Tagged: books

The Benefits of Reading Translated Novels

Look at any list of The Best Books Ever Written (subjective I know, but still), and you’ll see that a large number of them were written by foreign authors in foreign languages. English may be the most widely spoken language in the world, but I find it sad that according to some statistics, only 3 percent of all books published in English are translations. Foreign literature gives us an insight into the national psyche of other countries, allows us to better understand the history and gives us a first-hand account of life from a foreigner’s perspective.

Sure, we can read newspaper articles and blogs to find out how other people in other countries live, but there’s nothing quite like reading a French, or Dutch or Japanese novel in translation to get a sense of what it’s like coming from and living there. Reading Murakami’s massively successful Norwegian Wood gave me a much deeper insight into Japanese life than anything else could — and similarly, Amélie Nothomb’s Fear and Trembling offers a view into Japanese office hierarchy from a Belgian’s perspective, obviously not something you’d easily come across otherwise. People tend not to go for novels in translation when choosing something to read in a bookshop or library because of the misconception that it will be “more difficult” to read, or more “challenging” than an ordinary English novel, but this just isn’t true (unless you pick War and Peace). The main benefit of reading foreign literature is, of course, that you look really smart reading on public transport…

Foreign books and movies can be a great way of encouraging young people — especially teenagers — to take up a foreign language. In England, where I live, we are currently experiencing a language crisis: the number of people choosing to study them at university is decreasing every year. This is rather sad — having graduates who can speak one or more languages is an asset to any company, and there are several reasons for the lack of interest. Firstly, the standard of teaching in secondary schools is often not that great. Secondly, and more importantly, the syllabus for 14 to 18 year-olds is honestly rather boring. Each examination board is different, but with some, the topics studied rarely stray from the environment, family and the world of work. This is especially true at GCSE level — the public exams we take at the age of 16. If the course were more interesting — incorporating popular culture, music, film and books — way more students would choose to study languages. Spending time with other European teenagers from Switzerland, Belgium and Spain, it’s actually embarrassing that on the whole, most of them can speak three or four languages. To solve this crisis in England at least, one thing is clear: we should draw more attention to foreign language film and literature, as there is so much for us to learn from them.

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Homage to Catalonia – A Spanish novel

Whilst this was written by a British author, it’s about the Spanish Civil War and therefore totally counts as Spanish. Whilst many are familiar with George Orwell‘s Down and Out in Paris and London/ Animal Farm/ 1984, far fewer know about Homage to Catalonia. While this may seem very superficial of me, I was in two minds about starting this novel as the cover seemed rather dull (I know, I know, so stupid of me). However, it’s surprisingly readable! Orwell describes the Civil War in a way which really makes it come alive, something I haven’t really come across before, and it opened my eyes to the harsh realities soldiers faced, much like those in WW1. I’d recommend Homage to Catalonia to people with zero knowledge of the Spanish Civil War – it really does teach you about it in an accessible manner, and for anyone studying Spanish or Spanish culture, the civil war is something we need to know about. It doesn’t even take that long to read!

Loving Sabotage – A Belgian novel

Loving Sabotage, written in 1993 by the Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb, is a short novel about a young girl whose family has been posted to Peking. There, she falls in love with her friend Elena, who rejects her, and she ends up learning some life lessons at a very young age. It’s set in the Seventies, and is written from the point of view of a seven-year-old, which makes for very interesting reading. Living in an enclosed expat world, the young girl offers us an insight into her life. What makes it work is that although it’s written in the first person as a seven-year-old, the language is very sophisticated (far more so than your average little kid’s…) and the similes are though-provoking and unusual. The author has succeeded brilliantly in letting us into the mind of the girl (who we in the end find out to be the author herself)  whilst at the same time not using a patronising, juvenile style.
It has been described by critics as being “The funniest book I’ve ever read about the cruelty and delusions of childhood”, and speaking as a teenager myself (because clearly, my opinion is worth soo much), I’d have to agree. It’s sad and naïve at times, but at others, what the critics say is true: it’s laugh-out-loud funny – not something you’d necessarily expect, reading the blurb of the book.
The length of Loving Sabotage – 135 pages – makes it ideal to read during school time, because you don’t have to dedicate large chunks of time to getting into the story. The downside to this, however, is when you’re done with it, you want it to be longer… It’s worth bearing in mind when reading that it was originally written in French – something you really don’t notice when you’re in the middle of it, perhaps because the translation is so good.

Invisible Cities – an Italian novel

Written by Italo Calvino and published in 1972, Invisible Cities is a collection of page-long descriptions of cities, as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. The two men do not have a common language, so we realise that Polo is describing his travels using not only words, but hand gestures and props to make himself understood to his host. The novel, written originally in Italian, is incredibly vivid and explores our imagination. It’s complex, but there’s an enjoyment to be had from just reading it at face value without adding your own interpretation or thinking about it too deeply. Although the cities are described in a clearly exaggerated way, the images are too intense for them to be totally made up…. This is definitely worth reading – it’s totally captivating and although there’s no plot as such, it’s almost impossible to put down. Also, you look kind of intelligent reading it on public transport, which is always nice.

Wallpaper* City Guides: an obsession

These things are amaazing. I must admit, I love everything about them: their size, their layout, their colours… The Wallpaper* City Guides just look so nice stacked up on your bookshelf. According to the company who publishes them (but verified by me), the City Guides “provide the savvy traveller with a need-to-know checklist of the best a location has to offer, whether you are staying for five days or 48 hours”. As I am, naturally, a savvy traveller, these books are my new obsession. The best thing has actually been buying the London edition – I live here, and it gives really cool and unusual suggestions of where to eat/shop/go. As only one small section is about hotels, it’s definitely worth spending £6.95 to buy one for your hometown…

 

                                    

The British Library – London

Perhaps one of the most underrated public space in London, the British Library is where many freelancers and students spend their days huddled over their laptops. The Library also holds copy of everything ever published in the UK and Ireland, and the Reading Rooms are used by researchers the whole time. They have a massive collection of documents, from manuscripts, maps and newspapers to prints, drawings and music scores – and 3 million new items are added every year… Apart from these Reading Rooms (which are only open to over-18s who are members), the main bit of the library is where you can sit and revise (and access the free WiFi). Probably the only bad thing about the whole place is the café – it’s really good food, but it’s SO EXPENSIVE. So yeah, bring your own food.

   

Loving Sabotage – a review

Loving Sabotage, written in 1993 by the Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb, is a short novel about a young girl whose family has been posted to Peking. There, she falls in love with her friend Elena, who rejects her, and she ends up learning some life lessons at a very young age indeed. It’s set in the Seventies, and is written from the point of view of a seven-year-old, which makes for very interesting reading. Living in an enclosed world, the young girl offers us an insight into her life. What makes it work, is that although it’s written in the first person as a seven-year-old, the language is very sophisticated (far more so than your average little kid’s…) and the similes and though-provoking and unusual. The author has succeeded brilliantly in letting us into the mind of the girl (who we in the end find out to be the author herself)  whilst at the same time not using a patronising, juvenile style.

It has been described by critics as being “The funniest book I’ve ever read about the cruelty and delusions of childhood”, and speaking as a teen myself (because clearly, my opinion is worth soo much), I’d have to agree. It’s devastatingly sad and naïve at times, but at others, it’s true: it’s laugh-out-loud funny – not something you’d necessarily expect, reading the blurb of the book.

Its length – 135 pages – makes it ideal to read during school time, because you don’t have to dedicate large chunks of time to getting into the story. The downside to this, however, is when you’re done with it, you want it to be longer…

It’s worth bearing in mind when reading that it was originally written in French – something you really don’t notice when you’re in the middle of it, perhaps because the translation is so good.

About The Europhiles – With teenage contributors from  all over Europe, was set up for us young people to celebrate everything we love about our continent. We post about anything at all that interests us: food/movies/books/music/foreign words/ news stories/what’s going on in Europe generally. We always love guest posts – if you’d like to contribute anything, please email us at theeurophiles@gmail.com