Thoughts: Lost in Translation

lost in translationIn Lost in Translation, Ella Frances Sanders illustrates over 50 untranslatable words. This lovely book was a gift by my wonderful friends Vishy, who has impeccable taste in books.

Translation divides readers, connects communities, but always sparks debate. Sanders’ book is not an essay tackling issues of translation, but instead presents you with words that do not have a counterpart in English, words that take at least one sentence in English to capture their meaning. If you love words, you’ll be sure to treasure this book, I at least found great delight in discovering that other language communities found concepts that resonate with me so essential that they have a word for it. Why do other languages lack these words, why are they not loanwords?

If English is not your first language, you’ll probably find one in your mother tongue in this book. I admit, it was quite funny to see Kabelsalat on the list, which I think is a word every person needs that ever had to untangle headphones etc. But then I also found Waldeinsamkeit and was quite surprised, because i had never heard that word before. It first appeared in German romanticism, which makes sense I guess, and it just shows that you can still be surprised by your first language. There’s actually quite a number of German words in this book, so even if English already has a lot of German loanwords, there need to be more, mostly compound words 😀

The illustrations of the words are gorgeous, so I’m going to leave you with a few of my favorites. Let me know in the comments, which are your favorite untranslatable words!

jugaadTsundokufika

Review: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Just realized I haven´t actually posted a review on this book, just thought about it! 🙂 I stumbled on Hanif´s work in the bookstore and picked it up because of the cover (how many great books do I ignore because their cover art sucks??).

A Case of Exploding Mangoes takes the mysterious plane crash of Pakistan´s military dictator General Zia ul- Haq in 1988 and out of it spins a story that involves Zia, two lovers, a blind woman´s curse and, of course, mangoes.
The story is mainly told through the eyes of  Ali Shigri, an officer in the military, stationed at the academy. He is seemingly sucked into the intricate web of conspiracy theories and suspicions of the intelligence when his friend and lover Obaid dissapears. Ali himself is actually trying to avenge his father´s death, who may or may not have been ordered to be killed by general Zia. While Ali is imprisoned, he meets a Maoist and sweeper who had been trying to organize the sweepers, then the mango orchard owners. Another cell is later inhabited by a blind woman who cursed Zia. And these are just three who are after the general. Zia himself is plagued by tapeworms, the First Lady, and paranoia. Then there are the usual intelligence and military people around him, who have their own agenda. With all these possible assassins, someone has to succeed.

This book is foremost a political satire, brutally funny in most parts and just brutal in others. Ali Shigri is a likable narrator, at times deeply amused he comments on interrogation methods as if he were a teacher grading essays. He is interesting, sarcastic, and takes his time letting the reader know his part in the heap of conspiracies.

Hanif paints general Zia as a paranoid idiot, deeply religios and superstitoius at the same time. He is lazy, fat and constantly ridiculed by his wife. Zia gives code red when his randomly pointing at a page of the bible (done everyday like a horoscope) seems to contain a warning.

Who did what to rid the country of Zia and who actually succeeds is a thrilling story and Hanif introduces a ridiculous amount of possible candidates and reasons but in the end they are all neatly tied up.

I enjoyed this book immensely and was in turns amused and shocked but always occupied with keeping track of all the plot strands.

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Review: The Behaviour of Moths

In The Behaviour of Moths the I-narrator Ginny (Virginia), a lepidopterist, is living in her crumbling family mansion Bulbarrow. In the here and now of the novel she is waiting for her estranged sister Vivi (Vivienne) to arrive after a nearly 50 year long absence. Vivienne returns and with her Virginia´s memories of their relationship and her family.
The actual events taking place in the present of the story only span three days, the rest is filled with Ginny´s memories. Through her eyes the reader learns of the sister´s bond, their parents and how they came to stay apart for such a long time.

The Behaviour of Moths does not offer a lot of plot or action, this is not a novel of grand gestures! However I did not find the pace too slow because of it. Adam´s novel is quite atmospheric and gripping in quietly creepy way. From the very beginning Ginny´s narrative is darkly foreboding but, although there seems to be something off about her, she remains an interesting and not unlikable character, and I had to keep reminding myself that Giny is an unreliable narrator.

I had a great time reading this book. Both sisters were a puzzle in their own right, very different from each other, and I´m always interested in reading about bonds between sisters (maybe because I only have a brother). The ending is not perfect, I thought some aspects were left unsatisfactorily open, although the end of the relationship between Ginny and Vivi is very well-done. For a first-time author this is very well-written, and I like that Poppy Adams did a lot of research about moths, the parts about lepidoptery are fascinating and I think the analogies she draws about the behaviour of moths and that of the sisters are very interesting.

I´ll cautiously compare this book to Shirley Jackson´s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Of course Jackson´s work is a masterpiece and perfectly constructed (in my humble, completely subjective opinion), but with The Behaviour of Moth, Adams follows in the tradition of atmospheric, psychological stories with an unreliable narrator and the bond of two sisters at the center, and I like to think that, if she continues writing, Poppy Adams might reach Jackson´s level.

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Teaser Tuesday

First time I decided to do the Teaser Tuesday, the book I´m reading at the moment is just so amazing!

"Of course, I had to learn to hold my breath while I ran down the tunnel away from myself.

All I hear is the pounding of my footsteps, and their echoes, echoes of echoes chasing up my heels, and the rushing of the dark wind screaming past my ears, blocking out all other sounds."

(Poppy Adams. The Behaviour of Moths. 49)

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Review: The Magicians

The Magicians: A Novel

Lev Grossman

Surprisingly I seem to be working my way through my tbr list without major detours. I finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman yesterday after spending all of my subway rides reading through it. I hope this review will come out somewhat coherently, I´m just still not completely sure of how I feel about this book.

The Magicians tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, an extremely intelligent and deeply unhappy highschool student from Brooklyn. He is enarmoured with the Fillory books (which are basically The Magicians equivalent to the Narnia books) and compares his life to its fantastic world, spending his time waiting for his life to actually begin. When he finds his college interviewer dead, a new, magical, world is opened to Quentin: He studies magic at Brakebills. Magic, however, isn´t all that he expects it to be and soon Quentin graduates and returns to the real world, until a magic button is found and Fillory might finally happen after all.

Grossman´s novel is foremost about Quentin´s inability to seize the moment, to enjoy his life. He is always waiting for something to happen and when it does is quickly disappointed because it does not solve his problems. Quentin is not a very likeable character and at times he exasperated me, but I did not have trouble following his story because of it. I did enjoy reading The Magicians, it just had too many expectations to live up to. The beginning of the story moves quickly and soon Quentin has become a Brakebills student. The magic is not the source of wonder as it is in many other works (Harry Potter to name only one) but just another subject to be studied. A couple of mysterious magical things happen but mostly Brakebills is just another college and Quentin has the usual experiences associated with it. Then all of a sudden he´s done with it and graduated. This caught me a bit by surprise, I was -like Quentin- waiting for something to happen. Something does happen after Brakebills, but when it does it sems like hard work, there is no feeling of wonderment. Things get darker and dangerous and then this too ends.

The important thing to understand when it comes to The Magicians is that this is not a story about magic; it is a story about an unhappy young man. While being very intelligent and studious Quentin is surprisingly lazy and disenchanted when it comes to his life. The story, though told from the third person, reads like his outlook on life. This is what makes the novel an interesting book, certainly an unusual one (or perhaps too usual) but one shouldn´t expect the fascination and wonder that entering other fantasy worlds brings. Reading The Magicians means adopting Quentin´s outlook, seeing everything through dark shades.

So what did I think of it? I did not dislike Grossman´s work, and once I realized it wouldn´t be all magic and adventure, I quite enjoyed it. Grossman works the strings of plot well, it all comes together in the end. I felt it was a bit slow in the middle (although that´s a typical point of critique with me, many books are about 50 pages too long) but the writing style made up for it.

Now, I´ve read a lot of one-liners and blurbs about this book and of course they give a completely wrong impression. This was supposed to be Harry Potter for adults (whatever that means), and maybe it is but the importance of magic is completely overdrawn. I´ve read about nods to The Secret History, don´t expect this, the clique dynamics are nowhere near as twisted as Donna Tartt´s. This is just a story about Quentin, the rest is just decoration that emphasizes his problems.

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On my nightstand

Mere Anarchy

Woody Allen

Fun reading is getting more and more difficult to achieve with all that uni related reading but I´m trying. The books for uni were interesting enough, at least the novels, but they kept me from reading my German book this month and it´s checked out from the library now, till november 😦 So I guess I´ll just read two next month.

One way to read something fun everyday without feeling stressed is the newest addition to my nightstand, Woddy Allen´s Mere Anarchy. There are about 18 short stories in this collection and I´m reading one every night in bed and it´s easy to do because they are fun and quick reads and, well, short!

If you´re not familiar with Woddy Allen´s books, he writes much as he does with films, so if you enjoy his sense of humor, give his books a try.
Mere Anarchy is his first collection in about 25 years and contains the following stories:

– To err is human- to float, divine
– Tandoori ransom
– Sam, you made the pants too fragrant
– This nib for hire
– Calisthenics, poison ivy, final cut
– Nanny dearest
– How deadly your taste buds, my sweet
– Glory Hallelujah, sold!
– Caution, falling moguls
– The rejection
– Sing, your sacher tortes
– On a bad day you can see forever
– Attention geniueses; Cash only
– Strung out
– Above the law, below the box springs
– Thus ate Zarathustra
– Surprise rocks Disney trial
– Pinchuck´s law

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On my nightstand

Mere Anarchy

Woody Allen

Fun reading is getting more and more difficult to achieve with all that uni related reading but I´m trying. The books for uni were interesting enough, at least the novels, but they kept me from reading my German book this month and it´s checked out from the library now, till november 😦 So I guess I´ll just read two next month.

One way to read something fun everyday without feeling stressed is the newest addition to my nightstand, Woddy Allen´s Mere Anarchy. There are about 18 short stories in this collection and I´m reading one every night in bed and it´s easy to do because they are fun and quick reads and, well, short!

If you´re not familiar with Woddy Allen´s books, he writes much as he does with films, so if you enjoy his sense of humor, give his books a try.
Mere Anarchy is his first collection in about 25 years and contains the following stories:

– To err is human- to float, divine
– Tandoori ransom
– Sam, you made the pants too fragrant
– This nib for hire
– Calisthenics, poison ivy, final cut
– Nanny dearest
– How deadly your taste buds, my sweet
– Glory Hallelujah, sold!
– Caution, falling moguls
– The rejection
– Sing, your sacher tortes
– On a bad day you can see forever
– Attention geniueses; Cash only
– Strung out
– Above the law, below the box springs
– Thus ate Zarathustra
– Surprise rocks Disney trial
– Pinchuck´s law

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Currently reading: The Fourth Bear

The Fourth Bear

Jasper Fforde



I have been a fan of Jasper Fforde´s works since I bought The Eyre Affaire a couple of years ago because of the dodo on the cover. However I was quite sceptical when it comes to his Nursery crime series and haven´t read The Big Over Easy so far but then I found The Fourth Bear at the book bazaar for 50 cents and thought that was a good reason to start 🙂

I like fairy tales by the Grimms and Andersen and detective novels (mostly Agatha Christie because everything else pales in comparison) and intertextuality so I should like it- and so far I do! It´s not as fantastic as the Thursday Next series but plenty of fun in its own way.
The themes are absurd as usual, plenty of fictional characters and an interesting whodunnit. Oh, and beware of the cucumbers!

Here´s a description:

Like The Big Over Easy (2005), Fforde's first Nursery Crime
novel, this sequel offers literary allusions, confusions and gentle
satire, though, again like its predecessor, it lacks the snap of the
author's Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair, etc.). Jack
Spratt, DCI of the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading Police
Department, is also a PDR (Person of Dubious Reality), as are most of
the characters Jack deals with, including the Gingerbreadman, a
notorious killer, and Punch and Judy, a violence prone couple who are
also marriage counselors. An alien policeman named Ashley, talking
bears, a devoted group of cucumber-growing enthusiasts and an immensely
powerful company, Quang Tech, add spice. All are grist for Fforde,
whose word play runs the gamut from puns to shaggy dog stories. The
Gingerbreadman's on the loose, Goldilocks is missing and Jack's once
again persona non grata at headquarters. As Jack and his associates
"bring justice to the nursery world," they also cast a Swiftian eye on
corporate hubris, race relations, the drug trade and myriad other
targets. (Publishers weekly)

Complete reviews

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Just read: White Oleander

White Oleander

Janet Fitch

I started White Oleander by Janet Fitch yesterday.
In the beginning I thought it was just okay but then Astrid is placed with her first foster family and the story just took off. It was so interesting to see her development throught he years, her faults but also her strenght and especially her correspondence with her mother Ingrid.

I couldn´t stop and finished this book last night!

But what´s with the Oprah sticker? They are so annoying!

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