Book review: The Translator, by Nina Schuyler

The Translator is a novel by Nina Schuyler that explores themes like family, relationships, languages, loss, and forgiveness. Its main character is 53-year old Hanne Schubert.

Hanne is a literary translator, working from Japanese into English. She’s divorced, lives by herself, and has two grown-up children, Brigitte and Tomas. She nurtures a very healthy relationship with Tomas but has no contact with her daughter for years. Hanne also teaches at university, but her focus is mostly on her work as translator. Her attention goes largely to the translation of the latest book by a well-known Japanese author named Kobayashi that she’s been working on for nearly a year.

One day the worst happens, and Hanne suffers a brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs. She leaves the hospital with an unusual condition; she lost her ability to speak any language other than Japanese. For a polyglot who lives in an English-speaking country and makes a living out of her language skills, that is a major tumble. Struggling with her personal life, Hanne reconsiders accepting an invite she had declined to speak about language and translation at a conference in Japan. She knows she will find the author of the novel she’s been translating for a while, Kobayashi. She had contacted him several times by e-mail for help interpreting different parts of him novel. He either didn’t bother answering or didn’t provide for a helpful or proper reply.

Isolated and at a professional deadlock, Hanne then leaves for Japan. At the conference, Hanne takes the opportunity to introduce herself to Kobayashi. To her surprise, he publicly accuses her of sabotaging his work. Hanne is shocked and humiliated. Proud of her work and unable to understand where the author’s accusations are coming from, she extends her stay in Japan. Hanne must now find Moto, a Japanese Noh actor who, according to Kobayashi, served as inspiration for his novel. Does this actor also feel Hanne misrepresented him in her translation into English? She must find out.

Hanne manages to find the actor who inspired the novel she spent so much of her time translating. She also finds out he deals with his own struggles. He lost the woman he loves, and his career is pretty much in the drain. He’s not a charming man but more of a sad, frustrated, and often annoying actor. Somehow, she seems to find comfort in him, prolonging her stay in his house. Hanne is going through her own journey. She’s trying to find her path back to a happy life. She’s looking for meaning, and mostly forgiveness. Regaining contact with her daughter Brigitte would help her heal.

After much time spent in Japan, Hanne decides to make amends with her past. She must find Brigitte. With some insight from Tomas, she manages to find her daughter and work on fixing all the wrongdoings from the past. You can’t help your heart from aching while reading about this powerful mother-daughter reunion.

Hanne is fragile and broken, she’s lonely and vulnerable. But she acknowledges she made mistakes and she’s willing to ask for forgiveness. She gives us a lesson in humility. We are all here trying to do our best but sometimes our best isn’t enough, and we hurt others. When that happens, we must learn from our mistakes and make amends. Hanne can be any one of us. She’s relatable. Her journey could be ours, or our sister’s, our mother’s, our neighbour’s, our best friend’s.

In a beautifully written book, author Nina Schuyler gives us a lot of food for thought.

Have you read this book already? If not, you can find it for sale here. I highly recommend reading it.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments’ section below.

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