Tag Archives: translation

Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu (tr. by Le Guin)

Tao Te ChingTao te Ching (pronounced Dow Day Jeeng), was written by Lao Tzu (Low-dsuh) and translated by Ursula K. Le Guin.

OK so there are tons of translations of the Tao te Ching, and while this one is not my favorite, the book itself is a wonderful way (haha, get it, Tao means “The Way”) to gain a more mindful approach at life. It is actually a collection of ancient poetry written more than 2500 years ago by a man attempting to lead people to a more mindful, meaningful way of life– one that is harmonious with the natural rhythms of the Earth. One of my favorite excerpts: “The Way never does anything, / and everything gets done… In stillness all under heaven rests” (p.37).

Peace & Love.

Availability: USMAI,
Review Submitted by: Jeanette Warren
Rating: Highly recommended
Challenge: A translated book.

Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles

Sophocles !

Earlier this year I looked at one of those “100 best novels” lists, and I learned that Oedipus Rex was part of a trilogy. I wanted to see what other wackily tragic events could happen to Oedipus, so I read “Sophocles I” by Sophocles (translated by David Grene, Robert Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Wyckoff). The book contained three plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. At times, I thought that I might as well be reading the play in ancient Greek for all that I understood the details, but luckily, I think I understood enough to follow the basic story.

Without giving anything away …. Oedipus the King had the most interesting (bizarre) story; although, the key activities took place before the play starts and the action in the play is discovery. Oedipus at Colonus seemed transitional vice tragic in that it: provided a little closure to Oedipus the King and introduced the curse (or maybe it was prophecy) that “set the stage” for Antigone. Antigone, named after one of Oedipus’ daughters, is about conflict between Antigone and Creon and the resulting tragic actions.

I can only recommend this if you: (1) wonder “what happened to Oedipus” after reading the first play in high school, (2) enjoy theater or Greek literature, or (3) enjoy thinking about symbolism/meaning.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Challenge: A translated book

My Name is Red by Orhan Parmuk

My Name is Red

Orhan Parmuk introduces us to the culturally rich yet turbulent period of 16th century Istanbul in his murder-mystery novel My Name is Red translated by Erdag Goknar. While the Ottoman Empire has reached its zenith of artistic sophistication under the fervent patronage of Sultan Murat III, there emerges a dire conflict between preservation of traditional Islamic painting and the adoption of European-style illustrations. When the Sultan commissions a guild of miniaturists to illuminate a book in the realist style of the Europeans, the miniaturists must either obey their ruler’s wishes by depicting the universe as the human eye perceives it, or illustrate it as envisioned by Allah. One of the commissioned miniaturists, afraid of his peers violating Islamic artistic traditions, sets out on a killing spree and it is up to us, the readers, to figure out his identity.

Parmuk’s novel transcends the suspenseful nature of our typical mystery thriller through complex philosophical arguments concerning artistic signature and style, blindness and memory. Each chapter is narrated from the perspective of one of the four miniaturists commissioned to create the Sultan’s controversial book or from the perspectives of other individuals who know of the book’s existence and are connected to the miniaturists in some way. Each character talks with a distinct voice, just as each paints with a distinct style. Embedded within each of their narratives are intricate parables that frame their unique personalities and contribute to the unconventional development of this murder mystery.

Availability: SMCM, USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Xuejie Kimball
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: translated book, book with a color in the title


The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian

This was a story, originally three interconnected stories, about obsession and renunciation, I think. It was tough going. This begins as the story of Yeong-hye from the viewpoint of her almost comically unsympathetic husband, Mr. Cheong. Her life (and, in his view, his life) is transformed by a traumatic dream that causes her to not eat meat anymore. This leads to separation from her husband and alienation from her family with the exception of her sister, In-hye, who looks in on her while her health declines until her own no-good husband becomes enamored of Yeong-hye and incorporates her into a bizarre video performance art piece that leads to the two of them sleeping together, which is immediately discovered by In-hye. Then Yeong-hye is institutionalized and In-hye cares for her till the end. In-hye was the only character I felt much interest in–she’s followed her own more conventional/socially acceptable dream of owning a cosmetics store. But it was a quick read, and there was little temptation to slow down.

Availability:  SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Eric Blomquist
Rating: Not Recommended
Challenge: A book from the 2017 Tournament of Books and a translated book.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Richard Fagles


I was inspired to read The Odyssey for the first time since high school after encountering Daniel Mendohlson’s recent essay in The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/24/a-father-and-sons-final-odyssey). Mendolsohn wrote about teaching an undergraduate course on the epic poem with his elderly father as one of the students, and his subsequent trip with his father on an Odyssey-themed cruise through the Mediterranean. The essay touched on themes of age, fatherhood, and heroism.

I had vague memories of enjoying the poem as a 9th grader, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the work now. The dynamic of the story is timeless (I though a lot about Odysseus’ journey home, where his loved ones feared he was dead, as I watched the final episodes of The Leftovers on HBO). Fagles’ translation brilliantly humanizes the characters, and he lavishes the reader with tactile language about how it felt to live in that world: the sound of ships scudding along the water, the feel of a leather sandal strap, the sting of smoke from a fire.

I enjoyed mulling over questions of loyalty, filial duty, and what heroism means if a human’s life is merely a pawn of the gods. Can a hero assume credit for his or her victories? Or is heroism nothing more than continuing on in the face of powers far beyond one’s control?

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Translation