What We’ve Been Reading (Translated Edition): September 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading (Translated Edition): September

Tim McGuire

Contrary to the ninth grade insults lobbed at me from across the change room of my old high school, I’ve never been a little girl. I’ve also never been to Naples, nor have I lived in the sixties, but Elena Ferrante has the power to make me forget these things about myself.

This set of circumstances instead belongs to Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, best friends and principal characters in Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Beginning with My Brilliant Friend, the four installments over a lifetime chronicle the girls’ friendship, at once warm and genuine but also obsessive and spiteful, predictable only its jealousy, its penchant for catastrophe and its strange power to endure.

The titular brilliant friend is Lila, and through Elena’s haunting narration we discover the dangerous qualities that make her so, aching all the while for Elena, who sees in herself only her own shortcomings and a future predetermined to be lacklustre, without joy or privilege or redemption.

It’s been a long time since an author has transported me so entirely into their fiction, or since I’ve been so willingly led there. Ferrante’s prose is lovely, her characters utterly convincing, and the story compelling from start to end. Beautifully translated from Italian to English by Ann Goldstein, the Neapolitan novels are wonderful, consuming and exhilarating examples of contemporary classics.

Ellen Cregan

Earlier this year, I went to stay with my aunt Jan in NSWs blue Mountains. While I was there, she gave me a copy of Chinese author Mo Yan’s ‘Frog’ to read. Jan’s bookcase puts my reader’s brain into overdrive — I want to read absolutely everything on it. As such, I knew I could trust the recommendation.

Frog follows the life and work of Gugu, an obstetrician forced to perform hundreds of abortions on women in a rural region under the one child policy. Told from the perspective of Gugu’s nephew, Tadpole. Gugu is a fierce protagonist. She is revered by Tadpole, who at times almost mythologises her. She does not fit into any old-lady stereotype I’ve ever encountered.

This novel is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It has a brilliant, super dark humour to it. Frog was translated by Howard Goldblatt, who has translated many of Mo Yan’s works into English over a number of years. There is a really lovely subtlety to the prose of Frog that Goldblatt has captured brilliantly — I felt that the dark humour of the novel might be really easy to over-do, or become lost entirely between cultural cross wires. The relationship between author and translator wasn’t something I’d considered in much detail pre-Frog, but will now live at the back of my mind when I come across translated works. I hadn’t ever read any Chinese contemporary fiction before this book, but Mo Yan has inspired me to seek more out.

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