Book Review: The Translator by Nina Schuyler

16255224Hanne is burned out by her translation of a Japanese biography of a  famous Noh actor named Moto, who is currently living in Japan. She has spending her time translating night and day and now is so exhausted, that the characters of the book are becoming real persons in her mind.

Shortly after finishing her translation the American translator Hanne has an accident and looses her ability to speak. After her convalescence she can only speak Japanese. A situation, which confronts her with several difficulties.

The reader is now drawn into her mind. You get to know her thoughts and feelings: A turbulent mix of languages are going through her brain, mingling with memories of her family history. A tour de force which drives you to wartime Germany, through Japan and back to California through the whole book.

In the beginning Hanne spends some days in a hospital. Her son Tomas is taking care of her. Hanne has been married to a Japanese named Hiro, but who is dead by now. Her daughter Brigitte is nowhere to be found, as they had separated six years ago. Hanne has been suffering deeply from the loss of her daughter.

When she is invited to Japan to held a speech about the art of translating, she suddenly is confronted with the author’s severe criticism. He accuses Hanne loudly in front of the audience. She had spoiled the story by her translation with many mistakes. A shame for the real Noh actor. A nightmare of every translator!

Full of remorse Hanne goes on a trip to search after the real Noh actor Moto at the countryside near Kurashiki. She meets the once so famous Noh actor, who is at a turning point in his life. His life crashed, when he lost his wife. Now he is nearly ruined, because only few jobs come in and he is drinking much.

This is the beginning of a twisted story of self-discovery, overcoming burdens of the past and new experiences in Japan.

The story is highly complex and well structured. It is entertaining, as you get involved with Hanne’s extraordinary skilled mind and distinctive character. The story is full packed with Japanese-English and five other languages. And, Hanne has a German-Danish family background. Reading through the book you get to know many details of the family history on the way Hanne finds herself.

I must admit, though I enjoyed reading the book, that I could not sympathize with Hanne in the beginning and through large parts of the book because of her obsessiveness with her failure as a mother and her habit of labeling people. Hanne changes after her accident though. Her limitations to the Japanese language and the encounter of Moto guide her to new insights. But Japan is just one station on her way to her rebirth. She finds peace in surrendering and facing life in the end, but it is a long way.

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