Swedish immigrant Kristin won’t talk about the Project growing inside her. Her Brazillian-born Scottish boyfriend Ciaran won’t speak English at all; he is
trying to immerse himself in a Swedish sprakbad language bath, to prepare for their future, whatever the fick that means. Their Edinburgh flat is starting to feel very small.
As this young couple is forced to confront the thing that they are both avoiding, they must reckon with the bigger questions of the world outside, and their places in it.
Length: 240 pages (hardback edition)
Publisher: Scribe UK
I picked up How We Are Translated because I’m trying to widen my cultrual reading horizons. I want to read as many books that feature as many different cultures as possible. As far as I can remember, I’ve never read a book featuring a Swedish character, so How We Are Translated helped towards that challenge.
The book follows Kristin, a Swedish immigrant living in the UK: in Edinburgh, to be precise. She lives with her boyfriend, who in Scottish, but Bazilian-born, so there’s a strong international/immigration theme running throughout the book.
I really enjoyed the writing style in Howe We Are Translated, but I think it will be a bit like marmite: you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s a very lyrical, poetic, a little abstract, style of writing. As I said in my January reading wrap-up video, it’s a quiet book. The words almost float on the page, it’s introspective, and almost stream of consciousness. The reader is very much inside Kristin’s head. As I said, I really enjoy this style of writing, but I know it’s not for everyone.
The other aspect of this book that I think some people will like, and others won’t, is the way language is handled. The Swedish language is a strong theme throuhgout the novel, as Kristin’s boyfriend is trying to learn the language. So he attempts to communicate with her in Swedish, and she (sometimes) corrects him. The way Johannesson handles this is by putting in the Swedish words, then putting the English translation next to it. Almost like a list.
This style is also used throughout Kristin’s thoughts, as she thinks about words, the meanings of them, and how the English and Swedish compare. I liked this style. I think it’s really unusual, and I’m a lover of language anyway. I love to learn how the different langauges handle different emotions and perceptions. I find it fascinating.
As we only see the other characters through Kristin’s eyes, we don’t always learn a lot about them. We get to know her boyfriend pretty well, but her co-wokers are often quite indistinct. She works in historical re-enactment, acting out an ancient Nordic life, for the benefit of tourists. A good half of the story centres around her job, and we do get to see some of the other characters out of character, so to speak, but not often. Some we only get to know through the characters they are acting out.
This doesn’t detract much from the novel, but there were a few instances where I felt a little confused and almost like I’d only been told half of a story. Perhaps that’s the effect Johannesson was going for.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s a unique novel, with some interesting commentary on modern life and immigration. If you don’t mind slightly abstract writing, I’d recommend it.