Wandering through translated fiction

I love translated fiction, translated books, translated works. I didn’t know how much I love it until the day I found myself in the middle of reading three translated works, all translated from their respective languages into a different language. I could have read them all in their original language but somehow found myself reading them in translation.

The books were namely:

  • The Makioka Sisters (translated from Japanese to English)
  • Stolthet og Fordom (Pride and Prejudice, translated from English to Norwegian)
  • フランス人は10着しか服を持たない (Lessons from Madame Chic, translated from English to Japanese)

I have gone full circle.

Growing up I read a lot of translated fiction, even my favorite children’s book was translated from Dutch (I didn’t know that at the time though).

I think a lot of people read translated fiction without realizing it. I was certainly not actively thinking about it as I was reading before. When I first started reading Gabaldon’s Outlander series at 15, it was in Norwegian. Was it because I wanted to read translated fiction? Not really, all I wanted was a story and I had yet to delve into reading novels in English.

When I started reading English novels, I read many novels by Spanish, Chinese, Japanese authors, and maybe even many other nationalities, but as a non-native English speaker, I didn’t think too deeply on the translated aspect, I was more focused on how much bigger the selection of novels were in English compared to Norwegian. As English is a much more global language than Norwegian, it is natural that the amount of novels and translations of foreign novels is greater, and so the amount of insights into other worlds, other cultures you can get your hands on is greater. The world is at your fingertips.

This is almost turning into an ad for learning English, which wasn’t my purpose but for people’s whose first language is not English I do think your life will become enriched if you take your language studies seriously.

Anyways, I love how stories from cultures and places I have never even heard about becomes available to me through the art of translation. I have walked through the streets of New York while lying in my garden in Norway. Mingled with the Russian nobility while sunbathing on a Spanish island. Through my reading I have journeyed across the globe, from the plains of Tibet, to the docks in Spain, to the Scottish highlands, to the countryside in Japan, and to the deserts of Australia. I am a literary pilgrim.

(Which is also where peregrinja is from, from the Spanish peregriña, the female version of peregriño meaning pilgrim, and in Norwegian we write the ñ sound as nj so that’s just a little story on how I made my name as I am both a wanderer through literature and also a migrant having moved to several places and countries for things such as education and employment (whether the current location is permanent or not I have yet to decide))

If I had only read Norwegian novels by Norwegian authors in Norwegian, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I can’t imagine where I would be, what I would be doing. My love of languages has shaped so many of my choices. Because I liked English I decided to do the international baccalaureate diplomma programme instead of normal Norwegian high school. Because I read Haruki Murakami’s novels and I now had an international high school diploma, I decided to study Japanese at a university in the UK. And because of that I moved to Japan, where I am now.

Translated fiction is the cheapest and safest journey you can go on. Studying a language and reading fiction that hasn’t yet been translated is the second best.

Who else loves translated fiction? Let’s talk. 話しましょう。Hablemos.

Book buying blunder and can you skip short stories?

Long time no post. I either feel the need to write three times a day or once every three months.

Today a copy of Kawakami’s People From My Neighbourhood arrived in my mailbox, a book I had forgotten I had ordered in September. The delivery date had apparently been by October the 13th, but as I had completely forgotten about it, I bought it as an ebook on the 15th and finished reading it yesterday.

I didn’t love it. I think it was good and an entertaining read, but not on the level of Strange Weather in Tokyo or The Nakano Thriftshop in my opinion.

At first I thought it would be many weird little stories that weren’t particularily connected to each other but as I read on I found out that they were. They were all little snippets of a frankly absurd neighbourhood (absurd in a good way) and the same characters kept popping up here and there. Incredibly short with only 89 pages in the kindle edition (121 in paper edition) and at the same price as a full-length novel, which is a bit… absurd (to me). Then again, I did purchase it twice, thanks to my non-existent memory.

I am still reading 先の忘れ物, another short-story collection but without the connection between the stories as with Kawakami’s. I loved the title story. I wish it would have been a novel by itself. The second story was okay. The third story is where I have a problem. I didn’t enjoy it so I skipped halfway through and went on to the next story.

So my problem is; can you skip some stories in a short-story collection and still say you read the book?

The Makioka Sisters and how soon is too soon?

I am always hesitant to write too much about the plot of the books I read, it always ends up very vague and not very interesting which makes me a very unsuitable to write book reviews. Even when I want to gush about my favorite parts I feel like I need to hold back, just in case there is someone out there who hasn’t read it yet, be it a month after publication or a hundred years.

How long after publication does one wait until spilling the beans so to speak? how soon is too soon? Do we have to use spoiler alerts forever?

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. I always assumed the title was the same in Japanese, so something like まきおか姉妹 or まきおか物語 (like Little Women) but I found out after trying to talk about it with other Japanese people that the title is 細雪 (sasameyuki, or light snow fall), so, completely different.

Even though I’ve know about this book ever since I got into Japanese literature and it is one of the greats, THE classic basically, it has even been translated into Norwegian (in 2015), I didn’t know anything about it, except for it being about the Makioka sisters obviously.

Reading the synopsis on the back I felt a trifle annoyed, thinking that perhaps they would like to just write out the whole ending and spare me 530 pages? (I can be a very sarcastic person and I apologize in advance, it is one of my character flaws and a great burden). Going from knowing nothing about the plot I felt like I had been spoiled it all as they wrote as far as “She has a series of love affairs, bears a child, and ends up as the wife of a bartender”. But I was determined to enjoy the book anyway and delved into the story. (Spoiler alert: it does not spoil the book)

I was able to overcome my prior prejudice and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am always a bit apprehensive about classics as they can sometimes be hard to get into, but I found the Makioka sisters to not belong in this category.

I hadn’t really thought about how old this particular translation/edition is, but it struck me as I came across a footnote explaining what sushi is. Nowadays it feels like that is common knowledge, with sushi places in just about every country, but back in 1958 when this was first translated and released, sushi must have been a lot less common or maybe even unknown outside of Japan.

It spans such a long time that I usually wasn’t sure what year we were in, but I felt it really wasn’t that important. I mean, yes, the time period is very important because of the historical side of it, but I, personally, was more drawn into the personal lives of the characters. I have never had much sense regarding the historical aspects of things, history class was very difficult for me because I couldn’t relate to the events nor remember the dates, but enough about that.

There were many characters and names, but as you were drawn into the story it wasn’t too hard to keep track of them all.

With Little Women, I think we all have a favorite sister, a sister that maybe we look up to or that resembles ourself the most. But with the Makioka Sisters I couldn’t find one like that. They all have their fine points and their flaws (as do we all), but I couldn’t root for one more of the other. I liked them all the same and was invested in their lives, but nothing outside of that. The one I liked the best was Teinosuke, I admired him for being such a great husband, and brother-in-law, and father. (Let’s not talk of Taeko).

I enjoyed the story greatly, seeing all the different paths human lives can take. However I am not sure if it will be a reread for me or not, and it is definitely not on the list of books to get hardcovers of yet, but, if in the future I find myself rereading it, it might get onto that list, we’ll see.

Perfect Monday

Yesterday was as perfect as a normal working Monday could be.

It was sunny, but with a cool wind bringing in the scent of autumn. I opened all windows and doors as far as I could letting in the fresh air while not letting out the cat. After days of rain, I could finally do the laundry and did no less than four loads thanks to the sun drying things in less than an hour.

For three years I have had the same futon covers, but I finally bought new ones; matching ones. And the joy of washing them and putting them on: I was over the moon. I have noticed that here, instead of having several sets of covers and changing and washing on like a weekly basis (which I would do in Norway), it seems to be enough with one set and then you hang the whole futon out to dry and “wash” in the sunshine.

While the laundry was drying, I was free to clean the apartment and finish most of my to-do list (that has been piling up lately)

I also got started on changing out my warderobe. Thanks to reading “Lessons from Madame Chic”, I am trying to define my style and also get some ‘core pieces’ and maybe even get down to a ’10-piece warderobe’. I make no promises however. I got a lot of new clothes (well, 8 pieces) which I think will be the main, but I also have some thicker knit sweaters and one wool skirt in my existing fall/winter warderobe so I am already exceeding the 10 pieces but I am not too bothered, it’s not the end of the world. I’m also trying to get better at dressing up, wearing the clothes I like more regularly and not just for special occasions. So for example, to go to the bakery this morning, I put on some of my new pieces and did my makeup! At 10 in the morning! (I work evenings). In Norway, if the bakery was as close as it is here, I might’ve just gone over in sweatpants.

Anyways, I digress, I was writing of yesterday.

My warderobe is looking like this at the moment, I’m hoping to get my knit sweaters etc., into the white boxes that are currently full of winter clothes, which means I need to find a different space to store summer clothes. Did I mention I love organizing yet? It should be getting clearer now. Thinking about storage space and how to organize it is what gets me going. And yes, I have thought that maybe I should become a Konmari consultant, but haven’t found any courses here yet.

I took a break after my warderobe shenanigans and had another matcha latte, which I have every day now, I am obsessed. I’ll probably drink it daily for 6 months and then I’ll get hooked on something new, or maybe go back to milk tea (that I made and drank daily from December until June).

Matcha latte? Check

Laundry? Check

Cleaning? Check

Organizing? Check

Reading? Check

It doesn’t take too much to make me happy. I coud accomplish all this, take my time getting to work, and work didn’t bring me down either.

I got home, took a bath with the Makioka Sisters in hand, and then I could go to bed in new sheets, the first new sheets in 3 years. My sigh is of happiness and you could probably hear it from outside as the temperature was perfect for keeping the windows open all day and all night.

Studying by reading

I am not usually the kind of person to look up every unknown word as I read in Japanese, but as I am reading フランス人は10着しか服を持たない I have found myself looking up and jotting down words here and there, sometimes to get the correct reading so that I may remember it seeing as a word appears several times throughout a chapter, or to get the meaning. Maybe it’s easier to do this with this book precisely because it is not a novel, thus stopping to look up words doesn’t ruin the reading flow as much as it would have if it was.

Exposing my terrible handwriting, don’t judge me too harshly

I have not studied ‘properly’ this year at all. I took the JLPT in December of last year (feels like a century ago), and after failing the N1 for a second time I lost all motivation to sit down with textbooks. I didn’t much enjoy N1 materials anyway so I haven’t been able to force myself back into it.

But I have read several books, in Japanese, and while I might not have been studying the ‘traditional’ way of looking up words/grammar, writing them down, making flashcards, quizzing myself, etc., after years of making flashcards and never using them I believe I am better suited to remember these things by repeated exposure in more natural settings, i.e. by reading books. By seeing the kanjis for train stations everyday I am able to remember their reading. Same with people’s names, buttons on websites, tags on instagram, buzzwords in advertising, blog posts on topics I am interested in. By seeing the words over and over in their natural habitat so to speak, I can (hypothetically) recall their meaning or reading even if I were to be exposed to them in a new or different place.

The first two pages of the first novel I tried to read in Japanese (during my year abroad at the university) looked like this:

From 世界から猫が消えたなら by 川村元気

It was so full of words I didn’t know the meaning of, or reading of, or both. It was so disheartening and took out all the fun of reading, it wasn’t even reading anymore, just working. There was so much work trying to write the kanji correctly into the electronic dictionary so it would recognize it and give me the meaning. I stopped “reading” a couple of pages later and didn’t pick it up again until over a year later. And when I did pick it up again I swore to not suck all the fun out by relying on the dictionary and so I didn’t. I did my best to read and understand from context, and I enjoyed the story immensely.

This formed a habit of not using a dictionary when reading that still continues today. Rarely will I stop to look up words when reading novels. Does that mean I can now read and understand every kanji and every word and every grammar point? Not at all. But there is no pressure to either. I read for my own enjoyment. I know kind of what most means and if I don’t know the exact reading or meaning I don’t sweat it, I will just input the meaning or feeling of a word in whichever language I feel I understand it in.

I am hoping to one day take and pass the N1. I have no immediate use for it and so the need to study seriously is not there as of now. While I would want to believe that by reading and enjoying books as I am now, I will accumulate the knowledge required to pass, I know it is not so. But until the need arises for me to have the N1, I will continue my studying in the way I like; slowly and comfortably with my beloved books.

読書の秋 

Today is 秋分の日 (shuubun no hi) or the autumnal equinox day, meaning summer is officially over and autumn is starting!

In Japan you often hear 食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki) or 読書の秋 (dokusho no aki), which loosely translates to ‘autumn of appetite’ and ‘autumn of reading’ respectively. I haven’t heard it much about any of the other seasons, only autumn. Once when I went to a Japanese class at a community center, the old grandma that was volunteering as the teacher introduced this topic to us, and had us “make our own autumn”, so basically what our image of autumn is, and what would we like to do or focus on during this season.

You can put just about any two-kanji word in front of の秋, 紅葉(kouyou, autumn leaves), 旅行(ryokou, travel), 勉強(benkyou, study), 健康(kenkou, health), 運動(undou, exercise), 睡眠(suimin, sleep), etc. The list is only limited to your own imagination. You also do not have to be bound just by the two-kanji words, some make long and funny ones like “Autumn of it’s getting increasingly difficulty to get out of bed in the mornings”. Just have fun with it!

My top three this season is:

  • Appetite (I want to eat all the nabe I can fit into my body)
  • Reading (my tbr list is getting uncontrollable as you will see)
  • Autumn leaves (they are my favorites)

Today’s title is 読書の秋 so I will be talking about the books I see myself reading this fall.

The line-up
My kindle app

I am still not even halfway through Murakami’s 一人称単数, and I feel like a bad Murakami fan. But I finished 3 books in Japanese in a short time in the beginning of August and kind of burnt myself out with reading Japanese so the next books I read were all in English and so Murakami got pushed to the side. But I will get to him during this autumn.

Rainbow / にじ is a poetry collection with the poems in both English and Japanese! It’s super thin so I could get through this quickly, but I would prefer to take it slowly and think a bit about each poem.

The short-story collection サキの忘れ物 is as per my post about it still as beautiful as ever and I am enjoying the title story!

As I mentioned in my last post, I love books like フランス人は10着しか服を持たない, it gives me a bit of motivation to change and I am learning a lot about French culture!

It was finally cool enough here the other day to wear my flannel dress

I also started The Makioka Sisters. I finished Jane Eyre and on that day I went by the bookstore and got three new books and started two of them. I have no self-restraint. I felt like they wrote too much on the back, but I am determined to enjoy the story anyway.

I started re-reading Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world a while back on my e-reader, but I’ve been busy with other books so I haven’t taken the e-reader out in a while. I need to get back on that, as at the moment I am lugging around The Makioka Sister, the Lessons from Madame Chic, and the サキの忘れ物, and my bag is heavy and my back is not pleased about the extra weight.

Books I have yet to start but that I want to get to:

  • The sequel to Lessons from Madame Chic
  • 若草物語
  • 舟を編む
  • 木曜日にはココアを
  • ラヴレターズ
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles
  • The letters of Jane Austen

I really love reading old letters written between people, it is such an underrated art in this day and age.

What is everyone’s 〇〇の秋, and what are you reading this season?

Morning bliss

Mornings where I don’t have an alarm on are few and far between. Even on Sundays when I don’t have work I feel the need to have on alarm as to not somehow waste the day.

But this Sunday I decided not to. There was no piano class either so I didn’t have to think about that. I had a lovely bath the night before, put on a new set of pajamas and then I slept for as long as I wanted. I woke up feeling relaxed, I even spent an extra hour, awake, in bed.

I didn’t get out of bed before it was already eleven and I only did so to get the cat and get back into the bed.

Yesterday my order of matcha had come in, so I made a cup of matcha latte (from scratch! No starbucks sachets today) and sat down with a new book; Lessons from Madame Chic or フランス人は10着しか服を持たない by Jennifer L. Scott.

I like these kinds of books, they always inspire me to be better (not for forever unfortunately, I am but a fickle creature)

A cup of matcha latte in one hand, a book in front of me, and my darling Darjeeling by my other hand.

I am getting closer to my perfect image of autumn, I am just missing a chair, colder weather, and a classic.

How are everyone’s Sunday mornings like?

A quiet Sunday in September

Woke up early and did a sweep of the house. Did some much needed dusting, mopped the floors, vacuumed the carpet, hung out laundry, cleaned the kitchen counter, aired out all the rooms, and did some reorganizing in the stock closet. Everything felt clean and fresh and in order.

Went to my piano lesson and started a new piece. When I had tried it by myself earlier I could not grasp it at all, but the teacher showed me and it all just seemed so simple. It really makes a difference having a teacher to help. I will enjoy this piece, it’s a classical piece, as compared to the previous piece I was working on which was a pop-song, and I found I can’t really get into pop-songs with the piano yet. I prefer more calm, soothing, slow classical pieces.

After my lesson I went to the second-hand store and found a beautiful momiji tea bowl and had to add it to my tea-cup collection. As soon as I got home I baked an apple cake (but without apples as I don’t like them getting warm and mushy) and made some milk tea with Mariage Frères’ French island vanilla black tea and used my new tea bowl. The momiji design made me happy, and this tea is my favorite. The cake came out well too, making it a great time.

I did a facemask and wanted to take a long bath while watching a movie, but was chuffed when the application kept translating the titles making it difficult and the movie I wanted was only available dubbed into Japanese, though I wanted to hear it in its original language as I like the main actress. I had a bit of a childish tantrum and tirade on twitter and felt that maybe I am not as much as an adult as I’d like to be, when things don’t go as I wish I revert right back to a whining baby. It is almost too embarrassing to admit, but there you have it.

As the movie part didn’t go through, I decided on reading instead and it made for a lovely bath. I continued Jane Eyre, and it was around where Mr. Mason is bit by Rochester’s crazy wife aka his own sister.

After my bath, I did some measuring around the house and found that I could increase storage space if I moved things around a bit, in the hope of making it a bit more functional. One of my great pleasures is to organize and declutter. That is not to say that the house is always spotless of course. I have found that there is a big difference between wanting to have clean dishes and wanting to clean dishes.

Excluding my little hissy fit, today has been delightful. If all Sundays could be as this one, I can’t have any complaints.

The end of summer

I hear the cicadas less and less. The continous noise that was summer is starting to quiet down, becoming a distant memory. While it is still too hot for my liking and to be called autumn, we will get there.

I am over the moon excited for autumn. I can wear all my favorite pieces again, and the new pieces I bought. I got a new dress for autumn, a brown flannel one, and then I got a white leather belt to go with it. And to be able to wear my beloved boots; bliss.

Japan seems to have a new flavour at starbucks every month, but I have yet to see the infamous pumpkin spice latte. While I have nothing against sweet potato frappuchinos and chestnut lattes, I’d like to get one with pumpkin spice once in a while too.

I am most excited about seeing the 紅葉 (momiji) ; the autumn foliage. Watching the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange, red. Breathtaking. I’d like to be able to take Darjeeling out for a walk too, to see her play with the leaves. Such a precious image.

I want to light a candle, bake cakes, take a bath with bath salts. Have the whole apartment smell of cinnamon and chai. And read books, mostly classics. Autumn is not the time for light contemporary books (in my personal opinion). The image in my mind is of cold evenings spent wrapped up in a blanket with a cat on your lap, a hot chocolate or milk tea in one hand, and a classic like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in your other hand. Maybe I’ll do the Japanese Little Women this autumn, it fits my requirement of being a classic AND it will give my Japanese some practice.

What things come to mind when you think of autumn?

A new tea-cup

There is a thrift store not too far from my house which I pass by sometimes, but here the other day I decided to go check out what they have.

As a bigger woman I was pretty sure I didn’t need waste my time looking at clothes or shoes so I went straight to the goodies; the kitchenware.

There were many cute little tea-cups, some formed like cherry blossoms with the saucer acting as the leaves, or even some impressive old wedgwood sets (but they were rather pricy as expected).

What surprised me the most however, was when I found tea-cup sets which reminded me strongly of home, and would you know! They actually were!

I saw about 6 of these sets, which was many more than I had expected (I hadn’t actually expected any). But I didn’t get them, at least not yet.

What I did get was this:

A tea-cup (or tea bowl, if you will) with a very season appropriate momiji design. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons and so the autumn leaves are on the top of the list of designs that I love (sorry cherry blossoms, you can’t always be number one).

I don’t actually own any tea bowls, nor any cups suitable for matcha, even though I have a matcha whisk. Which meant that I could justify getting a tea bowl over yet another tea-cup.

I didn’t waste a second and made tea as soon as I got home. I might have just bought a matcha tea bowl but I have no matcha powder, so I used it for my everyday milk tea instead because that is what sparks joy for me.

I have a feeling this will be used a lot in the coming months.

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