The 100 Most beautiful words in English

beautiful-words

13 Things I Found on the Internet Today (Vol. LXV)

 

 

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Review

 

half-of-a-yellow-sun

Half a Yellow Sun, takes its title from the emblem for Biafra, the breakaway state in eastern Nigeria that survived for only three years, and whose name became a global byword for war by starvation.

Adichie takes her time in reaching the privations of war. Covering the decade to the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-70, the novel first develops its characters in a period of peace and – for some – plenty after Nigerian independence in 1960. Among the protagonists are Odenigbo, or “the Master”, a radical maths lecturer at the University of Nsukka – in what became the secessionist Igbo land – and Ugwu, the village teenager who becomes his houseboy, but whom he enrolls at the university staff school. A novel that descends into dire hunger begins with Ugwu’s devoted creativity in the kitchen, confecting pepper soup, spicy jollof rice and chicken boiled in herbs. Beer and brandy flow as he serves the Master’s friends while absorbing snippets of intellectual debate in the era of Sharpeville, de Gaulle in Algeria and the struggle for US civil rights.

The novel also brings the theme of colonisation, not least in the tragicomic figure of Richard’s anglophile servant Harrison, who prides himself on serving roast beef and rhubarb crumble, but adapts in wartime to roasting lizards and bush rats “as though they were rack of lamb”. While Richard identifies with Biafra and intends to write the history of the war, it is Ugwu who takes up the pen and the mantle. As Richard concedes, “The war isn’t my story to tell really,” and Ugwu nods. “He had never thought that it was.”

The novel’s structure, moving in chunks between the late and early 60s, is not without blips. At times I wondered how far Ugwu’s omnivorous reading was reflected in his development. But these are quibbles in a landmark novel, whose clear, undemonstrative prose can so precisely delineate nuance. There is a rare emotional truth in the sexual scenes, from Ugwu’s adolescent forays and the mature couples’ passions, to the ugliness of rape. Overall, this is a very engaging read, which captures life during the colonisation in Africa, through the character’s eyes.

 

HS

‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher.

thirteen-reasons-why-by-jay-asherA new girl in town, Hannah Baker has high hopes for a new life. However rumours, betrayal and revenge affect her life more than anyone can see; for Hannah the only way to escape is to remove herself from the equation. Before committing suicide, she records a series of 7 tapes. The novel follows high school student Clay Jensen who one day, 2 weeks Hannah’s suicide, receives a package of the 7 tapes with very clear instructions; he is to listen to the tapes to find out how he fits into the puzzle of her death and then mail them to the next person on a list of 13 names. Jay Asher directly addresses issues facing modern day students in an eerie, mysterious but at the same time hard hitting and powerful way. As a reader, you are constantly left waiting to find out who is next on Hannah’s list and what for possible reason they could be on it, finding out at the same time as the characters do themselves. Asher has created and entrancing character study and a look into the psyche and thoughts of an individual who made this unfortunate choice. Furthermore, the novel teaches you that the actions that you carry out could potentially affect someone’s life drastically; you start to put yourself in the shoes of other people more and pay more attention to understanding their attitudes and behaviours.

 

MP

The Girl with All the Gifts

 

girl‘Every once in an awhile in the block, there’s a day doesn’t start right. A day when all the repeating patterns that Melanie uses as measuring sticks for life fail to occur, one after another, and she feels like she’s bobbing around helplessly in the air- a Melanie- shaped balloon. The week after Miss Justineau told the class that their mothers were dead, there’s a day like that

It’s a Friday, but when Sergeant and his people arrive they don’t bring a teacher with them and they don’t open the cell doors. Melanie already knows what’s going to happen next, but she still feels a sprinkle of unease when she hears the clacking of dr Caldwell high-heeled shoes on the concrete floor. And the a moment or two later she hears the sound of dr Caldwell’s pen, which Dr Caldwell will sometimes keep clicking on and off and on and off even when she doesn’t want to write anything. Melanie doesn’t get up off the bed. She just sits there and waits. She doesn’t like Dr Caldwell very much.’

Classic zombie thrillers have been a stable in our societies bibliography for generations; traditionally they are an escapism by transporting us to a different time, place.  I would recommend this book as it was a different approach to the horror genre and it allowed me to explore a unique take on the stereotypically gory thriller.

This book starts out by meeting a young girl called Melanie; we are placed in a classroom with Greek mythology being our lesson. The classroom is the only joy that is in all of the children’s lives, Justineau teaches them about Greek history, Melanie feels as though her name is a disappointment and takes a great fondness towards the girl Pandora, which coincides with her being the girl with the gifts as Pandora opened the box and released problems, but once opened could be very powerful. Melanie is believed to have all the gifts Doctor Caldwell wants to open her to find out why this young girl is able to act like a human but still be classed as a zombie.

The doctor is hated by all of the children, as she is the one who disrupts their day. She is the inconsistency within their day. Young Melanie displays much hatred towards her until she feels uncomfortable with this and tries to have a more positive approach to her previous nemesis ‘she doesn’t like Dr Caldwell very much’ she later demonstrated regret about the feelings she used to have towards her. This is the catalyst as to why she is tested; no other zombie has human traits apart from the children. Dr Caldwell feels as though she has determined why these children are still humans and not shells of human bodies wandering the earth feasting on each other. Melanie shows affinity towards her teacher miss Justineau, their relationship mirrors a parent/ child bond. I enjoyed the fact that this book explored a family relationship rather than the typical man and women.

The ending shows how we allow ourselves to be enwrapped in our own successes instead of helping the people around us, as doctor Caldwell gets swallowed up by her own power, her life physically vanishes. The question that arose was whether or not she was trying to find a cure for humanity or to better herself?

EK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOST IN TRANSLATION: WHAT THE FIRST LINE OF “THE STRANGER” SHOULD BE

albertcamus-74_lgFor the modern American reader, few lines in French literature are as famous as the opening of Albert Camus’s “L’Étranger”: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” Nitty-gritty tense issues aside, the first sentence of “The Stranger” is so elementary that even a schoolboy with a base knowledge of French could adequately translate it. So why do the pros keep getting it wrong?

Within the novel’s first sentence, two subtle and seemingly minor translation decisions have the power to change the way we read everything that follows. What makes these particular choices prickly is that they poke at a long-standing debate among the literary community: whether it is necessary for a translator to have some sort of special affinity with a work’s author in order to produce the best possible text.

Arthur Goldhammer, translator of a volume of Camus’s Combat editorials, calls it “nonsense” to believe that “good translation requires some sort of mystical sympathy between author and translator.” While “mystical” may indeed be a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to look at Camus’s famous first sentence—whether translated by Stuart Gilbert, Joseph Laredo, Kate Griffith, or even, to a lesser degree, Matthew Ward—without thinking that a little more understanding between author and translator may have prevented the text from being colored in ways that Camus never intended.

Stuart Gilbert, a British scholar and a friend of James Joyce, was the first person to attempt Camus’s “L’Étranger” in English. In 1946, Gilbert translated the book’s title as “The Outsider” and rendered the first line as “Mother died today.” Simple, succinct, and incorrect.

In 1982, both Joseph Laredo and Kate Griffith produced new translations of “L’Étranger,” each opting for Gilbert’s revised title, “The Stranger,” but preserving his first line. “Mother died today” remained, and it wasn’t until 1988 that the line saw a single word changed. It was then that American translator and poet Matthew Ward reverted “Mother” back to Maman. One word? What’s the big deal? A large part of how we view and—alongside the novel’s court—ultimately judge Meursault lies in our perception of his relationship with his mother. We condemn or set him free based not on the crime he commits but on our assessment of him as a person. Does he love his mother? Or is he cold toward her, uncaring, even?

First impressions matter, and, for forty-two years, the way that American readers were introduced to Meursault was through the detached formality of his statement: “Mother died today.” There is little warmth, little bond or closeness or love in “Mother,” which is a static, archetypal term, not the sort of thing we use for a living, breathing being with whom we have close relations. To do so would be like calling the family dog “Dog” or a husband “Husband.” The word forces us to see Meursault as distant from the woman who bore him.

What if the opening line had read, “Mommy died today”? How would we have seen Meursault then? Likely, our first impression would have been of a child speaking. Rather than being put off, we would have felt pity or sympathy. But this, too, would have presented an inaccurate view of Meursault. The truth is that neither of these translations—“Mother” or “Mommy”—ring true to the original. The French word maman hangs somewhere between the two extremes: it’s neither the cold and distant “mother” nor the overly childlike “mommy.” In English, “mom” might seem the closest fit for Camus’s sentence, but there’s still something off-putting and abrupt about the single-syllable word; the two-syllable maman has a touch of softness and warmth that is lost with “mom.”

So how is the English-language translator to avoid unnecessarily influencing the reader? It seems that Matthew Ward, the novel’s most recent translator, did the only logical thing: nothing. He left Camus’s word untouched, rendering the famous first line, “Maman died today.” It could be said that Ward introduces a new problem: now, right from the start, the American reader is faced with a foreign term, with a confusion not previously present. Ward’s translation is clever, though, and three reasons demonstrate why his is the best solution.

First, the French word maman is familiar enough for an English-language reader to parse. Around the globe, as children learn to form words by babbling, they begin with the simplest sounds. In many languages, bilabials such as “m,” “p,” and “b,” as well as the low vowel “a,” are among the easiest to produce. As a result, in English, we find that children initially refer to the female parent as “mama.” Even in a language as seemingly different as Mandarin Chinese, we find māma; in the languages of Southern India we get amma, and in Norwegian, Italian, Swedish, and Icelandic, as well as many other languages, the word used is “mamma.” The French maman is so similar that the English-language reader will effortlessly understand it.

 As the years pass, new generations of American readers, who often first encounter Camus’s book in high school, grow more and more removed from the novel’s historical context. Utilizing the original French word in the first sentence rather than any of the English options also serves to remind readers that they are in fact entering a world different from their own. While this hint may not be enough to inform the younger reader that, for example, the likelihood of a Frenchman in colonial Algeria getting the death penalty for killing an armed Arab was slim to nonexistent, at least it provides an initial allusion to these extra-textual facts.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the American reader will harbor no preconceived notions of the word maman. We will understand it with ease, but it will carry no baggage, it will plant no unintended seeds in our head. The word will neither sway us to see Meursault as overly cold and heartless nor as overly warm and loving. And while some of the word’s precision is indeed lost for the English-language reader, maman still gives us a more neutral-to-familiar tone than “mother,” one that hews closer to Camus’s original.

So if Matthew Ward finally corrected the mother problem, what exactly has he, and the other translators, gotten wrong? Writing of “The Stranger” ’s first line in the Guardian, Guy Dammann says, “Some openers are so prescient that they seem to burn a hole through the rest of the book, the semantic resonance recurring with the persistence of the first theme in Beethoven’s fifth symphony.”

The linguistic fluency of any good translator tells them that, syntactically, “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte,” is not the most fluid English sentence. So rather than the more literal translation, “Today, Mother has died,” we get, “Mother died today,” which is the smoother, more natural rendering. But the question is: In changing the sentence’s syntax, are we also changing its logic, its “mystical” deeper meaning?

The answer is a resounding oui!

Rendering the line as “Mother died today” completely neglects a specific ordering of ideas that offer insight into Meursault’s inner psyche. Throughout the course of the novel, the reader comes to see that Meursault is a character who, first and foremost, lives for the moment. He does not consciously dwell on the past; he does not worry about the future. What matters is today. The single most important factor of his being is right now.

Not far behind, though, is Maman. Reflective of Camus’s life, Meursault shares a unique relationship with his mother, due in part to her inability to communicate (Camus’s own mother was illiterate, partially deaf, and had trouble speaking). Both Camus and Meursault yearn for Maman, for her happiness and love, but find the expression of these emotions difficult. Rather than distancing mother from son, though, this tension puts Maman at the center of her son’s life. As the book opens, the loss of Maman places her between Meursault’s ability to live for today and his recognition of a time when there will no longer be a today.

This loss drives the action of the novel, leading inexorably to the end, the final period, the thing that hangs over all else: death. Early in the book, Camus links the death of Meursault’s mother with the oppressive, ever-present sun, so that when we get to the climactic beach scene, we see the symbolism: sun equals loss of mother, sun causes Meursault to pull the trigger. In case we don’t get it, though, Camus makes the connection explicit, writing, “It was the same sun as on the day I buried Maman and, like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all of the veins pulsating together beneath the skin.” As the trigger gives way, so, too, does today, the beginning—through the loss of Maman—succumb to death, the end.

The ordering of words in Camus’s first sentence is no accident: today is interrupted by Maman’s death. The sentence, the one we have yet to see correctly rendered in an English translation of “L’Étranger,” should read: “Today, Maman died.”

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

 

middlesex-jeffrey-eugenidesMiddlesex is a novel written by Jeffrey Eugenides that explores the controversial issues associated with gender and sexual identity. One way in which the author does this is by introducing the influences of nature and nurture and demonstrating how each has an effect on the sexual identities of individuals.

The novel tells the story of a protagonist known as both Cal and Calliope (masculine and feminine identities), who was born with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, a recessive condition that caused him to be intersex.  Cal’s family were initially unaware of his condition and so he was raised as a girl, however we see him begin to struggle with this identity as he grows up and experiences his first sexual encounters with both male and female partners. Cal’s condition is later discovered during surgery as a result of being injured by a tractor; facing sex reassignment surgery Cal runs away and assumes a full time male identity, working as Hermaphrodites in a burlesque show in San Francisco. He later returns to his family home for his father’s funeral, at which point his grandmother recognizes his condition and confesses that it is a product of incest, as her husband is also her brother.

I enjoyed Eugenides’ use of the themes of nature and nurture in the novel because it emphasized not only the internal and biological struggle acing intersex individuals, but also the additional pressures imposed by society because of the stigma surrounding such issues as a result of the polarization of male and female gender identities in society. Eugenides’ use of imagery from Greek mythology is also a clever addition to the novel not only in terms of historical context but also because of the subtle parallels found between certain myths and the actuality of Cal’s condition; for example, the minotaur is half-man, half-beast and the Chimera is a monster composed of various animal parts.

I also enjoyed Eugenides’ use of the family tree which allowed the novel to span nearly a century, tracing the Stephanides family three generations. This style enabled a build up of intrigue as to when the recessive gene was going to come forth and affect one of the family members, therefore each birth and monumental family event in the novel is tainted by the inevitable threat of this biological condition. As a result the reader is urged to read on.

Overall this novel is very well written and explores a sensitive and controversial topic in a manner that is both appropriate and avoids being too heavily based on the science of the matter. However for me personally, the novel was not as engaging and entertaining as I had hoped and therefore I would rate it 2.5/5 and would suggest a more upbeat subject mater for a leisurely read.

RC

How To Be a Bad Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes book review

how-to-be-a-bad-birdwatcherThis book describes the wonders of birdwatching and that birdwatching is easily available to anyone with a pair of binoculars and a window. Barnes also goes onto to describe and give us, the readers, a plethora of information on birds. The book is not part of a series meaning you can fully understand Simon’s journey.

I found this to be a witty and charming book. It focuses on the world of birdwatching in a way that very few people would think of. It has a great introduction to birdwatching and environmental action with a great sense of humour. Most of the book contained some tense, mysterious scenes on the voyage to catch the Goldcrest, for example, which is one of the rarest birds in England. The story kept me guessing from page to page on how Simon and his friend, Bob tracked the erratic movements of the Sparrowhawk considering its speedy movements across the countryside. I enjoyed most parts of the book and some parts made me feel quite upset due to the slowly increasing figure of birds becoming extinct. For example, Simon Barnes’ describes species such as the cuckoo and the turtledove decreasing to a staggering 90% in their populations.

Although Simon describes birds in a humorous and wonderful way, there a few criticisms and downfalls about the book. One of them would be that some chapters felt very stretched and boring. Simon could have easily summed up his journey in one or two pages, if he focused on the main statements that was made. Most people, also, seemed to agree on the book being a little too simple. Normal people, like you and me, would pick up the book thinking it would be full of scientific knowledge about birds and habitats but we are sort of tricked into thinking that. One of my favourite parts of the book was when Simon referred to a bird by their scientific name, eg Fringilla coelebs is a Chaffinch. But, scientific names were mentioned very rarely in this book and they should have been elaborated more. Another disadvantage of the book is that it felt like an autobiography. Most people enjoy that, considering they have watched Simon’s programs on TV. But for a person who doesn’t know the author at all, and speaks about his past experiences relating to his programs, not many people know what he is trying to state.

To sum up the book, if you are interested in a humorous, non-scientific, engaging, detailed and are more invested with the author type book, How To Be a Bad Birdwatcher is the right book for you! I would rate this book 8/10.

Fyqa Qureshi