There you go again, narrating through a prism of pain

Dear Tatiana, Your novel The House in Smyrna (tr. Alison Entrekin, 2015; originally published in Portuguese in 2007) was a puzzling read for me. And not a confortable one – which, I may add, I generally take as a good reading experience, like a cup of strong coffee, served without sugar and very hot, and drunk…

wade/ through black jade/of the crow-blue mussel-shells

Dear Adriana, As in your previous books, Crow Blue (2013, tr. Alison Entrekin, originally published in Portuguese in 2010) also depicts  a journey, through which the protagonists – unable to move beyond painful events in the past – are led to undertake some kind of personal rite of passage. After losing her mother at the age…

Let us learn about not knowing

Querida Juana, The recent edition of your Selected Works (tr. Edith Grossman) has kept me company this month. As I found myself immersed in your ballads, redondillas, epigrams, décimas, sonnets, and letters, I was greatly surprised by your sharp portray of female resistance, your rebellious defiance against undeserved authority and your fierce defense of gender…

Who can live with a volcano?

Dear Esther, How can one read a volcano? Your semi-autobiographical novel Deborah (Der Shaidim Tantz, 1936, tr. Maurice Carr) can be subtly misleading: behind its veil of domesticity, we can hear your raging voice against the thwarted dreams of intelligent women forced to consign their lives to housework and motherhood. Deborah, the protagonist, is a…

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…