Tag Archives: translation

“The Girl Who Reads on the Metro” by Christine Feret-Fleury, translated by Ros Schwartz

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro: A Novel

This little book (172 small pages) could probably be classified as “magical realism”. It contains just a hint of the supernatural, the appealing notion that books respond to people, want to be read, want attention. Aside from that, it’s a simple story about the transformative power of reading. Anyone who ever REALLY gets lost in a book will understand.

Juliette lives a safe and quiet life, but she’s endlessly curious about the people she sees reading books on the Paris metro. She stumbles into a place marked “Books Unlimited”. It’s not quite a store. Sometimes it’s referred to as a “depot”. It’s not clear where the books come from, but they arrive in a steady stream.

Before the dust settles, not only has Juliette quit her unsatisfying job, but so have her two colleagues, each moving towards fulfillment of a happily cherished dream.

This book is being marketed for Book Clubs. I think it will be popular! I could happily spend some time imagining backstories and alternative futures for Feret-Fleury’s loveable characters. And there’s an extensive book list included!

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“The Fly Trap” by Fredrik Sjoberg, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal

Published in 2004. Translated from Swedish in 2014 by Thomas Teal. Paperback by Vintage Books, 2014. 278 pages.

The Fly Trap by [Sjöberg, Fredrik]

This cheerful book delves into two of my amateur interests, entomology (the biology of insects) and art history (with emphasis on art theft and forgery). I hang out with entomologists, and visit art museums casually.

The Fly Trap is both memoir and biography. As Sjoberg’s personal memoir, it is the first volume of a trilogy. The next two books are The Art of Flight (2016) and The Raisin King. One reviewer suggests that these three books might also be categorized as travel, natural history, popular science or even poetry.

The “fly trap” of the title is a collecting device used by entomologists and called the Malaise trap. It is named after it’s inventor, Rene Malaise (1892 – 1978). According to Wikipedia, Malaise was an eccentric Renaissance man, and little was written about him before Sjoberg produced somewhat biographical this book.

Sjoberg is described (by Wikipedia) as

  • entomologist
  • literary and cultural critic
  • translator (If you are Swedish, do you have any choice?)
  • author

Malaise was

  • entomologist
  • explorer (Siberia)
  • art collector
  • inventor
  • geologist (one time defender of the Lost Continent of Atlantis)

With a mix like this, the book was bound to be interesting. It is enhanced by Sjoberg’s whimsical, non linear style. While studying Malaise, Sjoberg “caught” the art collecting passion, described in the book’s final chapter.

I pay attention to authors mentioning other authors. In one chapter (entitled “Slowness”), Sjoberg mentions (at least) three authors:

  • Lars Noren – Czech born French writer, still living
  • Milan Kundera – Swedish playwright, still living, best known for The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • D H Lawrence – English, 1885-1930, best known for Lady Chatterly’s Lover

I recommend this book if you like the out of doors, natural history and/or bugs. Also books, art and travel.

Favorite novel – 2010

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (published in 2001).

I love this book! It’s wonderful. Looking back through my reading journal, I find that I (first) read it in 2010, but wrote only that it was “magical” and dealt with music and love.

!! SPOILER ALERT !! Stop here if you don’t want to know the outcome. But do read the book!

I wasn’t sure whether the term “bel canto” referred to the singer or the song. Wikipedia tells me it an Italian operatic style, light and agile, with clear phrasing. The main female character in the book is an American opera singer of highest reputation. She has the misfortune to be taken hostage at a diplomatic party in an unnamed third world country, along with several dozen men.

If I start to summarize the story, this will go on forever. The plot is “encapsulated”, tight – terrorists invade a party and take hostages. A long period of (gradually decreasing) tension and negotiation ensues. The mansion in which the hostages are held becomes a microcosm and Patchett develops complex, surprising and loveable characters and relationships within it.

Two themes that twine through this book are music and language. Everyone is in love with the singer – she is beautiful, accomplished, famous, and usually gracious. Even the young, unsophisticated terrorists worship her, and over time, everything revolves around her singing.

Two important male characters are an ultra wealthy Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, and his younger translator, named Gen. Gen becomes the communication node in a group where five or six languages are in use – Spanish, English, French and Russian, primarily, and sometimes Italian. it turns out some of the terrorists speak mostly an indigenous language, and barely understand Spanish, so Gen is sometimes at a loss.

There’s another fascinating male character, Messner, the Swiss Red Cross negotiator who is the only person able to come and go freely from the besieged mansion. He is sophisticated, experienced at negotiation, and knows that the situation is likely to end in terrible violence. So, what does it mean to be “neutral”? What can he accomplish?Messner struggles with this.

Inevitably, the fragile “community” is torn apart. All the terrorists are killed, and the hostages go back to their lives with memories and scars that will be permanent and incomprehensible to those around them. The book, somehow, is more positive than negative.

I will probably return to this book over and over. It’s a treat.