22 June 2010

Book review: Dear Shameless Death

Dear Shameless Death, Latife Tekin (trans Saliha Paker/Mel Kenne). 1st ed 1983, 1st translation 2001. Marion Boyars Publishers (UK).

Magical realism is not typically a genre I read. I wanted to find books about Turkey, written by Turkish people, that included folklore and traditional culture. This book has those in spades.

It's the story of a girl who was djinn-touched, almost cursed and unlucky, and her family, moving from a village to the big city, and how life in the city changed them. There were times when I wanted access to a handy google or wikipedia, to see what some of the untranslated Turkish words meant, or find out what a reference or concept meant, but I was on an airplane, so I couldn't. I don't feel it detracted from the story, though having more familiarity with it would have helped.

That's one tricky bit when translating a book for a different audience than the writer intended. The translator has to decide whether to translate, say, djinn as demon, when a djinn isn't exactly a demon in the Christian sense, nor is it a genie as seen in Aladdin. It's one of those things a translator learns to do, and it's often a call based on their professional judgement.

It took me a little while to get into the book. The style wasn't what I'm used to, and I couldn't understand the characters, but I put it down for a little while then picked it up again while I was traveling to Berlin, and I finished it on the way there. Once I adjusted to the style, it was hard to put down. The characters and their lives were engaging, while tragedy after tragedy struck, and they worked to deal with each new crisis.

Recommended.

(A review from The Guardian, 2001.)

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