The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood
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The Translator by Nina Schuyler

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the translatorReview by Ivy Rutledge

– Nina Schuyler’s novel, The Translator, will pull you along Hanne Schubert’s journey through the shifting landscapes of her life, both literal and figurative. From her apartment in San Francisco across the ocean to Japan and beyond, she seeks the answers to important questions. Questions she only discovers after months of searching: “What happens when the soul is assigned its purpose, but is neglected? Forgotten? Or worse, thwarted? When someone or something comes along and tells the soul that its reason for being here is not wanted?”

Hanne’s story opens with a love affair with a character in a novel she is translating from Japanese into English. Schuyler writes,

“For months now, she’s been dreaming about Jiro, erotic dreams,
dreams of kisses stolen behind doors, of bare feet rubbed beneath
tables, of tangled bedsheets and limbs … That she’s fallen a little
bit in love with him is no surprise. She’s spent months and months
with him and when she wakes can’t wait for their daily sessions.”

The heat of the work Hanne does translating is juxtaposed with the chilled relationship she has with her grown daughter, Brigitte, who she hasn’t seen in six years. In the sparse pieces of information she receives through her son, Tomas, she carries an agonizing curiosity and heartache. These two storylines wind together throughout the novel, resulting in a spiritual journey somewhat reminiscent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love.

Hanne has a freak accident that leaves her unable to speak English, and she must rely only on her Japanese language to communicate. She decides to attend a professional conference in Japan, where the author of the novel she’s translated accuses her publicly of turning his novel into a story of her own creation. The experience is a catalyst for her, resulting in a longer stay in Japan, a renewed professional path, and ultimately, a way to find closure in her relationship with her daughter.

My advice to readers is to linger over each page. Let Hanne’s journey become your own, as we all face our own moments of wondering whether we’re on the right path, whether the work we’ve done is valuable and true, and whether our parenting has harmed or helped. Hanne resists the journey until she is in so deep that the only way out is to face the questions. Along the way she fortifies herself with love and compassion, until she finally has the courage, first to ask her life’s questions, and finally to face the answers with humility.

The Translator, by Nina Schuyler
ISBN 9781605984704
Pegasus Books, 2013
303 pages


Originally from Rhode Island, Ivy Rutledge lives and writes in the Piedmont of North Carolina, where she shares her life with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in The Sun, Home Education, Ruminate, The Copperfield Review, and Tilt-a-Whirl, and her short fiction has been anthologized by the Main Street Rag. She is currently pursuing an MA in English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her website is IvyRutledge.com.

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