Read around the world

Books can change readers, and readers can change the world. Fueled by that idea, Lisa Carter created Intralingo to connect authors and translators from around the world with readers.

She asked some of the writers featured in the Intralingo World Lit Podcast to share what opened their perspectives or their hearts by recommending a book that impacted them in some way. They named fourteen books from around the world, both fiction and non-fiction, from science fiction to graphic novel, and haiku to spiritual reflection.

My recommended book is Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, an anthology that seeks not only to create the future but to change the present.

You can see all the books and what makes them impressive at Writers Recommend These Reads. The list hints at the depth and breadth of the written world waiting for us.

Now at Clarkesworld: “Embracing the Movement” by Cristina Jurado, translated by Sue Burke

Award-winning author, editor, and friend Cristina Jurado asked me last year if I would translate her short story “Abrazar el movimiento.” As soon as I read it, I said yes: an intense first contact story whose beautiful images hide horror.

The story, originally published in Spanish in Spain, has been nominated for a 2021 Ignotus Award, Spain’s equivalent of the Hugo.

Clarkesworld Magazine has just published the translation in its June issue with the title “Embracing the Movement.”

Every translation has its delightful problems. Despite the joy of bringing the full reverberance of words from one language to another, many words never have exact equivalents. In this case, the challenge started with the first sentence:

No somos tan diferentes, forestera. “We are not so different…” and then there’s that word: forestera. It is used repeatedly throughout the story, and I had to get it right.

The Real Diccionario Española defines forastero/a as someone or something que es o viene de fuera del lugar: “that is or comes from another place,” a stranger, an outsider. But there’s more: forastero is male, forastera is female. In the context of the story, it matters that the person being addressed is identified as female. I needed to find a way to preserve that sense.

Thesauruses listed close-but-not-quite words like foreigner, nonnative, outlander, outsider, alien, nonresident, drifter, transient, wanderer … which led to nomad, rambler, roamer, rover, stroller, vagabond, wanderer, wayfarer … Wait. The word rover suggested something … the Mars rovers: Perseverance, Curiosity, Spirit, Opportunity, and Sojourner. The Sojourner was named after Sojourner Truth. And Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Bomfree, chose that name because she felt called to travel and testify.

“Sojourner” means someone who stays as a temporary resident, who comes from another place. The word in English has associations with space exploration and is a name still being used for baby girls today.

I decided I’d found the word for forastera, although I wanted to reinforce the female meaning in the first reference, and I could do so by introducing an important element from further within the story. Finally, I had the opening line in English:

“We are not so different, sister sojourner.”

My choice for the Nebula Award for Novelette

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) has announced the finalists for the 56th Annual Nebula Award. The awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony on Saturday, June 5, 2021.

I’m a member of SFWA, and I like to focus on the shorter fiction nominees because I can finish my reading by the April 30 deadline, and because fewer people vote, which means my opinions matter more.

Novelettes are at least 7,500 words long but less than 17,500 words, which allows for greater development than a short story. All the nominees use that space to create their own worlds with success, and each one is worthy of the award.

• “Shadow Prisons” by Caroline M. Yoachim (in Dystopia Triptych, Broad Reach Publishing + Adamant Press) (full text: The Shadow Prison ExperimentShadow Prisons of the MindThe Shadow Prisoner’s Dilemma). People can be turned into “shadows” as punishment by a restrictive government. A woman who becomes a shadow tries to fight back, or at least to avoid destroying other lives. I found the story itself more compelling than the telling of it.

• “Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 5-6/20). Superheros are feared and hated — by themselves as well as the public at large — for their poorly controlled powers. Emotions in the story are carefully depicted.

• “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com 6/17/20). A woman becomes caught in a web of her own lies. Genuinely creepy horror.

• “Where You Linger” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Uncanny 1-2/20). A woman goes back into her past to help her younger, immature self cope with her chaotic love life. The story is beautifully written but never becomes more than a deeply intimate story. A technology that powerful would change society, but there’s no hint of the bigger picture.

• “Stepsister” by Leah Cypess (F&SF 5-6/20). What happens after the end of the Cinderella myth? A well-plotted and well-executed story answers the question.

• “The Pill” by Meg Elison (in Big Girl, PM Press). A pill can cure obesity, and people rush to take it despite its “acceptable” casualties. This gets my vote for the award, and I think this kind of story is science fiction at its best: a good story well told. By “good” I mean a story that dissects our current society with a pitiless scalpel, exposing how deep our prejudices reach and how much pain they cause. This story might change the way you think.

My Goodreads review of “Madamemoiselle de Malepeire”

Mademoiselle de Malepeire by Fanny Reybaud,: Translated by Barbara Basbanes RichterMademoiselle de Malepeire by Fanny Reybaud,: Translated by Barbara Basbanes Richter by Fanny Reybaud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I believe it’s good to read widely, especially outside of your favorite genre. So I said yes when the publisher offered to send me this book. The publicist suggested that as a translator, I would find it interesting — and he had the unspoken hope that I would write a review. Right on both counts.

Mademoiselle de Malespeire was a best-seller in France when it was first published in 1854. Its story seems simple at first. A young man, visiting his uncle at his country home, falls madly in love with a beautiful young woman depicted in a portrait, but no one knows who she is. Later, a visitor to the uncle’s home reveals that he, as a young man, had sketched the portrait of the young woman.

Many years earlier, that young man had been visiting the baron of Malespeire, whose castle-like home had been near to where the uncle now lives. The young man fell madly in love with the baron’s daughter, then just 20 years old. After he finished the portrait, the whole affair fell into disaster; he didn’t marry the daughter, and didn’t know what happened to her.

Sometime later, another visitor arrives at the uncle’s home and finishes the tale, describing the even greater disaster that subsequently took place.

The brief novel moves fast. Despite all the mad love, it’s not a romance — or rather, the ideal of love common to 19th century Romanticism is turned inside out. Be prepared for shocking reversals and surprises, and spilled blood. Love does not conquer all.

Because I primarily write science fiction and fantasy, I want to focus on the “worldbuilding” of the novel. In any story, the setting can be as important as the characters. In mimetic fiction (set in our current shared consensus reality) we often overlook the effect that our world has on us, like fish too accustomed to the water they swim in. Locating a story in strange waters affects not only the story, it can inform us about our own environment.

Even in the year this novel was first published, Mademoiselle de Malepeire spoke of the past. Some of the events take place before the French Revolution, which readers in 1854 might have found distant and unfamiliar. (Footnotes help modern readers understand tricky bits in the history and setting.) To us in the 21st century, that society and its tensions might seem utterly alien.

We may have forgotten how isolated those times were. The uncle’s home and, more importantly to the story, the baron’s nearby home can best be reached only by horse or by foot, not by carriage. It is cut off by time and distance from pre-Revolution aristocratic culture. Close by, however, is a village of rural peasants. Despite the isolation, restive Enlightenment ideas are penetrating minds within the house and the village.

Yet local society remains stifling, its limitations aggravated by pre-Revolutionary discontent. Within the baron’s home, the willful daughter has no future of her own, forever under the control of the men around her. In the village, rough peasants doubt their subservience to the nobility. Soon, the tension breaks into violence.

Romanticism championed the expression of individualism and the authenticity of spontaneous emotion. In this novel, these bring tragic consequences.

If you want a summer read with some depth, this might be the book for you. It includes an introduction to orient the reader, an interview with the translator, who did able work, and questions for a book club or for individual reflection. You might be moved to consider the role of honor and tradition in the novel, and how those same concepts function in our own lives.Amazon review

This brief novel moves fast. Its story seems simple at first. A young man, visiting his uncle in his country home, falls in madly in love with a beautiful young woman depicted in a portrait, but no one knows who she is. Despite all the mad love, it’s not a romance — or rather, the ideal of love common to 19th century Romanticism is turned inside out. Be prepared for shocking reversals and surprises, and spilled blood. Love does not conquer all.

If you want a summer read with some depth, this might be the book for you. It includes an introduction to orient the reader, an interview with the translator, who did able work, and questions for a book club or for individual reflection. You might be moved to consider the role of honor and tradition in the novel, and how those same concepts function in our own lives.

View all my reviews