Books translated from esoteric languages
See the world through the perspective of other cultures. Experience the lives and emotions of natives thanks to these three translations. They run the gamut from first-person stories to Russian interwar history to contemporary humor originally in Catalan, Yiddish and Swedish.
The Art of Wearing a Trench Coat: Stories, by Sergi Pàmies, translated by Adrian Nathan West, 128 pages, Other Press paperback, 2021
The short stories in this slim paperback touch on subjects that are near to older readers — reflections on their upbringing, failures in relationships and marriage, the burdens of parenthood and the changing perspective young men have of their fathers as each of them matures. Other topics: a faltering belief in Santa Claus, a favorite trench coat, adopting a family pet, a cherished recording (in this case vinyl), observing kids glued to their phones, finding love and disappointing loved ones.
Culture is not a barrier, and life’s experiences are all-encompassing. Introspective and sensitive, these fictional stories will enrich your understanding of life’s major and minor events. Where you were on 9/11, for instance, and the song that forms the background of your relationship with your spouse are universal themes. Readers living 4,000 miles away can find a Catalan writer relevant and enlightening.
Author Sergi Pàmies is in his early 60s. The stories are based on the author’s identity as the son of revolutionary leaders in Catalonia, Spain. His mother was an acclaimed writer, his father a revolutionary turned left-wing politician. Translator Adrian Nathan West is himself a novelist and essayist.
How People Live in Soviet Russia: Impressions From a Journey, by Mendel Osherowitch, translated by Sharon Power, 314 pages, Kashtan Press paperback, 2020
The insightful account by reporter Mendel Osherowitch on assignment for the New York-based Yiddish language newspaper Forverts describes conditions on his travels back to his homeland in 1932. Osherowitch, who was fluent in Russian, Ukranian and Yiddish, visited with members of his immediate family and friends whom he left behind when he emigrated to the United States 23 years prior.
The author, then in his early 40s, was able to venture beyond the rosy facade provided by his Soviet guides to reveal the truth of the misery and famine under Soviet Stalinist rule. He traveled beyond Moscow to his hometown in Ukraine to find the horror of famine.
In the Black Sea resort town of Odessa and the production hub of Rostov, Osherowitch vividly portrays the individuals he meets and their strained living conditions. The collectivization of the land impoverished the peasantry as the Communist system of a managed economy failed to provide goods to those without connections. The secret police reigned over a terrified populace.
Stories of his reunions with acquaintances, descriptions of the countryside, portrayal of fellow travelers and the nostalgia for the people and places of one’s youth are evocative. How People Live is part travelogue, autobiography, eyewitness reporting and political commentary. The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union makes his reporting prescient.
Osherowitch died in 1965. His contemporaneous Yiddish-language account was not widely known until this translation by Toronto scholar Sharon Power.
The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man: A Novel, by Jonas Jonasson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, 448 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
Longevity has its privileges. No doubt embarking on humorous adventures is one of them. So is the ability to appreciate the absurdities of life.
Being outspoken and uninhibited about your opinions grows with age, as is more than evident in this tale. All these concepts make for a great foundation for a novel in which the protagonist finds himself in the middle of a web of intrigue with world leaders, villains and outlandish characters straight out of recent headlines.
Accompany Allan Karlsson, who celebrates his 101st birthday at the beginning of the saga, as he traverses four continents along with sidekick sexagenarian Julius Jonsson. Appearances by Donald Trump, Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel add spice to the merriment.
Swedish author and former journalist Jonas Jonasson has been ably translated by Minnesotan Rachel Willson-Broyles.
Although many jokes are about old age, the characterizations are so preposterous, readers of all ages are sure to find them hilarious.