Legacies, Memories and Wonders
In the first edition of The Publishing Post, we’d like to take you on a short literary journey. To satisfy your translated book needs, we’ll be paying homage to the great Carlos Ruis Zafón, reviewing Minor Detail, a painfully beautiful historical book about the Nakba, and of the remarkable novella by Japanese prodigy Mieko Kawakami.
The Legacy of Zafón
When one thinks of Spanish literature there are two authors who immediately come to mind: Miguel de Cervantes and Carlos Ruis Zafón. The former achieved fame thanks to the iconic character of Don Quixote, the latter for making readers from all over the world fall in love with Barcelona.
However, Zafón’s talent is not recognised worldwide. His first novel, The Prince of Mist, was published in Spain in 1993, but was only translated into English in 2010. The Shadow of the Wind also had late success among the international public. The book was published in 2001, but translations wouldn’t start until 2004. It has now been translated into 43 languages and has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, making Zafón the second most read Spanish author in history.
Zafón died at the age of 55 on June 19, 2020. It was a major loss that shocked readers around the world.
Trigger warning: this book deals with war crimes, sexual assault and other sensitive topics.
The beautifully bare prose of Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail feels like a media report, informing the readers of yet another war crime. However, no matter how impersonal the language feels, it is impossible to remain unperturbed.
The untenability of impassivity is what unites the two halves of this clean-cut book. In the first half, we see the last days of a Palestinian girl raped and murdered by Israeli settlers in 1949, all through the eyes of her killer. She is given no perspective or voice. Twenty-five years later, a woman is compelled to retrace the victim’s steps in a perilous quest to uncover her story. We see how the narrator obsessively doubts her rights to “retell the girl’s story.”
The book masterfully reflects on justice, memory and systematic erasure. However, the necessity of giving voice to the voiceless is intentionally left unresolved. The victim remains wordless and nameless, a “black mass” on the burning sand, a weightless dot erased from the map of history like the countless Palestinian villages that had populated the Negev desert until 1949.
Ms Ice Sandwich
Ms Ice Sandwich is the latest novella by Japanese author Mieko Kawakami, which has been translated by Louise Heal Kawai.
The protagonist, an eight-year-old boy, becomes obsessed with a young woman that sells sandwiches at his local supermarket. Her bright blue eyeshadow gives her the nickname of ‘Ms Ice Sandwich’. The unnamed protagonist’s life is distinguished by the female presence. He lives with his mother, a fortune teller, and his mute, dying grandmother, who he confides in. She is the only person he can share his thoughts with, knowing his secrets will be safe with her. After the protagonist realises that his perception of Ms Ice Sandwich differs from everyone else’s, he forms a bond with a classmate called Tutti, as they both have experienced and dealt with loss in the past.
Despite being short, this novella offers the opportunity to view the world through the whimsical lens of a fouth-grader, which Kawakami’s exquisitely renders in her work. Ms Ice Sandwich is ideal for those who prefer the dry and straightforward style used by many Japanese authors.
Ms Ice Sandwich is a weird, cinematic experience of a book that echoes Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpieces.