The Queen’s Translation Exchange runs termly Book Clubs for Schools, where we read and discuss fiction in translation. The Translation Exchange also encourages students to set up such Book Clubs in their own schools, using our Guide. We were delighted when sixth former Muskan Goyal got in touch with regular updates. Read on to find out the great books they chose.

15/09/2022

Of course, the idea to run an international book club at my school (Nottingham High School) came from attending those run by Queen’s College Translation Exchange. So much did I enjoy the opportunity to have my own space to discuss foreign novels with like-minded, literature-loving peers, I simply could not wait to open up this opportunity to students in my own school. The cross-cultural exchange and linguistic creativity that the book club engenders as a result of this fantastic initiative meant I could promote it with full confidence. Through this activity, students will be provided with the development they need to think critically and articulate their thoughts in an eloquent manner. 

The initial meeting was simply intended to gauge interest in the book club in terms of logistics; I needed to meet and talk to those interested in order to establish what they hoped to gain from the sessions. There was a definite enthusiasm for reading literature from all corners of the world and not simply the West; though we start with a Spanish novel, I have no doubt that perhaps an Arabic or maybe Chinese novel will soon follow. In the end, no fewer than 30 people expressed their interest in this club! I have now created a google classroom to share details of meetings and to use as a forum for recommendations for international literature as a whole. I intend to post a variety of novels, poetry and articles in general that I have enjoyed, along with encouraging others to do the same. This way, I believe we will be able to create a truly rich forum where the cultural exposure and knowledge we will uncover together will be boundless. I cannot wait for our first meeting on Friday, 14 October.

14/10/2022 – The Island, by Ana María Matute (trans. Laura Lonsdale)

Our first session focused on The Island, written by Ana María Matute and translated by Laura Lonsdale. The book focuses around the central character of the rebellious teenager Matia, who, after her mother dies and her father abandons her, is sent to live with her domineering grandmother on the scorching island of Mallorca. Shaped by the circumstances of the Spanish Civil War, The Island is a moving coming-of-age novel, where communities tear themselves apart, and Matia learns about the adult world in ways that she could not previously have foreseen.

The session was an absolute success, with 15 students from across years 10 to 12 attending! We initially started off as a collective group, inviting students to introduce themselves and give a short summary of their first impressions of the book; this led into general discussion in 2 breakout groups, at first stimulated by the questions provided by Queens’ College but quickly progressing into reasoned discussions on a particular aspect of the book. It was delightful to see all members debating and discussing their varying viewpoints and interpretations – you could truly see each student building off what had already been said and really extending their creative thinking and analytical skills. We all walked away from the session with a completely different perspective on the book, and the context surrounding it; this, for me, really does embody the beauty and the benefits of discussing literature. We rounded off the session by inviting a member of each breakout table to give the group a summary of what had been discussed, presenting what they found to be most controversial or compelling. Through this sharing of ideas, it was made clear that we all shared certain ideas and outlooks and also diverged in some – this element of debate and disagreement being key in introducing a sense of complexity in our understanding of the novel.

Our next session will be on the French novel Under the Tripoli Sky written by Kamal Ben Hameda – I cannot wait! 

18/11/2022 – Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda (trans. Adriana Hunter)

Last Friday, the International Book Club met for the second time to discuss the novella, Under the Tripoli Sky. Originally written in French, this story tells the tale of a young boy, almost invisible to those around him, who enjoys listening to the whispered stories of the women who surround him. Though many key issues ranging from misogyny to poverty are explored throughout the novel, the overwhelming focus of the tale is on the women of Tripoli – strong, resourceful and interesting, yet continually succumbing to societal expectations and the domination of men. In our meeting, we explored these power imbalances further, more importantly, perhaps, also considering their relevance to modern society. A particularly interesting aspect for us to consider in our meeting was the difference between literal and liberal translation; literally, ‘la Compagnie des Tripolitaines’ translates to ‘the Company of Women from Tripoli’, however, as we all discussed, this is perhaps not the most interesting of titles. A key point of discussion, therefore, was whether the title ‘Under the Tripoli Sky’ wholly captures the essence of the novel; or whether translations can ever completely capture the beauty of the original language. An interesting debate was thus carried out, and we truly loved sharing our views and interpretations – what was most satisfying, for me, was discovering slightly different takes on the novel through the varying viewpoints presented by those present. I think we can all agree that we walked away with a wholly different understanding and perspective of the book from that with which we entered at the start of the session. Overall, definitely, a book that is worth a read, perhaps as it was unlike anything we had read before – in only 100 pages, we were able to discover the pre-Gaddafi world, and for that, we enjoyed it immensely!

More to come…