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International Book Club
The International Book Club meets once a term to discuss a novel translated into English from any language. The club is open to everyone, both members and non-members of the university. We also have a new Book Club for Schools, open to pupils aged 15-18.

Next meeting: July 13, Phenotypes

Our next meeting will be held on Wednesday 13th July at 8pm (GMT), and we’ll be reading Paulo Scott’s Phenotypes, translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. Phenotypes is a compelling account of how race and racism shape hearts, minds, and institutions in contemporary Brazil, explored through the lives of two brothers born with very different skin tones. We’re delighted to announce that the translator, Daniel Hahn will be joining us for a Q&A session to discuss the book and his experience of translating it.

In the weeks leading up to our meeting, we’d love to hear your thoughts while reading the book on social media. There is a Facebook group for the International Book Club, or you can follow us on Twitter and use the hashtag #IntBookClub.

Sign up for your (free) ticket through Eventbrite at the following link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/international-book-club-tickets-355186110217

About the book

Federico and Lourenço are brothers. Their father is Black, a famed forensic pathologist for the police; their mother is white. Federico – distant, angry, analytical – has light skin, which means he’s always been able to avoid the worst of the racism that Brazilian culture has to offer. He can ‘pass’ as white, and yet, because of this, he has devoted his life to racial justice. Lourenço, on the other hand, is dark-skinned, easy-going, and well-liked in the brothers’ hometown of Porto Alegre – and has become a father himself.

As Federico’s fiftieth birthday looms, he joins a governmental committee in the capital. It is tasked with quelling the increasingly violent student protests rocking Brazil by overseeing the design of a software program that will adjudicate the degree to which each university applicant is sufficiently black to warrant admittance under new affirmative-action quotas. Before he can come to grips with his feelings about this initiative, not to mention a budding romance with one of his committee colleagues, Federico is called home: his niece has just been arrested at a protest carrying a concealed gun. And not just any gun. A stolen police service revolver that Federico and Lourenço hid for a friend decades before. A gun used in a killing.

Paulo Scott here probes the old wounds of race in Brazil, and in particular the loss of a black identity independent from the history of slavery. Exploratory rather than didactic, a story of crime, street-life and regret as much as a satirical novel of ideas, Phenotypes is a seething masterpiece of rage and reconciliation.

Source: And Other Stories

 

© John Lawrence

Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor and translator with eighty-something books to his name. His translations (from French, Spanish and Portuguese) include fiction from Europe, Africa and the Americas, and non-fiction by writers ranging from Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago to Brazilian footballer Pelé, as well as children's books and occasional plays and poetry. His work has won him the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award, among others. He is a past chair of the Society of Authors (the UK writers' union), and on the board of a number of organisations that work with literature, translation, education and free speech.

All are welcome at our book club, which meets on Zoom. To keep up to date with our events, join our mailing list, or follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Connect with other book club members in our Facebook group. If you have any questions, email us at translation.exchange@queens.ox.ac.uk.

Please click here for information about our new International Book Club for Schools.

Do you attend a book club where you would like to introduce more translated fiction? We have produced a series of guides for book clubs, on a selection of books that we've discussed. Click here to explore them.

Previous book clubs:

  • March 2022: In the Shadow of the Yalı (Turkish)

    In March, we discussed In the Shadow of the Yalı by Suat Derviş. Translator Maureen Freely joined our discussion via Zoom.

    In the Shadow of the Yalı marks the highly anticipated English-language debut of feminist writer and activist Suat Derviş. Her sensitive, strikingly modern portrayal of a love affair, with its frank emphasis on the influence of money, provides a fascinating contrast to classic tales of infidelity such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.

    Source: Other Press

    Maureen Freely is a writer with seven novels to her name and many other strings to her bow. Well known as a translator of the Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, she has also brought into English several classics and works by Turkey’s rising stars. For many years she worked as a journalist in London, writing about literature, social justice, and human rights. As chair of the Translator’s Association and more recently as President and Chair of English PEN, she has campaigned for writers and freedom of expression internationally. She teaches at the University of Warwick.

  • December 2021: The German Crocodile (German)

    In December 2021 we discussed The German Crocodile by leading German literary critic Ijoma Mangold. We were delighted to welcome the translator, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, to join us for an informal discussion of the book and of her experience translating it. 

    Ijoma Alexander Mangold is his full name; he has brown skin and dark curly hair. Today one of Germany’s best literary critics, Ijoma remembers his childhood, his teenage years and his early adulthood in this compelling coming-of-age memoir of growing up different in 1970s Heidelberg, in the USA as the German Wall fell, and as a young adult in the new Germany.

    His own story is inextricably linked with that of his mother, a German from the eastern province of Silesia, forced to escape as a refugee in the expulsions from 1944, and to start afresh in utter poverty in West Germany. His Nigerian father came to Germany to train in paediatric surgery but returned before Ijoma was old enough to remember him. His reappearance on the scene forces a crash collision with an unknown culture, one he grew up suspicious of, and a new complex family history to come to terms with.

    Many existential questions are explored in this lively narrative; How does a boy cope with an absent father? What was it like to grow up ‘bi-racial’? Was he an opportunist, a master adaptor who had over-assimilated? What is the relationship between race and class? And what is more unusual in Germany: having brown skin or a passion for Thomas Mann and Richard Wagner? Ijoma Mangold shares his story with its dramatic twists and turns, not forgetting the surprises, he uncovers about himself along the way.

    Source: DAS Editions

    Ijoma Mangold was born in Heidelberg in 1971 and studied literature and philosophy in Munich and Bologna. After working for the newspapers Berliner Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung, he moved to Germany’s weekly Die Zeit in 2009, where he was literary editor in chief from 2013 to 2018. He is now Die Zeit’s cultural-political correspondent and one of four literary critics on the SWR show Lesenswert. Ijoma is regularly on the jury of major prizes for contemporary German literature. A recipient of the Berlin Prize for Literary Criticism, he has also held visiting professorships at the University of Göttingen, Germany and at the University of Saint Louis, USA. Ijoma lives in Berlin.

    Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a literary translator working from German, Russian and Arabic into English, whose work has been shortlisted for the Helen & Kurt Wolff translator's prize, the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize and the GLLI Translated YA Prize. She translates novels, nonfiction and children's books, and her published translations include works from Germany, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Russia, Switzerland and Syria.

  • March 2021: That Hair (Portuguese)

    In March 2021 we discussed Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s book, That Hair (Tin House), translated from Portuguese. The translator, Eric M. B. Becker, joined us for our discussion, on Zoom. 

    About the book

    “The story of my curly hair,” says Mila, the narrator of Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s autobiographically inspired tragicomedy, “intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” Mila is the Luanda-born daughter of a black Angolan mother and a white Portuguese father. She arrives in Lisbon at the tender age of three, and feels like an outsider from the jump. Through the lens of young Mila’s indomitably curly hair, her story interweaves memories of childhood and adolescence, family lore spanning four generations, and present-day reflections on the internal and external tensions of a European and African identity. In layered, intricately constructed prose, That Hair enriches and deepens a global conversation, challenging in necessary ways our understanding of racism, feminism, and the double inheritance of colonialism, not yet fifty years removed from Angola’s independence. It’s the story of coming of age as a black woman in a nation at the edge of Europe that is also rapidly changing, of being considered an outsider in one’s own country, and the impossibility of “returning” to a homeland one doesn’t in fact know.

     

    Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is the author of five books: the novels That HairA visão das plantas, and Luanda, Lisboa, Paraíso, as well as Ajudar a cair, a portrait of a community of people with cerebral palsy, and Pintado com o pé, a collection of essays. Her writing has appeared in Blog da Companhia das Letras, Common Knowledge, Granta.com, Granta Portugal, Ler, Revista Pessoa, Quatro Cinco Um, Revista serrote, Words Without Borders, Revista ZUM, and elsewhere.

     

     

    Eric M. B. Becker is editor of Words without Borders and a literary translator. He has received fellowships and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright Commission, PEN America, and the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and has translated several books by Portuguese-language writers Oceanos Prize-winner Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida and Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award-winner Fernanda Torres. In 2019, his translation of Mia Couto's Rain and Other Stories earned honorable mention from the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize. He has translated short work by numerous writers across the Lusophone world, including 2016 Nobel Prize nominee and Camões Prize-winner Lygia Fagundes Telles, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and Cabo Verdean Camões Prize-winner Arménio Vieira. He is a cofounder of the transatlantic Pessoa Festival. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Freeman's, and other publications. After a stint in Rio de Janeiro, he now lives in New York.

  • November 2020: Zero (Norwegian)

    In November 2020 we discussed Gine Cornelia Pedersen’s book, Zero (Nordisk Books), translated from Norwegian. We were joined by the book's translator, Rosie  Hedger, who shared her experience of translating this unique book.

    Gine Cornelia Pedersen debuted with this explosive novel, which won the prestigious Tarjei Vesaas First Book Award. Compared, in its home country of Norway, with a ‘punk rock single’, the unique lyrical style and frank description of life with mental health problems have come together to create one of the most exciting works of fiction from Scandinavia in recent years.

    Rosie Hedger’s translation of Zero was shortlisted for the Oxford- Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2019, and her translation of Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal won an English PEN Translates Award in 2016. Ravatn’s novel was later selected for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, broadcast in January 2017, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. Rosie was a candidate in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for emerging translators in 2012, mentored by Don Bartlett. Since then she has worked on a range of projects, more information about which can be found here. She is a member of the Translator’s Association.

     

  • August 2020: Where the Wild Ladies Are (Japanese)

    In August 2020 we discussed Matsuda Aoko’s book, Where the Wild Ladies Are (Tilted Axis Press), translated from Japanese. The translator, Polly Barton, joined us for our discussion.

    Witty, inventive, and profound, Where the Wild Ladies Are is a contemporary feminist retelling of traditional ghost stories by one of Japan’s most exciting writers. It is the winner of an English PEN award.

    In a company run by the mysterious Mr Tei, strange things are afoot – incense sticks lead to a surprise encounter; a young man reflects on his mother’s death; a foxlike woman finally finds her true calling. As female ghosts appear in unexpected guises, their gently humorous encounters with unsuspecting humans lead to deeper questions about emancipation and recent changes in Japanese women’s lives.

    Keen to get a taste of the book? One of the stories has been published in Granta, and is free to read online.

     

     

    “(S)mart and formally inventive (…) Beauty, jealousy and women’s place in Japanese society are all explored in stories which are funny, strange and intriguing.” – Tatler

     “In 2020, taking a collection of traditional Japanese ghost stories and crafting them into often humorous yet painfully relevant tales is a move of pure genius by Aoko Matsuda. (…) Witty, biting, and poignant, Matsuda’s collection is a pleasantly haunting surprise.” – Jessica Esa, Metropolis

    Aoko Matsuda is a writer and translator. In 2013, her debut book, Stackable, was nominated for the Mishima Yukio Prize and the Noma Literary New Face Prize. In 2019, her short story ‘The Woman Dies’ (from the collection The Year of No Wild Flowers), published on Granta online, was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her novella The Girl Who Is Getting Married was published by Strangers Press in 2016. She has translated work by Karen Russell, Amelia Gray and Carmen Maria Machado into Japanese.

     

    Polly Barton is a translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction, currently based in Bristol. She has translated short stories for Words Without Borders, The White Review and GRANTA. Her full-length translations include Friendship for Grown-ups by Naocola Yamazaki and Mikumari by Misumi Kubo (both Strangers Press) and Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki (Pushkin Press). After being awarded the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, she is currently working on a non-fiction book entitled Fifty Sounds.

  • June 2020: And the Wind Sees All (Icelandic)

     

     

    On Wednesday 17th June we discussed And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson (Peirene Press), translated from Icelandic by Bjørg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery. The translators joined us for this online meeting of the book club, and took readers' questions about the novel's relationship with music and performing, their approach to translating its long, supple sentences, and how they work together as a husband and wife team of translators.

    Read more about the novel

  • May 2020: Family Lexicon (Italian)

    Our meeting in May was our first virtual session, with participants joining in from across the world via Zoom. We discussed Natalia Ginzburg's Family Lexicon (Daunt Books), translated from Italian by Jenny McPhee. The translator joined us from New York for a lively and fascinating discussion.

    Natalia Ginzburg wrote her masterful autobiographical novel Family Lexicon while living in London in the 1960s. Homesick for her Italian family, she summoned them in this celebration of the routines and rituals, in-jokes and insults and, above all, the repeated sayings that make up every family.

    Read more about the novel

    Jenny McPhee is a translator and the author of the novels The Center of Things, No Ordinary Matter, and A Man of No Moon. She is the director of the Center of Applied Liberal Arts at New York University and lives in New York.

  • November 2019: Celestial Bodies (Arabic)

    The next meeting of the International Book Club will be on Wednesday 27 November. This time we’ll be reading Celestial Bodies by the Omani author Jokha Alharthi, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, first published in 2018.

    Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. We are very excited to have the translator, Marilyn Booth, joining us for the discussion.

    Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.

    ‘A richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.’

    -The Man Booker International Prize judges

    ‘Brings a distinctive and important new voice to world literature.’

    -The Irish Times

    Do come and join us and discuss the book over a drink from 5 - 6.30 pm on 27 November in the Memorial Room at Queen’s College. As always, all are welcome and the event is free, just sign up here to let us know if you plan to come.

  • June 2019: The Tobacconist (German)

    Next meeting: Wednesday 19 June – all welcome!

    The next meeting of our International Book Club is on Wednesday 19 June, and this time we’ll be reading The Tobacconist by the bestselling Austrian author Robert Seethaler, first published in 2014 and translated by Charlotte Collins. It’s set in 1930s Austria:

    When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz.

    It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.

    ‘Essential reading for the early years of the 21st century’ – Scotland on Sunday

    Do come and join us and discuss the book over a drink from 6.15-7.45 on 19 June in the Memorial Room at Queen’s College. As always, all are welcome and the event is free, just sign up here to let us know if you plan to come.

  • February 2019: The Remainder (Spanish)

    Our second book was Alia Trabuco Zeran’s The Remainder, published by And Other Stories.

    Summary:

    Felipe and Iquela, two young friends living in modern day Santiago, are plagued by the legacy of Chile's dictatorship. Felipe prowls the streets counting dead bodies real and imagined, aspiring to a perfect number that might offer closure. Iquela and Paloma, an old acquaintance from Iquela's childhood, search for a way to reconcile their fragile lives with their parents' violent militant past. The body of Paloma's mother gets lost in transit, sending the three on a pisco-fueled journey up the cordillera as they attempt to grapple with pain that stretches across generations.

    This brilliant, complex book was an extremely rewarding subject for discussion, with its haunting depiction of how it feels to be a child simultaneously excluded from and pulled into an adult world of secrets and trauma. Since we met, The Remainder has been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize: wonderful news for Trabuco Zeran and her translator, Sophie Hughes.

    Before our book club meeting, we asked Sophie about the complexities and rewards of translating this novel. She commented on the challenge of rendering its fast-paced dialogue, and described doing bilingual readings of much of it with the author, ‘to make sure that the flow and breathlessness of Felipe […] his strange convictions tinged with manic doubt […] were captured in the translation’. She also described the need to render ambiguity, always a difficult task for a translator: ‘There are grey areas deliberately left in this book, so the shadow of the dictatorship is as engulfing, but also as hazy and surreal, as the ash, and I think that, as I translated La resta and picked my way through the characters' motivations, I saw the genius of having offered us this view of that terrible moment in history... only in that way so we experience how it feels for the young characters to have inherited a history that does not belong to them. I always hope to experience something with the characters of the novels I read, and translate’.