Review: Broken Glass Park, Alina Bronsky (translated by Tim Mohr)

FTC darling, I am constantly getting you mixed up with the FCC.  I am always saying, Grrr, that FTC, cranky censorship snarl can’t even say swear words on the television grumble grumble grumble, and then remembering twenty minutes later that I’ve been ranting about the wrong acronym.   Sorry, FTC!  It was unkind of me to call you an ugly poophead and a fascist bastard, even if it was just to my sister!  Also, I thought you’d want to know that I received Broken Glass Park for review from the lovely people at Regal Literary Agency.

What I liked about Broken Glass Park:

  • The protagonist, Sascha, is an orphan.  I love a book about an orphan.  Indeed, the sentence that made me decide to like Love Walked In was “All of Clare’s favorite characters were orphans.”  For I, too, love orphans.  I dote upon orphans.  Especially plucky orphans.
  • Sascha is a fantastic protagonist with a clear, honest voice that drew me into the story straight away.  She’s tough, and she goes after what she wants, but not in an unrealistically sensible and fearless way.  Which is to say: She plans to murder her stepfather when he gets out of prison, lovingly reviewing her options for poison, breaking bottles over his head, and so forth, but when a local newspaper writes a sympathetic article about her stepfather, and she goes to confront the author of the article, she is madly intimidated by the newspaper office.  So right.  Teenagers find it easy to make murder plans and hellishly difficult to navigate adult spaces.  (At least I did.  And so does Polly Whittaker in Fire and Hemlock.)  (Er, I didn’t make murder plans as a teenager.  The other half.  Easily intimidated by having to interact as an adult with adults.)
  • I liked the way Sascha’s backstory unfolds gradually, so that you have mostly figured out what happened by the time the story confirms it.  Rather than trying to build up to a reveal, and BAM, explain everything at once, the book lets you see bits of the picture at a time until the whole thing becomes apparent.  It made the situation sad, rather than sensationalizing it.
  • Sascha’s relationships with her family rang absolutely true: her frustration with her mother’s romantic entanglements, her fierce devotion to her younger half-siblings, and her half-tolerant, half-nasty frustration with her guardian, a relation of her stepfather.  Lovely, lovely, lovely.
  • The end.  It was one of those endings that is emotionally satisfying endings and not too pat.
  • The translation!  Ah, yes, it is not often I have nice things to say about translated works.  I find them a trial.  Unless, of course, I have translated them myself, like The Aeneid and bits of The Metamorphoses, in which case I find them to be the best thing ever because I have conquered them WITH MY WITS (and sometimes a dictionary and nearly always the invaluable input of a commentary or two).  In the case of Broken Glass Park, however, I never felt I was reading in translation.  Props to translator Tim Mohr.
  • Getting this book in the post.  I do not often get new books at all, let alone as delightful treats through the post.  If I can get them used I do it, as I am an impoverished receptionist trying to decide on a Life Plan.  Still, there’s nothing like new books, with their shiny covers and sharp corners.  I was surprised at how excited I was when this one arrived.

What I did not like:

  • You saw this coming: Violence against women. It upsets me.  After finishing this book, I had a nightmare that a guy broke into my apartment and was just engaged in bashing up the mirrors in my bathroom when I woke up and confronted him.  I noticed I was dreaming, tested it by flicking the light switches to see if it changed the light levels in the room (it didn’t), and then went right on having the nightmare.  This was my second unsatisfactory experience of lucid dreaming in two nights.  I was led to believe that if I learned to dream lucidly, I would be able to have whatever sort of a dream I wanted.  I feel like instead of having a scary dream where I tried to figure out ways to get to my car and push the intruder down the stairs, I should have been able to start having a delightful dream where I traveled back in time and met Oscar Wilde and went to Greece and Rome with him and gossiped about the Theban Band.  So, not good.  The violence against women (Sascha herself as well as her mother) was not excessive, nor extensively described, but it upset me anyway.
  • Along the same lines: Sascha’s predictably self-destructive behavior.  It didn’t ring false or anything.  It just made me sad.
  • This one thing that happened with Volker.  Volker is a kind newspaperman who takes Sascha under his wing and takes care of her.  She becomes fast friends with his son Felix, and then THIS THING HAPPENS.  This thing happens that I can’t stand!  It felt out of character for Volker.  I wanted him to be lovely, but I couldn’t actually like him, because there was this thing.  I could not work out what Sascha’s feelings on the matter were, and the whole episode was jarring.

The Volker thing threw the whole rest of the book (until the end) off-kilter for me.  Still, I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I am with the writing and then translating of Sascha’s voice.  I love it when authors (and translators) can make first-person narrations work this well.  (Muriel Barbery, take note.) (Monsters of Men, wish you were here.)

Have you reviewed this too?  Let me know and I will add a link!

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20 thoughts on “Review: Broken Glass Park, Alina Bronsky (translated by Tim Mohr)

  1. I love when translations work well.

    And lucid dreaming…yeah. I’ve done some experiments with that too. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it works exactly as you describe. Hrm.

    • So sometimes it does work like I could travel back in time and hang out with Oscar Wilde, if I wanted to? I mean, if I keep on lucid dreaming, that might be on the horizon?

      *really wants to have a dream of hanging out with Oscar Wilde*

      • Um…more like you can control the dream after you go in it. Like once I was in this horror film of a dream and a girl pulled a knife on me in a locked room. And I told myself to turn around, and when I would turn back to her, the dream would transform from horror to something kind. I did, and when I turned back, she no longer had a knife and she was my best friend.

    • Oo, really? Will you tell me stories to the FTC’s discredit? It would be nice if I didn’t have to feel guilty every time I accidentally excoriated them. :)

  2. I haven’t even heard of this book, but I really agree that translations make HUGE amounts of difference. And a translation that sounds like it could be in the original language is a real treat.

    • I’m wondering if it’s to do with the languages things are translated from. Because I get on fine with (a lot of) French books translated, and same for Latin, but I have read virtually no books translated from Spanish or Russian that I’ve enjoyed. Don’t know if I’ve tried any other German writers though.

  3. That is so funny – I am ALWAYS having to check whether I want to see FTC or FCC – I think it’s in the same location in my brain as east and west, which always come out backwards!

    I love your review – the good points sound very compelling, but I know what you mean about violence against women sort of making the book into anathema. I get nightmares too!

    • Yeah, the FCC and the FTC. It’s too confusing. I mean they are both government entities! How am I supposed to keep them straight? George Eliot and Thomas Hardy are another problem for me. I am always saying the wrong one.

  4. Anytime I think about orphans, I think of that crazy movie, Orphan, with that crazy little girl and all that crazy stuff that crazily happened. Ohh, haunting my nightmares.

    • Oh, I heard about that movie. I know the secret. I like finding out the endings to films I wasn’t planning to watch, because then I can say, Pfft! Sounds ridiculous! My decision to avoid is was totally correct!

  5. I really liked this review style! I think I may steal it and use it incessantly.

    Hmm. The good bits sound very good, but the bad bits sound very bad. I’m torn as to whether I’d want to give this a go.

    • Indeed? Maybe I will use it more often. I do like making lists.

      I am glad I read it, because it gave me (probably false) hope that I can enjoy books in translation. My most frequent problem with books in translation is that I have difficulty identifying with the characters, like the translation is standing in between me and them. That emphatically was not the case here (hooray). The violence, I would say, was neither graphic nor pervasive. But it made me uncomfortable anyway. I have a low tolerance.

  6. There are authors just can’t resist having certain characters do that THING. (If its the thing I think it is, which is jumping into bed with no prior warning. If it’s not, let’s just say anything kind of scuzzy and wildly out of character.)

    Iris Murdoch is a notable culprit; otherwise I have the greatest respect for her. It usually happens 3/4 through the book. I wonder if it doesn’t go like this: “Ho hum. I’m bored with these people. They need to do something to ramp up the emotional intensity I no longer feel on their behalf, so I can find my way to the next stage of the plot.”

    • Er, spoilers ahead, so if you didn’t actually want to know what the THING was, then don’t carry on reading. :P

      They don’t actually jump into bed. Volker acts really protective of Sascha and offers her a rescue if she needs it. So she takes him up on it, goes to stay with him and his son, and she sleeps with his son. Then the son gets very sick, and when Volker and Sascha come back from hospital, Volker like jumps on her and they make out. But they don’t (unless I’m remembering incorrectly because it displeased me so much) have sex. I hated it because I didn’t want him to be taking advantage of her! Why must everyone be taking advantage of her?

  7. Jenny, darling, if you’re going to grumble about the FCC, shouldn’t you do it properly, in words that you would not be allowed to say on TV?

    …and now my head is running over with all the first amendment cases regarding this that I memorized last semester.

  8. Jenny, thanks for your very insightful and all-round lovely review of B.G.P. Thanks especially for your mention of the translation. Tim is a remarkable young translator and he did such an extraordinary job with Alina Bronsky’s book! It’s really pleasing when his hard work and talent are noted.

    best
    Michael Reynolds
    Editor in Chief
    Europa Editions

    • Thanks for stopping by! Tim Mohr deserves all the credit in the world for doing such a great job. And, er, I know I’ve just said I have trouble with translations, but I really appreciate y’all putting out all these translated books. I think it’s amazing that we can have access to works by authors from around the world.

  9. Pingback: Learning A New Culture « Solitary Spinster

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