on July 19, 2013
The Translator, A Novel
By Nina Schuyler
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
9 hours 18 minutes
Published July 2nd 2013 by AudioGO
This audio version of The Translator was provided to this reviewer by AudioGO for an honest review.
This book is wonderfully translated into audio. The narrator captures Hanne Schubert's character. Not any easy task condiering the number of languages that she had to use. There were a few times during these passages in which there might have been some carefulness in the speech. Yet these were few and far between and not enough to diminish the enjoyment of Kirsten Potter's performance. The director and producer are to be commended for the quality of the performance and the audio presentation.
Hanne Schubert is a fifty something woman who is translating the greatest work of a well known Japanese author. Language is Hanne's passion, she speaks several. We observe her as she painstakingly thinks through all the interpretations of the Japanese words and phrases and the appropriate English translation. Hanne is absorbed by the work and she has clearly developed a fondness for the main character.
After finishing the work and sending it off to the publisher Hanne has an accident, falling down the stairs. She wakes up in the hospital where she discovers she's lost the ability to speak all languages except Japanese. Released from the hospital she finds herself lost, disconnected with the people around her, unable to communicate with them. She accepts an offer to give a presentation in Japan and hopes to meet the author she spent over a year translating. To her horror, she meets the honored author when he shows up at her talk and confronts her in front of the audience, accusing her of ruining his work. His work was inspired by the great Noh actor and she has dishonored him by her translation. Hanne, embarrassed and angry decides to try and meet this actor and see if he indeed was like the character she so admired in her translation.
Hanne moves through the rest of the book on a transformative journey. Meeting the great actor who is all spirit and emotion, living in the present, Hanne is bewildered by him. She doesn't understand him but she is also drawn to him. She revisits her own memories of growing up as well as memories of her marriage and raising her two children. She shares stories of her daughter, Brigitte, a bright and sensitive girl with a talent for languages whom Hanne tried so hard to nurture, while trying to teach her resilience. Brigitte who has refused to see her these last 6 years.
This book explores so many ideas. Do we really understand each other? Words can be so powerful and yet they can miss the true essence of a persons being. Do we use language to create the story we already know or the one that we want to tell? I found myself asking, "Am I hearing the meaning that this author was hoping to share or have I taken my experiences and applied it to her words and created the story that I know?" Are words a bridge between people or do they create a chasm of unplumbed experience? Everyone is a translator of their own and others in their lives. Nina Schuyler has created a beautiful meditation on language and relationships. Don't miss its poignant message.
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.
on February 9, 2014
Although I am interested in linguistics and the cultures of countries other than my own, I thought that I would find more enjoyment out of this book than I did.
The story's overall mood was sad and depressing, which was the last thing I wanted to feel, especially after reading the ending and conclusion of this story. With all of the flashbacks that the book shared with regards to the estranged daughter of the main character, Hanne, I was truly hoping for a much happier ending. The ending seemed very anti-climactic after all of the thoughts and dreams the main character had about her daughter.
Also, the section of the book that included her stay in Japan felt unnecessarily long. I understood the importance for Hanne to realize how she made the mistake of rewriting the translated story about Jiro, but I was just wishing that the book would move on in this section and many other sections as well.
The journey of Hanne through her rediscovery of life just took too long in my opinion. Though there were lovely parts of the book that I enjoyed reading, the overall flow of the plot was very droll and hum drum. Most of the story seem pushed and drawn out too far. Perhaps my patience was wearing thin with this book, but either way that is how I felt about this book overall.
on September 3, 2013
I have always frowned upon people who seem to think that reading is a mere pastime, barely suppressing the resentment I felt for those who consider the act of complete engagement with a narrative akin to a childish desire of letting go of reality for a while and stepping into a world detached from our own. I believed them to be ignorant, presumptuous and hopelessly prejudiced.
But after having read The Translator, I feel like I have gained enlightenment of a special kind, become a more empathetic and thoughtful being blessed with a newer perspective on the matter.
Reading can, indeed, be categorized as a form of escapism. A gateway opening up into another metaphysical dimension we cannot gain physical access to. Or it can be the very best thing about our lives. Reading can be whatever we will it to be or perceive it to be. Because contrary to what we like to believe, our world views and personal preferences end up coloring the judgement we pronounce upon every thing else. Nothing can be classified as the absolute truth. It is certainly not wise to view an opinion as a fact, certainly not our own, since our understanding of the world is forever a work in progress.
The essence of The Translator consists not so much of the life events of one particular Hanne Schubert, who effortlessly navigates the world of various languages, but of the basic human fallacy of failing to understand another, the accompanying pangs of miscommunication and the tragedies that transpire as a consequence.
A professional translator, Hanne, eases into the reticent formality of the Japanese language from the confident brusqueness of English within the same heartbeat. She keenly understands the basics of linguistics and elements of a foreign culture, yet struggles to understand her own flesh and blood. As a result, an unbridgeable chasm opens up between Hanne and her daughter Brigitte and this yawning gap stretches across time and space, affecting Hanne in ways she remains unwilling to acknowledge.
She continues to drift through a life revolving around translation assignments, shouldering the burden of repressed grief for her departed husband and estranged daughter without letting it engulf her completely.
But when an accident involving a head injury causes her to lose her mastery of all languages barring Japanese, she is forced to evaluate her true standing in life and embark on a journey of self-discovery, at the end of which she reconciles with her daughter. Although by the time realization dawns on her, it is too late.
But is it really? Nina Schuyler seems to leave the reader with the message that it is never too late to cast aside reluctance and commence the often difficult, two-way process of communication, to stop speaking for a while and patiently listen to what the other one is saying without offering interruptions. And perhaps, it will not be mere folly to take off the rose-tinted glasses of preconceived notions and glance at the world once again, just so we can see facets of it we have been willfully blind to.
As a relatively new author, Nina Schuyler shows incredible promise. Her elegant, understated writing style succeeds in capturing the poignancy of many tender moments. There is something deeply atmospheric about this book and had it not been for the meticulous research that Schuyler must have conducted on Japanese culture and language (even the mention of Japanese tv show 'Long Vacation' holds true since I have seen it), half of the scenarios wouldn't have come to life as they did. Japan, the character of Moto Okuro, the theatre art of Noh could have resembled lifeless replicas but in Schuyler's deft hands, they appear believable.
Hence, a very impressed 4.5 stars rounded off to a 4.
This is definitely the best among all the 2013 releases I have had the fortune of reading so far.
**I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review**
on March 13, 2015
On the surface, this is a very simple story about a female translator who, after a freak accident, loses her ability to speak multiple languages, including her primary language. On a deeper level, it makes you think about how to live, through exposure to multiple characters from different cultures and with different lifestyles. The main character's journey makes you think and feel. This novel brings up multiple ways of dealing with grief and choices made in life. At one moment, you feel the strong, resilient type who bravely pushes onward is the most honorable. Then, you come to respect the man who holds on to what is lost, constantly reminiscing, and unable to let go.
I felt a strong connection to the characters in this book, especially Hanne and her evolution, which felt very human and real, and Moto and his attitude towards life. It's a fairly quick, enjoyable read with quiet wisdom and a heart. It has moments of insight and life lessons, without feeling preachy or forced.
The story's subject is translation and how something that seems straightforward can be interpreted and handled multiple ways. Everything depends on your outlook and understanding. This comes up in the literal sense, as Hanne translates a novel and realizes how words can be misinterpreted, not just due to nuanced meanings, but also because of the life experiences of the translator (or reader). Translation is also a deeper theme if you think of it as interpretation or change. How you interpret someone's actions or words can be misconstrued or difficult to understand. Two people can make similar choices in life and deal with the ramifications in completely different ways. Is there a right way or a wrong way to make choices, to cope, to live? This book will have you questioning.
on August 10, 2013
I happened to wander into a bookstore while visiting San Frsncisco last month and heard the author speaking not only about the book, but her process of writing it... I was intrigued. That evening I bought the book on kindle. The same intriguing feeling stayed with me throughout the book. The writing of a journey of discovering and discarding perceptions through language was masterful. The Translator is a story within a story that is filled with history, culture, and self realization. It is a well written, entertaining, and captivating story, that should prove to be very thought provoking for the reader.
on June 20, 2015
I spent three perfect days immersed in this eloquent novel. ^The Translator^ is lovely in every way—elegant and intricate in its design, lovingly patient and nuanced, emotionally complex, full of intriguing people in unusual situations, and gorgeous in its language. The book illuminates the challenge of translating any thought / impression / sensation into any spoken or written language—but Nina Schuyler's language is exquisitely lucid and precise, miraculously communicative, and tenderly evocative. Hanne Schubert is a full human being—a brilliant translator, a passionate lover, an unfinished woman, and a struggling mother. Schuyler's range of knowledge—and her agility with disparate languages and diverse cultures—is thrilling.
on September 21, 2015
I was immersed in this story and the ideas it enjoined. As a writer, I know I always risk not being understood as I create words to translate life to the reader. This author has created the drama of the act of creation, and the risks of failing at relationship.
I especially enjoyed the insights into the culture of Japan, as well as the emotional the relationships of mother to child.
on September 12, 2014
This is the story of Hanne, a woman gifted with an extraordinary ability with languages. She is very driven and is pleased to be in the midst of a translation of a Japanese novel that could take her to a new level of acclaim. Then she suffers a head injury and loses her ability to speak English. This is a rare problem but it can occur. In response she moves to Japan where she can feel more at home with her new limitations and begins a quest of self discovery. Much about the book is contrived and dramatic but that may be appropriate because the book is also about an actor in the Noh theatre tradition. There is much about Japanese culture in the book but some of it seemed somewhat stereotyped. I did feel that Hanne's musings about the need for links between languages and combining of languages were interesting.
The book did seem to suffer from some editing problems and some confusing pronouns. Overall it is an easy read. It provides many topics for discussion: parenting, how to respond to sorrow, does translation ever work across cultures.
on February 4, 2015
This novel by Nina Schuyler truly surpassed my expectations. I write Japan-related fiction and I've worked as a translator in the past and Schuyler's understanding of the Japanese culture as well as the Japanese mind-set is very impressive. This is clearly evident in the dialogue between Hanne and the Japanese characters Moto and Renzo. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful interpretation of an American woman who travels to Japan to find herself as she searches for the answers that will validate her work as a translator. Every page is a testament to good prose and a captivating plot which will hold your attention until the final page of this wonderful story.