Book Review: The Translator by Nina Schuyler

Any translator would be intrigued by a novel entitled The Translator. Judging by the rave reviews garnered by author Nina Schuyler for her second novel, however, the book appeals to a much larger audience. And for good reason. While the art and practice of literary translation provide a rich backdrop, context and device, the book tells a complex and very human story of loss and redemption.

What would happen if a polyglot fell and suffered catastrophic brain damage? What would happen if, when she came to, she could understand but not express herself in her mother tongue or even her second language? For Hanne Shubert, an accomplished literary translator and the main character of The Translator (Pegasus Books, 2013) by Nina Schuyler, the accident that steals her ability to communicate leaves her painfully vulnerable at the very moment when her sense of self—her professional confidence and the merit of certain personal choices—starts to crumble.
One of the Kindle’s features I particularly appreciate is the highlighting tool that allows me underscore and note at will without destroying a book. The same feature allows me to deduce who else has read the book.
Clearly, I was not the first translator to read Schuyler’s book. Throughout, superbly crafted reflections about the art and craft of literary translation have been noted by others.
Might it be that a translation from language A into language B creates a third presence—almost like the birth of a baby, uncontaminated, truer? Might that third presence hold the essence of what lies underneath both languages?
Translator or not, any reader will find Hanne’s situation compelling, share her confusion and fragility as the life she had so carefully constructed and lived comes undone. Hanne’s journey begins in San Francisco. The narrative then whisks the reader to Japan and, finally, to India. Each place is skillfully rendered, the scents and sounds almost palpable.
Schuyler is not a translator. She has a law degree from Hastings and an MFA in fiction from San Francisco State University. Her first novel, The Painting, was published in 2004 (Algonquin). One of her short stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the fiction editor of the Able Muse and teaches creative writing at University.
I guess you could say that Schuyler is a writer’s writer. With the publication of The Translator, I would say that she is also an accomplished translator’s writer.
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For translators: The Able Muse will publish a special translation issuein summer 2014. The review will accept submissions until March 31, 2014. 

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