Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reading Challenge update, February

For Modern Mrs Darcy's reading challenge, I have not just one but two books that were originally written in a different language. I've read both of these in Finnish - the original language of Quo Vadis was Polish, which I don't know at all. As for Archbishop Desmond Tutu's book, this one was only available in our library system as a translation, either Finnish or Swedish, and I chose my mother tongue... :)

Then the HelMet challenge. I'm still at the easy stage where practically all the books I've read have fit into at least one new category. I've also had more time for reading than in January.

Henryk Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis
2. A book that has been made into a film
38. A book you have started but left unfinished

This book has sat on my shelf for two decades. I have started it at least twice before, but I never got past page 100. This challenge was the nudge I needed to take it up again, and this time I did finish it, too.

This time around, too, it was hard going at points. Probably for the same reasons why I had dropped it before. I found it hard to feel sympathy for the main characters. The heroine, Lygia, seemed to me just an idealized, extremely beautiful, superbly virtuous and innocent girl. The male main character, Vinitius, was well depicted, but mostly a hot-tempered, selfish oaf before his conversion. The writing style is elaborate, very "romantic." And the cruelty and brutality of ancient Rome are described with a little too much effective detail for my tastes.

And yet - I can see why it's a classic and why it has been so popular. This has as much drama and romance as a reader of historical fiction could ever wish for. It's also a vivid picture of the life and martyrdom of early Christians in Rome. (With, perhaps, a little too much idealization?) It's so chock-full of cinematographic scenes that I wouldn't be surprised if someone in Hollywood decided to do a new version or even a TV series; the 1951 film was apparently quite a success.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Anteeksiantaminen - tie tulevaisuuteen (No Future Without Forgiveness)
33. Author is not from Europe or North America

A hard read, a good read.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu's memoirs deal mostly with his experiences heading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to try to deal with the national traumas and the multitude of crimes against humanity committed during the apartheid period in South Africa.

In addition to Tutu's personal experiences of discrimination, the book has plenty of details of those crimes against humanity, i.e. acts of violence, as quotations from the testimonies heard by the Commission. Those were the hard parts to read. But, after all, there is also the perspective of hope: the real changes that have happened in South Africa, the reconciliations, the apologies, the forgiveness. Amazing things can happen when someone chooses humility and truth. "The truth hurts but silence kills," said the Commission's posters.

Rissanen, Roy and Sirpa: Lento jurttien yli (Flight over yurts)

8. The events of the book happen somewhere other than Finland

Finnish missionary family moves to Mongolia to work for MAF, trying to get the work started and (also literally) off the ground. Culture, language and bureaucracy: lots of new experiences.

Lamott, Anne: Bird by Bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life
1. Written by an author whose work you have not read before

I can't say I loved this, though I liked it. She is "real" and puts things bluntly, which is not a bad thing. It's a good insight into what it's like to be a writer, and it's interesting for a reader to get to see the process from an author's perspective.

I might have got more out of the book if I was really an aspiring writer, but I'm not. I am not bursting with something to tell the whole world. I just love books, and playing and working with words. And as a translator, the point is not to find "your own voice" - the point is to convey the original writer's voice. But the advice to just get on with the first draft, even if it's bad, is good for a translator too.

Prior, Karen Swallow: Fierce Convictions. The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More - Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
22. A memoir or a biography

A biography of a woman who certainly found her voice and used it. I've written more here.

McCall Smith, Alexander: Emma
17. A retelling of a classic story

Jane Austen's Emma in modern times.
Emma's plotlines and characters work very well in a modern setting, though it took Smith quite a big part of the book to establish them there: how did Mr Woodhouse become who he is, how did Miss Taylor come to the household, what was Emma's childhood like... But I didn't really mind Mr Woodhouse and Miss Taylor getting a bigger part of the narrative, as I liked Smith's take on them.

However, Mr Knightley was a bit of a cardboard character. He just didn't get enough time and action in the story. And Emma's self-satisfied bossiness was just as annoying as in the original.

Paris was ours: thirty-two writers reflect on the city of light (edited by Penelope Rowlands)
24. Set in a place you have always wanted to visit

As with any collection of writings by multiple authors, I loved some and didn't much care for some others. All the writers included in the collection have moved to Paris, for one reason or another. Some still live there, some don't. Very varied perspectives. Recommended for francophiles.

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