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Blackout by Marc Elsberg – terrifyingly good read

I’ve just finished reading Blackout by Marc Elsberg, translated from German by Marshall Yarbrough (Sourcebooks). It has been recommended to me by a translator friend who said that not only was  it a good book, the translation was great too. When something is built up so much, it can sometimes disappoint. This one certainly didn’t.

The action takes place in various countries across the Europe and is a terrifying look at what might feasibly happen were our electricity supply to be tampered with by terrorists. Across Europe, the power is cut leaving the population to deal with the consequences. And it’s not just things like lights and TVs, it’s electric pumping systems for petrol stations, electric door systems, electric milking systems for dairy farmers, electrically-managed ordering systems for supermarkets – the list goes on!

The writing is fast-paced, cutting from one country to the next in short bursts, often ending on a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting to read on to find out what happened. One of those books where you say to yourself, “just one more page,” and finallytear yourself away half an hour later! The different stories and protagonists are cleverly interwoven so while there is a lot going on and a lot of people involved, it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly complicated. I think the appeal lies also in the scope of characters – there are parents with young children, there are older people, infirm people, people with medical conditions – everybody can identify with at least one of the groups. There’s also a love element in the background as well, so this book really has a lot going for it. But be warned, after you finish it, you may feel the need to install a wood burning stove and start stockpiling food, just in case…

 

 

World Kid Lit Book Review: Press Here by Hervé Tullet

The kids received lots of goodies for Christmas from very generous friends and relatives. Among them were a few lovely World Kid Lit titles, including today’s review book, Press Here by Hervé Tullet (Chronicle Books), translated from French by Christopher Franceschelli.

Dominic (8): This is an exciting book. It tells you what to do on one page and it does something on the next page because you did it. I like the way the dots have finger prints on it as if to suggest other people have already touched them. And the layout is good too.

Emma (5): I like this book. You have to do lots of different activities like pressing the dots or shaking the book.

Having seen this on a few lists, this was a title I was really drawn to. The simplicity of the illustrations – yellow, red and blue spots – is really clever and I love the way it instructs the reader to interact with it, pressing dots, shaking the book and blowing. It reminds me of the book Open very carefully by Nicola O’Byrne which has a similar way of engaging the reader. They both enjoyed the page where two dots in the pattern have changed place from a previous picture and they have to try and work out which dots have moved. I’ve enjoyed watching Dominic reading this to Emma and them doing to actions together. Emma delights in starting it all over again! A great addition to our bookshelf!

December Reading Round-up

This month I’ve been getting back into my Masters studies and I’ve been reading mostly in English on the side. Here’s a few of my favourites from the last few weeks.

Two Brothers by Ben Elton

This is a novel about a Jewish family during the Second World War. Twin boys are born but sadly one of them is still-born. On the same day, a mother dies during childbirth and the mother of the twins is asked if she would take on the new orphan as her own. She and her husband adopt the child but never tell anyone in the family about it. They raise the boys as twin brothers and nobody is the wiser. Until the war breaks out and everyone now has to prove their parentage. The medical records come out and the adopted son is now removed from the family because he is in fact a perfect Aryan. A really moving story, I must admit I was surprised to read such a serious novel by a comedian. In the section at the back, Ben Elton explains that many of the characters are actually based on members of his own family. If this is the sort of thing you like, it was really well written and had me hooked from the very beginning.

How not to be a boy by Robert Webb

In his autobiography, Robert Webb takes various statements about boyhood and manhood and sets out to disprove them. It’s an honest reflection on his own adolescence and adulthood. Statements include: Boys aren’t shy, Boys don’t cry, Men know who they are. As a mum of a boy, I think it’s so important that these messages are challenged and boys are told it’s ok to feel nervous, or sad, or scared. My husband read it as well and he sniggered to himself while he was reading it, perhaps emphasising how true to home some of Webb’s situations are. I’ve put this one on the shelf and when my kids are older, this will be one I’d encourage them to read.

A Book of Feelings by Amanda McCardie, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Leading on, in a way, from the previous one, this is a book the kids can definitely enjoy! In our house we talk about having big feelings and that it’s ok to have big feelings and that we all have them from time to time. This book is a great reinforcement to that idea. It takes a pair of siblings (a girl and a boy) and then tells their story, visiting all our different emotions along the way. It covers angry, embarrassed, frightened, happy, grumpy, nervous and loved among others. It takes a fictional situation and explains how the people are feeling. Mum was worried when she saw the kids playing with fireworks but that came across as anger. Sam’s friend Pete was jealous because Pete wished he had a Dad like Sam’s who spent time with him and because he was jealous, he started bullying Sam. The kids recognise the situations and can laugh at some but also empathise with others. I love the ending: “As the years passed, Sam came to see that Kate wasn’t all that bad … these days Sam and Kate are quite good friends – most of the time…”

 

November Reading Round-up

It’s been over a month since we finished our World Kit Lit Challenge and my thoughts have turned to other projects. On my quest to find new texts for translation and more generally for enjoyment, I’ve read a fair few books over the last few weeks and I thought I’d write a round-up of some of those I’ve particularly enjoyed.

Still leben by Antonia Baum

In this non-fiction text, Baum discusses the difficulties of being a mother in today’s society. But this isn’t some sob story about the hardships of motherhood; Baum tackles some of the big topics – gender equality, the taboo of breastfeeding or rather not breastfeeding, the decision to have a baby in the first place, guilt and mental load. This book really spoke to me as a mother and there have been several conversations with friends where I’ve found myself discussing issues that Baum raises.

Las Princesas Dragón, El misterio del huevo dorado by Pedro Mañas

The mystery of the Golden Egg is the first in the Dragon Princesses series. Usually I’m really very anti-princess so I was intrigued by the strapline for the series: ¿Es que no te has enterado? ¡El cuento ha cambiado! (Haven’t you noticed? The story has changed!). No more princesses waiting to be saved, no more prince dashing in on his horse to save the day. Oh no, these princesses are taking the lead. Adventurous, brave and daring, this is the sort of book I’d encourage my daughter to have on her shelf.

Do you speak chocolate by Caz Lester

This is an English-language mid-grade novel that introduces year 7 pupil Jaz to a new classmate, Nadima, who has recently arrived with her family from Syria. Over the course of the story, Jaz makes several attempts to “help” her new friend, most of which blow up in her face. Lester cleverly weaves into her story acts that we might be tempted to do to “help”, for example, raising money for a particular family because they are “poor”. She explains through her narrative that Nadima’s family don’t want charity, they are proud people who want a chance to be respected in their new home. Aimed at early secondary-school children, I thought this was a really insightful story to help youngsters understand how they can help their new peers.

Apfelblüten und Jasmin by Carolin Phillips

Another title on a similar theme to Do you speak chocolate, but this time in German and aimed at a slightly older age-group. In the opening pages of the book, we encounter Talitha, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee who, it transpires, is at risk of being deported. In order to stay, she has to tell her story. Apfelblüten und Jasmin goes on to tell her story. Written in the first-person, it is a moving account of her journey and how she has become separated from the rest of her family – the jasmine flower representing her past and the apple blossom her future.

The Hypnotist – Lars Keplar translated from Swedish by Ann Long

Something completely different now. My friend and mentor Ellen Worrell recommended this book to me. From the beginning I was hooked. This fast-moving thriller was cleverly written with the middle section flashing back to a previous period before the current action. I didn’t expect the twist at the end which I always enjoy. At times it was bloody and gory though – if you are of a delicate constitution, this one’s probably not for you!

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

Set in 1912, this is another dark thriller. Connie Gifford lives with her alcoholic father in a decaying house at the edge of a village. As a child, Connie suffered an accident leaving her with no memory of her childhood. Following her father one evening, she witnesses a gathering of the villagers in the local churchyard. Shortly after that, the body of a young woman appears. It appears that a chain of events has been started and it begins to reawaken Connie’s memory. Another grisly ending to this one, I’m afraid, but the pages turned quickly to find out who the culprit was and why they did it. I particularly enjoyed the descriptive language in this book – the pouring rain and the wind have stayed with me in my mind.

I’ve got some more books sitting next my bed waiting for me, so watch out next month to see which titles make it into my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Kid Lit Book Review – Daddy Long Legs

We’re at the end of the half-term holiday here in Derby and we’ve had time to do things that we haven’t done for a while, like go to the local library. Since it was converted into a community library earlier this year, the new opening hours mean it’s more difficult to get there. But today we made it! And I was excited to come across this fab title in translation: Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey (Two Hoots) – no translator mentioned.

Emma (5): I like the cover because someone is having a piggy-back. The story is good because Daddy had to run all the way to nursery. I think Daddy would run to school to get me!

Dominic (8): It’s about this car that didn’t work but then it started and Daddy drove Matty to nursery. When they got there, he was worried the car would break down so his Dad told him lots of things that he could do to get to him if the car didn’t work, but Matty always had something to say, like “but what if”. It’s funny because some of his ideas are ridiculous, like the birds picking him up and flying him to nursery.

The bright, bold cover of this book jumped off the shelf at me and the title reminded the kids of their very own Daddy Long Legs at home. The use of colour throughout the illustrations is fantastic. We really enjoyed Daddy coming up with far-fetched suggestions of how he could get to nursery to pick Matty up and then came up with some of our own. Having been in situations with an anxious child, I like that Daddy has opted for trying to make Matty laugh, to giggle his worry away. He doesn’t tell him not to worry or tell him to stop being silly. But when his humorous efforts fail, he opts for soft, caring reassurance and on the last page we see them safely arrived back at home. The last page is clever, with Guillerey bringing all the hilarious options together, meeting in Matty’s house for tea – Martin the bear, the birds, the next-door neighbour. There’s so much to look at!

 

Derby Refugee Solidarity volunteers meet three World Kid Lit titles

As my youngest child was starting school, one of my aims was to become more involved with local charity, Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity. DRS started off life three years ago as a grass-roots organisation, a meeting of like-minded people who wanted to really do something tangible to help refugees and asylum seekers. Fast forward three years and this amazing group of volunteers is now a registered charity and finally has a home to call their own. It is in this rented church hall that DRS receive and sort through donations given to them by the public.

Just about everything donated has some use. A row of wheelie bins lines up along one wall into which clothes are sorted, their contents heading either in a van to Calais or a container to be shipped to Syria (often as part of a bigger shipment by Muslims in Need). Any unusable clothing is sent to weigh-in to raise funds. Along the same lines, any toys or items that are not required abroad are collected and sold at car boot sales or on e-bay and the money is used to fund fuel for aid runs or to buy food for the Calais kitchens.

As a response to DRS campaigns, in one corner stands a stack of Moses baskets filled with items for new mums and their babies, prepared by members of the public and offered as a complete package. Another campaign asks for simple items like a pair of socks, a packet of dried fruit, a juice carton, packed into small rucksacks, ready to be handed out to those who need them in Calais.

Not only does this group do fantastic good for refugees abroad, it also brings people in the local community together. Some of the volunteers are refugees and asylum seekers themselves, who now give their time to help others. Having recently moved into their new premises, DRS are inviting local residents to join them for a cup of tea and a biscuit (or two!) and to come and meet the volunteers, showcasing the good work being done in their own neighbourhood.

Last Thursday, I decided to take three books with me that I had come across during my September World Kid Lit Challenge: Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan (Lanatan Publishing), The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books) and When I Coloured in the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi (Tiny Owl Publishing). All three of these beautiful books deal with the themes of war, fleeing and hope. Knowing that some of the other volunteers at DRS have children or grandchildren of their own, I thought it would be interesting to share these stories with them; I had only come across these titles as part of my challenge and I wondered whether others had heard of them or other stories for children. During our 10:30 tea break, I was invited to show the books I had brought along.

In our discussions afterwards, it transpired that several people had come across titles for an adult readership but not really books aimed at children. The books were admired (“beautiful illustrations”) and the general consensus was that these books are a really good idea. Several refugee families have been placed in Derbyshire and one lady, in particular, was keen to write down the titles with a view to sourcing them for her local community, to help British children to understand a little more about their new school mates or as a starting point for discussion.

Trustee and volunteer coordinator Julie James sums it up nicely: “Every volunteer at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity brings along their own stories. We have volunteers from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Libya and many other countries. Sharing each other’s stories is the way we begin to connect and understand each other better. I would love these fabulous books and others like them to be available in every school library to inspire children and adults alike to share their own stories.” She followed this up with a quote by Neil Gaiman:

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can”.

For more information about how you can help DRS and about their current campaigns, please visit http://www.derbyshirerefugeesolidarity.org/

ITI IgnITIon article out today

I get so excited when I see my name in print. Today, the Institute for Translation and Interpreting’s student publication, IgnITIon, published an interview I did with my award-winning mentor, Ellen Worrell. The ITI has been really important to me as I have started out on my path to becoming a freelance translator and it’s nice to be able to help others along that same path. The mentoring I receive from Ellen not only helps with practical issues, like record keeping and discussions about rates, but also offers support and friendship along the way. It’s also great to have someone to be accountable to; working on your own means it can be easy to let some things slide. So when I say I’m going to do this, that and the other, I feel I have to get on and actually do it.

Ellen and I met through our local East Midlands Regional Group of the ITI. Anyone looking for support as they start out in translation, I would highly recommend joining one of your local groups. It brings you into contact with other translators and interpreters in your local area. While it’s great that there’s so much information available online, there’s nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation.