Red Fern Book Review

Mend the Living

May 26, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 15
Red Fern Book Review
Mend the Living
Show Notes Transcript

Amy's old reporter buddy Myriam stops by the podcast to share her loves of languages and books. Amy and Myriam discuss part medical, part psychological novel Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal.  Translator Jessica Moore has received accolades for her translation of this taught, luminous novel and Myriam explains why.  Myriam also reviews the sci fi novel Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. While she loved this book, it ended up dividing her book club! The podcast The Play's The Thing, a love note to all things Shakespeare, and Netflix docuseries Abstract: The Art of Design are also discussed.

Books and resources discussed:

Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
The Play's The Thing podcast
Abstract: The Art of Design, Netflix docuseries

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Amy Mair:

Welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. And I am here today with my friend, Myriam, who happens to be an editor and speak multiple languages. And I recently read a French book that's been translated into English called Mend the Living. And I'm not sure how to pronounce the author's name. So I'm going to ask Myriam about that. But it was excellent. And it got me thinking because usually when I read a book that's been translated, it's more plot driven for me, and the language is a little bit stilted. But this language was very fluid. And I just got to thinking a lot about translation and what that means and what it is and what it isn't. And so that's why I've asked Myriam to join today. And she's also going to talk about another book by Ian McEwan called Machines Like Me, that divided actually divided up her book club a little bit. But before we get to that, we're going to talk about a couple of things that Miriam's enjoying listening to and watching. And so I just wanted to welcome and say hello, Myriam.

Myriam Beague:

Hi Amy, how are you doing? Well, thanks for having me. This is actually exciting, because I've known you for more than 20 years. And I think it's the first time that we actually carved out some time to talk about books, even though we're both obsessed with reading. That's true. That is insane. We'll meet and we'll talk about our careers, we'll talk about our children. We've never actually sat down and taking as much time to talk about books. Oh, that's insane. To me.

Amy Mair:

That's really interesting. I just guess we just take that for granted. I know. And we don't live near each other or by Vancouver standards, because people in Vancouver tend to not travel far to see each other. And so when we do see each other, we've traveled half an hour. And so we've made this big effort. And we yeah, we just don't talk about it. Don't do

Myriam Beague:

You are over the bridge!

Amy Mair:

We used to be reporters together downtown at Business in Vancouver for those in the know BIV. And what Myriam What was your beat? What What did you cover? I can't remember.

Myriam Beague:

I started with marketing. And then because that was tied to sort of what I had studied before, so that was a natural. Yeah, and then I really specialized in high tech and biotech. I absolutely loved that.

Amy Mair:

That's right.

Myriam Beague:

It's very interesting.

Amy Mair:

Let's talk about the books. I'm pretty excited. The second I picked up this first book, I've been wanting to talk with Myiriam about it. And I'll say how this came to be. This was a book club selection for my book club. And we were in a little bit of a rut reading mainly, Canadian literature, sometimes American but not really expanding. And this was before the pandemic so little did we know but we were looking for something that would just give us a different perspective. And so we found this book, and I'll say that every single person in my book club loved it and that may be the first time ever so that just says a little bit about this book, but I'm just gonna give a little brief synopsis. Myriam please step in - how do you pronounce this author's name?

Myriam Beague:

I would say nice, Maylis de Kangal.

Amy Mair:

Sounds good to me. Anyway, what it's about is an organ transplant. And it's about a young surfer who is 20 years old who unexpectedly dies in an accident. His name is Simon Limbeau. And his parents have to make the wrenching decision to whether or not to donate his heart. You know, ultimately, that's going to be the decision otherwise there really wouldn't be a book. The beginning is quite emotional. And then it moves into almost the machine of organ donation or the miracle of organ donation, the way I saw it. Each person plays an important role, the medical staff and everybody you have their backstories. Maybe if they were up all night partying, or maybe they're sad about something, whatever they're bringing to the table. And that's, yeah, that's a little bit of summary. But Miriam, what did you think of the book, just forget the translation. What did your what were your thoughts about just the book.

Myriam Beague:

I have to say, I absolutely loved the book from start to finish. Yeah. And one of the reasons was that it's one of those rare books where you've got a central story. And obviously, the main focus is on the family of this young man who died, right. But all the characters that are in the periphery, have a very clear arc, and how they go through this experience, either alone when they're doing their own thing, or in relation to how they interact with the other characters. And I thought that it takes a very good writer to be able to do that and not get lost in your story so that it doesn't seem like she's going off in lots of different tensions. It still holds together, but you still get an arc for every single character. And that I found absolutely fascinating that she was able to do that.

Amy Mair:

Yeah, I would agree with that. Like the old there's that overarching theme, like you understand it's about organ donation. But you get into, I would agree with that. Yeah, I felt a little bit, a little bit like it was a thriller in a way. First, there's that kind of, there's a bit of that dread. One thing I brought up with you, which I did want to understand. I thought in the beginning everyone is trying to get the family to donate this young man's organs. They were very kind of clinical and cold. And I thought maybe it was a cultural thing. And you immediately pointed out, no, it's a medical thing that you felt that it was, this is their job, they've got to make this happen. And they've got to find a way to be empathetic, but at the same time, it's really just like, okay, okay alright, already, we need this heart, let's go because there's a deadline.

Myriam Beague:

Yeah, and I would agree with that. But it's definitely a medical setting. And if you don't associate the rhythm that seems to be too quick for the family that's experienced this loss. And you focus on the urgency for the people who are still alive and waiting for those organs and hoping that this will give them a chance to survive, then all of a sudden, the rhythm of that medical team takes a different colour. Yes, that's how I saw it. Like at the beginning, I agree with you, my first reaction was, okay, this is going to be a story about the emotion of the family versus the clinical and very detached approach of the medical system. But then you realize that behind that approach, there are real people who are very anxious to find out if they're going to survive or not, if they get one of these organs. So that kind of counterbalances that, for me. One thing, but where I think you are correct, is that in France? People have a very respectful, almost childlike rapport with their physicians. Oh, okay. It's a little bit like children who are in a classroom will have a certain way to relate to their teachers. That is a lot less familiar than it might be in North America.

Amy Mair:

Okay,

Myriam Beague:

The idea that a third grader is going to call a teacher by their first name is unthinkable. We share a doctor. Side Story. Yeah, she delivered our babies. And we would refer to her as Sarah. Whereas in France, who would not do that? No, you would say Dr. Ostler. So I think that was also a cultural context thing.

Amy Mair:

Yeah.

Myriam Beague:

That was very clear and probably to the author was very natural.

Amy Mair:

Okay, yeah, I found I found it too formal for me. I am an emotional person on top of being North American, but I just was like, I didn't understand that. And then, as you said, once things get underway. I think it was more once the organ leaves. I just want to tell people if you're unsure to read this because it sounds like a sad story, once the organ leaves the building and goes all the other places I didn't find it sad, I found it exciting. It's like it just sort of gets you thinking in a different way.

Myriam Beague:

I agree with you that it almost has the sense of urgency that a thriller does that you want to know are they going to make it? Are they going to get into a traffic jam, will the organ get there in time, because they tell you about those timelines. And you know after the organs are harvested, they pack them and deliver them, they have time to get there in time so that they arrive intact. So this whole thing shifts from the emotion of the loss to now I want to know what happens. It's like it becomes a page turner almost, which seems crazy when you think about the topic. But that's how I experienced it. But that phase was like a thriller.

Amy Mair:

Now, let's talk about the translation. So I really felt strongly that there was more to this translation than normal. First of all the translator's name is Jessica Moore. She lives in Toronto. Her name was on the front of the book, and that I don't believe that's always the case. I'm not always cognizant, even if I know it's from Spain or whatever. I'm not always aware that there's a translator listed on the cover. This book was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. And I believe Jessica was named in that as well. I'm not, I'm not sure. But I think that's right. You've read the English version, what stood out for you in the translating. And I also want to add, Myriam has trained in court translation. So you have done some formal training in translation. And you speak, how many languages do you speak?

Myriam Beague:

Five, I would say on paper.

Amy Mair:

Oh, my gosh. So tell me what your thoughts are on translation and give us a few examples.

Myriam Beague:

Okay, so one of the things that stood out, in my mind when I took this court interpreting course, many months ago, was the difference between a straight translation and an interpreting. So in the situation of a courtroom, in that context, you have to make sure that what you end up seeing as an interpreter ends up being carbon copy to what the person said in the original language, because the case depends on it. So you can't take liberties at all. So for example, if witness says, I saw a young man in a royal blue shirt, walking up and down the street that morning, and as an interpreter, in the other language, you say, I saw a young man in a navy shirt, walking up and down the street. Well, there are two shades of blue that are kind of close. But it makes a very big difference when it comes to the actual case. Right? So you can't take liberties there. Whereas when you're translating, or interpreting a literary work, there's more to it than just the accuracy of making one word correspond to another. You're trying to make sure that the poetry of the original word comes across the emotion of it, the rhythm of it, is it an intellectual work? If it's something that's very approachable? Is it something that has really deep cultural roots or not? Or is it something that could happen in any city, any culture, any country, so you have all these elements that you're trying to preserve? By making decisions on every single word that you're using in the translated work? And that's very difficult to do. And in reading this one, I would agree with you that it almost felt to me like it was somebody who had been given the right to take a story, a plot and write it in a different language. That s probably exaggerating but n , but it was my first impul

Amy Mair:

I just find it hard to believe that it's as well written in French but I don't know. Maybe we'll do a little update once you once you have a chance to look at it. How do you do that when you're translating. Could you give a couple of examples.

Myriam Beague:

Pretty early on in the book there, just to set the story, this is where the mother Marian goes in to speak with the doctor who was the admitting doctor when her son was taken to the hospital after his accident. I don't want to give too much away in exactly where they're at in that process. But basically, she's going into this room with the doctor, and she knows what's coming. She just feels it in her gut. And they're describing how she feels. And they say that she wishes that under her chair was, and I quote, an oubliettes. Now that word is a French word. It's basically a dungeon. So you've got one entrance that's above you. And if you're thrown in there, you're lost. Right? Nobody can see you, they close the lid, you disappear. And so she was feeling like, she wanted to find, by some miracle, a trapdoor so that she could just disappear so that she doesn't have to face the truth of what she feels in her gut, which is that her son is gone. Now, in French, the word comes from oubliez, which is to forget. So she's almost wanting to hide in a place where she can shut out the reality of what's going on and completely forget about it. They could have translated that word. She could have said she wanted to crawl into a hole or she wanted to fall into a dungeon. She could have found an English word, but she made the choice to keep the French word. Because when you hear that word in French there will be a very strong thought that's associated with it. It's not just the physical hole, but it's trying to forget something. Right? Which you wouldn't get if you use the word dungeon. It means you want to crawl under something you want to disappear so that they can't find you and deliver the news. But it doesn't have that same impact in terms of describing how she wants herself to be forgotten. She wants this moment to be forgotten. Where is it? But yet there is that word forget. So, that's an example where I think she made a choice to not translate it where she could have.

Amy Mair:

That makes sense.

Myriam Beague:

And that's the thing is sometimes when you translate straight from one language to the other, you end up finding a better interpretation of a mood or an idea. And it ends up being more like an interpretation of that mood. And other times your interpret. Because if you did a straight translation, you would actually wouldn't get the correct effect. And the reason is that in some languages, certain words are stronger than others. So even though if you take a dictionary, they'll say, you know, Apple is pomme. But in some other cases, you could have a word that's perfectly translated, but has a very different feeling. In another language, it may sound fancier in one language than another, it may be more evocative of a culture or not. So you really have to make those choices. And in this case, I think she made the right jumps, because it adds that little extra layer.

Amy Mair:

We both recommend this book.

Myriam Beague:

I think it's a beautiful book. Yeah, it's a great emotional journey.

Amy Mair:

The next book, Myriam mentioned not too long ago. Her book club read Machines Like Me. It was Myriam's idea and it wasn't necessarily a fan favorite for everyone. So give a little synopsis on this book and tell me what you thought of it.

Myriam Beague:

So, the book is Machines Like Me and it's by Ian McEwen, who's an English author, quite popular actually. But I hadn't heard of this title. I was just looking for ideas of what I wanted to read. I'm quite fascinated by technologies and new discoveries. So I thought, Oh, that's interesting. I wouldn't expect in McEwan to write something that was so heavily focused on technology. But so I picked it up. And basically, the story is set in the 1980s, in London. But it's a little bit out of chronic in the sense that it's in the '80s. But the technology that they have, back then in this story, is actually quite futuristic. So for example, social media is already rolling everything, which was not the case in the 1980s. And the story focuses on a love triangle. It involves a young man named Charlie who's sort of a drifter, who's not really sure what he wants to do with his life, he's super smart, but he's kind of taking his time because he can. And then he comes into this money and decides to buy an Adam. And what it is, is in that in those days, they had come far along enough with the development of first generation humanoids that you could order an Adam or Eve as a companion as an assistant as whatever you wanted. So he decides, I'm just going to buy an Adam. And he is quite in love with this young student named Miranda. And the two of them decide that yes, they're going to do this, they're going to get an Adam. And they're each going to program some of it functions. So they decide what character traits they like. And they programmed that into Adam. And they each do it without telling the other one what they've programmed in. And then they plug him in, charge them up, and then this Adam comes alive. And the story follows what happens to that trio of people, okay, the interaction between the humans and this humanoid, who has the ability because of, you know, AI machine learning, to figure out how human beings react to certain situations, certain ways of talking. And he comes to manipulate the situation a little bit because he has this ability to learn at a very, very rapid rate. So I don't want to say too much, because I don't want to give it all away. But it makes you question a lot of things like a if you had the choice, would you want to find everything out about a person before you actually took the time to get to know them?

Amy Mair:

You probably wouldn't have very many friends.

Myriam Beague:

Well, it's interesting. And it also makes you think about what makes a human human Right? Is it an ability to be mindful of others? Is it the ability to love and what does that mean if you can program it into humanoid? Can you actually artificially produced that. Also, what I found interesting was that we often think of technology as a means to an end, right? Getting more efficient, doing things quicker. But this book makes you wonder whether we've come to a point where efficiency is actually the human value that we're focused on. And not as a conduit to something else that's human based.

Amy Mair:

Right? Right.

Myriam Beague:

And so this book actually divided my book club. Some people didn't even finish it. I think some people found the book disturbing. Some found that because there was this machine like human character they didn't care about him as much as they did about the other characters. All of a sudden, the emotional attachment to the story wasn't there for them.

Amy Mair:

Okay, so Myriam, we got so excited talking about the books that we forgot to talk about the apps and podcasts you like, or the shows you like. You like a podcast called the Play is the Thing. What's that?

Myriam Beague:

So The Play is the Thing is focused on Shakespeare's plays. They pick apart the plays tell you about the characters tell you about some of the double meaning in the place, what the author's trying to say, what the interaction between the characters might be, and what general themes you can take from each one. And usually what it does is there are six episodes for each play. So five, one for each act, and then one Q & A episode at the end. And, I mean, I like it because I'm a Shakespeare absolute nut. I think that made me really fall in love with the English language. Because it's a little background. I grew up in 100 per cent, Francophone household and went to a French school. And our English classes were divided up in three levels. So there was the Francophone group, the advanced Francophone, and then the Anglophone group. Yeah. And so I started in a Francophone group, and then by grade eight, I had made it to the Anglophone group. And it's that year, that a crazy teacher who was this American draft Dodger, told me about him before. Yeah, Mr. P. Mr. Peterson, I will always remember that teacher, and he was absolutely brilliant, totally terrifying. But he was so passionate about language and about literature, that it was absolutely infectious. And that's when I really started paying attention to English works. And Shakespeare was one of the ones that we study. And it continued on in grade nine, and that was it, I was hooked. So that's why I like that.

Amy Mair:

is this is this approachable. If you're not like, you have to be hardcore into Shakespeare.

Myriam Beague:

You know what, it's actually great for people who are not hardcore, just because they have usually for each show have maybe an author and teacher, and then maybe an actor, and then they'll read out some of the scenes, they'll pick it apart, and then they'll try to make it relatable to everyday life. So I actually think that if somebody has read a play and thought, you know, I kind of get the gist of it, but I'm not really sure I kind of got lost in the language. Well, they'll take care of that. And that podcast, and they'll say, Well, this is why he'll say this this way. Or this is what it actually means.

Amy Mair:

You mentioned one a docu series on Netflix called

Abstract:

The Art of Design on Netflix. So tell me, tell us about that.

Myriam Beague:

So, that's a great one. I'm really into docu series. It's they don't have a lot of episodes, but each one has something different to offer. And in this case, it basically focuses on artists. And the reason I locked on to it is that I was viewing a documentary on Bjarke Ingels, who's a Scandinavian architect. He's done work all over the world. And one of the episodes was on him. So that was the first one that I watched. And I thought, I wonder what else they have in there. And then I saw another really great episode on Paula Scher, who is a graphic designer. You would like it too, because you're working with magazines, is she is the queen of typefaces. Her choices are incredible. And she's done tons of album covers. She worked for record companies. And she's done a lot of iconic album covers. So it was just interesting to hear her talk about her obsession with fonts and font sizes and typesetting whitespace. All that stuff that people who love graphic design will enjoy.

Amy Mair:

Thank you so much for joining. And I hope I hope you'll come back next season.

Myriam Beague:

It was great to talk to you to get actually to take the time.

Amy Mair:

Thank you. Bye. Thank you so much to our guests, Myriam for joining us today. And I learned a lot like I do anytime I hang out with Myriam. nd on a personal note, it was un because I haven't seen her n person since the pandemic. So ven though we were just on Zoom oday, I felt like I had a good atch up. Anyway, I want to nvite you back in another week o join me and book blogger usan Matheson. She's going to e back on the podcast to talk bout what she's looking forward o reading the summer. Thank you ery much.