Kim Thúy • Ru

Some books are perfect for reading in a single sitting. Ru by Kim Thúy is one of those.

It’s short enough, for one thing. More to the point, though, its circuitous plotting and dense imagery mean that you must immerse yourself in the book. And you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful, occasionally harrowing, often enlightening journey.

So the next time you’re facing a rainy weekend, or if you just want to read a whole book in one go, consider Ru. The translation is very readable.

Kim Thúy, Ru, trans. Sheila Fischman. 2009 novella about a Vietnamese refugee who settles in Quebec. Warmly recommended for a rainy day.

Read More

Stendhal • The Red and the Black

I’m still working out what I want these reviews to be, trying to develop my voice while holding onto the delight I’ve been experiencing as I begin reading consistently again for the first time in years. This process makes reviewing classics like The Red and the Black by Stendhal a rather imposing task, since I know whatever I write will be inadequate, particularly because I was bored for large chunks of the novel as the plot whirred away and Stendhal exhausted his barbs.

So here are a few words on The Red and the Black. I read Catherine Slater’s translation for Oxford, and I thought it was very readable.

Stendhal, The Red and the Black, trans. Catherine Slater. 1830 novel about an ambitious young man in post-Napoleonic France. Tepidly recommended.

Read More

Gwenaëlle Aubry • Personne

Translators must make do.

This French novel was published in English in 2012 as No One, which is both accurate and entirely insufficient. Its original title, and the title I will use in this review, is Personne.

As a noun, French personne is equivalent to English person. As an indefinite pronoun, however, personne means no one. The word’s root is Latin persona, which means a mask used in theatre. All three of these resonances are essential to understanding the novel, and there is no English word that captures them all. Reading the last sentence of the novel you understand why they went with No One rather than Person or Persona, but any is insufficient. So for this review, I’m going to use Personne.

The translation otherwise is very readable, as if it had been written in English originally.

Gwenaëlle Aubry, Personne [No One], trans. Trista Selous. 2009 autofiction about the author’s relationship with her father, who struggled with bipolar disorder. Recommended.

Read More