Good Reading : February 2010
FEBRUARY 2010 ı goodreading 17 categorical gentle whimsy of The Wind in the Willows or the unpretentious philosophy of the French classic The Little Prince and, like both these stories, they're much too good to be considered just children's books. The short story collection Tales from Moominvalley is a good place to begin, featuring a shy creature who longs for a name to call his own and a girl who was so cowed by the woman who looked after her that she disappeared. Jansson's accomplished drawings of the hippo-like Moomins round out this perfectly strange world, a place where imagination and isolation often rule. Another classic children's writing in Swedish Astrid Lindgren. child's library is omplete without Pippi Longstocking, but fewer include the classic The Brothers Lionheart. It features the brothers Karl and Jonatan, who both die young and are reunited in the afterlife of Nangijala, initially an idyllic pastoral setting where the boys can ride horses and fish in a kind of cosmic tranquility. But there's trouble in paradise and the boys soon lear n that neighbouring Thorn Rose Valley has fallen on evil times, besieged by the nefarious Tengil, who has a traitor operating among the townspeople. There's a hint of C S Lewis about this story, which sees its young heroes learn the meaning of courage.And for some ghter (though ompletely har ming) children's are, track down French Jean de Brunhoff 's Babar The King, one of the tales that inspired the much- loved cartoon series. But back to Scandinavian literature, no mention of which is complete without reference to Knut Hamsun's Hunger, perhaps the quintessential portrait of the artist as a (starving) young man. Written with almost bracing urgency, it sees Isak stalking the streets, loitering in cemeteries, occasionally eking out a few kroner by writing a newspaper article, constantly beset by something between ennui and epic boredom. Eventually nothing makes sense anymore and moments of absurdist humour give way to bleak realisation: 'Iamalostman... Ladies and gentleman, I am a lost man!' The Norwegian Hamsun's political views, most alar mingly his outspoken idolatry of Hitler, have made his a complicated legacy, but the seismic waves of his influence are still being felt. Among the avowed disciples of Hamsun was the Prague-bor n Franz Kafka, whose The Trial was once listed as one of the 100 most influential books in human history (the list was published in a 1998 book by British critic Martin Seymour-Smith), one of the few novels to rank alongside the likes of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Not for nothing has the word 'Kafkaesque' entered the lexicon to describe any prolonged and infuriating encounter with bureaucracy; this is a fable of paranoia, following Josef K as he is ar rested by men from an unknown authority for a crime that is never specified and deals with the duplicitous tentacles of authority. The Castle also depicts the struggle of man against state and the labyrinthine frustrations of endless bureaucracy. The genius short story Metamorphosis, meanwhile, centres on a salesman, Gregor, who wakes up one morning to find he has become a beetle. There's plenty of gallows humour here as his family adjust to his odd new for m and bemoan the financial burden he has become. Intriguingly,Vladimir Nabokov, himself both a polyglot and entomologist, claimed that Gregor does not become a common ver minous beetle, as most translations suggest, but rather a beetle capable of flight -- a fact he ironically never discovers. This anecdote touches on two interesting themes in translated literature: firstly, the possibility of hidden or obscured meanings when works are translated and secondly, the fact that many non-English authors have parallel careers as translators. If it's easy to leave foreign titles off your reading list, it's just as easy to overlook the role of the translator, the oft-forgotten inter mediary between the reader and writer, a role both artistic and utilitarian. Translator Martin Riker's talk on the art of translation to the British Council painted the profession as one marked by a kind of assertive anonymity -- he doesn't want the book to read 'like a translation' and thinks the translator should aspire to invisibility, yet he concedes one may have to make major additions of their own for the work to read seamlessly. Nabokov actually translated his own works from Russian to English, and vice versa, while Haruki Murakami has also been a prolific translator, having worked on classics by the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote. Austrian Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek translated Oscar Wilde and Christopher Marlowe into Ger man, while Swedish poet and novelist Karin Boye was also noted for her T S Eliot translations. The highlight of the Boye's own work is probably her great dystopian novel Kallocain, often compared with Brave New World. It imagines a world where scientists have invented a truth serum that allows the state to exercise complete control over its citizens, to suppress the very essence of humanity. The plot rattles along but it's as a book of deas that this really succeeds. candinavia in general has articularly excelled in the rime genre. Swede Henning Mankell writes lauded detective fiction; his Kurt Wallander first appeared n Faceless Killers (though recent release The Pyramid is a prequel of sorts, tracking Wallander's early days in Knut Hamsun’s political views, most alarmingly his outspoken idolatry of Hitler, have made his a complicated legacy, but the seismic waves of his influence are still being felt.
December January 2010