Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 3

Hey, it’s January! This blog is getting ooold. Anyway, this post should have been written in December, but I have a lot of “looking ahead” bookish posts coming up and might as well start with this little unfinished Favourite Books Part 3. Links to the other two: Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 1 and Part 2.

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – I’d borrowed this gem from a friend and it came highly recommend and it was worth every moment spent on it. I have seen and read enough fiction around WW2 to feel compassion fatigue and a general wariness about picking up yet another formulaic designed-to-make-you-cry book. This was a breath of fresh air. The story is … – quoting the Goodreads blurb – … about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – One word: genius! The Sympathizer is set at the end of the Vietnam War. As multitudes of Americans evacuate the country, our narrator is one of the locals who escape. He works for a general of the South Vietnamese army. Except… he’s actually been a North Vietnamese spy all along, a Communist sympathizer. What unfolds is a social satire of the Vietnam War, its depictions by American media, the alienation experienced by those rendered homeless, loss of identity in exile, and the Westerner’s misguided understanding of the East. It’s a comedy, tragedy and psychological thriller all rolled into one.

3. Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman – Full review here. A detective receives a mysterious phone call with some clues from her partner, and hours later, he is found dead. She sets off on a mission to find out what really happened, following the few clues left by her partner… only to be lead into a dark supernatural trap that lies waiting beneath our mundane world. It’s an American Gods meets Dresden Files kind of adventure – with shadow creatures, clowns, goblins… and could it be possible?… dragons! One of the coolest finds of the year.

4. The White Zone by Carolyn Marsden – A touching, sweet story about two ten-year-old boys, growing up in Baghdad, both of them innocent spectators and soon-to-be perpetrators of communal violence, in the aftermath of the Iraq War. In early 2008, there was a snow fall in Baghdad for the first time in a hundred years (in fact, it happened again last year after more than a decade.) This story is weaved around that one event, that miracle, that while it lasted, seemed to blur out the differences that waged war in lives of these boys. The story has an uncanny depth of character, and this subtlety, both surprising for a book means for young adults.

5. First They Erased Our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman – Quoting the Amazon blurb – “Habiburahman was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was three years old, the country’s military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups that formed the eight “national races. He was left stateless in his own country. In 2016 and 2017, the government intensified the process of ethnic cleansing, and over 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh.” It is a small, personal glimpse into a modern tragedy, a political horror story that is too difficult to fit into words. Unimaginable!

6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali – Oh man, this book. You really need to have the stomach for this kind of brutal honesty; the kind that makes you uncomfortable, or “sounds funny” or sounds not-true, because it’s so beyond your scope of imagination. It starts out as a quasi-memoir, as Abdudali details her own experience and soon transforms into a cut-throat dissection of rape culture. A must read for any and all of us!

Reading Looking For Alaska by John Green

Disclaimer: I reached the end of the blog post before I realised it’s not a review; so here’s a warning, this is not a review. In fact, I may have forgotten to write about the book entirely, as in its plot or themes or characters. Goodreads can help you there. Let’s call it what it is – It’s a rant. 

Disclaimer 2 – I also quote myself a bit; not being self-indulgent here, just lazy.

Have you read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett? It is this tiny little book which poses and answers a question: what would happen if the Queen became a reader? Among other lovely things, there’s a scene in the book when the Queen invites all these writers she’s newly discovered to a dinner of some sort. And at that dinner, she discovers something that all readers eventually learn: the writers are not their books. She’s disappointed.

Ever since I read that book, I mentally put authors I read to the “uncommon reader test” – do I like them as much as I like their books? Stephen King and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only two writers to pass that test unequivocally, for me.

Over the last few weeks, I have been binge-watching old vlogbrothers videos from back when I actually followed vlogbrothers videos. I’ve also been wondering why I stopped following them because I absolutely ADORE John Green. Yet I haven’t read much by him. I’ve said this before on the blog in my Turtles All The Way Down review; but I feel like he’s one of those people who – when he writes, he becomes unstuck in time and is a teenager himself – the effortless points of view, the angst and rebellion – only to come back to his adult self when structuring his stories.

He just does teenage well; without that internal lack of structure and self-awareness that a real teenage point of view would have. He knows when to start and stop being his characters, you know? He also gets storytelling more than many writers that fall hopelessly into that young adult books’ club.

So, Looking For Alaska. This is the third book of his that I have read, and the first he has written. I did not like A Fault In Our Stars, the infamous tear-jerker. I LOVED Turtles All The Way Down. And now, Looking For Alaska completes the set by falling somewhere in the middle. Green certainly has a ‘type’ of plot, he has his own set of tropes… and I don’t know if his books spawned the many similar others, or he just followed someone else’s worn path.

But you have the school setting; the misfits who ‘fit in’ more than you’d think; that one English Lit/Arts teacher who is just a cool teenager in sheep’s clothing; the endless quoting of music and writing that, let’s face it, couldn’t possibly be so popular among real-life teens [I’m thinking of the likes of Faulkner and Maugham, and correct me if I’m wrong about this], not to mention, abysmal parenting that is taken in a stride by all the adult characters. Young adult tropes abound.

But so do the more-than-occasional delicious turns of phrase; the warmth emanating from every page; the depth of feeling and that kind of untamed teenage energy… Turtles All The Way Down had a lot more of it in my view, but this book does too. A few years ago, I wrote this about teenagers in an unrelated post on another blog. Kind of fitting to add it here –

As annoying as teenagers are, they kinda make me nostalgic. I mean, when else would you be so lost in your own little technicolor bubble as when you’re in your teenages, when the whole of life and creation is spread out before you and you’re this tiny speck floating around aimlessly in the wide universe, and yet somehow you picture yourself in the centre of the whole damn mess. You never get to be as beautifully self involved as when you’re sixteen, not before nor after.

Looking for Alaska is that – self involved, but beautifully so. I have got around to it rather late too. As it turns out, this was published in 2005 – when I was 13. How weird is that. I probably would not have liked it back then. I was busy playing very own young adult trope of being too “grown up” for certain books, you know, and judging them too harshly. Young Priya would have been wrong. I read the book rather quickly but it was an evening well spent. A whole three stars’ worth.

Do you read young adult books? What do you think of Green’s writing? And what about your “uncommon” writers – do your authors live up to their books?

Favourite Books of 2020 -Part 2

This post is the second of its kind and there will be at least one more. Part 1 of Favourite Books of 2020 can be found here.

1. Baptism of Fire (Witcher #3) by Andrzej Sapkowski – This is admittedly a strange choice for a favourites list and it doesn’t work as a recommendation. Surely you would have to read at least 2 books before you start this, not counting the short story collections before that. But I just loved the book! It has so much character development.. and the pace, and story perfectly complement what it sets out to do. Like any mid-series installment, it wants to take a pause, stall the reader and very books achieve that very well.

2. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward – Short review here. Men We Reaped is a memoir set in Mississippi. It follows the tragic and difficult stories of the writer’s childhood and the men she lost to drugs, suicide, accidents and the kind of bad luck that only afflicts the poor and the minorities. It is anecdotal, emotional, nostalgic… and this style of writing adds substance to a dry discourse on race that often inundates, but does not move.

3. Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje – I often choose to read the “less famous” works to get a taste of the author before reading what they’re best known for. Running in the Family is hilarious! It’s a partly fictionalised, surreal, postmodernism memoir about the writer’s family in Sri Lanka, wherein he traces both their history as well as a recent visit he paid them. It’s also a travelogue and poses as a love letter to Sri Lanka with all its quirks. Superb writing!

4. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson – I wanted to read this ever since I read about this lawyer through Anthony Ray Hinton’s perspective in The Sun Does Shine. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and the man behind Equal Justice Initiative, which is a non-profit that provides legal representation to prisoners who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial or anyone on death row. Just Mercy was published in 2014 and it is interesting to see what the initiative has done in the years since. The book itself is heart-breaking and terrifying at once… the information just plain scary and the stories heavy with emotion.

5. Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – Sea of Rust is this fascinating double dystopia… the human civilisation has been long destroyed and taken over by AI, and now… it’s the robot civilisation that has turned on itself… Left on the planet are a few stray scavenger robots, who are on the run from what seems like inevitable assimilation with their very own big brother. Stranded in this place, called the Sea of Rust, is one old robot. This story is his search for meaning and for some remnant of the humanity in whose image all robots were created.

6. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elisabeth Russell – Detailed review here. An incredible book! This is the story of a woman who discovers that one of her old teachers has been accused in a #MeToo scandal. Soon, we learn that Vanessa had an affair with the very same teacher. In fact, she had been in love with him. The story unfolds through her fifteen year old perspective. Meanwhile, in the future, the woman comes to terms with a reality that she had buried.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

Until the past couple of months, I’ve been reading a lot of very heavy, kind of sad content. 2020 has been a weepy year, book-wise. Men We Reaped is another book that moved me to tears.

Synopsis – In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth–and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community.

Losing someone in an accident… losing them to an illness… I’ve often used and heard the term a “meaningless loss” and death does seem so pointless and meaningless; something akin to a tornado happening upon its victims at random and utterly destroying them from inside out. And yet, when it comes to the death in Jesmyn Ward’s life, the death that fills it and surrounds it.. calling it “meaningless” would be callous and a gross injustice. Because it is not accidental and it’s not “out of nowhere.” This book takes the random statistics you would find in the pages of a newspaper and fleshes them out, it flashes a light on the “meanings” and “interpretations” that we may choose to keep buried.

Is this a story of any poverty, any grief, any addiction or any illiteracy? As easily as you might find parallels to yourself in the book… you’re reminded that you’re still an outsider peering into something far more complex… because your grief and your loss may have been meaningless, and that is your privilege. Hers isn’t a story of the ‘inexplicable,’ it’s a story of neglect. It is a book about systemic racism. It is about the plight of the southern man. It’s about the writer’s love and revulsion in parts for her childhood in Mississippi. It is anecdotal, emotional, nostalgic… but this style of writing adds substance to the dry and objective, instead of taking away from it.

“What I didn’t understand then was that the same pressure were weighing on us all. My entire community suffered from the lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust our fathers to raise us, provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, within and without. And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.”

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

This is not a review nor an analysis. This is a recommendation. The book, the quotes, speak for themselves. When I read the book, I had no words.

Message to a friend while reading this. This went on for months! I’m not a crier.

I was too overwhelmed to write a review then and that visceral reaction, that gutting feeling, has still not gone away. Yet, I want to share my thoughts. As horrific as the book was, it’s something that needs to be read by more…

Summary from Goodreads –

More than 500,000 Soviet women participated on a par with men in the Second World War, the most terrible war of the 20th century. Women not only rescued and bandaged the wounded but also fired a sniper’s rifle, blew up bridges, went reconnoitering and killed… They killed the enemy who, with unprecedented cruelty, had attacked their land, their homes and their children. Soviet writer of Belarussia, Svetlana Alexievich spent four years working on the book, visiting over 100 cities and towns, settlements and villages and recording the stories and reminiscences of women war veterans.

The Unwomanly Face of War is an oral history recording the war through the perspective of the many women who played a role in it. It’s the war through a female soldier’s eyes, an image that we are so unfamiliar with that it is hard to believe it exists… that it was so commonplace for women to be soldiers. How many of us imagine a woman when someone says “war veteran?” So many World War stories… I did not imagine I would find anything I hadn’t read before – and, yet.

Were they forced to go to war? Will that make the image more palatable to our sensibilities? Were there just not enough men? Yes, and no. Some of them fought to go to the warfront, they begged their parents to let them enlist… to defend their homeland. They ran away from their homes to be part of the war. There were no clothes for women, so they wore men’s clothes. They menstruated through their pants till the cloth stiffened with blood and cut through their skin. Or they stopped menstruating entirely, the biological cycles thrown off by what they endured. Some had affairs, some of them had children at the front. Some married fellow soldiers, fashioning wedding dresses out of tarps, others returned home alone, only to be deemed too scarred, unrecognizable… unwomanly.

Foot soldiers, medical assistants, nurses… distinguished officers, radio operators…

Alexievich lets each of the veterans own their narrative, giving us brief glimpses from a hundred different perspectives… voices of defiance, reluctance, denial of the war, its glorification, the tragedy, the patriotism, the guilt and the anger… conflicting stories, each narrative is private, emotional and coloured by personal biases… but authentic, you know? Human. A must read, if ever.

“I write not about war, but about human beings in war. I write not the history of a war, but the history of feelings. I am a historian of the soul.”

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

This post should be called: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – the good, the bad and the ugly. Here goes nothing.

The tagline of this book is a summary in itself – Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: a therapist, her therapist and our lives revealed. Gottlieb is a practising psychotherapist sharing her own tryst with therapy, along with stories of patients.

Things I Loved:

Therapists seeing therapists – The book begins with Gottlieb stressing on the fact that therapists seek out help too… Seeing her assert that she has the same struggles makes us warm up to the book… Do you ever wonder – “Do doctors get sick?” Of course they do. They’re human! We don’t need therapy because there’s something wrong with us. We find therapy useful because we’re… human. She normalises therapy by being both the expert and the vulnerable patient herself.

Dealing with mortality – Of all the patient stories, this was the one I appreciated the most – the idea of a young woman dealing with her own mortality. Gottlieb has explored the admittedly murky depths of this issue without slipping into drama or even that overwrought positivity. It could not have been easy being a therapist for someone in that position, with a terminal illness but with no certainty of the ‘how long…’ You feel for her, and you can see the relationship between these two people – Lori and her patient – and Life unfold before your eyes.

Little nuggets of insight – There were a lot of places in the book where Gottlieb gives us small bits of insight from existing research and theories and studies in psychology. These kind of went Bing! in my mind, because they were so relatable. Because I now had words for feelings I’ve felt and actions I have seen. Like this –

In projective identification, the man may feel angry at his boss, return home, and essentially insert his anger into his partner, actually making the partner feel angry. Projective identification is like tossing a hot potato to the other person. The man no longer has to feel his anger, since it’s now living inside his partner.

Man/boss stereotype notwithstanding, I do this ALL the time. (Sorry, Mom.)

Things That Didn’t Make Sense

Fact/Fiction? – At the outset, she informs us that she has changed the details of the patients just enough to make them unidentifiable. If this were true, considering that so much detail is revealed about each person, it makes one wonder, was this even genuine? Would it have been better as an autobiographic novel, drawing from reality, rather than fiction masquerading as fact?

Tone – About fifteen pages into the book, she calls herself an “unreliable narrator,” explaining how people (herself included) tell stories from their perspectives and tend to pick and choose, and leave out the unsavoury parts. I feel like she lets herself off the hook for that. She doesn’t hold herself accountable to the story.

She is also quite self-serving. For instance, she talks about a certain patient; and how she can’t help but have a caustic internal reaction to his behaviour; she finds him obnoxious and it colours her opinion of his struggles! This should have been an absolute no-no in her position! Her excuse is – “well, it’s bound to happen…” Can’t she call it a natural reaction, and still admit it was wrong? It’s tricky to write about yourself with authenticity, even the “unsavoury” bits. That was missing.

Things I Didn’t Like –

What’s the opposite of ‘crowning glory?’ This is the crowning failure of this book. It tries to be TOO much, failing to add up to anything. I vented my frustration in my Goodreads review that about sums it up – “I kept turning pages, flitting between this patient’s story and that, looking for a final point – a thread that connected them all into… one entire book. I didn’t know she was a columnist when I picked up the book; but now, I think I’d love her writing a lot more in crisp, limited doses!”

I don’t regret reading the book. I recommend it to those who ‘don’t‘ think therapy is normal, it can be a myth-buster, and will certainly transport you to the inside of a therapist’s office. The usual clichés are mercifully absent and it IS an important topic. To that extent, I did three-star it and do recommend it. A few weeks earlier I’d written about my own experiences in a post titled, We Need to Talk About Therapy. Do give it a read and share your thoughts!

Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman

Scribd is a delicious virtual labyrinth that keeps revealing its many mysteries, slowly and steadily. It’s been working out well and I find myself buried in the most unexpected books. Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman was one such delight.

Let me give you selected snippets from the Goodreads summary: “A phone call from a soon-to-be-deceased ex-boyfriend launches a young woman on a bizarre road trip to a dark supernatural world hidden beneath America’s heartland…. transforming our mundane world into a place where unseen monsters and paranormal beings have long inhabited the shadows… goblins, dragons, a road-weary clown, and creatures that have never been categorized, join a smart, tough, courageous female protagonist on a wild cross-country thrill ride…”

If the summary excites you, the book will too. It lives up to what it promises – a cross country thrill ride. The tone is dark, almost ruefully funny. I always find books that deal with the “blurred edges of reality” quite fascinating, and the author has some creepy, imaginative “origin stories” for things that go bump in the night This book is reminiscent of the reads I feasted on in the early 2010s; like a weird mix of American Gods and Dresden Files. It has elements of pure fairytale and quite a bit of supernatural weirdness, right out of a fading nightmare, a gritty contemporary fantasy… It is in no way a ‘popular’ read, with under 700 ratings on Goodreads. A lovely find! I’m so happy to have stumbled across it.

Quotes from the book:

“The air around the corner of Bush and Taylor changed when Vikous arrived. It was a distinctly unmagical place – everything from the trees to the sidewalks to the head-down pedestrians colored in various shades of gray – but for a moment, the air changed: filled with a hush stolen from a magician’s audience, thick with the sound of a day-dreaming crowd. A bus roared past a double-parked garbage truck, clouding the air with diesel smoke and timetables, and then he was there.”

“You know what’s the weirdest thing? You just told me that the highway disappearances I read about aren’t always criminals and abductions – that sometimes it’s dragons hunting for food – and that actually cheers me up.”

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

*trigger warning for sexual abuse

SO I’m still in that phase of “I don’t know what to do with this site.” I’ve done something with it, but I’m not yet happy with what I’ve done. However, I did read this book recently and it has certainly been difficult to get my mind off it. So I thought why not go to the tried and tested basics and write a good ol’ review. I’ve been reading some interesting books this year and this tops the list of thought-provoking writing.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is the story of a woman in her thirties, named Vanessa, who discovers that one of her old teachers has been accused in a #MeToo scandal. Soon, we learn that Vanessa had an affair with the very same teacher. In fact, she had been in love with him. The story unfolds through her fifteen year old perspective. Meanwhile, in the future, the woman comes to terms with years of relationship mishaps, and the idea that her very first love was, in fact, sexual abuse.

It’s a controversial topic and it can be a trigger for many. So let’s start with what this book is not and who shouldn’t read it. It is not a love story. You are supposed to see the power play and the emotional abuse for what it is. This fifteen year old girl does glorify her romance with a teacher twice her age. She is obsessed with him, and she lets him convince her that what she feels is in fact love, and that love warrants sacrifice. Although it conveys teenage emotions – rather, because it conveys that young adult perspective so well – it’s not a book for teens. Strangely, the author had been writing the book since she was a teen; which is perhaps how she’s nailed that teenage voice. Yet it is that older, retrospective view, the growing realisation that these actions and feelings were misguided, that makes the book work.

It is not an easy read. The book is quite graphic. It is clear why Vanessa develops a crush on this teacher who charms her. Who lends her books on poetry, and brings out the poet in her. It is difficult not to love him, and as someone who’s loved all Literature professors ever, it is easy to share her fascination. It is when they start interacting that the relationship takes on a sickening, cloying quality. The ease with which he manipulates her, the small sacrifices she makes, the little things she finds herself agreeing to, the changes in her own behaviour that she justifies… seen from a third perspective, this is a hard pill to swallow. Much worse, I’m sure, if you’ve ever been in that position yourself. It’s frightening, compelling, disgusting – rolled into one.

My Dark Vanessa raises a very important question – something that we find difficult to address, awkward even, a kind of blurred line. What do we mean by “willingly” walking into an abusive sexual relationship? What do consent and complicity mean; is every relationship something of a power-play? Can a fifteen year old child have the agency that she presumes she does – could it be anything but manipulation when there is such a clearly skewed distribution of authority? What do you do with that murky, misplaced guilt of having “let” someone do that to you? As Vanessa puts it, “I don’t feel forced, and I know I have the power to say no, but that isn’t the same as being in charge.

The author gives us multiple other voices from Vanessa’s story – her parents, other teachers, friends, her therapist. These beg the question – what do you do if this were someone you know? How do you understand, and show empathy, and reassess your ‘judgement,’ even before you help? It raises questions about victimhood, and what keeps Vanessa from putting herself into that box. She says, “This, I think, is the cost of telling, even in the guise of fiction – once you do, it’s the only thing about you anyone will ever care about it. It defines you whether you want it to or not.”

A scary, frustrating book; my review, if you can call it that, has been just a list of questions. But in the month or so since I read this book, I’ve found myself asking these questions to every new story that I read, real or fiction, that is about relationships, or control, or trauma. For that reason alone, this book deserves a reading, as harrowing and infuriating as the experience is. I recommend this video review for further insight into whether you should pick up this book.

“Girls in those stories are always victims, and I am not. And it doesn’t have anything to do with what Strane did or didn’t do to me when I was younger. I’m not a victim because I never wanted to be, and if I didn’t want to be, then I’m not. That’s how it works. The difference between rape and sex is state of mind. You can’t rape the willing, right?”

Translator Translated by Anita Desai

I found this little collection of short novellas (long short stories?) at a random bookstore in Hyderabad. Never having read anything by Desai, buying it was just an instinctive leap. I’m so glad I did! Of the three short stories in The Artist of Disappearance, my favourite was Translator Translated. Warning: this is less of a review and more of a rant about translators and translations.

Summary: A lonely English teacher, Prema, who lives a miserable unsatisfied life, is offered a chance to try her hand at translation. The book in question is written by her favourite Oriya author, Suvarna Devi. When she translates the first book – Prema finds herself a purpose in life, she finds her voice and takes her back to a time in her life when was full of curiosity and passion. She begins to identify herself with Suvarna Devi, begins to consider her a friend, even. When the book is released, at a press conference, Prema finally meets Suvarna Devi, only to discover that she’s exactly like her – a mousy misfit, with none of the grand qualities Prema has attached to her. The old author hardly seems to care about the translation. But Prema takes on the task of a new book Suvarna Devi going to write, not quite ready to let go of her new career. Leaving her job, Prema becomes a full-time translator. Only this time, Suvarna Devi’s work has lost its perfection. Prema begins to spot inconsistencies and erroneous language and repetitive over-done drama, and finds herself wanting to rewrite. Somewhere along the way, Prema finds herself modifying the work, taking it upon herself to help Suvarna Devi improve her language and story.
My thoughts: The most obvious theme of the story is that of a translator finding her own voice in someone else’s work. What makes a good translator, and is a translator not an author? Is there a bond between the translator and the author? How much creative license does a translator have?  The story poses some excellent questions and tries to guide us to the answers. I have always been of the opinion that a translator is only a lens, which brings a work into our reach, and when the lens is very clear (carrying the metaphor too far? just go with it.) and powerful, we’re grateful for it. But the lens isn’t what makes the work beautiful, that is all the author. Isn’t it? The story has made me think… if having your own voice hinders a good translation, would authors make bad translators? Or is that just a big generalization…? Personally, I would be a good translator, but only of books I like. Otherwise, burying my judgments would prove difficult.

Translator Translated is also about art and how it is made. The story makes you wonder if some aspect of a book would always be lost in translation. Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? A bunch of days ago, my favourite author declared Ron and Hermione shouldn’t have ended up together (dropping bombs is so J.K.Rowling: does staying out of the news make her uneasy?) Which reminded of the Dumbledore revelation and how a re-read of the last couple of Harry Potter books after the news convinced me that she’d had it in her mind all along – once I knew it, Dumbledore seemed gay, too. But then: would he have seemed so in a translation? Do you see what I mean – a translator couldn’t know everything going on in the author’s head. Does it not affect the book? That also means that I’ll never be able to read the most authentic version of Anna Karenina or any of the translated books I love. So disappointing.

But mostly, Translator Translated by Anita Desai is about identity. About how you perceive yourself and how your perception affects how others see you; or how you think others see you (confusing, sorry.) It’s a sad, sad story about learning to love yourself and it shows you how simple it would be and how few manage to do it. I wanted to feel sorry for Prema at the very end, but I was convinced that she’d brought it all on herself. Such a character is hard to sympathize with and harder to relate to. Translator Translated, like the other stories in the collection, is well written, honest and hard-hitting. Read it!