Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The Translator"

Nina Schuyler's first novel, The Painting, was a finalist for the Northern California Book Awards. It was also selected by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the Best Books of 2004, and dubbed a “fearless debut” by MSNBC and a “great debut” by the Rocky Mountain News. It’s been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, and Serbian.

Her short story, “The Bob Society,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poems, short stories and essays have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Santa Clara Review, Fugue, The Meadowland Review, The Battered Suitcase, and other literary journals. She reviews fiction for The Rumpus and The Children’s Book Review. She’s fiction editor at Able Muse.

Schuyler applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Translator, and reported the following:
Tumbling down a flight of stairs, Hanne is left with the ability to speak only Japanese. After a stay in the hospital, Hanne is finally home. Her son, Tomas, who has been in San Francisco to tend to her, departs for New York. Three things happen on this page that convey a sense of theme and trajectory. Hanne discovers her son’s doodling on his yellow legal pad. It’s a man on his back, his legs lifted in the air. The image reminds her of Picasso’s painting of a man on his back eating watermelon. Hanne wonders, has her son experienced her ecstatic delight? This is the reverse of the children-as-extensions-of-parents phenomenon. Here, the parent’s psyche burns bright inside a child’s interior landscape.

Second, Hanne’s son speaks Japanese, so Hanne has had a companion with whom she can converse. With her son gone, Hanne’s apartment is quiet, “deathly quiet.” Throughout the novel, there is the interplay of silence and sound. Hanne, being a translator, is keenly tied to sound, in particular words. She has, in fact, built a world of sound, and for her, it is the vessel of meaning. Her daughter, on the other hand, has retreated into silence—for six years, she has not spoken to Hanne. Hanne will find herself in situations where she fumbles with words, or where words are utterly irrelevant.

Finally, the deathly silence sends Hanne fleeing from her apartment, down to the lobby, to see if she can stop her son from leaving. She finds herself in the lobby. “How unlike her; she is standing in the foyer barefoot.” Hanne’s action—chasing after her son—will be repeated toward the end of the book. In so many ways she will have to step out of character, become “unlike” herself, stand bare, vulnerable, in order to get what she truly wants. (I’m being intentionally vague here because I don’t want to give away the ending.)
Learn more about the book and author at Nina Schuyler's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue