Micro-reviews (September 2020)

Posted by Paul Samael on Wednesday, September 30, 2020 Under: Book reviews
Kingdom of the Wicked, The Translator and A Woman of No Importance

Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale

This was a really interesting piece of alternative history (so far in 2 volumes).  Its starting point is a set of characters and a story we’re all familiar with – Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, the High Priest Caiaphas and the end of Jesus’ life.  It then transplants them into a world where the Romans have had an industrial revolution, leading them to develop technology quite similar to what we have today (although there’s no internet).  It then asks how those technological developments would’ve changed both Roman and Jewish attitudes and actions in response to events which, in our world, led to Jesus’ crucifixion.  What it does particularly effectively is to make you identify just enough with each side in the conflict to see something of our own attitudes and times in how they behave – whilst being simultaneously repelled by certain aspects of them.  And by imagining how things might have developed if “Jesus hadn’t happened”, it also gives you a fresh insight into the influence of Christianity on Western thought.  That said, if you prefer your fiction to give you a character (or characters) to identify with and root for without misgivings of any kind, this may not be your cup of tea.  It is at times an uncomfortable read and it’s not without its flaws, but the author has succeeded in producing a very thought-provoking series.

The Translator by Nina Schuyler

On reading his novel “The Joke” in French, Milan Kundera was famously horrified to discover that the translator had adopted a pretty free approach, frequently embellishing the author’s prose style for no particularly good reason.  What seems to have annoyed him most was that the translator clearly thought they knew best.   But on some issues – such as what works and doesn’t work in their native language – a good translator probably will know best.  And translation is difficult, demanding work.  So what happens where a translator – acting with the best of intentions – produces something which misinterprets what the author actually intended?   That’s the starting point of this novel, where the central character, Hanne has just finished a translation of a novel by a major Japanese author.   Hanne comes across as an accomplished, highly disciplined person who appears to have everything under control.  But after falling down a flight of stairs, she suddenly finds that she has lost her English – although she can still speak Japanese.  She then accepts an invitation to speak at a conference on translation in Japan, where she is accused by the author of mistranslating his work.  This ultimately triggers a crisis that causes Hanne to reevaluate her approach - not only to the work she has translated but to her life in general, including her relationship with her estranged daughter.  A thoughtful and well-written character study.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell has previously written a biography of Boris Johnson, but her subject here – the World War II spy Virginia Hall – is much more deserving of attention.  In fact, in many ways, Hall is the polar opposite of Johnson, because despite her many notable achievements, she did not crave any recognition at all for her work and exemplifies many of the virtues he conspicuously lacks (loyalty, responsibility, hard work, empathy, modesty, courage, principles etc).  Hall worked as a spy for the British and latterly the Americans in occupied France during World War II.   In the first few years of the war, she was one of the few Allied agents in France who managed to both provide actionable intelligence and lay the foundations of a resistance network.  And she did all this despite the discrimination she faced as a woman in the very male world of intelligence – and despite having a wooden leg (from a hunting accident).   It makes for an astonishing and gripping read, which leaves you wondering why you’ve never heard of her before.

In : Book reviews 

Tags: "a woman of no importance" "kingdom of the wicked" "the translator" "nina schuyler" "sonia purnell" "helen dale" 
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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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