All this has been described a thousand times

Dear Jean, I am writing to you in haste, just to share my impressions on 1914: a novel (tr.  Linda Coverdale), which I read for Caroline’s Literature and War Readalong 2016. During the Easter holidays, we are leaving for a bike trip to Austria, and I don’t know if I would have the time (or the…

With my difficult eyes

Dear Judith, I came to you through my husband, who is a huge fan of your poetry. Some of the first Dutch poems we translated together were yours (I may post some of them here eventually, if you want). Soon afterwards, he gave me a collection of your early poems, translated into English by Shirley Kaufman. But…

But time flows in many streams,

  Dear Kawabata-san, I first read your novel Beauty and Sadness (transl. by  Howard Hibbett) in 2010, and I remember I was not very impressed nor particularly touched by it at the time. I had to reread the book this month, for a Book Club discussion, and I must say I can now best appreciate…

summer rains / trace of a poem card/ torn off the wall

Dear Adriana, Your novel Hut of Fallen Persimmons (2011, tr. Sarah Green. Original title Rakushisha, 2007) caught my attention from its title and its starting point. Mukai Kioray (1651 – 1704), a Japanese haikai poet who was a close disciple of Matsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694), lived in the “Hut of Fallen Persimmons” (or “Rakushisha”) on the outskirts of Kyoto. Because he had…

Can I remain indifferent to those birds on the water?

Dear Murasaki-san, I guess you could never have imagined that your diary, like a cryptic letter left inside a bottle, would travel space and time and end up, centuries later, in the hands of a common reader like me. Not exactly the diary you wrote, but pieces of it, reorganised and filtered into a language…

Cover me with your skin,

  Dear Laura, Your novel The Dark Bride (transl. by Stephen A. Lytle) is set around the banks of the Magdalena River, in a Colombian village fueled by “whores, plata and oil.” Immersed in the violence of this place, we follow the work of a reporter who tries piece together the complicated puzzle that form the trajectory of Sayonara, a…

I don’t scream. I’ve thrown my mouth away.

Dear Aglaja, It breaks my heart to know that your debut novel, Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta (Warum das Kind in der Polenta kocht), is a semi-autobiographical book. It is narrated by an unnamed girl, whose circus-performing family escapes from the dictatorship in Romania, in the 60’s, and travels through western Europe as illegal migrants. The…

A pale mark left by a picture that was removed after years living on the same wall.

Dear Adriana, Your second novel, originally published in Portuguese in 2001, borrows its title from James Whistler’s painting Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862), which grows in importance and offers new perspectives on the characters, as the novel unfolds. As suggested by this artifice, the combination of painting, music and literature sets the…

“I bear with my loneliness now”

Dear Soseki-san, Am I over-interpreting your novel, when I say that it has at least a twofold interpretation? The way I see it, the plot unfolds itself, on the one hand, as a dark yet compelling exploration of the human kokoro – a word that can be translated as “the heart of things”, “heart” or “feeling”. At its…

Farewell to Berlin

Dear Joseph, I’ve just finished two of your nonfiction books, What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920–1933, and The Wandering Jews: The Classic Portrait of a Vanished People, both translated by Michael Hofmann. The first one is a selection of your nonfiction, divided into nine sections, according to the topic addressed: What I Saw, The Jewish Quarter, Displaced…

Falling from grace

 Dear Ingo, Your novel Adam and Evelyn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 304 p. Translator: John E. Woods) takes place in the Summer of 1989 and centers around a couple who lived in East Germany at that time. Adam is a guy in his early-thirties, who works as a master tailor and dressmaker. Due to Adam’s chronic…