Thursday, February 3, 2022

Mini Reviews of Books in Translation: Where You Come From and The Pastor

A man applies for German citizenship, and one of the requirements is to write a short history detailing where they lived before and why they want to live in Germany. Our narrator writes a few sentences and discovers they are all wrong. What follows is a meandering, imaginative look at how we define ourselves and our histories and how to talk about a home that no longer exists.

Stanišić has written a somewhat autobiographical novel about a man, much like himself, who grapples with his family history in the former country of Yugoslavia. He writes about going back to his family's home and finding that things are very much the same and very different. He realizes that his grandmother's memory is fading, and any chance to learn the stories of his ancestors will be lost along with it. This book jumps from half-formed memories of the past to musings about the present, and even has a choose-your-own-adventure portion towards the end. It is written in a way that may be difficult for Americans to read, but it will be very familiar to people with a father or grandmother who likes to tell stories that start in one place and wander far and wide before concluding. 

Where You Come From
By Saša Stanišić
Translated by Damion Searls
Tin House December 2021
364 pages
Read via Netgalley

Liv is a pastor in a small Norwegian town. Her life is somewhat quotidian--she plans her sermon for the upcoming week, thinks about the impact of words and colonial history, and eats meals with the family that lives downstairs. Liv is desperately trying to help the people in her small town navigate the ups and downs of life, while grieving her own loss. The Pastor is a tale of a woman searching for sure footing in her faith, in her community, and in the endless, freezing landscape that surrounds them all.

This is a story with more feeling and memory than plot. Liv spends a lot of time wondering "what if?" She wonders if she could have saved her friend, she wonders if she will have an impact on these people she is ministering to, and she wonders how she can use words to bring meaning to this life. This quiet novel takes place over just one week, as Liv ponders the injustices of a local indigenous rebellion in the 19th century, working in a male-dominated field, and losing a loved one to suicide. If you are looking for a slow, thoughtful read for dark, cold winter nights, this might be the perfect choice for you. 

The Pastor
By Hanne Ørstavik
Translated by Martin Aitken
Archipelago Books October 2021
280 pages
Read via Netgalley 


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