Category Archives: Translation

Tweet tweet

It’s just as well I get emails to prod me into looking at Twitter. Not that one can’t live without Twitter, but sometimes it’s fun. I don’t look often, though.

Discovered this at the weekend:

Tweet

Interesting in its own right, I was interested, and surprised, to see that Sara Paretsky follows Son. On Twitter; not in some stalky way. I was even more surprised to see I don’t follow Sara. I should, and now I do. But I suppose while there are obvious people to follow, you can’t really sit down with a complete Twitter once-and-for-all shopping list.

Some of the responses to Son’s question were more serious than mine. As the mother lite I only managed a Ziva David quote, although I think it’s quite as likely to be the correct answer as any of the others.

Or you could argue that the Scandi lit scene is rather limited… 🙃

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Erich und Lisa, and Paul and Matt, too.

No, that’s not a new book.

Travel gods willing, I’m off to Berlin today, so thought I’d ‘fob you off’ with some Berlin books.

I’ve never been, so am writing this blind. I’ll be interested to discover how much of Erich Kästner’s city remains. Having watched all three Emil und die Detektive films, I should know. Only one was made before the war. If Emil was English, it’d be easy enough to film a boy in prewar London now. There are plenty of houses and buildings left. I hope quite a bit of Berlin is also still there.

The other old Berlin I ‘know’ is Lisa Tetzner’s, where her child characters lived in tenements in the 1930s. Surely some remain? And I have no idea how large Berlin was in those days. I’m assuming the children in no. 67 lived quite centrally.

You can find countless children’s books set in today’s London. There must be a Berlin counterpart. It’s ‘just’ that we don’t get to see those books.

The more recently written novels that come to mind are British. There was Paul Dowswell’s Ausländer ten years ago. Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen from last year. Both showing life within Germany. Both featuring WWII. There’s more to Germany and Berlin than that.

Death in Berlin, by M M Kaye, set in postwar Berlin. It’s decades since I read it, and I recall a sense of bleakness.

Ich bin ein Berliner, as JFK said. Whether or not that makes us doughnuts I will leave unsaid. I’m certainly rounded enough.

Arnica, the Duck Princess

This newly translated fairy tale by Hungarian Ervin Lázár didn’t, in all honesty, attract me with its title (the princess sounded more like a homeopathic remedy) nor with the illustrations (which grew on me rather when I read the book), but that brief dip into the text that I like to do, made it look both fun and intelligent. And that’s how it turned out to be.

Ervin Lázár and Jacqueline Molnár, Arnica, the Duck Princess

The style of writing is refreshingly modern and amusing, and the plot does have a poor young man for the Princess Arnica, but there are no three* brothers, nor any stupid or unkind parents. The King is lovely, in fact. Very sensible and kind and fair. Arnica herself is apparently not all that beautiful, or at least not until Poor Johnny, as the hero is called, sees her and falls instantly in love, and that makes her beautiful. Poor Johnny is poor, but the King does not mind this.

All would be just great were it not for the wicked Witch,** who casts a spell making the young couple into ducks. But being so very much in love, they decide to take turns being a duck.

And eventually, after many charmingly different little adventures, the two leave their duck-ness behind and everyone lives happily ever after.

What’s so attractive, apart from the fun story, is the language. I have no way of knowing if this is the style of Ervin Lázár, capably translated by Anna Bentley, or if there is some magic happening in the translation. There is an unusual plot device in that in every chapter the author appears to be chatting to a child about how to proceed and what certain things mean, sometimes having new ideas or names introduced into the story, the way a child might come up with odd little things. It’s really very charming.

And as I said, the illustrations by Jacqueline Molnár turn out to be exactly what the book needs.

*You do get twelve of them at one point…

**The Witch, well, she’s really bad. Mostly.

London Book Fair, and some SELTA

What did I set in motion, all those years ago? It doesn’t even matter that I am now slowing down, and that this year I had no plans for attending the London Book Fair, even if LBF emailed me frequently to suggest all sorts of temptations they had lying in wait for me.

As he has done now for some years, Son went, and this time he went properly, staying all week, with an impressive calendar where I stalked him online. Is it my ‘fault’ that he’s now doing this? Or would he have slipped into this kind of thing anyway? There is no knowing.

He popped round unexpectedly, so we spent part of yesterday talking bookish stuff. He felt a bit tired having spoken so much Swedish last week, but I reminded him that back in the day, he was forced to do so every day, at home. So a few days should be nothing.

Seems he can be tied to me. Or me to him. Some people are able to make the connection between us.

I now have fresh news regarding books that are coming out, books that might be translated, books that weren’t as good as the last one, or even a book that looks very promising. Also that it matters what the Koreans do, but not everyone knew that.

The hotel was bad enough that he temporarily went to another, just for the day. I didn’t even know one could do that, but will keep it in mind. And there are Embassies that think nothing of serving only meat canapés. Is it not 2019? (I suspect it was the Bookwitch curse…)

Tagged onto the end of the London Book Fair was a day with his colleagues in SELTA, those very literary translators of Swedish into English.

The Legend of Sally Jones

This is all about where you belong. It needn’t be the place you were born, although you will probably always miss it, while still being happy – or not – somewhere else.

Serendipity – and Pushkin Press – brought me Sally Jones, the ‘prequel’ to Jakob Wegelius’ The Murderer’s Ape. It’s not, really. But for those of us who came to Sally Jones in her second book, it will feel like a prequel. For the English language market it is a new book, just published, translated by Peter Graves. The Swedes had the original ten years ago, awarding it prizes.

Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones

Jakob Wegelius did all the illustrations for his recent novel, but here he has really excelled. The Legend of Sally Jones is picture book; each page a work of art. Especially the back cover is gorgeous. And the story is lovely and really tugs at your heartstrings. Now we know what made Sally Jones who she is, and why she is so loyal to her friend the Chief.

Because all through The Murderer’s Ape you have to take it on trust that he deserves all the love Sally Jones shows as she searches for a way to prove he’s no murderer. When you’ve read The Legend of Sally Jones you know.

Sally Jones met some quite bad people when she grew up, but also a few lovely ones. Even her worst humans proved useful as they taught her some of the many skills she later on puts to good use. If you want your gorilla to be your slave, don’t teach them to drive.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

It is rather sweet. Even people who know nothing about Christmas, can get it right, completely by accident. In this case the people are the Moomin family. They hibernate, so tend not to be awake or aware of Christmas, unlike their friends and neighbours. But this time the Hemulen comes and wakes them up, because he’s fed up with all the preparations for Christmas.

Aren’t we all?

But knowing nothing, the poor Moomins are alarmed at first, worrying about this unknown monster coming for them. It needs a tree. The tree needs to be dressed. It needs food. And on top of that it requires presents.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

Were it not for a tiny, shy creature drawn to their house by the kindness of Moominmamma, they’d know very little. With its help, they find pretty things to put on the tree, and they wrap presents, and Moominmamma gets busy in the kitchen.

After all that they do the most sensible thing of all and go back to bed.


I seem to know the story from a long time ago. However, it has been ‘adapted from the Tove Jansson classic,’ with words by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson – translated by A A Prime – and illustrations by Filippa Widlund. So I’m not sure what it is I remember.

But it is a lovely story, with pretty pictures, and who needs a star at the top of the tree when you can have a rose?

Doctoring on

Graduation, McEwan Hall

Monday was exhausting! I got out of bed well before my normal comfort time, so I could be outside the McEwan Hall in Edinburgh by ten. The Resident IT Consultant and I were meeting Son and Dodo to receive our tickets for the morning’s graduation ceremony. I had to to and fro a bit with my bag and got the elderly confused witch treatment from a kind usher who’d probably seen it all before.

So with a boiled egg in my pocket, I climbed all those stairs, going round and round in a spiral. But being early, I found a seat I liked. Narrow seats, though. You have to be quite friendly with the person you sit next to.

Graduation, McEwan Hall

Anyway, a mere eleven years after arriving in Edinburgh, Son graduated for the third time, and was hit – sorry, tapped – on the head with John Knox’s breeches, and got to shake the hand of the Vice-Chancellor. By that time I’d almost nodded off, and was lucky to come to and realise a group of red-trimmed doctoral gowns were standing ready to go. I got my camera out, but as expected the results were so dreadful that I have again resorted to theft on social media. (I’m hoping most of the photos belong to Dodo. Pardon, I mean Dr Dodo.)

Graduation, McEwan Hall

Graduation McEwan Hall

Afterwards I went downstairs and was confused in front of the same usher, who remembered me from before. I’m very memorable.

Graduation, McEwan Hall - Son with supervisors

Then it was photos and chatting outside, and shaking the hands of all three of Dr Son’s supervisors. Not just the one for him. But we agreed we’d all done a great job* getting here, and I don’t just have the train journey in mind. Was also introduced to someone from Borås, which doesn’t happen all that often. (Not since early October, anyway.)

Graduation, McEwan Hall

When we’d admired each other enough, Drs Dodo and Son marched off and the Resident IT Consultant and I tried to keep pace with them, as we weren’t quite certain where lunch was to be found. (Söderbergs, a few minutes away.)

After many carbohydrates had been consumed, some of them vividly green, we walked back to Son’s university HQ for some red wine, and water, and crisps, and more chatting and shaking of – occasionally the same – hands.

And then the two oldies staggered home.

*I have read the thesis. It is actually quite good, if I say so myself. Interesting, and more readable than many such things. (Tracing the Transmission of Scandinavian Literature to the UK: 1917-2017.) Someone else, not related to him, or us, also said it wasn’t bad.

If you want to make it easy for yourself, a short version can be found in this talk in Lund earlier this year. After the first minute or so, it’s even in English.