Tag Archives: A A Prime

Bookwitch goes speed dating

Seems the trolleyful of wine wasn’t for us. It was Jackie Kay’s, for her Black History Month event at the University of Edinburgh’s language department.

Oh well. I was on a date night, as was the Resident IT Consultant. We had come to speed date a new generation of Swedish authors, who’d been invited to Edinburgh to talk writing and translation, with a group of translators from SELTA. Their debut novels had not been previously translated, but the translators present had worked on some parts of the books, which we were able to read.

Not being entirely sure where we were heading, I decided to follow Son – because this was his baby – when he took his group of authors and translators off to the meeting room. And then they just disappeared!

I was only three steps behind and saw them go down the stairs and turn left. They were not in that room. The only thing remaining was the unlabelled door next to it, which led to a short corridor, from where Son appeared again, letting me through a door on which it said No Access.

So that was straightforward enough… Tried to text this info to the Resident IT Consultant, but there was no signal. He got there in the end.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

I wasn’t sure about this speed dating thing. One author and his or her translator sat at each table. The rest of us joined one of the tables for a brief reading, followed by a discussion. And then we were rotated anti-clockwise to the next author and translator. I was with two of my favourite translators, A A Prime and Guy Puzey, plus another translator and ‘Mrs Perera’ who belonged to one of the authors.

Adrian Perera and Kate Lambert

We started with Adrian Perera, who is that very unusual thing, a Swedish-speaking Finn, with a Sinhalese parent. His book Mamma, written mostly in Swedish, also features Finnish, English and Sinhalese; some of it spoken badly by the various characters. I gathered this made translating the text a bit tricky for Kate Lambert, because how do you convey how bad the Swedish or the English spoken by the Finnish doctor is?

But it wasn’t until I asked how old the main character is (seven) that sentences like ‘The whole Looney Tunes gang is covered in vanilla ice cream,’ made sense. Really fascinating.

Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and Hanna Löfgren

Anticlockwise movement brought us to Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz and his Aussie translator Hanna Löfgren. Himself coming from Latin America, Joel had borrowed the title of a poem by Gabriela Mistral for his novel, The Story of a Son/Sången om en son. I enjoyed his reading from the book, and we were amused to be told that Joel feels there is so much sex in his novel that he won’t ever write another one like it.

He also reckons he has finished the book and moved on, and he had worried whether he’d be able to discuss it with us. (Seems to have gone just fine.) Translator Hanna brought up the necessity for her to add the word ‘I’ in lots of places. Joel had been told by his publisher to remove most of them, because that’s how people speak these days. Except it doesn’t work in English.

Fiona Graham and Balsam Karam

Up and on to Kurdish Balsam Karam and Fiona Graham, whose translation of Event Horizon/Händelsehorisonten was very beautiful. It really got to me when I read it. Balsam read a page out loud, if rather quietly, from this story about refugees and some kind of rebellion, where the punishment when getting caught is either execution, or being sent into a black hole in space.

I’d be interested to know how that goes, but understand that there is no clear description of what actually happens. Balsam feels that Swedes don’t have much idea of what martyrdom means, whereas Fiona had been shocked by the torture described in the book.

Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming

Last but not least we came to Kayo Mpoyi and Alex Fleming, where Kayo was exclaiming about reading the same extract for the fourth time. But for us it was new, and I’d like to think that the subsequent discussions didn’t all go in the same direction for every group. Set in Tanzania, the story is about a family, two young siblings, maybe a curse on a name, and there is – possibly – a young god who appears every now and then. More a god like the Greek ones, rather than the One Up There, whom so many of us think about.

Kayo has a lot of thoughts and theories about life, and she’s not sure what language she uses to think about it in. Her characters are not Swedish, although the book is written in that language. She herself thinks in several languages.

Swedish Speed Bookclub

This whole speed dating was a lot better than most of us had been expecting. We got up close to four authors and four translators and got a brief look at a book we’d probably never otherwise have encountered. Also, what good English they all speak!

It was fun.

And I didn’t have to marry anyone.

Maresi, Red Mantle

With Maresi, Red Mantle we are back with Maresi from the Red Abbey. Maria Turtschaninoff’s final book in the trilogy is based on the letters Maresi writes to her friends and to the older, supportive, women she left behind on Menos when she started the long journey home to Rovas.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi, Red Mantle

This story about her new life back in the old place is, if possible, even more feminist than the first two books. It also has more men in it, which sort of hits you after a while, because you have got used to the – almost – women-only groups in Maresi and in Naondel. Even knowing what the first books are like, I still found myself feeling surprised at the sheer strength of a woman’s power.

That is an empowering feeling for any reader. So are the wise thoughts that Maresi shares with us, whether they are her thoughts, or those of her mother or her sister, or simply observations on life. They are so true, and yet, we often miss such obvious ideas, because we are so busy with life, maybe making mistakes, or assuming too much, based on what is traditional.

I kept wanting to cheer her on, to tell Maresi that she could do it. But it’s never easy to return to a place where you once belonged. You’re home, and you’re not. How do you know where you really belong? And does it matter, when it’s what other people think of you that determines how your life goes?

Maresi’s job is to start a school. That may seem an obvious task, but it’s hard, when people can’t see what good it would do to read. And then we are shown how life can go wrong, just because you didn’t know what was written on a piece of paper. It’s more than a matter of life and death.

And the pleasure you get from reading, or being able to write letters to someone. It’s as if all of life is in this book. Read it. You will feel better for it.

Maresi, Red Mantle tells girls that they matter. That they can, and should, do things. It tells boys that girls can, and that the boys will be better for it. It’s very beautiful.

(Translation by AA Prime)

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?

Quest – the Aarhus 39

Quest is the ‘younger’ half of the two Aarhus short story collections, edited by Daniel Hahn. I use quotation marks, because I am less convinced of the age ‘gap’ than has been suggested. Yes, it is a little younger than Odyssey, but I felt many of the characters in Odyssey were not proper YA material; they were children who tried out older behaviour.

It’s not important, as both collections offer a great range of stories from all over Europe. As with Odyssey, the authors are occasionally quite famous, and so are the illustrators, and I’ve come across several of the translators before as well.

Quest - Aarhus 39

Of the 17 short stories in Quest I chose to start in the middle, because I just had to read the one by Maria Turtschaninoff first. I might have a crush on her. The story, The Travel Agency, did not disappoint. In fact, I could want to read a whole book based on it.

It’s unfair to pick favourites, but I did enjoy Maria Parr’s A Trip to Town, about a girl and her grandma. And as for Journey to the Centre of the Dark by David Machado; you’d do well to have a hand to hold. In the end it didn’t go quite as far as I kept being afraid of, but I’d be happy to offer my idea to anyone who feels like writing scary stories.

The Quest stories are not as dark as in Odyssey. Maybe that’s why they are offered as children’s stories. And perhaps that’s why they suited me better. But, in short, I can recommend these two collections as a starting point for fun with unknown [to you] names in children’s literature.

Naondel

This sequel-prequel to Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff hits even harder for the feminist camp. Naondel makes you feel that – almost – all men are evil, but when you stop and think, you see it is mainly one, very bad, man who causes all that happens.

In Naondel the reader learns how the world we meet in Maresi came to exist, and why. At first I wondered if this was the right order to present the Red Abbey Chronicles; today, followed by 50-100 years earlier. But I feel it is. You need to know the world that was made possible through the sufferings of the seven women in Naondel. It’s not just their own escape that you come to root for, but that of all women.

And because you have read Maresi, you know they will escape. It just takes several hundred pages of back-story of suffering before they do.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Naondel

Told by all seven women, we first meet the women’s tormentor Iskan as a young man, when he is almost charming. Actually, he is always charming to begin with. We meet the girl who becomes his first wife, followed by many other women, slaves and more willing concubines. Iskan wants to, needs to, lead and will stop at nothing.

Naondel shows us how strong and resourceful women are, if you didn’t already know. The story also shows us how sisterhood can develop between women who have little reason to be friends.

It is actually quite hard to describe how inspiring these women are. You want to look away in horror at what is done to them. After a slow start, once it was clear how this was going to develop, I just had to read on and on.

I have no idea what the next book will be about, but I know I want to read it.

(Translated by A A Prime)