Here are the surefire steps to prevent me from reading any book.
1. Describe it as “Holden-Caulfied-meets-X.”
2. Describe it as “(insert famous author here)-ian.” Don’t get me started on the god-awful neologisms “Dickensian,” or, even worse: “Kafkaesque.”
(But sometimes hapless reviewers like myself have no choice but to commit these crimes of equivalence. And reviewing translations is especially tricky).
Not only do critics fumble when appraising prose written by a translator (as opposed to the quote-unquote “original” author), but we even stumble in the face of plot and character: clueless as to if these are culturally determined and unique to their (unknowable) contexts. Even worse for us all, thanks to an education resolutely committed to politicizing every text, we reviewers (rather stupidly) cannot help but ask: where is the equivalence? What’s the project here? What does it mean?
For this review, I read Austro-German author Daniel Kehlmann’s latest novel, F, translated into English by superstar Knopf translator Carol Brown Janeway (who also translated some of Kehlmann’s other novels: Measuring the World and Fame). And in this review—I hope you’ll forgive me—I’m terribly guilty of equivalence. I hope you’ll see why. READ MORE…