Coming of Age Novels in Translation
For this issue of The Publishing Post, the books in translation team decided to explore coming of age novels in translation. September is a month of transition and personal growth usually characterized by back to school. For this reason, we decided to analyze how the theme of growth is addressed in novels written and set in different countries, to analyze how it differs across cultures. We have chosen three very different books for you: one French, one Mexican and one Dominican. We hope to encourage you to travel and learn about different cultures through the adventures of our young protagonists. These are books that have made us dream, grow, mature, and improve so sit back, make yourself a cup of tea and immerse yourself in reading - you won't regret it!
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan and translated by Irene Ash.
Bonjour Tristesse is a French coming-of-age novel published in 1954, when the author was only eighteen.
The novel follows Cécile and her father Raymond’s summer in the Côte d’Azur. Raymond brings along his much younger girlfriend, Elsa, and Cécile starts a romantic affair with law student Cyril. When family friend Anne pays a visit to them, leaving Raymond enamored and Elsa heartbroken, Cécile draws up a plan to return to the status quo.
Bonjour Tristesse is about a young adult exploring her sexuality and dismissing the bourgeoisie’s post-war morals, gifting the reader a written testimony that is similar to what is portrayed in a lot of Nouvelle Vague films. The disregard of the set morals and rules a young woman should follow, is what makes this novel so groundbreaking at the time and revolutionary still to this day, as the main character not only has an almost friendship-like relationship with her father, which was unusual at the time, but she also exercises her sexual and individual freedom, also thanks to her permissive father.
Although short, this novel is scandalous and gives a good representation of mid-50s France and the cultural revolution that was to follow.
A BOOK YOU READ IN THE PAST FOR YOUR FUTURE SELF NOW.
Tentacle by Rita Indiana and translated by Achy Obejas
This short book spanning 3 timeframes shape-shifts between the parallel stories of one young transgender maid in 2027’s Dominican Republic whose destiny it is to save the Caribbean Sea, a frustrated and closeted artist junkie from the 1990’s who also lives in pirate-ridden 17th century Spanish Main and how these lives interconnect through a sacred sea anemone that channels Yoruba magic.
It’s been dubbed a psychedelic voodoo Caribbean genesis story and a post apocalyptic odyssey with coming of age elements related to shifting bodies, sexualities and times but also how race is perceived in individuals and how a nation deals with its traumatic and complex history. This slender novel dynamically unpacks these themes in youthful and pugilistic language. What the dizzying timelines do is bring to the fore what it will mean to control and actually grow up in our bodies in a hyper-technological future?
Sea anemones are capable of cloning themselves and are nearly immortal, living very long lives, their tentacles are just like the narrative threads in this book: reaching back and forwards fluidly floating through times and genders whilst reflecting on colonial barbarism and the troubling path that hyper capitalism has set us on.
• Cesar Aira: The Literary Conference
• Angela Carter: Passion of New Eve
• HP Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu
• David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas
A RECENT CLASSIC
Signs Preceding the End of the World - Yuri Herrera (2009), Translated by Lisa Dillman (2015)
Originally written in 2009, Signs Preceding the End of the World is the first novel by Mexican author Yuri Herrera to receive an English translation, with publisher & Other Stories releasing an edition translated by Lisa Dillman in 2015.
Following Makina, a hardened young woman who must traverse the border between Mexico and America in order to find her brother, the novel elevates Makina’s crossing to a journey of mythical proportions. Written in sparse and vivid prose, reminiscent of authors such as Cormac McCarthy and Roberto Bolaño, Herrera draws from the journeys of Odysseus and Dante to examine the borders of civilisation and identity. Dillman’s translation brilliantly emphasises how Herrera stretches and bends language: mixing registers, tongues, and meanings to illustrate the language hybridity inherent within a landscape that is continually mutated by violence and corruption.
While the book is tightly packed into just over a hundred pages, Herrera’s novel is epic in scope and verse, a timeless allegory that demands to be heard in an age of increasing instability. Herrera has proven himself to be a dynamic voice within the Spanish language.