Books in Translation

With the recent announcement of the Man Booker International Award shortlist for books in translation, I recalled some of my favorite books that had me grateful for the translator.  Jhumpa Lahiri’s  memoir In Other Words is an inspiration to learn to read (and write) in another language – but I’m not there yet. 

My favorite translated author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón has led me through many satisfying 9780316044714_p0_v2_s192x300quests from The Shadow of the Wind to Prisoner of Heaven.  I looked for the cemetery of lost books when I toured Barcelona.  A new adventure  – Marina – the novel Carlos Ruiz  Zafón wrote just before The Shadow of the Wind, is now available in its English translation – and I eagerly anticipate the thrills.

Haruki Murakami’s absurdist books can be difficult to follow at times, but the unresolved ending of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage still haunts me.

The Man Booker International Prize 2016 will be awarded in May.  Their shortlist includes two I have on my to-read list: 

  • 9781609452865_p0_v4_s192x300Elena Ferrante’s  The Story of the Lost Child (the last of the four book series by the elusive Italian author).  I may start with My Brilliant Friend and proceed in a binge reading fury. If you have read them, advise me – do I need to read all four or can I skip to the award winner?
  • Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in Their Mind by the Turkish winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. I meant to read his Museum of Innocence – maybe I’ll start there.   Have you read it?


Related Reviews:






Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

9780385352109_p0_v2_s260x420Your best friends suddenly desert you, for no apparent reason – sounds like something out of junior high – yet Haruki Murakami weaves a compelling tale based on his character’s search for an explanation in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.  

Each person in the group, except Tsukuru, has a family name corresponding to a color: Miss White, Miss Black, Mr. Red, Mr. Blue. Tsukuru saw himself as the colorless, empty fifth to the group, and faced despair and suicidal thoughts when his friends deserted him.  He is briefly rescued by a new college friend, Haida, who draws him into music and swimming, and then suddenly disappears from his life – leaving Tsukuru to wonder if he is destined to always be alone.  Somehow he managed to finish college and have a successful career.  Now in his thirties, Tsukuru is a successful engineer, specializing in building train stations,  but the trauma of his friends’ desertion sixteen years earlier has left him emotionally drained and still unable to sustain a meaningful relationship.  When he meets Sara, she convinces him that he will not be able to heal his invisible scars until he reconnects with his old friends to discover why they unilaterally banned him from the group without explanation when he was a sophomore in college.

The pilgrimage follows his journey back to each old friend, and his discovery of strange lies and unrequited feelings.  Along the way, Tsukuru questions his own worth, as Murakami skillfully uses dreams to reveal Tsukuru’s fears and desires. Of course, no one is the same after sixteen years, and Murakami’s astute descriptions of how teenage tendencies led to unexpected careers is an amusing commentary on the expectations and eventual fate of each person in the group.  Tsukuru turns out to have more true color in his life than the rest.

The ending is left unresolved for the reader to decide.  Clearly, Tsukuru’s pilgrimage helped him resolve his issues and finally appreciate his grown-up self, but whether that will lead to happily ever after with Sara or a life continuing to search for a soulmate is not clear – a good ending for speculation and discussion.

Murakami, as popular a writer as he is, remains elusive and complicated.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is thankfully not as long as some of his other books, and I actually read this in one day – urged on by the promise of the discovery of the reason behind the group’s scornful break with the main character.  When the reason is revealed, it seems anticlimactic; the pilgrimage has more to do with how actions affect the lives of the characters – both Tsukuru and each of the others in the group.  No one likes being abandoned by friends, and the scars remain.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

How could any reader resist this book title – the idea of a 24 hour bookstore is better than eating at an all-night diner.  With a mix of fantasy and today’s world of digital magic, Robin Sloan creates an adventure of rivals – electronic books vs bound pages –  in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Out of work computer geek, Clay Jannon,  finds a new job on the night shift of a strange indie bookstore in San Francisco.  Few customers want the books on display by Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, and Dashiell Hammet; the attraction for his night visitors is the collection high on the dusty shelves in the back.  Curious to understand the lure of these old books, Jannon digitally scans the log book and cracks a code that uncovers a secret society of readers.  With the help of a new girlfriend who works for Google,  Jannon follows the book store manager, Ajax Penumbra, to the headquarters of the Unbroken Spine group on Fifth Avenue in New York City – and starts the adventurous quest for a secret 15th century message that may be the key to immortality.

Although the ingredients of long black robes, secret staircases behind a bookcase, coded messages hidden in books,  have the flavor of a mysterious fantasy, Sloan cleverly inserts the modern adult world and ancient artefacts into the dilemma.  Google plays a key role, along with experts in simulation, video technology and professional hacking.  You will be googling “The Dragon-Song Chronicles” and  Gerritszoon font to see if they are real.  A suspenseful moment has all the modern technology available working together to crack the code.  Google does not yet have the answer to eternal life, but Jannon finds the solution reveals itself unexpectedly…

“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.”

Depends on how you define immortality…Sloan’s solution happily creates a balance of the new and the old that will please readers who like the smell of new book pages as well as the convenience of the Kindle.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a fun light read – all those familiar landmarks in San Francisco and New York City could lead you to believe that the adventure is real (I plan to look for the building across from Central Park), and the search for the puzzle pieces will keep you reading.

Put the Dust Jackets Back On

Interior designers often recommend removing the dust jackets from books before placing them on the shelves “for a more unified appearance,”  but Julie Bosman in her article for the New York Times – Selling Old-Style Books by Their Gilded Covers -writes that publishers are now counting on innovative book covers to compete with electronic books.

“If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading.”

New books with attracting and unusual covers include…


“If the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.”     Julian Barnes

One of my favorite books with one of my favorite covers – still on my shelf –

Books to Talk About

The book review section of the Sunday New York Times has a full page ad that caught my eye – from the publishers at Knopf Doublday – 9 books to read and discuss.  I’ve read and reviewed five of them, dismissed one, and waiting for the other three to make it to my library system.

Have you read any?

Waiting to Read: