WSIRN Ep 297: Right book, wrong time

WSIRN Ep 297: Right book, wrong time

Readers, today’s guest has a heart for languages, and this guides her professional career and her reading life.

Maria Carrera joins us from Spain, where she teaches English language and loves to read books in their original language – and in translation!

She loves the experience of matching a book to her reading mood, and she is on the hunt for complex, thought-provoking, and timeless books that have something to say about topics she cares about today.

Maria’s also guided by the seasons in her reading selections, so choosing when to read a certain book is nearly as important as which book she selects. With so many good books to choose from, sometimes she just needs a little help deciding what to read next.

Join me as I translate Maria’s book requests into recommendations for reads she can move to the top of her TBR list. 

You can listen to What Should I Read Next? on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app—or scroll down to press play and listen right in your web browser.


What Should I Read Next #297: Right book, wrong time, with Maria Carrera

Connect further with Maria on Twitter and Instagram to follow along with what she reads next.

MARIA: I'll have to do this. I have to read this book. I have to read this book. It was a friend of mine who said, go and read it. And I was like okay, I will. [BOTH LAUGH]

[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 297.

Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?

We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.

Readers, our 300th episode is right around the corner, and as we celebrate this milestone, we’re planning a series of fun events. We’ll share stories from our team on the podcast, host a special Patreon LIVE event with some of our most-recommended What Should I Read Next authors (join us on Patreon to tune in), and hearing directly from you–our community that makes it all possible!

To help us prepare for our bookish celebration, we want to hear your questions! It’s time for another Ask Me Anything episode, where I’ll be answering your questions on all things books and reading. We always have so much fun connecting with our reading community in these episodes—and it’s been awhile since we’ve gotten to enjoy one!

To submit YOUR question, visit Speakpipe.com/WhatShouldIReadNext, or email brenna@modernmrsdary.com. We’ll need to hear from you by September 10th.

I can’t wait to hear what’s on your mind. Again, that's Speakpipe.com/WhatShouldIReadNext or email brenna@modernmrsdarcy.com

Readers, today’s guest has a heart for languages, and this guides her professional career and her reading life. She loves the experience of matching a book to her reading mood - and then choosing which translation of that book to read. But with so many good books to choose from, sometimes she just needs someone to tell her which book to pull from her ever-growing to be read stack. (Well, she is in the right place for that!)

Maria Carrera comes to us from Spain, where she teaches English language and loves to read books in their original language - and in translation! In today’s conversation we explore finding the core of a story, how translators are writers in their own right, and how Maria decides whether to read a book in Spanish, French, or English.

Maria is on the hunt for complex, thought-provoking, and timeless books that have something to say about topics she cares about today. Join me as I translate Maria’s book requests into recommendations for reads she can move to the top of her to be read list.

Let’s get to it.

Maria, welcome to the show.

[00:02:27]

MARIA: Hi, Anne. It's a pleasure to be here.

ANNE: Oh, the pleasure is mine. I'm so excited to talk books with you today.

MARIA: Yeah, I'm really, really excited. This is a great chance for me, so I'm delighted to be part of this. Thank you.

ANNE: Maria, you like many of our guests, and many of our listeners, are an English teacher but when many of our listeners hear the words "English teacher," they picture something very different than what you do in the classroom. Would you tell us where you are in the world and what it means for you to work as an English teacher?

MARIA: I'm from Spain, so I was born in a city in the north of Spain which is called Santander, but now I'm actually working in Navarre, which is a region within Spain, and I'm working there as an English teacher. I've been there for two years now. Teaching for me is not only in my case, teaching English to Spanish speakers, but also it's a constant learning process for me as well as a teacher. Sometimes people think of teachers perhaps, oh, they know everything. They know it all, and all that which is not true at all. I learn every single day something from my students and even about English. New words, new things, so teaching for me is the most rewarding thing that I do in my life.

[00:03:38]

ANNE: And you teach at a school dedicated to learning languages, is that right?

MARIA: Yeah. In Spain, there is teaching institutions, which are called like official school of languages, which are run by the state and I work for the one in Pamplona, which is the capital of Navarre, the region that I'm living in now and working. They're basically official schools to teach different languages, including English in my case.

ANNE: What drew you to that work?

MARIA: I was finishing my degree in tourism at the age of 23. During my third year, I had the chance to go to London and study my third year there, and there I discovered that I wanted to become a teacher. [LAUGHS] So I finished my degree. As soon as I finished it, I did some studying, well a masters degree in teaching English and everything, and then I recently finished my degree in translation studies. So it's like I've decided to go the teaching path quite a few years ago now.

ANNE: Tell me more about that degree in tourism.

MARIA: My degree in tourism is basically the only opportunity I had back in my hometown in Santander to study something in which you had to study languages, and tourism was one of them. I have to study English and French. It was the only degree that could provide me with a very heavy, let's say load of languages, but then as soon as I could, and I moved to another place and everything, I decided to go for translation because that was basically what I wanted to do using foreign languages, perhaps to translate books or to teach, like in my case. I see teaching as my final destination and something that I want to dedicate my life to. It's true that translation provides you with a wide variety of tools to teach effectively because you can see how the learners’ thinking in his or her mother tongue, and you can see the interference between languages and everything, so I wouldn't mind working as a translator, but I prefer teaching.

ANNE: Maria, I'm so curious to see how these interests may filter through your reading life, and I'd love to hear more about that. What is your reading life like now?

MARIA: As I'm on holiday, I've kinda gone back into the habit of reading because with the final exams and everything, I've been kinda stressed. [BOTH LAUGH] But I can say that I'm back on track and the past few months I've been so stressed that I felt like I was reading kinda under pressure because I wanted to read and oddly, I wanted to read, but the thing is I saw it more of task that I had to do rather than something that I do for leisure, and I didn't like that feeling. But now it's much better. [LAUGHS]

[00:06:09]

ANNE: Maria, how do you decide what to read? What do you find yourself drawn to?

MARIA: Mm, well depends on my mood. For example, in summertime, I prefer something easier to read, beach reads, something easy to follow. For some reason during the wintertime or autumn, or during the colder seasons, I prefer thought-provoking books, [LAUGHS] things like that. I don’t know if it has to do with the weather, I'm not 100% sure. Right now I'm more in the easy reads, let's say.

ANNE: I can't wait to hear more about how we see that evidence in your reading life and in the books that you chose to discuss with us today. Are you ready to get into your books?

MARIA: Of course, let's go. [LAUGHS]

***

This podcast is sponsored by BetterHelp.

Readers, enjoying a good book can help lift your spirits, but even WE know that bibliotherapy can’t cure everything. If you’re feeling down, it might help to talk with a professional therapist.

I’ve found therapy to be an essential part of my overall wellness, but finding the right therapist can be a challenge. With BetterHelp, you’ll work directly with a licensed, professional therapist - and because BetterHelp is digital, you have a wider range of options and expertise than might usually be available in your area.

BetterHelp will assess your needs and match you with your therapist. If it doesn’t feel like a great fit to you, BetterHelp makes it easy and free to change therapists if needed. You’ll start communicating in under 48 hours, sending messages and scheduling video or phone sessions.

It’s easy to communicate right from your home - no sitting in an uncomfortable waiting room or driving across town.

BetterHelp is more affordable than traditional offline therapy and financial aid is even available.

BetterHelp wants you to start living a happier life today!

So visit betterhelp.com/readnext and join the over 1,000,000 people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional.

What Should I Read Next listeners get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/readnext.

That’s BetterHelp, H-E-L-P dot com slash readnext.

***

ANNE: Okay, Maria, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don't, and what you've been reading lately, and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. Maria, how did you choose these books to discuss today?

[00:08:19]

MARIA: Basically I really, really enjoyed the process of reading them. They made me think a lot about different things. That's basically it because they're some of my favorites, and I just felt confident talking about them and my experience with them.

ANNE: Tell me about your first chosen favorite.

MARIA: The first one that I would like to talk about is Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I have to say I admitted I read it not so many months ago. It's a classic book, but I have to say that I had never read it. I just found it so thought-provoking, such an eye opener in many, in many ways. All the things that happen to the character, to Emma. Sometimes it makes you think that she's looking for that true romantic love and then everything ends up in failure. I don't know. I just kinda struggled, or I kinda experienced her suffering and her joy when she was happy, so both parts. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I will confess this is a book I have been meaning to read for 20 years, and have not read yet. [MARIA LAUGHS] I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been postponing reading classics that you know, you could read them anytime, so why today? [LAUGHS]

MARIA: That's it, yeah. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I would love to hear how long this has been on your reading list, and what drew you to read it recently.

[00:09:38]

MARIA: I'm 31 so let's say that's been on my reading list for ... Let's say 20 years as well. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: You put it on earlier than I did.

MARIA: Yes. [LAUGHS] I wanted to but for some reason, I don't know, it's just as you said, there are classic books, or all the classics, oh they're there. I can always go to them, and at the end you postpone it, and you kinda ignore them in the end. [BOTH LAUGH] A friend of mine recommended that I should read this book, and I was like you know what? I'm going to do it, and that was it. Just someone telling you that you should read it. That changed my mind after years and years telling myself I have to do this, I have to read this book, I have to read this book, it was a friend of mine who said, go and read it, and I was like okay, I will. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: Sometimes you just need a little push to follow through on your good readerly intentions.

MARIA: Definitely. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Maria, what language did you read this book in?

MARIA: I read it in Spanish because my French is not that good, so I decided to go for the Spanish version. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Was that an easy decision for you to make because I know that you do read in multiple languages.

MARIA: Yeah, I usually read in French as well, but the thing is that ... For French novels and books, I prefer more contemporary, updated version of the language. So I think Madame Bovary, if considered the original translation should be or the original, then the first version, the French version would have been too complex for me. That's why I decided to go for an updated translation to Spanish of the novel. I don't know. I found it a bit daunting, so I was like let's just read it in Spanish and understand what this is about. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I can appreciate that. And while I would not consider myself multi-lingual at this point, at the time that I was reading in the German language, even with a contemporary novel, there are opportunities for confusion that can really undermine, well at least my confidence as a reader. Like I remember reading Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding, which is contemporary, but I'm not familiar with British names and British places, and in German, all the nouns are capitalized, and I just remember being so confused going, is this a noun I don't know? Or is this a name that I've never seen before? [LAUGHS] Because none of my friends in the United States have it. I mean, I could get the story, but I remember feeling constantly unsure, like am I really understanding what's going on here?

[00:11:50]

MARIA: Yeah, well for example in English, I feel much more confident reading in English because I've been doing it for many years now and it's true that there are more daunting, more challenging books to read in English for me, I mean. Depending on the genre, sometimes it's like oh, I can read in French, or but with English, I don't usually have that problem. It has to be something, perhaps very complex, or very technical for me to have any issues reading in English, any problems. I feel far more confident in English than in French, that's the truth. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: Now one of the reasons that I'm interested in reading this, one of many, is that I hear so many readers say that for a novel written in the middle of the 19th century, its themes are very fresh and relevant, and that it's funnier than you would expect in places also.

MARIA: Yeah, indeed. That's why back in the day, it was like a scandaling, in many ways. [ANNE LAUGHS] So because it is so relevant today and some of the topics, we can identify them today for example, all the pressure that I'm kinda feeling, a woman that is married and then is looking for a love in somebody else's arms and all this things, I mean, at that time, it had to be a scandal and even more for a woman. But now it's like perhaps it's more relevant, or it's more common for us to see these things. People get divorce every day and things like that, so it's not such a scandal, so I can see that why it was a scandal in the past and now it's seen as something relevant and perhaps up to date if you see what I mean.

ANNE: And maybe that's the nudge I need to finally cross this off my list.

MARIA: I think you should. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: That's Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Maria, tell me about the next favorite you chose.

MARIA: Okay. The next one is The Shadow of the Wind by a Spanish author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This was actually a book that completely changed my perspective on gothic type of novels. I did some research and apparently it was quite famous in English speaking countries, although I first read it in Spanish 'cause the author is Spanish, but my boyfriend recommended this book and he actually gave it to me after a few months that we had started going out. He said, there you have this book. Read it, you will like it [ANNE LAUGHS] and he completely ... [LAUGHS] Yes, he knew. He knew I was going to enjoy it. It's a fascinating book, indeed, and I've also read it in English after some years.

[00:14:16]

ANNE: Tell me more about the experience of reading the book in two different languages, your native language and the book's native language, and then in English.

MARIA: The first time you notice is when you're reading the Spanish version of the book, which is the original one, you kinda ... Well there are names that are not translated, they are just like that 'cause they're in Spanish. Some idiomatic expressions in Spanish, I mean if you're a Spanish native speaker you understand and everything. The problem comes, or well the problem, the thing is that when a translator needs to interrupt the meaning of such idioms and things like that, most of the times, they do a great job because we have to bear in mind that a literary translator is above all, a writer. So they must not just translate, but they must also transmit as accurately as possible what is being said in the source language.

So sometimes that leads to things that appear in the original language that need to be sometimes multiplied out towards somehow or even omitted into the target language, which in this case is English. Some nicknames for example that wouldn't — couldn't — be translated into English because then the meaning is lost or some dialect that wouldn't be understood by an English speaker who doesn't speak Spanish, the experience was quite different although the story's the same and the translator did a great job in my opinion. Sometimes finding the equivalence between finding certain things is difficult so that's why it's very demanding. It's a very demanding task.

ANNE: Has learning about the art of translation yourself changed the way you read translated works?

MARIA: As a reader, of course what I'm reading and I’ve previously read the book in the original language let's say, I can't help comparing and sometimes I go to a specific chapter and see how they translated this, or how they translated that. I mean, translating is very difficult because we need to consider that what's important is the translation of meaning and sometimes that may lead to changing words, changing expressions, changing idioms, but in the end, the meaning, the core is there which is what is important in my opinion.

[00:16:24]

ANNE: I hadn't really thought of this before, but I imagine there must be times when the translator has to choose: do I prioritize preserving the meaning, or do I prioritize it sounding good to the reader? How do you choose?

MARIA: That's one of the things about translation is that in most cases there is not just one right translation for a book. The translators' perspectives, opinions, views, moral issues, will eventually have an impact on the translated version. So of course whether a writer is trying to preserve the original texts as much as possible, or whether it's trying to make the target readers understand the content is a very important decision that the translator has to make, and that will affect the whole book in this case, or how the whole interpretation and understanding of the book. So it's a very important decision and that's why translating is so demanding and so difficult.

There are some translations out there that sometimes you wonder oh my God, how ... Why did they do this? [ANNE LAUGHS] Right? So [LAUGHS] it's like I could think of an alternate translation to this part or this sentence, and I don't see why they put this here. It depends because as I said there's not just one single translation. I for example prefer to prioritize the transmission of meaning. I don't mind if I have to make changes in certain expressions or use idioms that are completely different in both languages. As soon the meaning is kept and the translated text is received the same as the original text was received by the first readers. As much as possible because all translations, I don't know who said it, but all translations are kinda a betrayal to the original text because there are always modifications to be made.

ANNE: Ooh, that's beautiful and also really painful.

MARIA: Yes. [LAUGHS] It is, but in a way if you think about it it's true because translation requires rewriting. That's why I said that a translator needs to be a writer, but I mean, it makes you think about it at least.

ANNE: Yes it does.

MARIA: Deep linguistic knowledge and culture knowledge are both required for both the target and the source language to translate effectively. That's a must.

ANNE: Maria, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?

MARIA: Yeah, I chose 1984 by George Orwell because I was told when it was written it talked about a future, and I was like oh I'll read it because for me 1984 for us, for now, is the past, and I found it very scary in the sense that many of the things, many of the topics that appear in the novel, are so relevant today that it definitely leaves you thinking oh my God, where are we going? Or that's what I ended up thinking about. I just found it an extremely thought-provoking book. And also perhaps quite complex, and I don't mind whether it's in English or in Spanish, I read it in both languages, but the topics that it talks about, or the ministry of peace, the ministry of love, the big brother, the new speak and all these things, at the beginning it's like, well that sounds like sci-fi to me, like unbelievable, but as the story goes on, it makes it so realistic in a way for me that I found it so scary.

[00:19:40]

ANNE: What led you to this book?

MARIA: A relative of mine. I don't remember who, but they were like oh, you should read this. I was into sci-fi and all these things, and it was like well, you should read 1984. It's ... I have to say, the first time I tried to read this book, I was a teenager and at some point in the novel, I gave up because again I think it was ... I wasn't ready to read it for some reason, like I found it extremely, I don't know, like it was too much for my brain at the time. Perhaps I couldn't understand the issues or something like that, but then I read it again as an adult. I fully read it and in this case, in English and in Spanish. I really, really enjoyed it. So it's one of my favorites.

ANNE: Okay. It sounds like that's a regular occurrence for you to read a novel twice, but in different languages.

MARIA: Yes. Since I've been studying English, and well, languages in general, I kinda like doing it. I haven't done it with all the books I would like, but yeah, I like comparing and seeing the translations and everything, even though I know how the story’s going to end.

ANNE: That is 1984 by George Orwell. Maria, tell me about a book that was not right for you.

MARIA: The one that wasn't for me was Ulysses by James Joyce. I know it's a great book. I'm not saying it's a bad book at all. I think the problem was a whole mix of writing styles and everything, and I just found it extremely challenging at a time in my life in which I wanted something easier. I had to give up. But I'm not saying it's a bad book at all. I think I just have to give it another chance and read it at a better time for me at perhaps autumn or winter as I said before in which I kinda read more let's say deeper books. [LAUGHS] Yeah, but I'm actually looking forward to reading it to be honest. I'm saying it was not for me at the time.

[00:21:27]

ANNE: Well said. If you are interested in hearing a more vehement take on Ulysses, that book was chosen as a Capital H Hate book by Andi Cumbo-Floyd way back in episode 17.

MARIA: I'm not the only one then. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: This is not a direct quote but I remember her saying, oh the word play. I hated the word play. She thought it was pretentious and too much.

MARIA: Yeah, that was kinda ... Yeah, now that I remember yeah, I actually started ... I read it in English, or I tried to read it in English, and perhaps the author because it was in English and I found an extra difficulty there, I was like ooh, no, no, no.

ANNE: Maria, what have you been reading lately?

MARIA: A book that I've been reading lately is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo who's a Finnish writer. I don't remember when it was published, but I don't think it was that long ago. Perhaps a couple years ago or something. It's a book that I've found extremely relevant to today's topics about feminism and gender equality, so basically tells the story of two sisters in an imaginary Finland in which this is occurring. One has been raised as a woman who will behave like a traditional woman, basically, and the other one who's not into that secretly, she wants to follow a different path, and then they have something called the chili pepper which is something that all these people who do not fit into society get addicted to because it kinda opens their eyes when they take it and they kinda, it kinda helps them not go into the specific path that society's telling them to follow. So it's quite shocking at the beginning, but it kinda makes sense.

ANNE: It seems to have similar themes as Madame Bovary actually, which I didn't expect.

MARIA: Yes, some of these like feminist issues here and there, yes, but perhaps this one, The Core of the Sun, is more relevant to today's society in the sense of again well, people who need to follow a specific path. These are the sustainable ones, and these other ones, they are just not valued, so in the case of women, if you want to dedicate yourself to have a traditional family, it's okay. You're part of society. If not, what can we do with you because you ... Something is wrong with you.

ANNE: And that is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo. What are you looking for in your reading life right now?

[00:23:49]

MARIA: I would like to read more classics. The thing is that there are so many books on my to be read list that I do not know where to begin. [ANNE LAUGHS] And the more I read, the more I add, so [LAUGHS] it's a neverending story. I don't know what to do to be honest. I want to read more classics as I said, but I don't know where to begin.

ANNE: And what does a classic mean to you?

MARIA: A classic means perhaps a book that was written many decades ago or a few centuries ago even that kinda has current topics. It's not something that looks like from ancient times, let's say, whose story happens or whose stories can be related to today's society. Something that doesn't seem too far if you see what I mean.

ANNE: I do. So a book that still has plenty to say to readers today, even though it was not written today.

MARIA: Mmhmm.

ANNE: How do you currently decide what to read next?

MARIA: Basically it depends on my mood. I don't have like a specific ritual to decide what to read. I sometimes look at ratings or reviews, but not too much because I don't ... I don't like reading certain reviews because that will affect my choice of the book or even my experience while reading it, so just a few reviews. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Alright, Maria, let's take a look at your books. You loved Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, which you read in the Spanish, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which you read in the Spanish and the English, and 1984 by George Orwell, which you also read in the Spanish first, and then the English. Not for you was Ulysess by James Joyce, you picked it up at the wrong time. You're looking forward to reading it again. Currently you're reading The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, the Finnish author, and you're reading it in translation in the English.

And you're looking for more classics to bump up your priority list right now, and also something that I really have in mind is books possibly in translation themselves that have something interesting to say about the art of translation, or perhaps are in translation themselves that you could read in multiple languages.

In the classics, part of me thinks, let's add classics to your list and part of me thinks you know what classics are in your list. You need to get excited about those books, so that you're ready to read them right now. So I think if it's okay with you, we want to do a mix of the old and the more contemporary, but I would really like to see you mix the old with the new, and not just read the new ones first, 'cause I know that's what you want in your reading life. So how does that plan sound to you?

[00:26:30]

MARIA: Sure. It sounds great.

ANNE: I think we want to start with the classic. Maria, get ready because before we sign off today, I'm going to ask you to not commit exactly, but to say out loud to me and our listeners what are some classic novels that you know you want to read that you are going to prioritize reading soon, or at least soonish.

But here's a classic that didn't come up in today's conversation yet. The book I'm thinking of is a French novel, knowing that you like to read in French, though I think you're going to want to read this in Spanish, that has similar themes to The Core of the Sun for contemporary book, and also Madame Bovary the classic that you read not that long ago and enjoyed. And the book that I'm thinking of is by George Sand, who many listeners assume because of the name, is a British author but no, that's a pseudonym for a female French novelist, and her name is Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin. And she wrote the book Indiana, which is the female protagonist name in the 1830s, not long after Jane Austen published her novels.

This is the story of a young woman named Indiana. She is in a loveless marriage to a much older man, and encounters a rake who already has proved himself to be a dastardly fellow, and she follows her instincts and they lead her bad places. Like Madame Bovary, this novel was shocking for its time. A lot of people were all in a tizzy that George Sand was, you know, publishing [WHISPERS] this scandalous stuff. But something that's really fun that I think you may enjoy digging into is that George Sand answered her critics in writing a lot. If you want to go find it, you can read many, many words about how she took their arguments and how she defended, and this was actually her first novel, and she said she didn't write it with a fixed planned, and she didn't want to espouse a theory of art or philosophy or love, but she was writing with her instincts about something that she thought was really important, and that is the equality of women and their role in society and how they should be equal to men, and the double standards are ludicrous and those are things that she was writing about in the early 19th century that are still, you know, had been themes throughout literature up till today.

Something she also writes a lot is many people read the book and they were like oh, she's so anti-marriage, she's trying to say that the institution shouldn't exist, and she says no. I was not that ambitious and I kinda can't believe what you all are reading into my story. Let me tell you what I really think.

So this is a French novel, in a language you have familiarity with, although based on what you said about Madame Bovary, I expect you'll want to read this in Spanish. I'm not sure if it's already on your radar, but seeing as how it's from a country whose literature you know you enjoy, and it's ones whose themes you've been drawn to, I think this might be a good pick for you. What do you think?

[00:29:14]

MARIA: You’re … You're so good at this. I mean, I mean, it's like yeah, I really feel like reading it.

ANNE: It is a short book though. It is in the vicinity of 300 pages.

MARIA: Mmhm.

ANNE: Which is good because the next one I'm going to suggest is quite long. This has just been published in the last five years and more recently than that in English. It's been called an international sensation, and yet I've talked to very few readers here in the United States who have read it or even know it exists, and the book that I have in mind is The Eighth Life. It's by Nino Haratischwili, and I am hopeful that it will be available in the Spanish language just because it has sold so many copies internationally. If it is not yet, I trust it will be soon.

But this is originally a German novel written by a Georgian ex-patriot. I keep wanting to call it a Russian novel. It is not a Russian novel. It is a Georgian novel, but shares many similarities to those big hefty classics we think of when we think of the Russians, like the novels by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. It spans one hundred years. It's nearly 1,000 pages and it is the story of a family through the entire 20th century, the narrator calls it the Red Century. I listened to the audiobook which was wonderful, but I read that not even the print book has a family tree in the front. You might want to make your own when you're reading this. This is the kinda book that needs a family tree.

So this book is written like a letter almost, a 1,000 page letter. The narrator is telling her niece the story of her family, like all the ones who came before going back to her great-grandfather because the narrator thinks the niece really needs to know to move forward into the present and to create a new story, she has to understand what came before. And while there is love and peace, those are little tiny dots in what is largely a landscape of war and revolution and heartbreak and tragedy. So in one sense, it's a sweeping family epic, but the great-grandfather was a chocolatier, and he invented this concoction, a special chocolate that went into the cakes and made them delicious, made everybody want to buy them. But this chocolate, if consumed straight in a cup of hot chocolate would make you fall in love and crave it forever when it also would bring a curse upon you and tragic things were sure to ensue.

And the way the author comes back to certain characters and certain themes throughout the story and injects this chocolate that might even sound a little silly, but feels like the exactly right amount of magic in the pages. The way the author keeps returning to the same themes but giving them to you fresh in each generation and showing how these characters are affected by very real events from the history books, some of which you will remember from your childhood and present day, is absolutely fascinating, and I think has much to appeal to someone who's familiar with literature of other different countries, of different traditions, and who does like a story that feels like it can stand the test of time. That is The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili. How does that sound to you?

[00:32:08]

MARIA: It sounds so, so, so great. Thank you.

ANNE: I am happy to hear it. Finally, I didn't anticipate talking about this book today, you can tell me if it sounds like a good pick or not, but I realized as we were talking [LAUGHS] that I've read a novel about the art of translation where that is a key part of the story, and this book is an American novel. It's The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. This book has interweaving storylines and has a story within a story. This is a short book. It's only 250 pages. The plot is complex. It's not confusing when you're in it, but golly it can be hard to describe, so let me take a shot at this.

In the book, The History of Love, not the novel, but the story within the story is a manuscript that a young man wrote about the girl he loved from his small village in Poland. He called it The History of Love and he lost the manuscript. He was parted from his love as well. She grew up and married somebody else. He moved to the United States, they were parted, and that's important in the story as well. And it ends up being a little heartbreaking, so maybe you should know that too. But what he doesn't know is that story wasn't lost forever. A friend of his published yet. To do so, he hired a translation from Yiddish into Spanish, and it was published under someone else's name in Chile in the middle of the 20th century.

Now years later, there's a young girl. She's 14. She lives in Manhattan. And her mother works as a translator. She takes occasional jobs. She doesn't have to work all the time. She cherry picks the ones she really wants, and she is hired to translate this manuscript again, and what we find out in the course of the story, we get little snippets of the old manuscript along with the present day storyline is who this manuscript connects and what it all means. And the fact that translation is so important in this story, I'm a little afraid that you'll read it and go oh that's not right at all. That's not how that would really work, but what I'm hopeful is that you'll find it really fascinating to read about the work that you love that's so important to you and that you know so much about in the pages of what is also a really compelling story. How does that sound to you?

[00:34:05]

MARIA: It sounds really appealing as well. More books to my to be read list, but I'm sure I will give priority to these.

ANNE: Now it's your turn, Maria. I would love to hear three classics on your list that you are excited to read in theory that you've been meaning to read for a while but you haven't gotten to yet 'cause you've been putting them off. What comes to mind?

MARIA: So for example, I have ... Well, Wuthering Heights. I have the book in my shelves but for some reason, I haven't read it yet so I'm really, really excited to read it for the first time. Then I have The Catcher in the Rye which I haven't read either, and The Great Gatsby.

ANNE: Wuthering Heights, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby. That's a nice mix, and two of those are very slender books. I would invite you to take those titles and put them on your coffee table or your kitchen counter or your nightstand, just so you can remember that when I said what classics do you want to read, these are the three that sprung immediately to mind.

MARIA: That's a great idea indeed, yeah. Maybe I should do that. Rather than just give them the shelves and say ah, I'll read it someday.

ANNE: Yes. Out of sight, out of mind is very true for many readers and the books that they intend to read, but can't quite remember that when it's time to choose what book they want to read next. Maria, back to the books we discussed today. They were Indiana by George Sand, The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili, and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Of those books, what do you think you'll read next?

MARIA: Perhaps The Eighth Life I think.

ANNE: I think it sounds really well suited to you and I can't wait to hear what you think.

MARIA: Thank you very much. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Oh, Maria, this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk books with me today.

[00:35:41]

MARIA: It's been a pleasure for me.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Maria, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. Leave your suggestion at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/297. That’s also where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.

Subscribe now so you don’t miss next week’s episode in Overcast, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. We will see you next week!

Follow us on instagram @whatshouldireadnext and @annebogel. That’s Anne with an e, B as in books, O-G-E-L. Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know all the What Should I Read Next news and happenings; if you’re not on the list visit whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter to sign up for our free weekly delivery.

If you enjoy this podcast and want to support it, please share it with a friend, leave a review on Apple Podcasts, or preorder a copy of my new book journal My Reading Life.

And if you love the show, we’ve got more good stuff for you in our Patreon community: visit patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext to learn more and get started. And remember we have that special live event coming up with some of our most-recommended What Should I Read Next authors just for patreon members. Join us at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.

Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.

Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.

And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.

Books mentioned:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (in Spanish)
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
1984 by George Orwell (in Spanish)
Ulysses by James Joyce
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Indiana by George Sand (in French)
The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili
The History of Love by Nicole Kraus
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thanks to this week’s sponsor:

Readers, even we know that bibliotherapy can’t cure everything. If you’re feeling down, it might help to talk with a professional therapist. With BetterHelp, you’ll work directly with a licensed, professional therapist – and because BetterHelp is digital, you have a wider range of options and expertise than might usually be available in your area. Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/readnext.

more posts you might enjoy

9 comments | Comment

9 comments

Leave A Comment
  1. Susan in TX says:

    So…does The Eighth Life borrow the premise of Chocolat? It sounded very similar. I think, but not positive, that Chocolat was first published in Italian in 1998?

  2. Laetitia says:

    Maria,

    Since you love Madame Bovary I highly recommend Anna Karenina, if you haven’t read it yet. Like Flaubert, Tolstoy presents us with some insightful social commentary on Russian high society of his time. The English translation by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky is brilliant.

    As a fellow multilingual reader, I loved this episode!

    • María Carrera says:

      Hi Laetitia,
      It’s Maria, the guest for this episode! I will seriously consider your recommendation. You know, as an avid reader, I’m always on the hunt for excellent books. Thank you very much!

  3. Kate Dillingham says:

    This year, I read the 4th book in the Shadow of the Wind series, called The Labyrinth of the Spirits. I enjoyed it even more than book #1 and recommend it to Maria.

  4. Tuija says:

    Maria, so good to hear from you in this episode. As a fellow translator, English teacher and a reader in many languages, so much of what you said resonated with me. 🙂
    If you haven’t yet read Jhumpa Lahiri’s “In Other Words”, please put it high on your TBR. All about languages, identity, falling in love with a new language, learning and finding a new voice with it. Lahiri wrote it in Italian, and the English book has both the original Italian and the English translation side by side. I’m pretty sure you would find this book interesting, too.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I took an undergraduate English class on Ulysesses in which we read and discussed one chapter a week. I knew that was the only way I’d every get through the book, so kudos to you for even trying to read it on your own! 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *