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  • November 2019

    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

    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

    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’.

  • November 2018

    At our first meeting we read Eve Out of Her Ruins by the Mauritian author Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman and published by Les Fugitives.