Reading Seattle #11 — Southwest Branch

Date of visit: March 17, 2018

We took an excursion to West Seattle! After visiting the Southwest Branch, we had dinner at Endolyne Joe’s (the same company as Five Spot, a restaurant just a few blocks away from home). Well-fed and watered, we then took a nice walk in Lincoln Park before heading back.

Bitter Almonds (Laurence Cossé) — Describes the goings-on between a Frenchwoman, Édith, and her Moroccan laundress, Fadila. The employer is a translator / interpreter who discovers that Fadila cannot read and asks if she wants to learn. The employee has had a hard life, and we get glimpses into that as she gets glimpses into literacy. Spoiler: there is barely any progress. In fact, her employer / teacher keeps trying to get Fadila to enroll in a real literacy course so she can hand off the teaching.

Major spoiler: the book ends with Fadila being hit by a car and entering a coma. Édith realizes with anguish that she will never be able to use the Count of Monte Cristo system of “blink once for A, blink twice for B” system of communication. It’s almost like the author decided they didn’t want to keep writing anymore, and they might as well free Edith and Fadila from trying.

A note on this book — it is a translation, by Alison Anderson. I suppose this must have been a fun translation job; how do you render an old Moroccan immigrant’s French? Or her confusion between words that differ only by vowels (“Camellia, Camilla, Chameleon” is a triple that the translator chose)? It’s lucky that English and French use a similar alphabet, so our perspective of “oh, those are of course the mistakes a person used to Berber / Arabic, ambiently from childhood, would make”, e.g. connecting all words together” is also the same. Not sure how you would translate this into Chinese, e.g., where literacy is a real bear for lots of people and you’d be hard-pressed to describe the “whole word” method vs. the “analytical” method.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John le Carré) — this took a LONG time to read. It was so episodic, without enough interest for me to read more than one episode at a time. Once I got through it, all I can say is that the one woman is written as a helpless, simpering mess, and the plot is as lame as Leamas the protagonist.

The Vegetarian (Han Kang) — A lady wants to turn into a plant, and her first step is going vegan.

No, it’s not actually whimsical like that; everyone descends into some kind of life-limiting obsession because frankly, Korean culture is brutal. The author is adamant that the book is not just about Korean patriarchy, but you have to admit that that’s a big part of it.

This was also a translation, by Deborah Miller.

Not read: Turn of the Screw

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