Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book review: Ways to disappear, by Idra Novey

After the beautiful Good on Paper, by Rachel Cantor, dealing with the ironies and humorous challenges of the translator, Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey approaches a similar topic, but from a more magical and tragic perspective. I had the book on my To-Read book for a couple of months and was really happy to finally have it on my reading pile of books - which is in fact a mountain soon to reach the level of Everest, and even higher.
Beatriz Yagoda a Brazilian cult writer disappears one day mysteriously: she just climbed into an almond tree while carrying a suitcase and smoking a cigar. Her American translator, Emma Neufeld who dedicated her whole life to translating Yagoda is taking the first flight to Brazil in order to find out what happened with her author. Meanwhile, information about an online poker addiction and a huge debt appear owed to the mafia threatening to cut the ear of Beatriz son - the ear eventually appeared in a sport brand box. There are a lot of events going on, at the end of which, Yagoda will mysteriously die in a fire provoked by one of her cigars. Emma will leave her American life for Brazil and will start teaching at a local university. 
Interestingly, against this turmoiled background of the story, there are many provocative ideas to discuss and think about it: what does it mean to be a successful author? how the author can be appropriated by a culture or a country (one of the descriptions of Yagoda was that she was born in South Africa)? what are the means of a translator to offer the best interpretation of the words of a writer? (the book also has a short interview explaining contextually some of the words used, as one needs to go beyond the literal form of the word in order to really understand the text) The meditation on the meaning and limits of language and the author(ship) is accompanied by a finer reflection on the role of the words and their meaning, in and outside the translation process itself. (Novey herself is a translator of the special author that lived in Brazil Clarice Lispector).
I really loved the book and its challenges, but somehow, I felt that the narrative was overcharged by too much action and too much thinking. Probably, intensively thinking and intensively living aren't always going au pair. 
But the book is an unique composition and the questions asked more or less openly deserve a more serious consideration regarding the relation between author and translator, and original work and translation, among others.

Rating: 3 stars

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