Book Review: Distant Signs by Anne Richter, trans. Douglas Irving (Neem Tree Press)

A subtle, thought-provoking book, dare I say, an elegant take on the post-war period in the GDR.

I began reading this book on my Kindle. I clicked past the black and white front cover to the Opening Note. I picked out the words “life in the German Democratic Republic” and “flashbacks to events before and after the Second World War”. I exclaimed to my husband “this sounds just like my kind of book”. I envisaged fast-paced action, suspense and high-drama and was surprised by the slower, more detailed unravelling of the story.

As its protagonists, the book takes three generations of the Gräf family with each chapter focusing on a different family member. In each chapter the style changes, swapping from first-person to third person, and with notable efforts in the translation to convey the different dialects spoken by the different characters. The events of the GDR post-war period are there and alluded to, but they are not the focus. Instead they form the background, allowing the author to explore how these events affected individuals living through them. We see the coming together of different people, of married couples with different upbringings trying to reconcile their differences and how these internal familial factors are influenced by the environment they are living in.

Beginning in 1965, each chapter jumps forward in time, ending in 1992. We witness the changes in perspective and we see how influential young people were in bringing about change. One chapter that I found particularly moving is that of Hans’ awakening “from a decades-long dream that had felt not unpleasant … This dream was his life so far.” Over the course of these pages, Hans takes stock of his life so far and starts to realise that he has missed out on so much but that hope has not all gone. Alongside changes in his wife’s life, together they reconcile their relationship and begin to move forward to a more positive future.

Throughout the book, cultural and historical notes are highlighted for anyone wishing to know more. The Kindle version of the book makes this very easy to navigate as clicking on the link takes you straight to the relevant note. Another click and you’re back where you were. I was also able to access information from Wikipedia with a quick tap. However, when I received the hard copy, I realised that had I seen the physical copy first, my initial inaccurate expectations may have been lessened. The colours and imagery on the cover convey its gentler nature.

Having begun this book with a view of how it was going to pan out, I was so taken aback that I went back and read the book in its entirety for a second time. This is a far more subtle, thought-provoking book, dare I say, an elegant take on the post-war period in the GDR.

Many thanks to Neem Tree Press for the copy. As publisher Archna Sharma says, “in this environment of the rhetoric of building walls, we really need to celebrate a wall that came down against all odds…”

To purchase a copy, please see the links below.

Distant Signs : A Novel by Richter, Anne (9781911107088) | BrownsBfS

World Book Day

Today was World Book Day. To celebrate, school up and down the country asked pupils to go to school dressed as their favourite book character. My children’s school was no different. Fantastic Mr. Fox went off to school but my daughter, Emma (5), was poorly today and couldn’t go and join in the fun of World Book Day with her friends. Stuck inside because of the rain, we decided to have our very own World Book Day celebrations – the Storey Book Fair.

First we needed costumes – she already had her frog costume ready (the frog from Oi Frog) and she decided I would be the ladybird from What the ladybird heard. Costumes ready, we clearly needed face paints, so out they came, and yes, I even dared to give Emma the brush (see photo for the results!).

Emma set out her “Book Fair”, gathering lots of books from all over the house and we spent some time choosing our favourite five. Her favourite five turned out to be about 15! Mine included Ish by Peter Reynolds, Press Here by Hervé Tullet (trans. Christopher Franceschelli) and Goose by Laura Wall. Having picked out some books, we then had some reading sessions for everyone (me, Emma and Smudge the cat) to enjoy.

No Book Fair is complete without some awards, so we got out the craft supplies and made some rosettes, and the inaugural Storey Books Awards were born. The categories and winners were as follows:

Best book with an animal – Kipper by Mick Inkpen

Funniest book – Oi Duck-billed platypus by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Best pictures – You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

Best book from around the world – Banana skin Chaos by Lilli d’Arronge (trans. Daniela Bernardelle)

We had a great day at our book fair and I hope she looks back on it as fondly as I will.


End of the Seven Day Book Cover Challenge

So I’ve come to the end of my seven day book cover challenge. It’s been an interesting journey. At the beginning, I thought this would be quite easy. I went through my book cases and picked out my seven books. Great, I thought, I’m done! But as the week went on, I started to remember other books, books I hadn’t seen for a while, or even thought about for a while. And then the deliberating began and my book selection at the end of the week was quite different to my initial choices.

My book choices:

Day One: Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Day Two: La casa de los espiritus by Isabel Allende

Day Three: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Day Four: Madhouse Cookbook by Jo Pratt

Day Five: Nirgendwo in Afrika by Stephanie Zweig

Day Six: The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead

Day Seven: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Looking back at my both my choices and the books I nearly chose, I’m struck by two things. Firstly, that my books take me around the world – India, China, Spain, Chile, the USA. And even where they have been written by a writer based in a certain part of the world, they often take me somewhere else. Stefanie Zweig’s Nirgendwo in Afrika is written in German yet takes me to Kenya. María Dueñas’ El tiempo entre costuras is Spanish yet leads me Morocco.

The second thing I notice is the emotional connection I have to these books. These aren’t just words on paper; they remind me of places I have been and people I have known. While Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies takes me back to India, A Suitable Boy reminds me of the friend who first recommended it to me. Zweig reminds me of my time in Austria while Allende and García Marquez return me to Mexico where I first learnt Spanish and fell in love with LatAm literature. I feel like I’ve visited some old friends and it has brought back some amazing memories of places I’ve been.

Inspired by the last week, this week I’m going to explore my favourite children’s and YA books.

7 Day Book Cover Challenge

I do love a good challenge, especially if it’s involving books! I’ve been nominated by die Bücher Frauen for Göttingen-Kassel, Anna Rokosz and Antje Althans to post seven book covers of seven books I love. The idea is just to post a photo the cover with no comments! Each day I post, I have to nominate a friend to do the same. It looks like this has been doing the rounds for while but I’m looking forward to rummaging through by book shelves and perhaps reminding myself of some forgotten favourites!

Bring it on!

World Kid Lit Book Review: Lost and Found Cat

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes. Illustrated by Sue Cornelison (Crown Books).

This is a story again about refugees fleeing their homes but this time with a bit of a twist. A bit like the Austrian fictional story Flucht by Niki Glattauer and Verena Hochleitner that I reviewed back in September, this story is about a family that take their cat with them. The story line focuses on the cat’s journey to a new home. Rather than a fictional tale however, this one is true.

Dominic (8): I thought the photos at the end were interesting because I hadn’t realised it was a true story. 

Emma (5): The cat’s really cute!

The story begins with the family leaving Iraq and, unwilling to leave their beloved cat Kunsush behind, they take him with them, hiding him in a basket. It all goes well until the boat-crossing to Greece, when the cat basket gets broken in the chaos and Kunkush runs away in fear.

The family are distraught at the loss of their cat but have to move on to their next destination. Kunkush meanwhile tries to fit in with a group of local cats but is rejected by them. Some volunteers come across a starving, bedraggled Kunkush and, having heard the story of the family who lost their cat, set out to reunite them.

It is a really moving story of people’s love for animals and the lengths people will go to out of human kindness. The fact that the story was shared so far and wide on social media before the book was produced, shows how it has touched a core with many people. I find it incredible to think that the family managed to hide the cat in a basket for so long without him being discovered.

The book produced an emotional response in Dominic, who found it difficult to listen on once Kunkush went missing. He wanted to skip through to where Kunkush had been taken in and then reunited. The rejection by the other cats can also be seen as a metaphor for the rejection of people by other people. By concentrating on the cat’s journey, it opened up discussion about the human journey, too. The map at the back really helped to visualise just how far this family and their cat had travelled.

Emma has come back to this time and again, wanting to read about Kunkush’s long journey and smiling happily at the end when the family are reunited with Kunkush.

For more books on a similar topic, please see the following links

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)

Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan, translated from Arabic by the author (Lantana Publishing)

Dazwischen: ich by Julya Rabinowich (Hanser)

Flucht (Flight) by Niki Glattauer and Verena Hochleitner (Tyrolia Verlag)

Mama’s Nightingale, A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub (Dial Books)

Do you speak chocolate by Caz Lester

Apfelblüten und Jasmin by Carolin Phillips


CPD Reflections: YTI SEO Translation Workshop

The other CPD event that I attended this weekend was an workshop in Search Engine Optimization, run by the Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters at the University of Leeds. The workshop was run by David García Ruiz of Trust Your Brand.

The workshop itself was very interesting. I had very little knowledge of SEO before the event and David started off by explaining what SEO is and the most important factors that are involved in SEO. This section of the session will be really useful in terms of running my own website and as we look to develop a website for the EMRG.

After a quick coffee break, the workshop moved on to SEO translation, what this involves and how it is different to standard translation. After lunch we had a chance to put our new-found knowledge into practice, carrying out an exercise that David had put together to test our wings. It was an interesting activity, making us aware of the keywords that we were creating and then making sure that we then included them in our translations.

While I’m not sure I’m quite ready to start offering this as an added service to my clients, I feel I have a much better understanding of SEO and how this could work for me. At the very least, I will be making some changes to this website in line with some of David’s recommendations for creeping up Google’s results pages.

The other great aspects of attending this workshop was networking with members of the YTI. Particularly interesting was a discussion on YTI events and what has worked for them and how they have grown their membership; some interesting ideas to bring back to the EMRG.



East Midlands Regional Group Fuddle and AGM

The last couple of weeks have been really busy, with a big revision job in the week and CPD events on both weekends. It’s now Monday morning with a quieter week ahead and time to reflect on my recent CPD.

East Midlands Regional Group of the ITI – Fuddle and AGM

As Coordinator of the EMRG, the AGM is always a big date in my calendar. We tie the AGM in with a “fuddle”. For those of you outside the East Midlands, that’s a local term for a bring-and-share meal. This year we had a record turn-out with 19 of our members joining us. With them came an amazing array of food – Chinese spring rolls, Japanese salad and an amazing meringue cake were just some of the highlights.

It was great to see so many people turn out for the event, some travelling an hour and a half from the more southern areas of our region. While lovely to see the usual crowd, it was particularly pleasing to welcome five new members to the group, both established translators and students.

We always begin the AGM with a recap of the previous year’s events and it was great to revisit some of the year’s successes: our inaugural Building Bridges event with Leicester University, an SDL workshop at Nottingham University, a successful walk at Rutland Water and our monthly evening socials.

As well as celebrating our past successes, we also look forward to the coming year. Plans for our second Building Bridges event at Leicester University in May are already underway. Following positive comments from members about our weekend walks, we have decided to run fewer weekday evening pub visits and more weekend activities. By making these changes, hopefully we will be more inclusive as a group, inviting people to bring along partners, children and pets as well as welcoming those who perhaps don’t feel comfortable in a pub environment.

While some may say that the Coordinator position requires a lot of time and effort, I feel immensely proud to be in the driving seat of such a positive, motivated group of people. I have learnt so much from my co-members and I would say the EMRG has been not only a hugely positive influence, but one of the most important factors as I begin my career as a translator. The opportunities to meet with other translators and to talk to them about their experiences are priceless.

For anyone wishing to join the EMRG, please email and follow us on Twitter @ITI_EM