Category Archives: Languages

Both Sides of the news

I’m more of an ice hockey girl myself. However I do know some names of football players, although Nicklas Bendtner was not one of them.

He appears to be a successful Danish football import, now returned to his own shores, where he teamed up with a most respectable ‘ghost’ writer, Rune Skyum-Nielsen, for his autobiography Both Sides. This is according to his translator, Ian Giles. So Nicklas was responsible for the exciting doings, Rune for writing about them well, and Ian for making it possible for you to read the whole thing, now that the English translation is out.

I have my own copy, I’m pleased to say, but will probably not get round to reading. The Resident IT Consultant did, though, and survived. (He’s not really into sports.)

With my experience of book publicity, I’d say Nicklas’s PR team is pretty good. Being famous for kicking a ball obviously helps, but so far this week there has been a double spread of excerpts from the book in the Daily Fail, followed by another couple of pages interviewing the man. This morning there were another couple of pages in the Guardian, adding quality. In the sports pages, so I could easily have missed the happy event.

I understand this is the translator’s first Danish book, so has very little to do with me.

The Cheshire set

Where I used to live, I was part of a group of – mostly – Swedes, who met up about once a month, for coffee and cake and chat. It was the language we had in common, and a – mostly – shared background. Otherwise we were as different as you and your neighbours and cousins and the people in your office.

But over the 25 years, or so, you grow fond of people, while being aware of their individual peculiarities. You forge a closer relationship with a few, who suit you best, and others do the same. I’m still in touch with a couple of them, while time and distance mean we no longer do the cake.

Their age means few are on Facebook, but I have two of them as friends on there. Both, incidentally, moved back ‘home’. We never interact, but that’s OK. I know ‘where I’ve got them’ so to speak. Or thought I did, when one contacted me out of the blue, asking if I was the one she suddenly thought I might be. (Considering I look mostly like my old self in the online photo, I felt the question superfluous. Especially along with my personal information on there.)

Anyway, she phoned. We had a – mostly – nice chat (after 22 years). I could tell she was struggling to remember people, and with hindsight I understood it’s because she never invested that much in the group. But she had saved the ‘membership’ list of names. If that had been me, I’d have used it better, as a prop to get people ‘right’.

After an hour she went into sales mode and enthused at great length about a product that would change my life and by my instant calculation would cost me a mere £1000 a year.

Even the cynic in me felt a little disappointed.

Translating Wretchedness

I ‘went to’ a webinar on Thursday evening, to hear Nichola Smalley talking to Swedish author Andrzej Tichý about her work on translating his novel Wretchedness, which has had some good reviews. Hosted by Brookline Booksmith, someone had done some thinking of the timing. It was early in the US, but late in the UK and later still in Sweden. But we were at least all awake.

I have heard Nichola speak before, live, and I was struck by how well I know her voice. I have not read the book, nor had I ever heard of Andrzej. But it seems that this might be rectified if he’s as successful as people believe. And no, that’s not a very Swedish name. He’s half Polish and half Czech, but also Swedish.

Andrzej started by reading a few pages, before Nichola talked about how she’d found the book. It’s not an easy book, apparently. Nothing you’d take to the beach. And no, it didn’t sound like it from either the reading or the description.

Nichola asked Andrzej to read again, but he didn’t read what she’d expected. But ‘apparently I need conducting’, he said as Nichola apologised for pushing him about. Theoretically, of course, with everyone in their own room, in their own country.

Speaking of rooms, Andrzej had a beautiful wall of books in the background and Nichola had some very fetching children’s art behind her. There was also a car alarm somewhere, making it hard for her to concentrate.

There were questions for both of them, with Ian Giles asking ‘how was it working with Nicky as a translator?’ She instructed Andrzej to say only nice things. Which he did. I think. Someone else was interested in the time it had taken Andrzej to write the book, and whether he’d suffered writer’s block

And we learned how useful it had been for Nichola to meet Andrzej and to be able to discuss his book with him and ask him endless questions, in order to translate it. It was a difficult book, and she’d already read it twice, so meeting Andrzej was really helpful.

All things come to an end, and the host came on again, saying she hoped people might buy the book from them – but only within the US – and that they’d be back with more talks during the autumn.

After the War

The tears started falling right from the start of Tom Palmer’s new book, After the War. I missed The Windermere Children on television in January, so had been looking forward to Tom’s book. To say it’s an enjoyable book would be wrong. It’s very good, as always with Tom, and so important, especially now.

We meet three Jewish, teenage boys, who along with three hundred other children came to the Lake District in the summer of 1945, straight from the concentration camps.

The automatic reaction for the modern reader is how lucky these boys are, and how they must know that things will be OK from now on. But what you tend to overlook is what has been done to them during the war. Yes, we know about the camps and the loss of their families and the general awfulness of everything.

But here the boys are worrying whether they can really trust these people, whether they will really be all right now. Because being transported in large groups to somewhere new, where they are being promised better lives, food, and so on, has been done to them already. And we know what happened then.

When they arrive, the many buildings they see look a bit like the concentration camps. They have to remove their clothes, for obvious reasons, and they are told to wash, and they are deloused, etc. But this too rings a bell for the children. It has all happened before.

On the other hand, they have been given a piece of chocolate, for the first time since before the war. Maybe things will be OK?

To begin with they hoard the food they are given, in case they aren’t fed again. They even steal potato peelings, just in case.

But slowly, slowly, they learn to trust, they stop being hungry, they learn English. In fact, they are allowed lessons, which is something they’ve not been permitted for six years.

This is a beautiful book, telling us about something real. Until quite recently we would have taken this kind and decent behaviour by the British for granted. But whatever our future holds, I am so glad these children were given a future after all they went through in the war. And I hope there was much chocolate for them.

The Time Travel Diaries – Adventure in Athens

Every time I ask myself whether I might have grown a little tired of this, and how many fictional trips can a witch make to Roman times, or whenever, and still enjoy it?

‘Hvergang,’ as the Danes say, or every time, as I say [every time].

In Caroline Lawrence’s second time traveller book, Adventure in Athens, I knew how things were likely to happen, and they did, and it was still just as much fun. And once you get going, those old Greeks really are fascinating. Not to mention smelly.

Here Alex and Dinu and their families travel to modern Athens as a reward for last time. And, well, there is a portal through to ancient Athens, and their task is to find Socrates. Because that should be easy.

I have to say, I grew quite fond of old Socrates. He was a wise man, and from now on I will remember this.

Not only did they smell back then, but many people were really quite violent. And I do not want to meet their dogs. Plus, the important thing for our young time tourists is to avoid interacting in such a way that the future changes, possibly meaning that they won’t actually exist, if they go kerpluff.

This is fun, and while it’s light adventure, you learn so much without really noticing. Perhaps our heroes are a tad unrealistically proficient in ancient languages, but this is fiction. They’re allowed. And so are we.

How did those Norwegians get here?

I just had to link to this article about translations from Norwegian.

Well, I suppose I didn’t ‘have to’ have to, but when finding a description of four Norwegian authors like this one, I sort of felt I had to: ‘I’ve mentioned a grand literary master, a literary smut peddler, a philosophical weirdo and an ex-footballer turned crime writer’. Nice turn of phrase, right?

Do most people wonder how literature from other languages turn up here, in English? Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s by magic. Maybe some countries feel it’s worth their while helping literature along by throwing money at it?

You’ll find out, if you read the article. I thought it was quite good, even if I am biased. Daughter felt it was very long. It is.

But it’s not as if you have anything else to do right now, is it?

The Short Knife

How hard are you willing to work for a carrot?

You couldn’t accuse the characters in Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife of being lazy. This surprisingly topical historical novel is quite a thing. And by surprising I mean that Elen couldn’t possibly have foreseen the slavery business making the front pages as the publication date for her book grew near.

These slaves are white, and British, and their owners are also white, and more Saxon than British, but everyone has a bad side, whatever their nationality. In AD 454 the Romans have left Britain, and the Saxons have made the move to take over.

Mai and her sister Haf and their dad are poor, but live peacefully (in or near Wales), when their lives are interrupted, and ruined, by a few Saxon men. Much hardship and sadness follow, and the girls can’t be sure what will happen to them.

The story is told from two time perspectives; mostly from autumn AD 454 when the Saxons come, slowly leading up to the second one, where someone is giving birth at the same time as something vague but horrific has happened. So the reader both knows, and does not know.

You see both nationalities with all their faults, and some good sides. Having more than a measly carrot to eat is one of the good things about what might otherwise be considered pretty bad.

You feel you know what is happening, when Elen suddenly switches the truth of what we are seeing. And then again.

This is good writing, and a truly good story.

Mohinder’s War

Bali Rai’s short novel set in France during WWII is in one way an ordinary war adventure, showing the courage so many displayed while fighting the enemy and hoping to survive.

But the hero here is Mohinder Singh, a Sikh pilot with the RAF, who crash-lands his plane somewhere in occupied France. He is found by 13-year-old Joelle, who with her parents feed and shelter people who need help, be they members of the Resistance or as in this case, a foreign soldier.

This is what’s important. You learn, if you didn’t already know, that Indians fought for Britain in the war, flying from England. And you discover that the hero of a story like this can be a Sikh pilot, which will feel good for not just young Sikhs, but for anyone who might believe that the British don’t take ‘immigrants’ seriously, and who don’t know that many of them died for what was someone else’s country.

Mo is as brave as any RAF hero, and he brings with him his Sikh values, which he teaches to Joelle, as they run from the Germans.

The book begins with Mohinder’s funeral, at the grand old age of 105, and Joelle is there too. This helps, because at least you know that the two of them survived the war. The bad things they encountered were bad enough, and you don’t want to worry about whether they will make it.

I could do with more stories like this one. We might know that all sorts of people fought in the war, while not really understanding, unless it’s spelled out to us.

The Honorary Consul

No, not the novel by Graham Greene. I read that a long time ago.

This is about the kind of person you sometimes need when in another country, if only to hand out a new passport if that’s what you require. They are surprisingly often not the same nationality as you, nor do they speak your language.

Honorary means not paid, and I’m guessing the post is usually taken for the honour (hah) or for making your business cards look great. The one I have had most experience of said openly – to a very kind and well-meaning person – that they had no interest in things Swedish.

Well, then.

The good news is that the post of Swedish Honorary Consul in Edinburgh has just been given to a Swede. What’s more, he speaks Swedish. And he’s got a good way with people.

OK, so he’s called Mike, but that might work better in an English-speaking environment, the city where he runs a group of bars and restaurants. I’m thinking this is an improvement to the bored monolingual solicitor type.

They Called Us Enemy

Not being a trekkie I didn’t know who George Takei was when his interesting snippets turned up on social media. I simply liked them.

Now I have read his graphic, well, I suppose, autobiography, from WWII onwards, about the interning – imprisonment – of American citizens of Japanese background after Pearl Harbour. It is a great book about this atrocious and shameful history. (The only thing I knew about this before came from watching the film I’ll Remember April some years ago.)

George was four when his family were more or less removed from their beds in Los Angeles in the middle of the night, and taken on a long journey to Arkansas at the other end of the country, where they were to stay for most of the war.

I have deep admiration for George’s father, who worked hard, kept the peace and made himself useful to his fellow ‘prisoners’ for the duration of this wrongful treatment. His behaviour also meant that this whole period seemed like an adventure to George, and possibly as almost normal to his two younger siblings.

Through George’s later fame, some of this unfair treatment has reached more people than might otherwise have been possible.

And I was reminded of what I read on Normblog some years ago; something which made me want to cry again. But mostly good crying. In a world of many really very bad people, and leaders, there are good ones too.

(Almost as an afterthought, I have to comment on how easy it was to read this graphic novel. They aren’t always, but this one worked perfectly.)