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11 May 2015 @ 10:06 pm
publicBooks of 2015: II  
11., 12. Phénix, oiseau de feu, volumes 1 (L’aube) and 6 (Le mal du pays) by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Jacques Lalloz
L’aube - “Le phénix est un oiseau immortel ! Une créature flamboyante qui vit au sein des volcans. La légende dit que celui qui réussira à boire son sang obtiendra la jeunesse éternelle. La puissante et vieillissante reine Himiko a donc lancé ses troupes à la poursuite de l'Oiseau de Feu. Le fameux archer Yumihiko réussira-t-il à immobiliser - afin de le tuer - l'oiseau mythique grâce à ses flèches d'acier ? Qu'adviendra-t-il du jeune Nagg'i et du valeureux Saltahiko, venus du pays de Yamataï et capturés par le grand chef mongol Ninigui ? Le thème du phénix a inspiré à l'auteur Osamu Tezuka une véritable fresque à l'échelle cosmique. C'est un pur chef-d'œuvre dont voici le premier volume intitulé ‘L'aube’.”

Le mal du pays - “Romi et Joji, un jeune couple de pionniers, sont emplis d’espoirs à leur débarquement sur la nouvelle étoile dont ils sont devenus propriétaires. Mais ils ne découvrent qu’un enfer animé par les tempêtes de sable et les séismes... Qu’il adviendra-t-il de Romi, demeurée seules après la mort précoce de Joji? Quel sera le destin de ses descendants sur cette petite planète qu’ils ont baptisée Eden 17?”

The history of Japan in the first volume was really interesting - I’d like to know more about the priestess-queen Himiko, and the legendary figures, such as Saltahiko, who are apparently thought to be based on real people. The incongruous present-day jokes, and the playing around with the art (like characters breaking the sides of the panels to get to other people), were fun, and the quite quiet exploration of what immortality (and life) could mean, going on behind the main, bloody storyline was interesting. In the sixth volume (each one is pretty much stand-alone, so skipping wasn’t a problem), the backgrounds could be stunning, and I cried quite a bit... In both volumes, I struggled to get past irritating portrayals of female characters - they were either innocent and cute, or mad and villainous, and the only way in which they could be considered heroic was by dedicating themselves to ‘furthering the race’ by having as many babies as possible. It’s not that I don’t think that having babies is heroic (childbirth, the responsibility of bringing those children up), and surviving alone on a hostile planet is incredibly brave, but obviously this is not the only thing that women are capable of. I found this representation of women as baby-making machines disappointingly two-dimensional.

13. Re-Engendering Translation: Transcultural Practice, Gender/Sexuality and the Politics of Alterity, edited by Chistopher Larkosh

"Of interest to scholars in translation studies, gender and sexuality, and comparative literary and cultural studies, this volume re-examines the possibilities for multiple intersections between translation studies and research on sexuality and gender, and in so doing addresses the persistent theoretical gaps in much work on translation and gender to date. The current climate still seems to promote the continuation of identity politics by encouraging conversations that depart from an all too often limited range of essentializing gendered subject positions. A more inclusive approach to the theoretical intersection between translation and gender as proposed by this volume aims to open up the discussion to a wider range of linguistically and culturally informed representations of sexuality and gender, one in which neither of these two theoretical terms, much less the subjects associated with them, is considered secondary or subordinate to the other. This discussion extends not only to questions of linguistic difference as mediated through the act of translation, but also to the challenges of intersubjectivity as negotiated through culture, ‘race’ or ethnicity.
The volume also makes a priority of engaging a wide range of cultural and linguistic spaces: Latin America under military dictatorship, numerous points of the African cultural diaspora, and voices from South, Southeast and East Asia.  Such perspectives are not included merely as supplemental, ‘minority’ additions to an otherwise metropolitan-centred volume, but instead are integral to the volume’s focus, underscoring its goal of re-engendering translation studies through a politics of alterity that encourages the continued articulation and translation of difference, be it sexual or gendered, cultural or linguistic."

Writing on Race and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance: Translation as Retelling and Rememory by Annarita Taronna - This was full of incredibly interesting information, starting for me with the existence of the Harlem Renaissance, which I'd never previously heard of. I now have a list of African American women writers of this time, who were writing poetry, essays, diaries, short stories, and plays about feminism, alternative sexualities, and racial politics, often self-publishing or just performing their work in private salons, as publishers weren't interested in their radical ideas. Like the female Beat poets, it seems that the women of the Harlem Renaissance have been left out of history. This article was talking about the potential of translation to bring them into circulation for the first time, in a new language, hopefully ending up with their being known in America for the first time too. Part of the study focused on how to practically translate certain words or concepts, such as 'Aunt Jemima' of the fake maple syrup, who in African American culture represents the myth of benign slavery (:o). The absolute importance of cultural (and historical) context to true translation was really reinforced, especially when looking at the evolution of words - I had no idea that 'Negro' was in the 20s a word that African Americans had chosen for themselves, for example. 

Speaking to the Dead: Juan Gelman's Feminization of Argentine Poetics as a Politics of Resistance by Lisa Bradford - The discussion of the poet's creation of new words and the effects he created by using feminine articles with male nouns was intriguing, and I was impressed by the creativity of translations into English which managed to replicate the original experiments in various ways. The article's suggestion that this creativity was equivalent to political revolution, however, I just couldn't buy. Art does shape cultural norms and is therefore part of political change, but this essay made it sound as though poetry overturns dictators all by itself. This is the kind of myopia that can be really irritating in academia. 

Transformations of Violence: Metamorphic Gains and Plastic Regenerations in Marie Vieux-Chauvet's Les Rapaces by Carolyn Shread - This article argues against the common view that translation is a violation of the original text, through lost nuances or the source text's culture being smoothed over and made palatable to the target text's culture (or due to the idea that all language is inherently violent, because it's about putting everything in neat boxes). Shread is proposing an alternative view of translation as non-violent conflict, the creation of something new that depends on the source and target texts and cultures, which can challenge the target culture's stereotypes about the source culture. I found her discussions about actual violence and conflict really interesting (she's talking about Haiti as this is where Marie Vieux-Chauvet is from) - her questions about 'good' violence (e.g. the violent revolution which lead to Haiti being the first black republic in 1804) and whether conflict is necessary to provoke change were thought-provoking. I liked that she talked about structural violence, such as racism, rather than just individual acts, and how violence against women is so often used as a metaphor for violence against a whole people or country, thus erasing the actual, real violence that actual, real women suffered. Her discussion of the role that literature plays in maintaining cultural stereotypes, and therefore making people think that exploitation of the other group is ok, was more convincing to me that that of the previous article, as she wasn't suggesting that Joseph Conrad was the sole perpetrator of American and European exploitation of Africa. I think a strong point is that her analysis touches upon the media's role in convincing people that exploitation and war are acceptable, not just literature's. I'm not entirely convinced by her optimistic take on the translator's role - I still do think that, especially when translating into English, there is a lot of danger of erasing the original culture by forcing it to fit into English-speaking cultures. But I do see her points about translation being the creation of something new, not just a paltry imitation of a perfect original, and about its important potential to challenge. 

Two in Translation: The Multilingual Cartographies of Néstir Perlongher an Caio Fernando Abreu by Christopher Larkosh - Other than the idea that you have to maintain fluidity within your categorisations (e.g. of gender and sexuality) or you're not representing humanity as it really is, which I pretty much already knew, I got very little from this article. 

The Creation of a 'Lady': Gender and Sexual Politics in the Earliest Japanese Translations of Walter Scott and Charlotte Brontë by Takayuki Yokota-Murakami - This was an interesting history of changes in translation practices accompanying and introducing changes in conceptions of love. The thing is though, that these changes in the ideas of love were happening in the middle and upper classes, a minority (I think) of the population, but the groups about whom we now have the most records (or at least, these are the groups most often studied). So the influence of incoming, translated Western literature wasn't necessarily sweeping the whole country. It would be really interesting to read about how quickly the new ideas which were being discussed by critics and the elite filtered out to the ordinary population. Clearly they did eventually, but how and when did that happen?

Western Others (And 'Other' Westerns): Translating Brokeback Mountain into Vietnamese Culture by Loc Pham - This essay was fascinating. In its construction of a new, post-war self, Vietnam apparently used and uses an Us-versus-Them approach to define a supposed national unity through contrast with the values and ways of hostile outsiders, exporting any Vietnamese characteristics which seem to threaten this unity, so that homosexuality is thought of as a social movement brought in from the West. Translations of foreign literature there are done in a foreignising style due to the perceived importance of being 'true' to the original source material, but as this means sacrificing the fluency of the text, translations don't enter the popular literary canon. Their lesser status is also a way to resist Western power. In this context, the author devised a strategy to translate Brokeback Mountain in such a way that it would be clear that homosexuality is not some Western invention but a reality at home. The critique of foreignising techniques was very interesting, suggesting that they presuppose that the foreign that's being showcased is uniform. I don't think I agree with this, as a text that was just blanket foreignisation would just be the untranslated original text, and so a translation has to mix making the reader comfortable and challenging him or her with 'foreign' elements. These foreign elements are going to show various different facets of the unknown culture (as are the parts of the translation which read more smoothly), and more facets will be revealed by other foreignising translations of that culture, while foreignising translations of texts from other cultures will necessarily employ different foreign elements. Am I being too optimistic about the imperialist English-speaking world? Are all foreign cultures seen through translations just eventually lumped together as 'not us'?

Gender, Historiography and Translation by Tutun Mukherjee - This piece was highlighting the importance of truly understanding the cultural and historical context of the source text; saying, in fact, that what you're translating isn't just the text, but the culture itself, to be consumed by the target readers. While it used to just seem like a long wait, I understand now why it takes so long to become a literary translator. 

14. Almost French: A New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull
"A delightful new twist on the travel memoir, Almost French takes readers on a tour fraught with culture clashes but rife with insight and deadpan humour - a charming true story of what happens when Sarah meets a very French Frenchman.
Backpacking around Europe, twenty-something Sarah Turnbull meets Frederic and impulsively accepts his invitation to visit him for a week in Paris. Eight years later, she is still there - and married to him. The feisty Sydney journalist swaps vegemite for vichyssoise and all things French, but commits the fatal errors of bowling up to strangers at classy receptions, helping herself to champagne, laughing too loudly and (quelle horreur!) rushing out for a baguette in her 'pantalons de jogging'. But Paris' maddening, mysterious charm proves irresistible and Sarah makes spectacular progress. She finds work as a freelance journalist, learns to survive Parisian dinner parties and how to deal with grim-faced officialdom. As she navigates the highs and lows of Parisian life, covering the haute couture fashions shows and discovering the hard way the paradoxes of France today, Sarah succeeds in becoming 'almost French'."

This really struck a chord with me, both because in some ways she found the life that I imagined when we were moving to France (an arty Parisian flat filled with books and wine and political dinner parties) and because she also experienced the loneliness and confusion that I did, struggling with seemingly rude people and isolation. Following her overcoming these things to become confident in herself and able to read French people made me hopeful, and sort of soothed some of the pains over misunderstandings that I'm still holding from that time. When things get better for her, and even before (helped by the fact that she enjoys poking fun at herself), her enthusiasm for French life is infectious, and I laughed out loud at so many of the ridiculous situations she gets into.

15. CultureShock! Japan by P. Sean Bramble
CultureShock! Japan will guide you through the confusion you will inevitably feel when visiting or working in Japan. As with adapting to any new culture, there are numerous things to learn and be aware of. Learn about Japanese culture, the pressure of ‘keeping face’ and how to bow correctly in two easy steps. Discover the do’s and don’ts when dining at someone’s home; find out more about Japanese food and learn the art of the Japanese tea ceremony. Also included is practical information to ease your stay. Take note of tips on how to ‘bargain’ when shopping and what to expect from Japanese herbal medicine. So whether you require information on office etiquette or where to find a hot spring, CultureShock! Japan covers it all, everything to make your cultural transition a pleasurable one.”

I didn’t get as much out of this volume, as compared to the French one in the same series. This could be because it’s more surprising to discover differences between French and Scottish culture (I think it’s easy to assume that they’ll be the same, just due to geographical closeness), or because I’ve spent more time studying Japanese culture already, or it could be that this Japan book didn’t focus as much on what I found really interesting about the French book - psychology and socialisation. When he did touch on these areas, I thought that it was with a hint of exoticisation and Orientalism, and that he didn’t take into account the fact that Japanese people would be reacting to him as a white American man specifically, and that other races, nationalities, and genders might have different experiences. Nevertheless, I did discover some useful etiquette points that I’d missed.

16. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

"When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.”

From this reading, I think that it’s actually mostly through Darcy’s judgment of Jane and Elizabeth’s of Bingley that you’re shown the danger of drawing conclusions from early impressions. On the other hand, I think Darcy and Elizabeth’s first impressions of each other aren’t wrong so much as that their personalities and outlooks both change and grow, in large part due to each other, with Pemberley being the pivotal time. This re-reading was just after re-watching the BBC dramatisation, which I love. The costumes, settings, music, dialogues, acting, ahh I think they’re all excellent. It was interesting to see, though, how much clearer the Wickham storyline was in the book.

17. Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, translated by Brian FitzGibbon
"After a day of being dumped - twice - and accidentally killing a goose, the narrator begins to dream of tropical holidays far away from the chaos of her current life. Instead, she finds her plans wrecked by her best friend's deaf-mute son, thrust into her reluctant care. But when a shared lottery ticket nets the two of them over 40 million kroner, she and the boy head off on a road trip across Iceland, taking in cucumber-farming hotels, dead sheep, and any number of her exes desperate for another chance.
Blackly comic and uniquely moving, Butterflies in November is an extraordinary, hilarious tale of motherhood, relationships and the legacy of life's mistakes.”

This is another book that I read about in the International Book Festival programme - definitely going to do the same thing this year, as the recommendations have been so good, and of things that I might not normally have read. The narrator is a really interesting character, almost a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, with her eccentric friends and spontaneity, but saved from this cliché by the book’s sort of matter-of-factly absurd humour, and the sense that she isn’t doing any of the things she does in order to perform for other people, but because she’s just who she is. The tone is sometimes a little cold and removed, which really worked in showing her remoteness from herself, and her need to travel closer to her own desires and reality. Supernatural elements were blended well with the very normal parts of life, mundane oddities, and the land. The past and the present were also intermingled in an interesting way. Running under everything was a hope and commitment to life that made me feel light.

18. L'Odyssée DaleMark, Tome 1 : Les sortilèges de la guiterne by Diana Wynne Jones, translated by Laurence Kiefé
"Le royaume du Dalemark est en proie à de violentes tensions. Si les Duchés du Nord offrent à leurs citoyens une existence paisible, la liberté dans le Sud est soumise à de terribles restrictions. Seuls quelques musiciens itinérants ont le droit de passer d'un côté à l'autre de la frontière.
La famille de Moril en fait partie. Et lorsque Clennen, son père, est assassiné par les hommes du Duc, le jeune garçon n'a d'autre choix que de s'enfuir avec ses frères et soeurs... et l'instrument ancestral que le défunt chanteur lui a remis en héritage avec cette étrange avertissement : «Cette guiterne est très puissante, si tu sais t'en servir.»
Moril parviendra-t-il à percer le secret de ce luth doté de pouvoirs exceptionnels?”

This is an excellent coming-of-age book, about figuring out who you are, how that came to be, what your way of doing things is, what makes people different, and what life is or should be, without any preaching or patronising. The characters are forced by the page-turning chain of events to understand themselves (or start to, anyway), and following their journeys lets you see something in yourself too. Once again, parents are complicated - that's one of my absolute favourite things about Diana Wynne Jones, that she never portrays parents as blameless saints, and always shows the ways in which children are affected by their parents' actions, the power that parents have over the lives of their children, physically in terms of where they'll go and what they'll do, but also emotionally. She seemed to have just truly understood humans, as every character, no matter how important to the story, acts naturally and represents another facet of humanity. As always, the magic just works, logically but innovatively, which is so satisfying and interesting. The settings, constantly changing as they travel, are beautifully described. I'm really excited about how easily and quickly I read this book :D There was still a little distance between me and the text, when I just enter completely into English books, but the gap is much, much narrower than it used to be, and I'm hoping that it'll eventually disappear. Even if it's going to take years, I'm feeling patient. 

19. L'Odyssée DaleMark, Tome 2 : La marotte noyée by Diana Wynne Jones, translated by Laurence Kiefé
"«Que l'année vous soit favorable !»
Le Dalemark du Sud est en fête ! On s'échange des voeux et Holand, la capitale, résonne au son des fifres du Festival Marin. Le Vieil Ammet conduit le joyeux cortège ; son sacrifice dans les eaux du port assure à la ville une récolte fructueuse. Le jeune Mitt ne se préoccupe guère de ces étranges coutumes. Lui, l'enfant des marais, a d'autres projets en tête : faire payer traîtres et bourreaux pour la disparition de son père. Dans sa ligne de mire, l'infâme comte Hadd, cruel despote du sud du royaume.
Et il se pourrait bien que, dans sa quête solitaire qui l'entraîne sur les flots déchaînés, le jeune garçon avide de vengeance rencontre des alliés pour le moins surprenants...”

This series is just getting more and more awesome. She’s exploring really interesting and important themes here: oppression, inequality, terrorism, responsibility, how your ideas of right and wrong are influenced by where you are. Reading in French has made me realise how connected her books are to nature - due to having to constantly look up words for various plants and geographical features - and how this contributes to drawing you into the story, making it seem as though you can see and feel and smell the scenes. The characters are really interesting, having to confront unpleasant things about themselves, and noticing facets of one another. The grandeur of the overarching story, and the way that fits with the first book in the series, is interwoven so well with the closer-to-home storylines of their individual lives.

20. Street Cat Bob by James Bowen
"When James Bowen found an injured, ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, he had no idea just how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet.
Yet James couldn't resist helping the strikingly intelligent tom cat, whom he quickly christened Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.
Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly healing the scars of each other's troubled pasts.
A Street Cat Named Bob is a moving and uplifting story that will touch the heart of anyone who reads it.”

I read a Quick Reads edition of this book which we randomly picked up at the library, crying away as the two of them helped each other to get to a better place. I think this is an excellent book for dispelling some of the myths surrounding drug use - he’s really up-front about what lead him to addiction, and what motivated him to move to methadone and eventually even wean himself off that. When he’s going through the necessary 48 hours of withdrawal and Bob just seems to know when he needs some company or a paw on his knee, ahhh. Non-human animals are amazing.
Mood: accomplished