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Recent Reviews of Literature in Translation

There are a couple of decent reviews of works in translation from the Sunday papers that are worth mentioning.

The first is a review of Carlos Fuentes’s Happy Families that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:

In his latest short-story collection, “Happy Families,” Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lends credence to Tolstoy’s paradigmatic line from “Anna Karenina,” demonstrating in myriad ways that, indeed, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Certainly, there aren’t many “happy families” to be found in these pages – more like miniature cyclones of emotion that oscillate between loyalty and betrayal, devotion and rebellion. These 16 stories, like most of the author’s fiction, spotlight his home country, though more often than not it’s portrayed in less-than-rose-colored hues. [. . .]

The author also uses large blocks of stream-of-consciousness thought processes, similar in style to the simultaneously emotional and philosophical prose of his Portuguese contemporary José Saramago. Combined with irregular punctuation, the effect can be dizzying, but Fuentes provides just enough connective tissue to piece things together.

He may be a few months from his 80th birthday, but Mexico’s premier novelist shows no signs of slowing down. Like Saramago, Fuentes proves there’s still pungent life in his fiction, even if the episodes don’t always cohere as tightly as they once did.

The other is of Per Petterson’s To Siberia, which was reviewed in the Washington Post:

The story — such as it is — evolves in a series of highly impressionistic moments, recalled by a 60-year-old unnamed narrator whose unmitigated sorrow casts a shadow over everything she remembers. Her memories of life when she was a girl present themselves to us like visions in a dream: intense and detailed at the focal point, vague and misty around the edges. The events generally fall into chronological order, in three sections: the narrator’s childhood, the German occupation during her teen years, and her travels through Denmark and Norway in her early 20s. But there are numerous disorienting gaps and references we can’t understand until later — if ever — as the meanings of various associations slowly accrue.

Inevitably, this Petterson book is going to be contrasted with Out Stealing Horses, and since that was such a critical and commercial success, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of reviews were a bit cautious in their praise. (Like the Post one referenced above.)

Both of these reviews remind me though that it’s time to start thinking about our Best Translated Works of 2008 list . . .



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