After a long period of neglect, I have been reading more books in translation recently, including some recently published titles. There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura has been translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton and sees an unnamed woman in her mid-30s walk into an employment agency looking for a job that has the following traits: it is close to her home, requires no reading or writing and preferably very little thinking. The book follows her attempts at five different roles: surveillance, recording voice ads for buses, writing fun facts to be printed on cracker wrappers, putting up posters and park maintenance. Tsumura wrote her debut novel after her own experience of job burnout and it captures a sense of listlessness in a way that will have you counting down the days until you are entitled to claim your own pension. With deadpan humour and a bit of magical realism, it ends up being a bit of an aimless novel overall, yet also quite thought-provoking about the meaning of job satisfaction, particularly in the context of workplace culture in Japan which is known for extreme presenteeism.
Childhood, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen, also known as The Copenhagen Trilogy, has been translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman. It consists of three novella-length books which have been variously described as biographical novels, memoirs or somewhere in between.
The books were first published in Denmark between 1969 and 1971 and have recently been released in English in one 380-page volume for the first time. ‘Childhood’ covers Ditlevsen’s early life growing up in working-class Copenhagen in the 1920s, ‘Youth’ focuses on her relationships as a young adult while ‘Dependency’ is the most harrowing part as she deals with serious drug addiction issues during her marriage to one of her four husbands, a sociopathic doctor who gaslights her constantly. Ditlevsen’s prose is direct and observational, and has drawn many comparisons to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, particularly in her childhood ambition to not end up like her parents. It is also slightly reminiscent of the frank, confessional style of Karl Ove Knausgaard, but thankfully the result is much more concise.
Translated from the French by George Miller, Gratitude by Delphine de Vigan is a short novel about an elderly woman called Michka, who is living in a care home in Paris and suffering from aphasia, the loss of speech. She has two regular visitors: Jerôme the speech therapist, and her neighbour Marie who has known Michka for many years. Traumatic events in Michka’s past are gradually revealed and her confusion with words and struggle to articulate her thoughts and memories will have provided some interesting translation challenges for Miller. De Vigan is generally well known for writing novels which are closer to the thriller genre such as Based on a True Story whereas her most recent book to be translated into English is a poignant work about the end of life written with compassion. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a review copy.