2013 Books in Translation

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

 Translated from the Finnish by Lola M. Rogers

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a book that I’d seen lots of praise for on Twitter so when I received an unsolicited review copy of the new paperback release I was interested to see if it would live up to the hype. 

The beginning of the book was excellent and I was immediately intrigued by the strange story of books within a university library which began to change slightly, containing different plot elements to their original. The initial feel of the book reminded me of Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but unfortunately the plot changed into something more weird and unbelievable – containing many elements I struggled to enjoy.

There were hints of brilliance in this book, but the occasional excellent piece of writing only seemed to expose the ordinariness of the rest of the text. It’s hard to know if this was a result of the translation or whether the choppy text was present in the original Finnish version. 

Ella found it difficult to stay away from papery dust of the library for any length of time. Even now, as she approached the place with the problematic Dostoevsky in her bag, she was overcome with the same veneration she’d felt as a child. She had been the kind of child you find in every library, lugging around stacks of books. Once, when she was sick in bed with pneumonia for two weeks, the librarian had called at her house to ask if everything was alright.

The central character was Ella and I found that she was well drawn, but the rest of the cast were vague in comparison and I often got them mixed up – a problem exacerbated by the large number of characters. As the book progressed I became frustrated by it. The plot became increasingly unrealistic and I didn’t care about what was happening to the characters. The introduction of “The Game” marked the start of my problems with the story and I’m afraid nothing failed to interest me as much as the initial chapter. 

The large number of positive reviews from the science fiction & fantasy corner of the blogging world make me think this book is more suited to those who love that genre. I suspect I missed some of the references to other books in this cannon of literature and I didn’t enjoy the mystical elements as much as others. If you’re the sort of person who is happy to be led along strange paths, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy dark fable-like tales then this is for you.


The thoughts of other bloggers: atmospheric story that’s hard to categorize. Books, Bones & Buffy

 …an exploration of how stories can define us, and what it means if reality doesn’t measure up. Follow The Thread

A clever novel with an original plot but I did not find it as captivating as I had hoped. Orange Pekoe Reviews

2012 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

The Human Part Translated from the Finnish by Owen F Witesman

Winner of France’s Prix du Courrier International and Finland’s Runeburg Prize

Five words from the blurb: author, sell, life, family, stories

The Human Part begins with an author approaching an elderly woman at a book fair. The author has writer’s block and with no idea what to write next he offers to buy the woman’s life story for €7000. She agrees, but after telling her story she begins to worry about the way he will depict certain events. The book cleverly shows how difficult relationships within a family can be and how an individual’s perception of a situation can be clouded by their history.

This book was instantly engaging and I fell in love with Salme, the elderly woman, and the way she wasn’t afraid to put her viewpoint across.

First of all, and in partial defense of myself, I should say that I do not like made-up books or the people who write them. It has always irritated me that they are taken seriously, that people get so immersed in them and listen carefully to the people who write them. I am now referring to the novels and other things on the shelves labelled “fiction” or “translated fiction”. It irritated me even more when Parvo and I found out that people go all the way to other countries to find these made-up stories and that people who have studied other languages transfer these obvious lies over into our language.

Her grumpiness charmed me and I quickly felt as though I knew her. The book did a fantastic job of explaining the complex mixture of emotions that exist within a family and how life changes as everyone grows up. There were some beautiful observations, some of which were really poignant:

…human sorrow comes from never being able to be the same age as one’s children.

As the book progressed it became more complex, with the author and Salme both presenting different versions of events. The reader must piece together the information to work out the truth, but unfortunately the big secret that looms over the whole book wasn’t that interesting. Once revealed it lost its mysterious power and so I found the ending a little disappointing. Despite this problem it was still a wonderful book, containing the perfect mixture of humor and darker moments. It is easy to see why this book has won so many prizes and I’m keen to try more of Hotakainen’s other books.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 The whole book just oozes humanity, both in showing us the faulty and sometimes ugly side of human life and opinion, and in showing us love and understanding. Iris on Books

….a marvelous and fascinating tale… Nordic Book Blog

…with a satirical, tongue-in-cheek view of modern Finland, the novel ultimately descends into darkness… Reader Dad