter by Polina Barskova  (translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk; 10051654Melville House)
Opulent, playful, and sensual, Polina Barskova’s poems have earned her a reputation as the finest Russian poet under forty. While steeped in Russian and classical culture, Barskova’s work remains unmistakably contemporary, at once classic and edgy–always fresh, new and even startling. A major English-language event, The Zoo in Winter collects poems from seven earlier books as well as from her more recent work. It is a remarkable menagerie of poems, of a strange and intoxicating beauty.

 

271808124. I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali (translated from the Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman; Garnet Publishing)
Iraqi Kurdistan at the turn of the twenty-first century is a territory ruled by strongmen, revolutionaries, fixers, bureaucrats, and the “Barons” who control everything from livestock and land to Kurdish cultural life.  Defying the absolute power wielded by the Barons, a band of friends led by an enigmatic poet embark on an odyssey to find the bodies of two lovers killed unjustly by the authorities. The Barons respond by attempting to crush these would-be avengers—but their real war is waged against the imagination itself, a prized, elusive commodity to which intellectuals, merchants, political elites, and humble workers all seek access in one way or another.  I Stared at the Night of the City is a tale of extraordinary people travelling great distances, in their minds or with their feet. It is a lyrical interpretation of contemporary Kurdistan, so much in the news, but so little understood. Told by several unreliable narrators in a kaleidoscope of fragments that all eventually cohere, the novel immerses readers in the fantastic just long enough, before wrenching them back to hard, cold “real life.”

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5. Martha, Jack & Shanco by Caryl Lewis (translated from the Welsh by Gwen Davies; Parthian Books)
Bound together by blood ties, Martha, Jack, and Shanco live on a farm in Wales, where their lives unfold in the eerie half-presence of their dead parents.

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Translation Database: Day Two

We have reached the second day of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.  However, I could not help but include both Serbian books, which sound wonderful.

 

74040421. Assembly by Novica Tadic (translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref; Host Publications)
A dynamic artist at the height of his poetic powers, Tadic presents to the reader a world that is at once surreal and hauntingly familiar, a world of outlandish encounters and uncanny creatures. His poetry addresses the challenges of surviving as an artist in a Communist society, and themes of victimization, oppression and spiritual pollution permeate much of his work.  Assembly is a gently subversive and mischievous collection, a harrowing yet humanizing work that is a stunning testimony to Tadic’s outstanding abilities as an artist.’

 

2. Microfictions by Ana Maria Shua (translated from the Spanish by Steven Stewart; 6319086University of Nebraska)
Cinderella’s sisters surgically modify their feet to win the prince’s love. A werewolf gathers up enough courage to visit a dentist. A medium trying to reach the afterworld gets a recorded message. A fox and a badger compete to out-fool each other. Whether writing of insomnia from a mosquito’s point of view or showing us what happens after the princess kisses the frog, Ana María Shua, in these fleet and incandescent stories, is nothing if not pithy—except, of course, wildly entertaining. Some as short as a sentence, these microfictions have been selected and translated from four different books. Flashes of insight, cracks of wit, twists of logic, and quirks of language: these are fictions in the distinguished Argentinean tradition of Borges and Cortázar and Denevi, as powerful as they are brief. One of Argentina’s most prolific and distinguished writers, and acclaimed worldwide, Shua displays in these microfictions the epitome of her humor, riddling logic, and mastery over our imagination. Now, for the first time in English, the fox transforms itself into a fable, and “the reader is invited to find the tail.

 

86984833. The Calligrapher’s Secret by Rafik Schami (translated from the German by Anthea Bell; Interlink)
A new international bestseller from the award-winning author of The Dark Side of Love. Even as a young man, Hamid Farsi is acclaimed as a master of the art of calligraphy. But as time goes by, he sees that weaknesses in the Arabic language and its script limit its uses in the modern world. In a secret society, he works out schemes for radical reform, never guessing what risks he is running. His beautiful wife, Nura, is ignorant of her husband’s ambitions, knowing only his cold, avaricious side. So its no wonder she feels flattered by the attentions of his young apprentice. And so begins a passionate love story, the love of a Muslim woman and a Christian man.

 

4. Autopsy of a Father by Pascal Kramer (translated from the French by Tamsin Black; 31945214Bellevue Literary Press)
When a young woman returns to her childhood home after her estranged father’s death, she begins to piece together the final years of his life. What changed him from a prominent left-wing journalist to a bitter racist who defended the murder of a defenseless African immigrant? Kramer exposes a country gripped by intolerance and violence to unearth the source of a family’s fall from grace.  Set in Paris and its suburbs, and inspired by the real-life scandal of a French author and intellectual, Autopsy of a Father blends sharp observations about familial dynamics with resonant political and philosophical questions, taking a scalpel to the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment spreading just beneath the skin of modern society.

 

223442105. Learning Cyrillic: Selected Stories by David Albahari (translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac; Dalkey Archive Press)
Learning Cyrillic presents a selection of fiction by Serbian master David Albahari written since his departure from Europe. In these twenty short stories, written and published in their original language over the past twenty years, Albahari addresses immigrant life–the need to fit into one’s adopted homeland–as well as the joys and terrors of refusing to give up one’s essential “strangeness” in the face of an alien culture.

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Translation Database: Day One

Day one of my showcase of the wonderful Translation Database (view it here) is upon us.  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.

 

32967771. Summer’s End by Adalet Agaoglu (translated from the Turkish by Figen Bingul; Talisman House Publishers)
Narrated by an author on vacation among the classical ruils of the ancient city of Side on the Mediterannean coast in Turkey, Summer’s End provides an intricate picture of a large cross-section of modern Turkish society. The novel offers a complex multi-dimensional and multi-leveled view of cultural values, politics, sexuality, and personal dilemmas. Summer’s End is one of the most celebrated works by Adalet Angaoglu, widely considered to be one of the principal novelists of our time. Summer’s End, says critic Sibel Erol in her introduction, “is an elegaic novel of attempted reconciliation and consolation set in a lush and delectable setting that intensifies the heartbreaking contrast between life and death and society’s fragmentation and nature’s organic unity.” Adalet Agaoglu is the author of eight novels as well as plays, memoirs, four collections of short stories, and six collections of essays. Her books have been widely translated. Summer’s End is the second to appear in English.

 

2. Five Fingers by Mara Zalite (translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis; Dalkey five-fingers-fcArchive)
‘Five-year-old Laura was born in one of Joseph Stalin’s prison camps in Siberia. When the book opens, she and her parents are on their long journey back to Latvia, a country Laura knows only from the exuberant descriptions that whirled about the Gulag. Upon her arrival, however, she must come to terms with the conflicting images of the life she sees around her and the fairytale Latvia she grew up hearing about and imagining. Based on the author’s life, and written in lush language that defies the narrative’s many hardships, Five Fingers tells the story of a girl who moves between worlds in the hopes of finding a Latvia that she can call home.’

 

178470593. Time on my Hands by Giorgio Vasta (translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt; Faber & Faber)
Palermo, Sicily, 1978. The Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro has just been kidnapped in Rome by members of the notorious Red Brigades. Two months after his disappearance on 9th May, Moro is found dead in the boot of a car.  A trio of eleven-year-old schoolboys, Nimbo, Raggio, and Volo, avidly follow the news of the abduction as their admiration for the brigatisti grows. When the boys themselves resolve to abduct a classmate and incarcerate him in a makeshift ‘people’s prison’, the darkness within their world, and the world of the novel, becomes all-pervasive.  A vivid and hellish description of Sicily in the late seventies, Time on my Hands is an unforgettable novel from a significant new voice in Italian fiction.

 

4. The Hedgehog by Zakaria Tamer (translated from the Arabic by Brian O’Rourke; 6131951American University at Cairo Press)
“My mother went to visit our neighbor, Umm Bahaa, but refused to take me with her, on the pretext that women visit women and men visit men. So she left me alone, promising not to be gone more than a few minutes. I told my cat I was going to strangle her, but she paid no attention and continued grooming herself with her tongue.” Thus we meet the five-year-old narrator of The Hedgehog, who introduces us to his world: his house (with the djinn girl who lives in his bedroom), his garden (where he wishes to be a tree), and his best friend the black stone wall. This tightly told novella confirms that Zakaria Tamer remains at the height of his powers. The short stories that follow were first published in the collection Tigers on the Tenth Day. Economical and controlled, they deal with man’s inhumanity to man (and to woman) and showcase the author’s typical sharply satirical style.

 

131813325. The Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Transtromer (translated from the Swedish by Michael McGriff; Green Integer)
The Sorrow Gondola was the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s first collection of poems after his stroke in 1990. Translated by Michael McGriff, Tranströmer’s great work is available in its first single-volume English edition.  Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011.

 

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Translation Database

I’m sure many readers will have come across the wonderful Translation Database, created by Chad W. Post, and promoted by Three Percent, a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester.  Three Percent is so called because of an ‘oft-cited statistic’; that only three percent of books published in America have been translated.  You can find the database, both in full, and broken down by publication year, here.

Upon first glance, the full database is rather an overwhelming resource, but I am determined to use it more from this year onwards.  I am going to try and incorporate as much translated literature as I can into my Around the World in 80 Books challenge, and cannot think of a better, or more comprehensive, list to help me do so.

With that in mind, I thought that I would take next week to showcase some wonderful looking works of translated literature which I have not come across elsewhere, and which have really piqued my interest.  I hope that you enjoy the diversity of the picks, and feel inspired to check out the database (or perhaps just part of it!) yourself, to influence your own reading this year.