Category Archives: Languages

CrimeFest

I was going to waffle a wee bit about yet another CrimeFest I’m not actually at. (And half glad I’m not, because of that ‘new-ish’ intolerance to travel and crowds.) The main reason I would have wanted to be there was to hear Maj Sjöwall. But we can’t have everything.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

But you’ll be spared the waffling, because the only other comment I have to make about this Bristol weekend gathering of professional killers – who according to Stuart Neville ‘are generally friendly’ – is that they announced the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger on Friday evening. And they’ve had the good taste to include Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman, mostly famous around these parts for having been translated ‘in-house’ by Son of Bookwitch.

I’m actually reasonably proud.

And in the Short Story Dagger, the aforementioned Stuart Neville has been shortlisted for his contribution to the Oxcrimes anthology with Juror 8, which was my favourite. Well done, there too.

May both my favourites win.

My Mum might be a Gorilla…

It’s easy to despair of the lack of translated books, sometimes. There’s the xenophobia, and I suppose lack of money for publishers. Maybe. But for every iffy homegrown book, there might be a tremendously good foreign book, just waiting to be translated.

Frida Nilsson, Apstjärnan

SELTA, the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, have a blog, and recently Fiona Graham, one of their members, published her sample translation of a chapter from Frida Nilsson’s Apstjärnan, under the title My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? and I have to say I love the title, and I really enjoyed reading it. Yes, I know I could read the whole book in the original, but I didn’t know about it until I read the SELTA blog.

What could beat a gorilla teaching a small girl how to drive? Ridiculous, funny, entertaining. I can’t drive. Should I get a gorilla to help?

Occasionally I email publishers and suggest foreign books they might look at. I think it’s a losing battle, but every now and then I feel strongly enough to do it anyway.

This is Not a Love Story

Now I want to move to Amsterdam, and I speak as someone who has long been slightly anti-Amsterdam, without ever having got closer to it than the airport.

Keren David, This is Not a Love Story

This romantic – while not a love story – novel by Keren David is rather nice. A bit like Amsterdam, if Keren can be trusted, and I’m sure she can, since she lived there for quite a few years and knows what she’s writing about. Add to that a lively and likeable heroine, Kitty, and the two boys she ‘quite likes.’

As well as the romance and life in Amsterdam, Keren has written the most Jewish teen novel I’ve ever come across. It’s only as you read it that you realise how unusual this is. Both Kitty and Theo are recently displaced Londoners. Kitty is ‘a bit Jewish’ while Theo’s parents are very strongly traditional and Jewish. That causes problems, while also being a bit of a safety net at the same time.

Ethan, on the other hand, is only half Jewish, and not religious at all. Not that this would have saved him in the war, though.

All three have backgrounds that they don’t speak openly about, and all of them seem to feel freer for being in Amsterdam. Kitty goes so far as to come up with a new persona for her new home city. That’s something I think we all dream of; moving somewhere new where we can be wonderfully new and different and better and exciting. As if…

For a while I wondered if the reference to Love Story was significant, but won’t say more about that here. Suffice to say that this is a slightly different story on that old theme of love and friendship. You might think you know where it is going, but you’d probably be wrong.

Meanwhile I’ll be moving to Amsterdam.

Shola and the Lions

Oh to be a lion! I mean, if you are a dog, it might seem attractive to be a lion instead.

Bernardo Atxaga and Mikel Valverde, Shola and the Lions

In Bernardo Atxaga’s Shola and the Lions, with charming illustrations by Mikel Valverde, Shola – who is a dog – hears about lions, and immediately realises that that’s what he is. He has never really been a dog. It’s been a misunderstanding.

Grogó, Shola’s owner, had a visitor who left behind a book on lions, and Shola keeps checking the facts in this book. He’s right! He is a lion!

This basque story, which is part of Pushkin’s translated children’s books, is sweet and funny. Grogó doesn’t quite understand why his dog has gone a bit funny. But then Shola goes out, being a bit of a lion, and, well, it doesn’t seem a total success, exactly. Dogness can be good, too.

Azzi a second time

I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I reviewed Azzi In Between. I don’t often review books a second time, and I won’t here either, as you can follow the link and see what I said then.

Sarah Garland’s book is out in paperback now, and what with the election looming and everything else that sometimes feels overwhelmingly bad, I need to mention Azzi again.

There are all these powers (-to-be, in some cases) who expect nothing good to come of immigration and refugees. Many who don’t want any strangers coming here at all. Because we are all so nice here and no one else can possibly be worthy of our paradise. Nice, apart from me, because I’m not from here.

The book about Azzi is one that has stayed with me. In my mind, as well as physically sitting on my shelf. We need to see that people need to leave the place they consider to be home. They don’t come here for what they can get, unless that is to survive.

Next week, please vote sensibly. And always, please welcome those who are scared and in danger and have nowhere else to go. If you find your imagination isn’t up to this, I suggest you read After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. That way you too can be a refugee.

Totte, or Thomas

Author and illustrator Gunilla Wolde died earlier this week. I realise that many of my English language readers won’t know her. On the other hand, you might. I was surprised, and delighted, to find that author Guy Bass made his parents read Thomas bakes a cake every night for two years. That’s the kind of tenacity that pays off eventually. (Or they try and have you adopted.)

Gunilla Wolde, Totte badar

As with many Swedish authors, Gunilla’s books came too late for the young Bookwitch to read at the appropriate age. But being classics, they were widely available when Offspring appeared on the scene. (I’m actually not sure, but I suspect I owned mine well before Offspring arrived. I think I just liked the look of the books.)

I tried searching for them now, so I could tell you more, but couldn’t find where I’ve stashed them. The one that has stayed in my memory the most, is when Totte – or Thomas, as he is in translation – goes to the doctor. There is something about toddlers facing injections, or putting plasters on their teddies, that makes a lasting impression on you. (Perhaps I didn’t dare show Offspring those injections, in case they thought that’s what happens when you go to the doctor’s.)

Looking for cover images you find so many, in several languages, which brings home to you quite how popular Gunilla’s books were. Are. And if you study the ‘Swedish’ images page carefully, you will find illustrations that might be too, well, too Scandinavian for readers in some countries.

So you’re probably safest with Thomas bakes a cake.

Monday miscellany

I’d – almost – concluded I have no friends, but before you gallantly cry that I have you, I realised how wrong I was. Today is School Friend’s birthday. (Her 60th, but don’t tell anyone. She looks like 29.) And I’m not there. I suppose that’s what I meant, really. I’m not physically surrounded by friends, but I know they are out there, at various inconvenient distances for birthday parties and the like.

I could have gone. But with a future kitchen having just arrived, sitting in the hall (which has not had book boxes stored in it for maybe as long as a couple of weeks, and was beginning to look almost normal), and a sink that needed to be crowbarred free by Son, now seems an unwise time for me to up and frolic.

I typed ’tile’ instead of ‘time’ and that was most certainly a Freudian slip. I’m not 60, nor do I look like 29, but feel rather like 79 sometimes. The Resident IT Consultant and I went shopping for tiles last week. As we walked towards the entrance to the DIY emporium I halted and nearly asked him what we’d come for. Good thing I didn’t, as he beat me to it by a split second. We managed to remember why we’d come (I did have a list in my bag, but you feel that one item should be possible to keep in your brain and not have it slosh around uncontrollably) and the outing was a relative success. I mean, only the day before, we’d also ventured out for tiles but ended up eyeing raspberry bushes at the local nursery, where we’d gone for coffee, instead.

Speaking of gardens, we made some discoveries in ours. The Grandmother found we had a pond. Well, we knew that. But once the weeds went, we realised we have dependants. One duck. Plastic. An otter. Stone. A tortoise. Also stone. Frog. Real. Frogspawn. Also real, and watched over by the parental frog. And some days later, after all that unexpected light and air, we have ‘watery’ flowers as well.

As I said, Son and Dodo were here, carrying kitchens and liberating sinks. And stuff. Then they had to go home again, partly because Son is off to the London Book Fair this week. (It’s unfair! I still haven’t been. And I had to decline an invitation to Canada House. Again.) You can tell it’s that time of year, by how many publicists are already ‘out of office’ in their emails. (So, basically, I can blog as I like, and I am, as you can see.)

Before he left, Son borrowed the complete set of Martin Beck by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir. Seems he’s going to need the books for some paper or other. (Someone’s been getting their translators wrong…) He asked if we wanted anything from London, and you know, I am sure I was thinking just the other day that there was something. But what?