Category Archives: Languages

Those who have nothing

To continue with my book-eating shark topic, I was reading Den luttrade bibliotekarien’s blog and what she gave up on reading. Like many others, she has only more recently begun allowing herself to give up on books.

It made me think of what we used to say back in the late 1960s; ‘eat up’ and think of the poor starving children in Biafra. Not quite sure how me stuffing myself with food I didn’t want, was supposed to help those with no food.

Reading to the end could almost be the same idea. You should be grateful you have a book, however bad or boring it might be, because there are people who don’t have any.

As with food, what’s fascinating is that we all feel differently about what is good, or bad. And in times of real need we will be thankful for whatever comes our way.

I tend to cherry-pick what I pack for my holiday reading. I don’t want to be stuck with nothing, so take more than necessary. If I’m going to carry books back, I want them to be good enough to trump the something nice I could buy to take home with me. Those I’ve given up on stay in Sweden. I sometimes think that if I came here unexpectedly with nothing else to read, I’d be grateful for what I’d find, and give whatever it is a second chance.

And on that cheerful note I suppose I ought to ban anyone from ever being allowed near my shelves, because you will see what I didn’t carry home again. (Some are doubles, though!!!)

Some Edinburgh trams for you

What enabled us to waste all that time on the coffee with the ridiculously large dollop of whipped cream for the Resident IT Consultant, was the fact that he insisted on getting to the airport the long way round. I mean, why spend 30 minutes when you could make it last almost two hours?

So, we got the train and then got on the famous Edinburgh tram. Which is now actually running. It can’t have taken them more than ten years to build. It’s a very strange feeling to look down the tram tracks and see an actual live tram coming towards your stop. Almost as if you were in Manchester, or Gothenburg.

It was quite a nice tram, with wipe-clean seats (I sat on one of the priority seats and the Resident IT Consultant almost died with shame) and plenty of suitcase racks. We had combined train and tram tickets, but the conductor still had to give us a real tram ticket. It bears the words ‘Edinburgh trams’ at the top.

When I see that, I see the word ‘trams’ and in Swedish that means rubbish. The nonsense kind, not what you put in bins. And I suppose that when you take into account all those years we were despairing of ever travelling on a tram, you could possibly label it Edinburgh nonsense.

Other than making me get out of bed two hours early, it was a fine way of travelling. Not trams at all.

(Not like Son and Dodo who made sure they were on the very, very first tram on the first day. That’s a bit trams[igt]. Albeit fun and dreadfully important for every self-respecting nerd.)

But will it travel?

I was talking to Son the other day. He was reading a book, for money. This happens occasionally with foreign books, because how can the linguistically challenged publisher decide whether or not to buy a foreign book, even when it is a big seller in its country of origin?

You can’t be sure it will do as well in your own country, and better to pay someone a smallish sum for an opinion, than spend loads of money on publishing a book that won’t sell.

I remember my foreign reading challenge from a few years ago. Not only was it difficult to find the books; a new country every month for a year, but it can be hard to love anything too far removed from your own back yard. Even when you are the open-minded soul that – of course – I am…

It wasn’t actually the Swedish book I liked the most, or that I felt I could identify with. You’d think so, but I couldn’t.

The title was snappy and very catchy, and that goes for the one Son is reading now, as well. I can’t tell you which book it is, as that would be wrong. I had heard of it, and sort of admired the slightly ludicrous title, without feeling tempted.

What enraged Son were some facts that strained credulity. Unfortunately – for him – I could confirm that in this case it was actually pretty realistic. Strange and unusual, but it happens/happened in Sweden. As he’s not all that far from having been a teenager himself, his reaction is probably more similar to the intended readership here, than most older readers would be.

So the incredible facts, as well as some general loose living among the main characters, might make him give negative feedback. Maybe not. We both agreed that the gatekeepers who would ease or prevent British mid-teens from reading this book would not like the idea of what goes on.

While I’m not someone who believes in too much guarding, in this case I reckon the gatekeepers might save readers from a book that simply hasn’t travelled well.

Malteser

There was an empty box – previously – of Maltesers that I needed to dispose of recently. I realised as I stopped to consider the ex-contents that I couldn’t remember what Maltesers taste like.

Although I no longer eat any chocolate, I can usually dredge up enough memory of what I used to eat and like. And then I want to cry.

But Maltesers? No. I did come to them late in my chocolate eating life, but still.

To me they have literary connotations. I was at the English department at the University of Gothenburg, when two of my lecturers happened to meet mid-corridor. One of them offered the other a Malteser, and then felt he had to offer me one as well.

Wanting to show my appreciation and also how well read and generally well educated I was, I mentioned that I’d just read a novel where Maltesers featured heavily. (And I’m sorry, but I can’t remember which novel. Maybe Graham Greene?)

‘Yes,’ said lecturer no. two, naming the book. I was so pleased he knew what I was talking about. These days I don’t think you could expect someone else to have read, and remembered, the same book. There are too many books we might be reading.

So we enjoyed some literary chocolatey bonding before we went to our respective classrooms.

Just wish I could recall what they are like. I’m sure I liked them, but not so much I’d buy them for myself terribly frequently. Now, give me Anton Berg’s chocolate covered marzipan any day! (Obviously I mean, don’t!)

Andreas Norman and the chicken sandwich

Andreas Norman uses a fair bit of English when he talks, so I needed to come up with a way to mark his English words and phrases in the translated interview, where English is so plentiful that you’d not notice. Those are the green bits, in case you were wondering. (Why green, I couldn’t tell you, though.)

Andreas Norman

Here is the interview, homemade translation and all. And the green bits, totally untranslated.

His novel Into A Raging Blaze is published today. In it Andreas says uncomplimentary things about the MI6 and the Swedish Foreign Minister.

The chicken sandwich is what got slightly in the way of conversation at his end. Beats Ferrero Rocher, I suppose.

Euro Noir

Wouldn’t it be nice to be an expert at lots of things? Except you can’t. There is a limit to how much you can delve into different areas of interest. And that’s when it’s good to have someone who does it for you.

Barry Forshaw knows a lot about crime (in the right sort of way). He is a Nordic crime specialist, but reads a wider diet than that. Here he is with his new Euro Noir, briefly outlining crime fiction and films in a number of European countries. I’m ashamed to admit I’d never considered whether there are Polish crime novels.

He wondered what I would make of the Nordic section, which is only right, since I know almost nothing about Romania or Greece when it comes to crime, or any fiction, now that I think of it. But if I did want to read something so drastically new, I now know where I would begin. With this book. And then one of the ones mentioned in here.

Barry Forshaw, Euro Noir

Barry is right to ponder how he can cover Nordic crime yet again and so briefly, but he has succeeded. There is a good selection of authors from a long time ago as well as now. And he does the same for the other Nordic countries. You might know a lot of it already, but I bet there will be something new for everyone.

And once you’ve covered the north, there is all the rest of Europe. If I were to tackle French crime I’d have to go to Fred Vargas. Barry very sensibly asked various specialists to write a page on what they like best, and my colleague Karen Meek likes Fred Vargas. That’s good enough for me.

There is a wide coverage of films, including some pretty ancient ones, and obviously the recent euro crime we’ve seen on television during the last few years. Again, you might know it all, but that doesn’t prevent this from being interesting to read.

Euro Noir is a short book, which will quickly tell you what you need to know.

Into A Raging Blaze

I would like to think that this new Swedish thriller, will be the next huge success story from the country that gave the world the Millennium trilogy.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Written by Swedish diplomat Andreas Norman, who has so far only produced a volume of poetry, Into A Raging Blaze is a terrific read. En Rasande Eld, as it is in the original, is more thriller than detective story. Like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it begins with seemingly unconnected things, and the seemingly humdrum routines ‘at home’ at the Foreign Office in Stockholm.

You wouldn’t think that finding out about department meetings or how to request a new office chair would be interesting. But it makes for compelling reading from the first page, and by the time you’ve grown quite fond of FO employee Carina Dymek, her career is in tatters and you swiftly move on to Secret Security Agent Bente Jensen, based in Brussels.

Bente is probably very slightly on the autistic spectrum. She is no Lisbeth Salander, though. Very likeable and very competent, it is she and her secret team who have to work out what’s happened. Did Carina really handle top secret, potentially terrorist, material on purpose, or was she set up? Is her Arab boyfriend Jamal cultivating her to aid him in some sinister plot? Or are they – as they seem to be – simply two nice young people, accidentally caught up in something much bigger?

MI6 are the bad guys here. You need to get used to that. Very efficient, and quite scathing about the naïve Swedes, they really set the ball rolling. And once they have, it’s well nigh impossible to stop it.

So here you find various secret services having to work together, but in effect working against each other. It is very much a page turner, and you become quite paranoid after a while. I read with my heart in my mouth. How can anyone ever be safe from the intrusion of agents the world over? Have you any idea of how it feels to be the prey in such a powerful hunt?

Into A Raging Blaze is the first of two books featuring Bente Jensen. It was published in Sweden last year, with the second one due in 2016. English language readers have something great to look forward to.

(Translation by Ian Giles)

Gunnel Linde

One of the best authors from my childhood – Gunnel Linde – has died. I first got an inkling of this on Sunday morning when a facebook friend mentioned losing her ‘cucumber mum’ and realised something was up. Later the same day another facebook friend linked to Dagens Nyheter where I could read some more. But no matter how I googled, there was simply no more news.

In this day and age that seems strange. News comes to you immediately. And here I was struggling to confirm it or to find out more.

Another strange thing for me is that I knew so very little about her. Now I keep track of writers and know much about them, apart from their work. As a child I only knew what I needed, which was that I liked her books and to find one with Gunnel Linde’s namn on the cover was a recommendation.

That’s exactly how it should be.

No need to know what they look like or if they have a dog or where they get their inspiration. You just read the books, usually borrowed from a library.

Now, thanks to Maria Nikolajeva, I know a little more about this woman who was like a mother to her. It makes for very interesting reading, and what it also did for me was to want to know more about Maria (who is one of the few people whose name I have mentioned to the Retired Children’s Librarian and managed to impress her with). Perhaps I shall ask.

I first mentioned Gunnel Linde here last year, having been reminded of some of my childhood reading, and finding I shared my liking for her books with author Mårten Sandén.

Since I didn’t know all that much before, I’m glad I’ve found out a bit more.

Thank you for the books!

Vango

Timothée de Fombelle’s Vango, Book 1 – Between Sky and Earth is the kind of book that makes your hair stand on end. It’s the sheer unexpectedness of finding something new and marvellous, as well as ‘simply’ getting a reading experience which is pretty special. I’d never heard of Timothée or Vango until the second book arrived, but it looked so good I requested the first book so I could enjoy both.

Timothée de Fombelle, Vango, Book 1 - Between Sky and Earth

Set primarily in the 1930s, Vango could be David’s – from I Am David – older brother. A displaced boy with a mystery, one who speaks several languages, is hard working, popular and good at many things. Born in 1915, Vango is 19 when we meet him, and then the action moves back and forth from when he was three until early 1936. Set mainly in Europe, we move from Paris to Italy to Germany and Scotland during the exciting fictional 1930s that we love so much.

Vango can climb. Anything. There are Zeppelins, repercussions from the war as well as a slow romance going on. It’s very exciting. Very lovely. Perhaps because people are not talking about this book as much as they should, because it’s French. A translation, by the capable Sarah Ardizzone. It’s a typical example of how you lose out through xenophobia. Admittedly, Timothée’s idea of Scotland is based more on England, but who cares? It’s fun. It has a flavour of The Thirty-Nine Steps, with some Jules Verne thrown in.

Having decided to take a – very short – break before reading book 2, I can’t entirely say where Vango is going. But trust me, it’s worth reading. This is the kind of discovery you want to make, rather than more of the same, whether wizzards or vampires. You get Vango, and countless more colourful characters that you want to get to know better. That’s more than enough.

The actual book

So, we visited Son the other day. He wanted someone to cart his stuff away from his old office, and to be driven home from IKEA. (Not at the same time. Obviously.) He and Dodo also had free pizza they needed me and the Resident IT Consultant to eat for them. So we did.

What’s more, Son had just taken delivery of a box of books (that should have been me), and we were all pretty excited to see them. It was a first for all of us, in various ways.

Here it is, the fruit of months of backbreaking translating. (He could have used more finesse when ripping open the box, but other than that…)

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze(To win a copy of the book, try here.)

And there is an audiobook, read by Maggie Mash, being recorded by White House Sound Ltd.