On translations

Let’s put a quick trigger warning for sexual assault here; it’s an unavoidable plot point of a book I’ll be discussing several paragraphs into the piece, and it won’t be dwelled upon.


I’m on my third book in a row that I’m reading in translation, and my fourth in a row that wasn’t written in especially modern English, since the Ernest Shackleton book was published in 1909. I haven’t loved any of the three that I’ve finished, but I’m not far enough into the fourth one to really have an opinion of it yet– maybe 40 pages deep on a 600-page novel. And the bit that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is that I’m not sure how to discern between a book that I didn’t enjoy and a translation I didn’t enjoy. I can think of one particular series where the first book was translated by one person was great and the second was translated by someone else and it was so bad that I couldn’t get even a third of the way through it; that I can blame on the translator. But when it’s the only book I’ve read by a given person, or sometimes the only book by that person available in English, it’s a lot harder to tease that apart and it may actually not be a difference worth bothering to tease apart in the first place.

It’s the most recent book that’s really got me thinking about this, honestly– and if you’re wondering why I’m not specifically naming the book, it’s because this is pretty clearly running into my Don’t Shit on Books Without a Good Reason rule, and my Goodreads is right there anyway– because this book was very clearly deliberately written in a certain way, and I’m not sure it survived translation into English very well.

(Let me reiterate the trigger warning)

The book is about a woman whose father sexually abused her for several years when she was a child, and she is, as a result, estranged from her family, most of whom don’t believe her. She is very much not over her trauma, and in fact dwells upon it more or less constantly. The book is told entirely from her perspective, and, well, she’s not in an especially mentally healthy place; the entire book is about disputes over inheritance, and her father passes away partway through the narrative. Now, I think what’s going on here is that the author is trying to mimic in text what is going on in this person’s head, and as a result the entire text is very very repetitive, constantly circling back to the same events and the same conversations, and also with insanely long sentences that can sometimes take up a page or more. The text is never pauses for breath, never slows down, and constantly loops back to retread the same material, sometimes phrased differently and sometimes repeating the exact same language several times in a (paragraph-length) sentence.

I made fun of this on Twitter while I was reading it, and the fact is this isn’t that far off from what’s going on:

So, like, I can see what the author is trying to do here, and I even appreciate the technique, but the unfortunate result is that, in English and to me at least, the book is really damn difficult to read. Imagine a book where every sentence was like that Tweet, and each sentence in the book was similar to the Tweet in a way that was very like the Tweet, and not like things that are not like that Tweet, that’s what you’re trying to imagine right now, you’re imagining a book where every sentence is like that Tweet, because the sentences in this book are all like that Tweet and you’re imagining them.

I am not kidding. Like, I’ll post examples if I have to.

And the thing is, I didn’t dislike the book, I just didn’t enjoy it at all, if that’s something that makes any sense. I mean, I finished it instead of putting it down, and I don’t think I regret buying and reading it, and it made a big splash in its country of origin when it came out so it even remains a good choice that way. But I wish I could read it in its original language to see behind the scenes, so to speak, on how the translator did her job, because this book must have been a nightmare to translate.

I need to be able to read all of Earth’s languages, is what I’m getting at here. Is that the Moderna shot, maybe?

In which The Great Rearranging may be upon us

It is not outside the realm of possibility that I have too many books. I know, it’s unlikely, and I’m not 100% sure that “too many books” is actually a thing, but it’s possible. What is definitely true is that I don’t have enough room to arrange the books that I have properly.

I am currently faced with a week off from work, and because I am an American I am viewing this less as an opportunity to relax and more as an opportunity to “get things done,” because the possibility of going a week without working or “accomplishing things” is just beyond my ability to comprehend. And I find myself casting an eye upon these bookshelves, and their current state of overpopulation, and thinking about opportunities to give myself a job that I can complete half of and then ignore for a year.

If you look at the top shelf of the middle bookshelf there (the top shelf, not the books stacked on top of the bookshelf) you will get an idea of what I’m thinking, because I rearranged that one as a test. I’m wondering what I can do if I shift to mostly vertical stacking on the bookshelves, especially the books that are currently perched on top of the shelves themselves. In theory, so long as the shelves themselves hold up, I can stack those clear to the ceiling– and if I use only completed series for them, which I’m also thinking about, I can put things up there that aren’t going to be rearranged all that much.

Understand that that is only the top half of less than half of just the bookshelves that are against that one wall alone, if you want to understand the magnitude of this job I’m contemplating.

I dunno. If I think about it long enough, I can switch over to stressing about how I had a whole week to get it done and didn’t do it. That won’t be especially mentally healthy, but it would certainly be less work.

Monthly Reads: March 2021

I’m calling Book of the Month a tie between Addie LaRue and Requiem Moon, because it’s my blog and I can do that.

#REVIEW: Requiem Moon, by C.T. Rwizi

Y’all.

I keep telling y’all to read more African fantasy and science fiction literature. I have been on this for at least a couple of years now. C.T. Rwizi was born in Zimbabwe, raised in Swaziland and currently lives in South Africa, and his phenomenal debut novel Scarlet Odyssey was my favorite book of last year. I have had the sequel, Requiem Moon, pre-ordered for months. It jumped to the top of my queue as soon as it got into the house, and I finished it this morning, and …

… man, this guy is not a fluke. I admit it! I was kind of worried. I’ve read enough sequels to great debut novels that weren’t great, and if I slip and say “trilogy” at any point in this piece, be aware that I have no idea how many books Rwizi plans this series to run. I know that it’s entirely possible for a second book to fall apart, and there’s good reason for that; second books in a series are a fuckton harder to write than first books, and they’re frequently written under time pressure to boot; you had your whole life to get that debut novel ready, and the sequel needs to be out in a year. Look around for the sequel to Skylights. Believe me, I understand second book syndrome.

I am pleased to say that while I don’t love Requiem Moon quite as much as I loved Scarlet Odyssey, and it and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue are battling it out in my head for my favorite book of the month, it is still a phenomenal novel and is absolutely a worthy sequel to the original.

My only regret? I probably should have reread Scarlet Odyssey before I picked this one up. It does a great job of getting you caught up, but there is a lot going on in this book. You lose the coming-of-age narrative of the first book and much of the prejudice that the mystic Musalodi had to put up with in the first novel, and also the travelogue aspect, as the entire book takes place in the capital city of Yonte Saire … or, at least, almost all of it, except the part that doesn’t, and I really want to spoil the place where Salo ends up for a chapter but I feel like it would be mean. What the book does is crank up the political complexity and gets deeper into the worldbuilding, and you find out quite a lot more about the genuinely refreshing and original math- and high tech-based magic system Rwizi has cooked up here. This book, by the way, does not give one single shit about genre conventions; Rwizi’s gonna put some science fiction in his fantasy and some fantasy in his science fiction and everybody loves a Reese’s so you’re not going to whine about it. Salo grows a lot, both in character and in power, over the course of the book, and … shit, I don’t want to spoil any of this, and there’s not really any point into getting too far into the plot anyway since it’s a second book. Just believe that shit, which was perhaps not previously as real as we thought, gets real, and I caught myself thinking at about the halfway point that there hadn’t been nearly as much action in this book as compared to the first and yeah that was just Rwizi teeing up my emotions.

And then like Jesus holy shit the ending. I have no idea where the hell he’s going with this series, and it’s fantastic.

I loved this book, I love this author, and you need to read Scarlet Odyssey, then read this, and then listen to me and start reading African speculative fiction on the regular, because there’s all kinds of good stuff out there and it needs more exposure.

Unread Shelf: March 31, 2021

I swear to God, I read books in March, honest.

My goal is to buy no books at all in April. We’ll see if I can pull that off.