Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Lake: Banana Yoshimoto, Translated by Michael Emmerich

Oh B, you've done it again! Banana Yoshimoto is such a compelling author that I chose to read The Lake without knowing anything about the book. I now believe that Yoshimoto's real gift is in relaying a story by putting the plot into emotional sequences rather than words.

Here's what I mean. The Lake is told as a story about a young woman, Chihiro, and a young man, Nakajima who begin as neighbors and move through the murky waters of friendship and into relationship. They are both slightly broken people, so their relationship faces challenges and hurdles that not everyone experiences. While reading The Lake I wasn't sure if the story was about Chihiro or Nakajima, and I had no idea to which lake the title refers to. Now that I'm finished reading it, I understand that The Lake isn't about one person; it's a story of healing. So much of what we experience as individuals can't be faced alone--we need a partner to go through life with who can help dissipate the burden of our worst moments and share in the joy of our best.

Since this is such an emotional drama, I can't comment on characterization or plot devices. Yoshimoto's novellas consistently push the boundaries of writing and urge readers to look beyond plot and character to see the deeper underlying philosophies. She is a master of the big picture, evoking emotion with sparse words set against the stark landscape of Japan's countryside.

One of the things I can comment on and will do so freely, is the translation. The Lake was translated by Michael Emmerich, who is either a genius story teller or a master translator. Quite possibly both. It is my understanding that translation can take one of two paths--true to the words, or true to their meaning. Many translations in modern fiction rely heavily on the translation of meaning, giving the translator a bit of creative license with the vocabulary. When I read Banana Yoshimoto's work, I can hear her reading the words aloud. I don't hear the voice of a translator, but the honest and concise narration of a deeply intuitive author. This is a huge props to both the author and the translator.

I doubt this novella will go over with the strictly linear crowd who want to read a story with minutiae, but for anyone who has ever had a trauma in their life and had to continue living the day to day life on their own, this book will be a revelation.

Rating: $$$

ARC received courtesy of Melville House Publishing

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