Why it’s important to read translated works

Earlier in the year I watched a TedTalk by Ann Morgan titled “My Year Reading a Book From Every Country in the World” where, as the title suggests, she read a book from every country. Though I knew that it was difficult for her to obtain all of the texts, and it would be impossible for me to find so many works translated into English here in Poland, I decided to make more of an effort to read translated works.
So far this year I have read 18 books, 8 of which have been translated into English from their original languages, which is 44% of my books this year. 

These include:

– The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain)

– Night, Elie Wiezel (Hungary)

– The Vegetarian, Han Kang (South Korea)

– The Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem (Poland)

– After Dark, Haruki Murakami (Japan)

– The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain)

– The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho (Brazil)

– Confessions, Jaume Cabre (Catalunya, Spain)
Over the last three years I have lived in three different countries and travelled to over ten others, yet it was surprisng to me how much of my reading was by British and American authors. As someone who considered myself fairly cultured, I certainly couldn’t say the same about my reading life. Around 2% of books published in the UK are translated works. I think this is because there are so many English speakers around the world, and so many excellent books, that we don’t need others from non-English-speaking countries. However, this argument falls flat when you realise that 28% of all books published in Spain are translated works, and there are more Spanish speakers than English speakers in the world. 

When discussing translated books, the way in which the translation was approached and what it brings or takes away from the experience, is a whole new conversation. Why did the translator use British slang? Why did they use that analogy? Why did they not translate some cultural references? 

By not reading, or publishing, translated works we are denying ourselves chances to experience other cultures and worldviews that would otherwise be fairly inaccessible to us. Reading more widely makes you a better person. You become more understanding of and empathetic towards other cultures and that’s nothing if not beneficial, particularly in today’s climate. Reading translated works is so important to cultural understanding and acceptance that I urge you to seek out translated works more. The more translated works we buy, the more publishers will take this into account, and the more culturally aware we all become.

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Why I Hate Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’

There are so many reasons why I hate this book. I’ve never read fiction that reads so much like a poorly-executed self-help book before. Coelho shoves the main theme down your throat on every page: if you want something enough, and believe in it, regardless of circumstance, that thing will happen. Not only is this untrue, it’s a potentially dangerous belief. It implies that everything that happens to us happens to us because we want it, consciously or subconsciously. That is unequivocally not true. So much of our lives are out of our control. Mere belief in something does not make it come true. An apparent attempt at inspirational timelessness comes across as preachy, condescending and pretentious. 

Coelho’s treatment of women is also incredibly poor. First of all, where are they? The ratio of men to women in this book is hugely one-sided. For a book that is meant to be relatable for everyone, with messages for anyone to understand and take onboard, there is a severe lack of women. What about Fatima? Fatima plays a relatively minor role in the story. For the most part, she is a thing to be won, and treasured. She understands that, as a woman of the desert, it is her role and duty to wait for the boy as he discovers himself. Never mind the fact that he ultimately leaves anyway. 

What did I like about this book? It’s short.

Top Five Essays in Caitlin Moran’s ‘Moranifesto’

A Woman’s Monthly Faultiness

Moran discusses the taboo that still exists when talking about periods. Why should something that happens so regularly to half the world’s population be something that’s never talked about or portrayed on screen? She points out that period blood has only been seen in Carrie (and, let’s be honest, it’s not an accurate portrayal of what it’s like for most women), and in Lena Dunham’s Girls. 


Bacon

In a much more light-hearted essay, she shares her love for bacon. I’ve spent the best part of the last three years outside of the UK and, though you can get bacon elsewhere, it’s just not the same. This essay made me homesick for bacon.
Musicals

In another here-is-something-that-I-love-so-let-me-sing-its-praises (pun intended) essay where she shares her love of musicals. I’d never thought about feminism in musicals before, but Moran made me see them in a whole new light. It made me add lots more musicals to my list of films to watch, and I can’t wait.
Women Getting Killed

This essay is on a far heavier topic, about women getting killed both worldwide and in the UK.  The severity of sexism and abuse really hits home here, as Caitlin provides real and heartbreaking stories. She also addresses the trope in popular TV series and films of women as victims. We need to move away from this old-fashioned, over-used trope, and show women in every role.
Reading is Fierce

This was my absolute favourite in the whole collection. Reading is Fierce. Say it aloud. Reading. Is. Fierce.Caitlin explains how reading is not merely a passive activity. I’m sick of people thinking I’m only reading to kill time, and that I’m not reading because I love it. We all project ourselves onto characters as we read, and fully immerse ourselves in the writing. It forces us to think, to feel, to live through others. Reading is not passive. Reading is, as Caitlin Moran so wonderfully puts it, fierce..

The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

When I got back to England after my time in Asia I found my copy of The Shadow of the Wind and thought I’d reread it, and see if it still felt as magical the second time round when I was no longer living in the city in which the book is set, Barcelona. It didn’t disappoint. The beautiful prose – stunningly translated by Lucia Graves – was so wonderfully atmospheric and drew me right back in so I felt as though I were in Barcelona again, but this time in the 1940s.

After I finished reading it, my brother offered to buy me the second one for Christmas and I started on The Angel’s Game. The Angel’s Game is similarly beautifully written and full of suspense, mystery, romance, and a love of literature. Whilst The Shadow of the Wind is about the love of reading, The Angel’s Game is more about the love of writing. 

What was different about this book however was the number of questions I was left with at the end. Whereas Ruiz Zafon did a wonderful job of tying up all the loose ends in The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game ended with so many questions unanswered. But I think this was a deliberate decision. 

I think the main theme of this novel is the idea of selling ones soul to the devil. Is so, does that make Andreas Corelli the devil? Is that why David finds himself in inexplicable situations? When David tries to explain to the inspector his innocence in the many deaths occurring, the inspector finds that his stories do not add up, though they are exactly as David remembers them.  The devil has the power to cure David of this terminal illness, and very few questions are asked. Does this mean therefore that David’s fatal brain tumour was never in fact cured and he experienced all of these events – or some version of these events – in his head? 

Overall The Angel’s Game was a wonderfully complex and intruiging read, and I cannot wait to start Prisoner of Heaven. 

Have any of you read this book? What are your thoughts?

The Help

So it’s been longer than I intended between my ‘I’m going to read for Diverseathon’ post and now this ‘here’s what I read for Diverseathon’ because I’ve been crazy busy. I recently finished my teaching contract in Thailand and now I’m travelling around Asia, so since I finished Katherine Stockett’s The Help I’ve been busy with a scuba diving course and a trip to Hong Kong. Now I’m on a four hour flight to Malaysia, so I thought I’d use this time to catch up.

I actually watched the film The Help a year ago when I was on the plane to Thailand originally. I loved the film; I thought it was so excellently done. I went into this book expecting to love it, and it absolutely did not disappoint. It’s a story set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s where racial segregation was incredibly prominent. We follow three main characters (all of whom get their own POVs throughout the book). Two of them are coloured maids, or ‘the help’, and one is a young white girl fresh out of university with a passion for writing and a desire to share the stories of the unheard voices of Mississippi.

The main storyline follows Skeeter as she tries to find coloured women willing to cooperate in her plans to write a book, detailing the lives of the maids. Though this is the main storyline, there are many others also taking place, and the book covers many themes, the main theme being race and racism.

I highly recommend both the book and the film.

Ready Player One

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is a Willy Wonka-esque story set in 2044. The creator of the OASIS, a virtual reality online gaming system, has recently died and left clues as to the whereabouts of a mysteriously hidden Easter egg that, if found, provides that individual with ultimate power in the gaming world, and an enormous fortune in the real world. The story follows the hunt as a few individuals successfully discover the first clue, and battle against an evil corporation, IOI, to find the egg.

What I really loved about this book was the adventure and how much fun it was to read! I never knew what was coming next, and each task was more epic than the last. At times, the threat of IOI came into the real world and we were confronted with just how high the stakes were. 

The book is absolutely full of eighties pop culture references and that was so much fun to read about. I understood some, but others would’ve gone right over my head, but Cline does a good job of explaining the references without feeling patronising. 

I highly recommend reading this book. It’s a quick read and a lot of fun. A solid five star book for enjoyment level.

#Diverseathon TBR

I know none of us like to admit to it, but the reality is that we are all ignorant. We all know our own lives and our own stories, and of course the stories of our friends and family too, but how many of us can say their friends and family can accurately represent the lives and experiences of every race out there, or gender, or class, or anything else for that matter? None of us. That’s why it’s important to look for those stories, seek out those stories and learn. 

The Diverseathon runs from today (Monday, 12th September) until next week (Monday, 19th September) and encourages readers to read more diversely, whether that be a novel by a person of colour, or a coming out memoir.

Here are some of the books I have that I’m going to choose from this week:

  • The Help, Katherine Stocket
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  • Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  • The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  • The Life of Pi, Yann Martel