Tuesday, September 20, 2016

(Too) Good on Paper (to be true)

Job hopping from a month to another, the former PhD student on Dante Shira Green is contacted out of nowhere by the Nobel Prize poet Romei to help him translate from Italian his new book, Vita Nuova - yes, the same name as Dante's famous work. A single mother that saved a paternity arrangement with her gay friend Ahmad, this translation could be her way to get out of the precarious financial life but also to bring her back on the academic track. But Rachel Cantor did not write that kind of easy novel that happily ends when Shira delivers a bright translation after some interior conflicts and maybe some heavy cocktails disappointment nights in the Village. The easy going appearance of the daily life is hidding way too many layers of events, explanations and mystery. Like everyone's life if you are looking for more sense and understanding - even the chances to ever find it are slim once the personal stories are getting more detailed. 
Most of the soliloqui and discussions though are about the meaning and limits of translation, the famous couple traduttore/traditore (which reminds me a lot of early teenage years discussions with my mother about languages). At the end of the book, Shira will declaim: 'There is no true translation, no absolute fidelity', which might also draw the border of the limited understanding that we have when translating our thoughts in the everyday conversation. We never say enough or even worse, we are often misunderstood when using other language than the mother tongue.
But the book is even more than that. I particularly loved the natural way in which the intellectual questions and discussions - big big ones, about life and sense and other delicious stuff - is insidiously entering the daily conversations. On the way to ordering a coffee, in the middle of a sleepless night. There is no haughtiness and emphasis and a special room with Louis XV upholstery and tapestry where such thoughts are developped. 
Plus, there is more than one mystery and a secret - how and why Romei found Shira - in the book. But Shira succeeds to fly freely between a story and a new discovery, as a veritable luftmensch she actually is. Her best and permanent lifetime assignment. 
Such books embellish your everyday life, regardless how good of paper it might look like.
Rating: 5 stars

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