Tag Archives: Peirene Press

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

Sea of Ink - Richard WeiheSea of Ink – Richard Weihe
Peirene Press, 2012

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Sea of Ink is a novella that consists of 51 chapters in which we are provided with an overview of the life of Bada Shanren, an influential Chinese painter who lived in the 17th century. We follow Bada Shanren as he experiences the loss of power by the Ming Dynasty. From being a member of the royal family, Bada Shanren becomes a painter trying to remain unknown during the new Qing regime.

This new Peirene novella provides a comfortable and interesting reading experience. I particularly liked seeing how Bada Shanren grows into his own over the 112 pages that are part of the book. Moreover, I liked how small details of his life, the production of his paintings, and philosophical (tao?) inspired life-lessons.

What surprised me most about the book is how well the descriptions of the process of painting worked, especially as most of these descriptions were accompanied with the resulting painting one or two pages later. Usually, I struggle with very visual descriptions in books and I quickly lose my interest. But in case of Sea of Ink I actually enjoyed reading and guessing what the result would look like. It is also why I am so grateful for the inclusion of 11 pictures of Bada Shanren’s paintings.

All in all, Sea of Ink was a very pleasant read. Nevertheless, it has this elusive quality that keeps you a little removed from the story and I felt little personal involvement in the characters or story. The book was interesting, and very very beautifully written (I could quote passage after passage for you, but I think they work best discovered in the book), but it lacked something that pulled me right in. Then again, quietly beautiful books are very worthwhile reads and this one certainly covers those aspects.

I read Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe as part of Lizzy and Caroline‘s German Lit Month. Do check out their blogs for more content dedicated to German literature.

Other Opinions: My Book Year, The Worm Hole, Follow the Thread, Our book reviews online, Parrish Lantern.
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Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig

Maybe This Time - Alois HotschnigMaybe This Time – Alois Hotschnig
Translated from the Austrian German Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht by Tess Lewis

Peirene Press, 2011
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Talk about unsettling stories. I’m quite sure Alois Hotschnig will give many an author a run for his money in this genre.

I postponed reading this book for the longest time. It was because every review of it talked about the eery qualities of the stories. The ways they made you think, and constantly reconsider. Zee even mentioned that she wasn’t sure if she should read them before bedtime. Knowing how I often react to the spooky stories, I considered if I should read them at all, given that I’m easily disturbed enough not to be able to sleep.

Luckily, I challenged myself. And here I am, still able to sleep. Having read Maybe This Time, I can promise you a lot of things: eery stories, unsettling ones, a lot of ambiguity, or as Caroline perfectly defines it: they’re what the Germans call unheimlich. But somehow, I was still able to sleep at night. Perhaps I can handle the stories that are creepy in a “making you question and think about everything around you” way better, somehow. I’m rather glad I handled this collection so well. You might even say I felt a little proud.

It is ambiguity that is the real strength of this collection of short stories. In almost every story, you start out with a situation that is unsettling in itself, before things turn out to be rather different, yet never in a less unsettling way.

A good example of this is the way in which the story “Two Ways of Leaving” first makes you think of a stalker who visits her former girlfriend’s house, before realising that perhaps it is the stalker that is being played by his ex-girlfriend. For more on this particular story, be sure to visit David’s Sunday Story Society post of a few weeks ago.

What I found most interesting about Maybe This Time was that so many stories deal with alienation and identity confusion, or even identity loss. The stories offer you a lot to ponder in that respect. What makes them so very eery is that all situations are somewhat magical in their ambiguity, and yet they are all very much related to the real world. Set in that world. And sometimes so realistic that they’re quite scary.

Unfortunately I did not think this collection was perfect. I realise that this was more my own fault, and dependant on my own taste, than the quality of the stories. I just don’t always handle ambiguity very well. These stories never provide clear answers, nor do they end on a note that makes you feel that you have come to understand them from beginning to end. This ambiguity is its strength; as the stories change perspective you learn to ask even more questions about what exactly is going on. But for me, personally, it also meant that some of them left me feeling a little empty by the end: what exactly was I supposed to make of them? I should note that this was more often the case with the shorter stories in the collection, which I’ve learned are usually the stories I have most trouble with in short story collections in general. I loved some of the stories, and I’d love to read them again and see what questions I am left with on a second reading. But I felt a little apathetic about some others.

RIP VII button 2I read Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig as part of R.I.P. VII as hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Click over to the RIP Review Sitefor more reads with a autumnal feel.

Other Opinions: Caribousmomchasing bawa, The Worm Hole, Tony’s Reading List, Notes from the North, Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, Andrew Blackman.
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The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg

The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg, translated from the Finnish by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah // Peirene Press, February 2012

The blurb on my copy of The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg reads that it is “a Shakespearean drama from icy Finland”. I do not think there is a better way to describe this novella. Telling the story of two brothers (Erik and Henrik) who fought on opposite sides of the war between Sweden and Russia, this historical novella set in Finland, 1809, chronicles the brothers return to their farm and their fight for dominance.

It is hard to explain exactly how many plot twists can be packed into a book of 122 pages, while also managing to evoke such an atmospheric setting. Through the use of multiple narrators the reader learns about the multiple perspectives to the distorted relationship between the brothers and the other members of the family living on the farm. I especially felt for the mother of the brothers, and the wife of Erik. All in all, the characters aren’t necessarily likeable. Instead, all of them are faulty to some extent, which makes them more real, but also harder to get along with as a reader from time to time. This doesn’t work against Sahlberg, and I admire how he managed to give the reader the feeling that you know all characters individually.

What I loved about The Brothers was its atmosphere, its manner of evoking moods and settings in the mind of the reader. The story has a distinct Finnish feel to it, which I know sounds like cultural essentialism, but I simply cannot find another way to express the appeal of the book. Let me try to explain. The book made me feel incredibly sentimental, which is strange given the dark and unfriendly atmosphere prevalent at the farm. The reason for my sentimentality is that it reminded me of two Finnish persons I became friends with during my stay in Sweden. It wasn’t just the style of the writing that reminded me of them, although the style was incredible: sparse prose, but very effective. And, in my opinion, the translators did a great job in retaining a sense of the original language. No, it was not just the language, it was the Finnish girl I met in particular, who I kept picturing while reading the book. She used to talk about Finland’s past, of the country belonging to Sweden and Russia for long periods, of how she felt it still affected them now. She used to tell me stories, all with a certain darkness or tragedy to them, but with irony as well. And her descriptions of the Finnish winter landscape, as something beautiful but haunting, as something beyond the world you usually see.. All of these things returned to me while reading The Brothers. I am not saying that this defines Finland, or Finnish storytelling, but reading this novella made me glow and love and long to talk to my Finnish friends again, and therefore, I couldn’t help but love Peirene Press’ latest addition to their line of novellas.

Other Opinions: Desperate Reader, The Worm Hole, Louise Reviews, This Book and I Could be Friends, Caribousmom, Our Book Reviews Online, Tony’s Reading List.
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Tomorrow Pamplona Blog Tour 2011, Gig 7

There is nothing like reading literature in English that was originally written in your native language to make you wonder about translations. So when Peirene Press organised a blog tour about their newest release Tomorrow Pamplona, I had to ask Laura Watkinson, who translated this title from the Dutch original written by Jan van Mersbergen, about her approach to translation.

This month I have been reading several books that were translated from the original Dutch to English. Some seem to try to retain specific Dutch phrases or sentence structures, which might make the text seem ‘clunky’. I can imagine that others choose to take a wholly different approach and just make the book work in English, which might make it necessary to diverge from the original. What was your approach when you translated Tomorrow Pamplona?

Laura: Good question. There’s a lot of academic translation theory out there and discussion about various approaches to translation and how ‘visible’ the translator should be in the text. Some people feel that a foreign text should retain an element of ‘foreignness’, so that the reader is always aware that the piece is a translation and that it comes from a foreign culture. However, I’m not sure how many translators actually spend that much time contemplating their approach and deciding upon particular strategies. I’m also not sure that it would make for a very enjoyable reading experience.
I can’t speak for all literary translators, of course, but, having talked a lot about this subject with fellow translators, I believe that most of us primarily aim to create a text that reads well in English. I always hope to create the kind of writing I’d like to read myself, by trying to be faithful to the spirit of the original, rather than the letter. A great deal of a translation may well be fairly literal, but you’ll always encounter some notions or expressions that just don’t work in English.
My approach, if any, is first to get a feel for the book and then to try to maintain that same feeling in the English: read the original, internalise it and consider how to express that same idea in English. If the literal version works, that’s fine, but if it doesn’t I try to imagine the words I would use to get the same idea across in English or how I would respond in English if asked that particular question, for example.
If you spot something that seems ‘clunky’, it’s probably more likely that it’s a simple slip, rather than the result of an intentional translation strategy. It might have felt like the right translation at the time, but in hindsight was perhaps too literal. That said, I think it sometimes feels easier to criticise a translator’s choice of phrase than it is to criticise an author’s. As readers, we might tend to be on the look-out for clunkiness in a translation, because it’s something that we perhaps expect to find in a translated text, while we’re more likely to accept an author’s clunkiness as a deliberate stylistic choice or a personal preference.

I want to thank Laura for her elaborate answer. For more information about the blog tour and its other stops, please follow this link.

Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen

Tomorrow Pamplona - Jan van MersbergenTomorrow Pamplona – Jan van Mersbergen
Peirene Press, June 2011
Translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Tomorrow Pamplona is about a boxer, Danny, who is on the run after what appears to be his last fight. He receives a lift from Robert, who is on his way to Pamplona, to run with the bulls. While we follow Robert and Danny on their road trip to Pamplona, through flashbacks, the reader slowly discovers what made Danny run.

This is the thing about Peirene Press books: they promise to give you a whole story in just over a hundred pages (granted, this particular book is a little longer) and they always deliver. But this also means that there are twists and turns in these books, or in this case, a true punch in the gut, that has you wondering how to talk about them without giving anything away. Yes, this story packs a punch as it was once said by the publisher. It had me reeling. Throughout the book you feel, somehow, that this might be what is coming, but you don’t want to believe it – at least I didn’t. And then when, in the end, you find out that your worst fears were right somehow, you are left to wonder just what to think, how to judge, if you even should..

When Meike and I first got into contact, she told me that Peirene Press would be publishing a Dutch book in 2011. And I thought it was so nice of her to comment on where I was from, and yet I did not really know what to say, since I so often proclaimed that Dutch literature isn’t for me. And then part of the publicity for the book was that it had two great sex scenes in under 200 pages. And I admit, I became a little more doubtful of whether this was the book for me. But, I was wrong to doubt. The sex scenes didn’t bother me and the story is a great one, that is, more importantly, told in a superb manner.

The style of the book is really  what made me enjoy Tomorrow Pamplona so much. The narrative has an uncommon flow to it. The writing is fast paced, and yet it allows you room to breathe. And once Danny and Robert are in Pamplona, time almost seems to stop. It made me want to push time on, somehow, push the characters a little too. And that is the moment I realised that Van Mersbergen succeeded, since he engaged me, so much so that I wanted to help the characters, do something for them, help them make a decision whether they should run or face what is coming for them. And it is that very fact, the fact that I cared, which made the ending all the more intense and confusing.

Tomorrow Pamplona is a very urgent read. It hides so much anger and frustration just below the surface that at times it scared me a little. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Really, it is one of the true strengths of the book.

What this book showed me is that I can appreciate Dutch literature, even the more fast-paced kind. The kind I used to be doubtful about before, but now feel really excited about. And that is saying something. Jan van Mersbergen proved how wrong I was, scorning Dutch literature all these years. There, I have admitted I was wrong.

I received a review copy of this book from the wonderful Peirene Press

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