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?

 

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The Door by Magda Szabó

9781590177716_p0_v2_s192x300Claire Messud’s review of the Hungarian translation of The Door by Magda Szabó in the New York Times prompted my reading, but I did not expect the powerful and captivating story.  Without much fanfare, the story has crept into my mind and lingers there.

The story follows the relationship of two women – Emerence, a strong-willed old woman who has come to manage the house of a prominent Hungarian writer, Magda, who later in the book wins Hungary’s most prestigious award, possibly the Kossuth Prize.  Emerence comes from the old school of hard work, saving money for her funeral, and voicing her opinions whether or not they have been solicited.  The writer, who nurses her own feelings of inadequacy, clashes with Emerence on everything – from morality to mortality.  They live in an uncomfortable truce until Emerence finally decides to reveal her history.

Tapping into Hungary’s strange political history (the novel was written in 1987 but just now making it to American publishing), Szabó weaves government tensions into the background, but the story focuses on the women, their differences and their mutual respect.  At times, I saw myself, my mother, fellow writers, friends, would-be friends – in the traits of Szabo’s characters.  The best character may be Viola, the dog.

The “door” is the front door of Emerence’s house – an entry that no one is privileged to enter.  When she talks of her treasures and her cats, at first she seems to be creating her own fantasy; however, later, the truth of her history and her possessions becomes clear.

The plot moves slowly, following Emerence and Magda to a final showdown with an ending true to characters, but leaving a sour taste and a cautious reminder that sometimes the strong can control events, even death.  I noted so many plums of wisdom; here are a few that linger in my mind:

She inspired trust because people knew they could open their hearts to her without expecting her own confidences in return…

Cheerfulness keeps you fresh; its opposite exhausts…

…her goodness was innate, mine was the result of upbringing…

Creativity requires a state of grace…

Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs, summarized the novel’s effect so well:

“A work of stringent honesty and delicate subtlety, “The Door” is a story in which, superficially, very little happens. Szabó’s narrator, like the author a writer named Magda (in interviews, Szabo suggested that the novel was only thinly veiled personal history), follows the intricacies of her intimate filial relationship with her housekeeper, Emerence. In doing so, it exposes the rich inadequacies of human communication even as it evokes the agonies of Hungary’s recent history.”

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