Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Translator; Nina Schulyer

Title: The Translator
Author: Nina Schulyer
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: Pegasus / W.W. Norton
Edition: eGalley/personal copy

Source: Publisher / Edelweiss

Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4/5
Fifty-three year old Hanne Schubert is a literary translator; she is fluent in seven languages.  She has just completed an important work for Kobayashi, a famous Japanese writer.  The success of his novel, The Trojan Horse Trips, into English, is important to both parties -- for the author it's being recognized in the American market, and for Hanne, a job well done means the potential of more work coming her way from various sources. While diligently working on the translation of this book, Hanne begins to feel that she knows the main character, Jiro, even better than the author does. This is reflected in how she translates the story as well. 
Shortly after completing the project, Hanne falls down a flight of stairs, and suffers a head injury which results in an unusual condition — the loss of her native language. For some reason, she is left with the ability to only speak Japanese, a language she learned later in life.  Hanne is a widow with two grown children, a son and a daughter. Through bits and pieces the reader is able to discern that Hanne is estranged from her daughter as a result of some issues that occurred years earlier. Since Hanne is unable to speak English, she decides to leave San Francisco to accept a speaking opportunity in Japan, but she is not prepared for what happens next. 
In Japan, Hanne is confronted by a furious and drunken Kobayashi, who humiliates her publicly and accuses her of deliberately trying to ruin him with her English translation of his book. Hanne in turn is determined to set her reputation straight. She seeks out Moto, the Noh actor that the author based the main character of his book after. She sees quickly that Moto is very deep and so very different than she is when it comes to dealing with important life issues. As Hanne gets to know and understand Moto better, she learns things about herself and how some of her past decisions could have been dealt with differently. her transformation from past to present leaves the reader to wonder whether she be able to heal her troubled relationship with her daughter, Brigette before it's too late.
I finished this book a few weeks ago, but I had a little trouble writing a review.  Did I like it? Yes, the writing is beautiful and there is plenty to think about as you read. Imagine how difficult it would be to lose one's ability to speak in your native tongue. I was moved as I read about Hanne as a mother and the mistakes she made. It made me think about a few things that I wished I had done differently or more of when my own children were young.  I also thought it was great to learn more about the Japanese culture.  This book took me much longer to read than I thought it would, it's very different, and although I liked it, I am not sure it's the kind of story that every reader will enjoy. Having said that, I do think that readers who love language and powerful meaning behind the written world should read this one.


  1. This does sound thought provoking.

    As an aside, my mother grew up bi-lingual and her brother lost the ability to speak English when dementia set in.

  2. I won a copy of this book from Vassily !! and I am looking forward to reading it as I want to find out what the book might reveal about the Japanese culture!

  3. It's an intriguing premise, isn't it? Thanks for reviewing it, Diane. I hadn't heard of it before.

  4. Thanks for the great review Diane. It sounds like a fascinating book and one I would like to read. I can't imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and not be able to speak my mother tongue.

  5. This sounds like something I'd like but it does seem to be a heavier read. I think the cover is pretty cool.

  6. It does sound very intriguing but heavy. Maybe someday...

  7. I am not sure I would read that one, but the concept is quite interesting.

  8. Sounds interesting. I'm debating as to whether I should add it to my list. I'm in a "lighter" book stage right now.

  9. Wow, I read somewhere just recently about a Croatian girl who woke up from a coma speaking fluent German, which she'd just started learning and was in no way perfect at. The premise of this book reminded me of that and it's certainly fascinating! I do love language and I'm definitely going to try and gets my hands on this book. Lovely review!

  10. I like the sound of this one. I read a news story recently about something like this happening to someone and you think how is this possible?

  11. It's pretty cool though that this book had you thinking about certain things long after you finished it.

  12. I had never heard of that before, losing a language after an accident. How fascinating! And frightening. I will have to look for this one.

  13. Probably not for me. I can't decide if I think the cover is cool or a little creepy.


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