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Slightly Expanded Reviews…

February 28, 2008

Before I forget, I’ve finally discovered why I can read so quickly: it’s genetic!  My mom borrowed Pillars of the Earth, and she finished it in “four to five days” (she’s not positive).  It was crazy to watch her race through it. :)  And now, I thought I’d like to expand on a few of my six word reviews from yesterday and allow myself six sentences (so still way shorter than usual).
The Winter QueenThe Winter Queen by Boris Akunin: This is the first in a Russian mystery series featuring Erast Fandorin; it’s set in imperial times, and the bureaucracy and mood is very much a part of this. Akunin’s style is very, very unusual; I wasn’t sure if it was the translation or what, so I found a copy of the Russian text online and read the first chapter. Basically, the translator went for a very literal approach. Russian grammar and English grammar function quite differently, so by bringing the Russian structures into English, the translator has given Akunin a unique voice. Take the opening: “On Monday the thirteenth of May in the year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow’s Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitnesses to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency.” If you enjoy that kind of writing (I love it), you’ll probably enjoy this book; the mystery is international (if a bit obvious) and Fandorin is a fun, if naive, detective.

The Wednesday WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt: It’s 1967, and Holling Hoodwood is starting seventh grade with a major disadvantage: he’s a Presbytarian in a class full of Catholics and Jews. This means that on Wednesday afternoons, when everyone else goes to religion classes, Holling and his teacher are on their own. At first, he’s convinced his teacher is out to get him; as the year progresses, however, his teacher helps him make sense of the world around him (both his personal life and the nation’s). Schmidt deftly brings to life the voice of a middle American seventh grader, and in the process brings to life the late sixties, a time of such turmoil. I’m not sure if I was feeling particularly sentimental, but I cried four times during the book (and I rarely cry…the last time was The Book Thief). Holling’s innocent-verging-on-experienced voice, as he recounts certain stories, just did me in: I think everyone would love this book.

Khufu’s WisdomKhufu’s Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz: First off, I thought of a much better six word review: Ancient Egyptions struggle to thwart fate. Now that that’s off my chest, I felt Mahfouz deserved some air time; I received the Ancient Egyptian trilogy for Christmas after my mom listened to my ravings about the awesome Palace Walk. Khufu’s Wisdom is the first, and it’s almost short enough to be a novella; the tone is very different from Palace Walk-fable like instead of crisp and modern. The story begins with Pharaoh hearing a prophesy that a newly born commoner will be the next Pharaoh, instead of his son; Pharaoh immediately goes off to kill the baby and change his fate. But of course, the baby doesn’t really die; the rest of the novella follows his life. It was a beautifully written story, and I enjoyed hearing details about the day-to-day life on Ancient Egypt. Mahfouz is the master of creating characters as well-I fell in love with them all, and I think you will too. :)

The Translator by Daoud Hari: you know what? There have been so many great reviews throughout the blogosphere that I’m just going to link you to a few. But I will point out something that, as a Modern Languages major, annoyed me throughout the book. A translator is someone who works with written languages; an interpreter works with speech. Hari is the latter, and his constant reference to translating and translators had be cringeing. I don’t blame him (English isn’t his native language, and a lot of other languages don’t make the distinction), but I do blame his editor. I understand if they didn’t want to title the book The Interpreter, since that’d be like the Nicole Kidman movie, but you can’t ignore the definitions of words because it’s convenient. That being said, do go read these great reviews: Megan’s, Alisia’s, Wendy’s and Literary Feline’s (if you’ve reviewed it recently and you’re not here, please let me know! I didn’t exclude you on purpose-it’d just be too exhausting to hunt through my entire blogroll, lol).

17 Comments leave one →
  1. verbivore permalink
    February 29, 2008 6:41 am

    I love Mahfouz – he is just wonderful. I’ve only read Palace Walk from the trilogy, but I loved it.

  2. February 29, 2008 8:26 am

    Well, I already knew I wanted to read The Translator. Your six word review sent me searching out more info on The Wednesday Wars, and I ultimately added it to my wish list as well. (That one really sounds like a fantastic one to read with Annie for school.) And now today, I’m adding Khufu’s Wisdom. My wish list may just implode if you don’t slow down with all these great reviews!

  3. February 29, 2008 8:28 am

    Good call on the interpreter/translator distinction. You are absolutely right!

    I received The Winter Queen from my MIL a few months ago, but haven’t read it yet. That does seem like an interesting translation, but it doesn’t turn me off.

  4. February 29, 2008 9:28 am

    I had no idea there was a difference between Translator and Interpreter! I read this book this month as well – it really touched me. My review is A HREF=””>here on my blog>/A>.

  5. Myrthe permalink
    February 29, 2008 12:02 pm

    Mahfouz has been on my list of authors I want to read for a long time. When I was in Holland in January I brought the Cairo Trilogy back with me, a heavy three-in-one book that added some weight to my already large luggage. I can’t wait to get to it.

  6. February 29, 2008 12:18 pm

    You’ve piqued my interest with The Wednesday Wars. I haven’t cried over a book since reading The Book Thief. This one sounds like a winner. Thanks.

  7. February 29, 2008 2:05 pm

    I am another person who has been intending to read Mahfouz for a long, long time. One day I will!!

    I also have owned the Winter Queen for years but never quite got to the point of reading it!

  8. February 29, 2008 3:17 pm

    Both The Wednesday Wars and Khufu’s Wisdom sound like things I’d really enjoy. To the wishlist they go.

  9. Dennis Burke permalink
    February 29, 2008 4:15 pm

    Daoud Hari, in The Translator, is using the title word the way it is used in the NGO community. Further, he is consciously translating his experience in ways that western readers can understand in reference to their own lives.

  10. February 29, 2008 6:33 pm

    Verbivore, I love him too. :)

    Debi, Wednesday Wars would be great for Annie! It includes Shakespeare, and history, and standing up for yourself…can you tell I really loved it? And Khufu’s Wisdom is short (it was only 183 pages in my three-in-one edition), so it’s ok to expand your wishlist. ;)

    Alisia, I really liked The Winter Queen’s style; it was so quirky! I hope you like it too. :)

    Wendy, I think most Americans don’t-since I was a language major, and briefly considered becoming an intepreter, it got drilled into me! I’ll add your link to the Translator. :D

    Myrthe, wow! A 3-in-1 for the Cairo trilogy would definitely be heavy! I’m jealous-I really want to read the second and third books, but they’re not in my library or on bookmooch. :(

    Les, I hope you like it!

    Marg, I expected Mahfouz to be really difficult to read, but his style just flies by. If that makes you want to read him any faster. ;)

    Nymeth, I think you will definitely like both of them!

    Dennis Burke, thanks for stopping by. The second part of your argument is interesting; I hadn’t thought of the idea of translating experience. As to the first part, why does the NGO community use translator to mean intepreter? I just did a brief google search, and it came up “translator/interpreter,” but I’ve never worked in the NGO community so I don’t know. I’m assuming you do work in that community, since you say its uses ‘translator’ as a generic word?

  11. February 29, 2008 9:54 pm

    I also love the Akunin books; the translation appeals to me because of its quirkiness! I’m reading his “Special Assignments” right now.

  12. February 29, 2008 10:01 pm

    The Winter Queen does sound good. I don’t think I’ve yet read a mystery set in Russia . . . Another one for the wish list. :-)

    That’s an interesting distinction between Translator and Interpretor and not one I considered.

  13. March 1, 2008 12:09 am

    Melanie, is that the ARC one? I think that’s the one I’m reviewing for CurledUp, but I’m not sure. lol

    Literary Feline, I hadn’t read a mystery set in Russia either! This one is mainly in Moscow, with sidetrips to St. Petersburg and London.

  14. March 1, 2008 3:37 pm

    Ooh very interesting about the Akunin book. I think I’d enjoy it so it’s on my TBR list. And, I really want to read The Translator – everyone is loving that book.


  1. Novella Challenge « A Striped Armchair
  2. The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin « The Armenian Odar Reads
  3. The Literary Horizon: The Winter Queen « The Literary Omnivore

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