2000 - 2007 Books in Translation Chunkster

The Book of Fathers by Miklós Vámos

The Book Of Fathers Translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

Five words from the blurb: Hungarian, family, generations, gift, epic

The Book of Fathers is an epic piece of historical fiction. It follows twelve generations of first-born sons through 300 years of Hungarian history. The book has been a bestseller throughout Europe, but has had less success here in the UK. This is a shame because it is the sort of thing that fans of historical fiction love.

The Book of Fathers is very readable. It is packed with period detail and has been incredibly well researched. I immediately bonded with the characters and enjoyed learning about Hungarian history. I was especially grateful that everything was explained in sufficient detail for me to understand what was happening, despite knowing little about the country’s history.

Unfortunately as the book progressed I became frustrated by the way the years slipped by so quickly. New characters were continually introduced and I began to lose track of who was who. Each chapter concentrated on a new generation and it began to feel more like a series of short stories. I wish that it had contained a fewer number of sons; enabling us to see each life in greater depth.

Szilard showed him the pocket timepiece and the medallion he guarded with his life. Yanna gave a squeal of joy when the face of her firstborn stared back at her from the gold locket. Richard Stern’s hook of a hand pulled Szilard towards him and the old man’s wet kisses fell upon the boy in a shower. This is how it is with us, though Richard Stern, moved: We keep losing members of the family, only to get them back again in the course of time.

Each son was also blessed with a clairvoyant ability. I was initially worried that this might interfere with the realism of the text, but these concerns proved unfounded as Vámos seemlessly blended the magical realism with the historical fiction. I think those who enjoy reading contemporary fairy tales will appreciate the folklore involved in this story.

I’m pleased that I read The Book of Fathers as I now have a greater knowledge of Central European history, but I’d only read another Vámos if I knew it concentrated on a smaller period of history. Recommended to those who love historical epics, especially when they’re sprinkled with folklore.


I read this for Stu’s Eastern European Month. Head over to his blog for more recommendations from this part of the world.




2014 Chunkster Recommended books Science Fiction

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things

Five words from the blurb: missionary, leaving, wife, adventure, worlds

The Book of Strange New Things is an impressive book. It is nearly 600 pages long, but the intensity of the emotion means that it never drags and so seems much shorter.

The book centres on Peter, a missionary who travels to another planet to teach Christianity to a strange new species. He leaves his wife Bea on Earth and the pair communicate via an electronic system. Bea struggles on her own, especially as things on Earth begin to go wrong. The book shows how their strong relationship begins to falter as Peter finds himself increasingly absorbed by his work.

Not much actually happens in this book, but I was completely absorbed by the couple. Having had a long distance relationship I found their shifting emotions scarily accurate.

He sighed, squeezed her hand. What was he going to do without her, out in the field? How would he cope, not being able to discuss his perceptions? She was the one who stopped him coming out with claptrap, curbed his tendency to construct grand theories that encompassed everything. She brought him down to earth. Having her by his side on this mission would have been worth a million dollars.

The world-building was fantastic. The vivid descriptions enabled me to visualise the new planet and I found the quirky differences between our world and theirs entirely believable. The alien species were particularly well observed and I loved the way the human’s interactions with them highlighted the problems within our society.

My only issue with the book was the occasional excess of religious quotation. I thought the discussions on faith were well done, but my eyes tended to glaze over when the bible extracts became excessive. Luckily this only happened a handful of times and I suspect that anyone with an interest in Christianity will find these much more inspiring than I did. 

Overall this was a fantastic book. I loved the fact I didn’t know where the story would take me and found the ambiguous ending particularly satisfying. Recommended to those who enjoy vivid character studies, packed with emotion.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

The real problem, it dawns on you as you read, is that Faber just isn’t that interested in his alien Others. Sibilant Frictive

…one of the best novels I’ve read this year. S Krishna’s Books

In fact, The Book of Strange New Things is a novel that skirts the edge of one cliché after another only to either bypass them or—more impressively—reinvest them with emotional significance. Reading in the Growlery

2014 Books in Translation Chunkster Crime Uncategorized

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Five words from the blurb: American, disappearance, mystery, writer, love

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is an intricately plotted murder mystery set in New England. It begins with Harry Quebert, a famous author, being arrested for the murder of a 15-year-old girl who went missing thirty years ago. Marcus Goldman, an old friend who was mentored by him at college, is convinced that Harry is innocent and rushes to his side. He sets out to investigate the truth behind the crime; discovering a host of secrets buried in the small coastal town.

Joël Dicker is a Swiss author, but it is impossible to know this from reading the novel. He’s somehow managed to produce a novel that feels authentically American. The characters are all well drawn and all hide secrets from their past. It is like the literary equivalent of Broadchurch (a fantastic British crime drama that I highly recommend) in that almost all the characters have a motive for the murder, but the clever plot keeps you guessing right until the end.

The pacing and structure of the book was perfect, with new information and plot twists added regularly. The way everything came together at the end was especially good and I found myself marveling at the construction of it all. I also loved the meta aspects of the novel. Some of the sections reminded me of the wonderful HHhH, although I’m not sure if the similarities were simply due to the fact both novels have the same translator.

The book was long, but it never dragged and I loved the way I felt as though I knew a wide-range of characters by the end. The reader occasionally has to suspend their disbelief and there were a few cliches sprinkled throughout, but I was willing to forgive these as I was so engrossed in the plot. 

This isn’t great literature, but it is a fantastic piece of story-telling. I recommend this book if you’re after an entertaining diversion that will keep you guessing for hours.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Joël Dicker succeeds in pulling off one of the best literary deceptions in years. Pretty Sinister Books

…the sort of magnificently awful book to sharpen hatchets over while idly eyeing up your kitchen knives. Domestic Sluttery

 It’s 656 pages of pure readable summertime bliss. 3G1B

2013 Books in Translation Chunkster Thriller

From the Fatherland, With Love by Ryu Murakami

From the Fatherland With Love

Translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy, Charles De Wolf, and Ginny Tapley Takemori

Five words from the blurb: Japan, invaded, North Korean, troops, death

From the Fatherland, With Love is a political thriller which describes a scarily plausible series of events in which North Korean special forces invade Japan. The book begins with them taking a sports stadium and its 30,000 occupants hostage and then shows how they progress to take control of increasingly large areas of Japan. The detail was so convincing that I spent most of my time worrying about the fact this book is in the public domain and terrorists could copy the clever (but devastating) ideas. I hope that authorities in Japan have read this book and closed some of the loopholes in their security and that terrorists don’t try to replicate any of the scenarios in this book, anywhere. Please visit to find about diy techniques.

I’m not normally a fan of thrillers, especially politically motivated ones, but there is something about the North Koreans that makes them especially compelling. I loved the background detail which explained what it was like to grow up under a tyrannical leader and how this upbringing changes the basic personality of the North Koreans. The interaction of the invading troops with the Japanese people was fascinating, although I suspect that most of the brilliant observations will be lost on those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese culture. I didn’t understand all the references to the Japanese political system, but a small amount of googling allowed me to understand the basic chain of command and I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on much.

 …the various intelligence services in Japan had no history of sharing information, and there was no system in place for integrating intelligence. In the event of an emergency or major disaster, it fell to the Security Council to collate information and direct the appropriate response to the crisis, but the various intelligence agencies lacked the channels for passing information to the Council in the first place. Why didn’t the Japanese government take intelligence seriously?….Suzuki thought there was a simple reason for it: that it simply wasn’t seen as necessary and therefore wasn’t considered important. Japan had no history of invasion by foreign countries, and was not composed of different ethnic groups with conflicting interests. For centuries domestic relations had been far more important than foreign ones, and the country was simply unable to adapt to the changed circumstances.

The book is 666 pages long and it did take a large investment of time to complete. There was a small section in the middle where I lost interest, but the momentum quickly picked up again and I was hooked through to the end. It isn’t a fast paced read, but the reader is desperate to discover how everything unfolds and so it remains gripping throughout.  There were a few too many characters for me, but I was impressed by the complexity and depth of the majority of them.

From the Fatherland, With Love is very different in style from Piercingthe only other book by Ryu Murakami that I’ve read. Piercing was very short and chilling. The only element shared by the books was the occasional gruesome scene involving blood-splattered violence; otherwise it would be impossible to tell that they were both written by the same person.

Overall this is a very intelligent book. It gives a chilling insight into the holes in Japan’s security; whilst at the same time giving a thorough examination of the Japanese and North Korean culture. Recommended to anyone who likes to learn from their literature.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 …a great story, and one whose ending works very well. Tony’s Reading List

…a compelling and shocking read. A Common Reader

…a wonderful cast of characters in a tale that rollicks along with all the mayhem, violence & action one expects from a Ryu Murakami book  The Parrish Lantern

2012 Books in Translation Chunkster

Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman

Traveller of the Century Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

Five words from the blurb: mysterious, city, literary, love, translation

When Stu announced he was holding a blog event to celebrate translated literature published by Pushkin Press I immediately pencilled Traveller of the Century onto my list. It had been receiving almost universal praise from the blogosphere and I was keen to sample its literary magic. I’m so pleased that Stu pushed this up my TBR pile as it is one of those timeless classics that encourages you to look at the world in a slightly different light.

The book begins with a man arriving in a mysterious city. Every day he walks around the local area and is slightly puzzled by the way buildings and roads appear to change location overnight. This section had a magical feel that reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but the writing quality meant I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoyed reading about the weird occurrences.  

As the story progressed it became more grounded in reality and I found that I had to read the book in small sections as the information was so dense – it felt more like a series of essays than a novel. Much of the book focused on issues around translation, particularly of poetry. I have to admit that I’m not a big poetry fan and so some of the discussions did nothing for me, but luckily these were soon followed by ones that did. 

It’s the opposite of what I expected, she said, metre in German or English poetry resembles a dance, while in Spanish it is like a military march. In German poetry the dancer marks the rhythm until he decides to turn round and go to the next verse, regardless of how many steps he takes. It is more spoken, more from the lungs, isn’t it? Spanish verse is beautiful and yet there is something rigid about it, something imposed that doesn’t seem to originate from speech, one has to count both accents and syllables, it’s almost Pythagorean.

The plot was simple, but contained a beautiful love story and some (interesting?!) sex scenes. There was very little forward momentum, but watching the love blossom between the two characters was so heart-warming. I prefer books that are more plot driven, but it is impossible to ignore the quality of the writing in this book.

If you have any interest in the process of translation then you should buy a copy now!



2013 Chunkster Historical Fiction Recommended books

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things

Five words from the blurb: botanical, explorer, woman, independent, evolution

The Signature of All Things was the best novel I read in 2013. It is a rich, atmospheric story about one woman and her passion for moss. I know that sounds like the dullest premise imaginable, but Elizabeth Gilbert has woven horticultural details with amazing characters and a heartwarming series of events to create a fantastic novel that gets better every time you think about it.

The book begins in 1800 with the birth of Alma Whittaker. Her father’s passion for botany infects her and she gains an interest in moss. Her studies soon get her thinking about evolution and this leads her on a journey that encompasses several continents and enables her to meet a range of fascinating people.

I’m not a keen gardener, but I found the details about plant collecting and classification fascinating. It was eye-opening to learn about the infancy of this industry and the difficulties faced by those trying to cultivate plants like vanilla for the first time.

The book was made extra special by Alma Whittaker – one of the best female protagonists I’ve ever come across. It was a rare pleasure to be able to follow a character from birth into old age with a complete understanding of their fears, desires and motivations. I loved the way that she changed and developed as she aged:

“But you are still young, so you think only of your own self. You do not notice the tribulations that occur all around you, to other people. Do not protest; it is true. I am not condemning you. I was as selfish as you, when I was your age. It is the custom of the young to be selfish. But someday you will understand that nobody passes through this world without suffering – no matter what you think of them and their supposed good fortune.”

Racist/homophobic attitudes were occasionally difficult to stomach, but I think they helped to show how far we’ve come since then.

The plot was slow, but it never dragged and I loved being immersed in the past. Everything appeared to be incredibly well researched (although I’m no expert) and I loved the way that fact and fiction were blended together. It was simply good, old-fashioned story telling with no tricks or gimmicks.

The Signature of All Things is one of those books that sounds far less interesting than it actually is. Trust me. Give it a try!