The Translator: A Novel

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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 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 in the relationship with 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 already 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 so far. 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. This is definitely the best among all the releases I have had the fortune of reading so far. View all 30 comments. Hanne is a polyglot. She uses her language skills to teach and translate. But then one day the unthinkable happens: No longer being able to communicate with locals in San Francisco, she takes up an offer of an assignment in Japan.

That very briefly is the plot. However, the novel is so much more than that. It explores the power of language and communication and, more importan Hanne is a polyglot. It explores the power of language and communication and, more importantly, the lack of communication and its consequences. It examines how easy it is to misunderstand and to be misunderstood. It is a novel about the power of words. How words or their absence can hurt or destroy, but how words can also uplift or heal.

She grew up with it. She knows every aspect of it, and as she translates she analyses every word and tries to get right into the mind of the protagonist whose words she is transposing from one language to another. But, is she too analytical? Is she shaping the characters to what she thinks they should be?

Is she really translating what the author has expressed? And what about her own life? Where is the beloved daughter with whom Hanne has not communicated for many years? How ironical that someone so gifted with words should unwittingly alienate her daughter through words. Hanne is able to reflect on past deeds, to re-evaluate words said and unsaid, and is able to attempt reparation of her actions. For a moment she closes her eyes and listens. How can anything be so beautiful? This, she reminds herself, is what her translation should rise to.

It must sing the human condition. How flimsy they can be, how indelible. The act of naming conjures more than one word for me, and each word hauls with it its own nuances, as well as cultural, associational, and etymological overlays. Suddenly, that one word has expanded into a large world. You know, travel to a foreign place and not feel foreign.

The Translator

It puts a lot of distance between you and everyone else. In my mind, I used to glide from one language to another to another. View all 19 comments. Jul 03, Jennifer rated it really liked it. Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader. I know we're not supposed to judge books by their covers but how could I not? This one is gorgeous.

I was looking forward to reading The Translator for a few reasons. The premise sounded fab.

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Can you imagine what it would be like to lose the ability to speak your native language? Also, I enjoy reading about Asian cultures. I was eager to learn more Originally published on my blog at therelentlessreader. I was eager to learn more about Japan and about Noh theater. While I looked forward to all of those things what really drew me was the main character Hanne. She is such an interesting and realistic person. She knows best for the people in her life. So much so that her daughter hasn't spoken to her in years and the author whose work she translated basically calls her a hack. Hanne's first language is gone.

Her career is in deep trouble. Her family is broken. She struggles, as many of us do, to find the meaning of it all. Where did she go wrong? What could she have done differently? Hanne takes a journey seeking answers and redemption. It was a journey that I was glad to take with her. Jun 26, Andrew rated it really liked it. My friend Paul, a math teacher and avid reader, was given a pre-release copy and found it very affecting. Typically I grow bored with a book and give up on it but this one I read through. My last book was 1Q84 so I was primed for the story of a Japanese translator.

Schuyler quite nicely opens up the wrestling and choices a good translator must make, and joy and pride in believing she got it right, the intellectual rigor in toying with words and ideas, and in letting us understand My friend Paul, a math teacher and avid reader, was given a pre-release copy and found it very affecting. Schuyler quite nicely opens up the wrestling and choices a good translator must make, and joy and pride in believing she got it right, the intellectual rigor in toying with words and ideas, and in letting us understand the dangers and traps in blending two languages.

When I was a few chapters in, Paul and I and our wives took in a minor league baseball game and he looked hopeful that I really really liked it but I had to tell him that the side story of the off-stage Daughter was just annoying and he held back from plot spoilers but nodded and said, it comes together at the end. What he meant was, Schuyler will pull it off. She'll have your heart. At the end, she had my heart.

Jul 03, Karen rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book wonderfully translated into audio. Not an easy task considering 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. 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.


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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 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? Everyone is a translator of their own and others in their lives. Nina Schuyler has created a beautiful meditation on language and relationships. Aug 19, Snotchocheez rated it really liked it. This is one of those light and slightly ethereal books where my opinion of it might waver in the breeze.

Today it seems in sync with my spirit; ask me next week I might more revisit its weaknesses. The titular Translator , Hanne, a 53 year-old polyglot and mother of a successful, attorney son Tomas and daughter with a troubled soul Brigitte, is finshing up the translation of a Japanese novel into English when an accident in her hometown San Francisco causes her to lose her primary language, l This is one of those light and slightly ethereal books where my opinion of it might waver in the breeze.

The titular Translator , Hanne, a 53 year-old polyglot and mother of a successful, attorney son Tomas and daughter with a troubled soul Brigitte, is finshing up the translation of a Japanese novel into English when an accident in her hometown San Francisco causes her to lose her primary language, leading her to examine her life as it's played out so far, questioning her career path, life choices and parenting skills.

My description doesn't do Ms. The author takes dour subject matter and with a deft hand maps a prose-y voyage of Hanne's self-discovery that rang true to me. I'm no polyglot by any means, nor am I a parent of adult children or, even, a woman but I could easily put myself in Hanne's shoes and waft along in her reverie and in the process glean a little insight into my own life's foibles and folly.

View all 6 comments. I have to give this book 5 stars for the shear emotional impact it had on me. To say that this story explores language and words is banal. It is myriads more. I'm afraid that I don't have the mechanics in language to express the depth of this book. There are people so much better at it than I - Nina Schuyler to name one. But let me try. When Hanne Schubert, a gifted translator, falls and sustains a brain injury, losing her ability to speak all languages but Japanese, she goes on a journey of self I have to give this book 5 stars for the shear emotional impact it had on me.

When Hanne Schubert, a gifted translator, falls and sustains a brain injury, losing her ability to speak all languages but Japanese, she goes on a journey of self discovery. In spite of her intelligence and grasp of various languages, she discovers that without the understanding of what those words convey, they are meaningless. This story is a moving story and one that brought me to tears. I'd give this a "two hanky" rating. Feb 07, Ms.

The subtle art of translating foreign fiction

Translating a work of literature into another language is a daunting task. Is he being ironic or straightforward? Is he addressing other fictional characters or is he speaking directly to the reader? Or, is he telling himself a story that he doesn't even believe, an argument between warring parts of his psyche? Grammar provides an important clue.

Hanne Schubert, the eponymous translator in this novel, has been working for nearly a year on a translation from Japanese into Engl Translating a work of literature into another language is a daunting task. Hanne Schubert, the eponymous translator in this novel, has been working for nearly a year on a translation from Japanese into English. The author, Kobayashi, has been terse and hostile to her questions, so she is left on her own. It's an important work, a bestseller in Japan.

She puzzles over ambiguous viewpoints. Kobayashi didn't use a subject or personal pronouns. That's not unusual in Japanese, but it doesn't help her. And the verbs don't lend much direction either — standard form and sometimes informal in present tense. It could be anyone, anyone but Jiro. She is proficient in several languages including both English and Japanese.

She has been agonizing over the multiple possibilities each sentence presents. Schuyler even demonstrates the process with a line of Japanese poetry: By narrating from a third person viewpoint, Schuyler provides the reader with a dual vantage point. Hanne identifies with Jiro, the protagonist of the work she is translating. He is the distraught husband of a suicidal wife. Jiro is finally forced to commit his wife to a psychiatric hospital. Hanne imbues him with the stoicism she values in her own life.

So great is her identification with Jiro that she even has erotic dreams about him. On the other hand, the reader also views Hanne analytically. When she questions a juxtaposition of an ecstatic episode with feelings of despair, the reader comes to realize she is starting to impose a highly personal interpretation on the author's writing.

The Translator - Wikipedia

To what degree is that interpretation a deviation from the author Kobayashi's intentions? The book explores this question when Hanne travels to Japan and meets the Noh master Moto Okuro, Kobayashi's inspiration for the book. Their first encounter is as puzzling as Kobayashi's book. Moto is the embodiment of contradictions. Bouts of boorish drunkeness alternate with periods of candid lucidity.

Like the fictional Jiro, he has just responded to a crisis in his life. His erratic behavior unsettles Hanne. He insists on speaking to her in English on the pretext that it will help her recover the language. In reality, the language seems to give him license to press confrontational assertions.

They are assertions that provoke Hanne to re-examine her own assumptions. Schuyler discloses Hanne's past in tantalizing fragments. We learn she is a widow how did her husband die? We learn she is estranged from her daughter Brigette.

They have not seen or spoken to each other for six years. The technique keeps the story moving forward despite the leisurely pace. It also suggests a process of excavating Hanne's deeper character.


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Schuyler employs creative ways of advancing a spiritual aesthetic. Hanne suffers an accidental fall and loses her ability to speak English or any of her other languages. She can only speak in Japanese. The effect is uncanny. She comprehends as if Japanese were her native language. She begins to dream in Japanese. It is almost as if she has been swallowed by the world of Kobayashi's book. It's the prelude to her immersion in unsettling contrasts. When she travels to Japan, her world of words and categories are confronted by the Noh master's world of movement and gesture where words are stylized evocations, almost primal sounds.

Her art of mediation between languages is confronted with an actor's drive to inhabit a character.

Her method of contemplative reasoning is reshaped by the crucible of Moto's emotions. I enjoyed this book, but had difficulty with the conclusion. I would have been happier had Schuyler left the conclusion more open-ended. A number of websites give variant translations of the poem fragment from Ono no Komachi's collection. They add an extra dimension to Schuyler's brief demonstration. Jun 18, Owen rated it liked it Shelves: I really liked the idea of this book, and even if the execution wasn't as great as I would have liked, I still feel like it is a good book.

The concept is original and the problems the characters faced were realistic, but the writing and plot held the book down at times. In the same way that the main character, Hanne, is a translator, a connection between writer and readers of different linguistic backgrounds; I felt like her purpose was to not necessarily connect the people around her but augme I really liked the idea of this book, and even if the execution wasn't as great as I would have liked, I still feel like it is a good book.

In the same way that the main character, Hanne, is a translator, a connection between writer and readers of different linguistic backgrounds; I felt like her purpose was to not necessarily connect the people around her but augment their personalities, just as a translator conveys and augments the meaning of a novel to foreign readers.

It is evident that Nina Schuyler knows something about the Japanese language and culture, but the setting she created for most of the novel didn't feel Japanese in its presentation; perhaps only from a few visits or secondhand information. Which is okay, because it is still more than I know. The Translator includes interesting examples of languages and translation, and the family dynamics will appeal to many readers. Jun 20, Lianne rated it it was amazing Shelves: I received a galley copy of this novel to read in exchange for an honest review.

The Translator is a wonderful, beautiful, thought-provoking novel; I honestly could not put it down once I started reading it. Having studied a few languages in recent years, I've come to appreciate the tricky and detailed job that translators have and I enjoyed reading how the character Hanne approached the job and her understanding of the Japanese language. I also enjoyed reading about Hanne's time in Japan and the I received a galley copy of this novel to read in exchange for an honest review. I also enjoyed reading about Hanne's time in Japan and the prominent role that Japanese culture plays in the story as well as the personal journey that the character embarks on, re-evaluating her life and decisions as well as how she and her daughter came to a sad estrangement.

I highly recommend this novel if you're into Japanese culture or are into novels featuring internal character drama. Definitely one of the best novels I've read this year. My complete review of the title was originally posted at eclectictales. Jul 29, Bernie Hafeli rated it it was amazing. Such a compelling, beautifully written novel. Hanne Schubert, who as a translator prides herself on getting things right, manages to get it all wrong, not just in her latest translation assignment but in her relationship with her estranged daughter.

Using the precision of language and translation as a metaphor for how Hanne relates to the world, Nina Schuyler tells a fascinating, richly textured story that takes us from San Francisco to Japan to a small village in India, and leaves Hanne, a woma Such a compelling, beautifully written novel. Using the precision of language and translation as a metaphor for how Hanne relates to the world, Nina Schuyler tells a fascinating, richly textured story that takes us from San Francisco to Japan to a small village in India, and leaves Hanne, a woman for whom words are everything, feeling that in certain cases, love for instance, words just aren't enough.

Jun 21, Melinda rated it really liked it. This is a beautifully written story about the journey a woman takes when she loses her first language. It is the tale of a woman who discovers herself through a deep look inward and to her past, to how she has lived her life, the beliefs she has held. It is a story of perception and misconception.

It is about living your best life. It is a story about the possibility to change. The book is a little confusing in the beginning, but quickly finds its rhythm. The writing is incredible and the story i This is a beautifully written story about the journey a woman takes when she loses her first language. The writing is incredible and the story is extremely interesting.

Definitely a fascinating read!! Apr 22, Gabriella rated it it was ok Shelves: So I won this book through the Goodreads first reads giveaway a while ago. I know I know, it's taken me a long time to actually sit down and read this book and review it and everything. I know, I'm terrible. But I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to read, tragic story. Secondly, I haven't actually finished this book, and I'm really not so sure if I will. And the reason for that is, I guess mostly I just don't have much interest in it.

This book is supposed to be a self-discovery of So I won this book through the Goodreads first reads giveaway a while ago. This book is supposed to be a self-discovery of sorts for our MC, Hanne, but it's just kind of To me it feels like the only way for Hanne to "discover" herself is in the beds of various men. Her whole life is defined by the sexual relationships she's had with men, and only slightly defined by her relationship with her estranged daughter.

I don't know if she has some sort of revelation later in the story and she realizes that there is more to life than fucking sleeping around, and I'm not sure if I'm going to stick around to find out. I have a close relationship with her, even though I actually have no relationship with her. If I got an email from her asking to meet up? Yes, it would send me into a bit of a spin. She lives in New York City. The first translation I did was in the early 70s.

I liked writing about books. I specialised in Spanish and Latin American literature. Macedonio was the most eccentric man and writer one can possibly imagine. And I mean it was wonderful. This was a procedure whereby you could have certain portions of your memory excised. And I thought to sit at home and translate it was more fun than playing with monkeys. I could smoke all I wanted. And I thought, this is perfect, this is a perfect way for me to work. And so I began to do more and more. It took six or seven months to translate.

Nowadays it kind of becomes more a physical problem of how long I can sit at my desk. I always read the book first. Though a translator friend told me she never reads the book first. So I have tried that and I kind of like it, even though I have been very firm in print about the virtues of reading the book first. And if the author is no longer with us, then I will wing it, as we say, and just do the best I can.

I always find pages and pages that I would do entirely differently. I think I enjoy Don Quixote more than any other book. I just fell in love with that novel over and over again. At the beginning of the 00s, I was terrified and excited at the prospect of translating it. You have to be able to hear the language of the original. You have to be able to hear the tonalities, what the language indicates about the intelligence or class of the speaker. You have to be able to hear that, in my case in Spanish. And then you have to be able to speak it in English. The real question is, do I know enough English?

George Szirtes is a poet and translator. Born in Budapest in , he came to England as a refugee aged eight and learned Hungarian again as an adult. Of the four of us who walked across the border into Austria in only my father spoke English. What he spoke, he remembered from his school days. On arrival in England my parents insisted we speak English from the start. We went to language classes for refugees and while my parents spoke Hungarian to each other they spoke English to us, though my mother was only just learning the language herself.

This was hard for my younger brother but, at eight years old, I must have managed all right; within a few months, I was near the top of the class at an English school in London. And so it went on for several years of school, without Hungarian books, without Hungarian friends, my Hungarian forgotten.

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When I started writing poetry at the age of 18 it was natural to write in English. I went to art school for five years, writing all the time, lucky in my mentors, and had published three books by the time of my first adult return to Hungary in at the age of It was then that I was asked to translate poetry from Hungarian to English.

I needed help at first but within a couple of years I was working on my own. The poetry I translated taught me a lot and fed into my own poetry. I learned other voices and ways with verse. My way with fiction generally is to read the first chapter or so then to get down to it. It is far from scholarly. I listen intently for the timbre of the voice and seek a comparable voice in English that might bring to English the experience a native reader might have in Hungarian.

Narrative proceeds from there. Literary precision includes the idea of effect, pace, register, intensity and much else. Effect is partly a subjective judgment but so is writing. Nothing in English will capture the tone of Budapest slang. Most of my translatees have been dead a long time.

He and I rarely speak while the translation is in process. Translators are an intense, highly focused bunch. I admire them enormously. No one will ever read you as closely as your translator does. In a language as comfy in its huge soft armchair as English the shock of a strange sensibility entering English can be a delight. The Man Booker International prize is a way of stirring us from our comfort. And after many years I am genuinely beginning to think that literature in translation is becoming less of a curiosity.

Bartlett lives in Norfolk with his family. I think readers were slightly suspicious, and frightened of more academic translations. Publishers started being a bit more adventurous. I studied German at university, worked in Austria and Germany, moved to Denmark, then came back to England and married a Spaniard, which meant learning Spanish. And I started reading more in Norwegian. Usually words can be translated, but it may be long-winded and not as snappy as the original. Knausgaard has very long sentences only separated by commas, so what you want is to re-create that intensity rather than breaking it up with colons and semi-colons, although that would probably be more acceptable English style.

For Knausgaard, in the first person, it was more difficult. It was trying to get inside Karl Ove, meeting him, finding who the person was I was describing. All the characters are, in a sense — I know this can be argued about — real. I get on very well with Karl Ove. Best known for translating the works of Rwandan novelist Scholastique Mukasonga , Mauthner worked as a sociology lecturer before becoming a translator. Walking through the alleys of Brixton market, I stepped into a fabric shop, where I discovered what the term means: Here is how I translate: I read the whole book first, as well as other books by the author so that I have the sound and feel of their prose in my head.

The challenge is to find a similar voice in English. Walking around Brixton was helpful.