May 2008

English translation by Sonia Soto.

This is a weird book. It pretends to be an old Greek manuscript written in the Ancient times. At the same time, we are introduced to the fictional translator who is apparently translating a modern version of the original Greek. This fictional translator also seems to be able to work without dictionaries or colleagues to seek advice from. *

The detective story is set into Ancient Athens during the time when Plato was teaching in his Academy. A young man, who was one of the students at the Academy, is found dead. It looks like he had been killed by wolfs who had eaten his heart. Heracles Pontor, the Decipherer of Enigmas, sees the body and apparently sees something strange in it. However, the readers aren’t told what that is until much later.

The young man, Tramachus, had been the only male in his immediate family and so his mother and sister have been left in a difficult position. Tramachus’ mother had been Heracles’ sweetheart in their youths but their families had arranged different marriages for them. So, the meeting between Heracles and Tramachus’ mother, Itys, is awkward.

Tramachus’ teacher at the Academy, Diagoras, asks Heracles to look into the youth’s death. Heracles is at first reluctant because he solves only written riddles. However, he agrees to look into the death but on his own terms. Diagoras wants to help Heracles and the Decipherer agrees.

They go together from person to person and place to place, and find out increasingly disturbing things about Tramachus who is supposed to have been a virtuous young man. It turns out that he has been seen a hetaera, a prostitute, and has been involved with an old sculptor who is known to be a hedonist and an unvirtuous person.

Then another young man dies. Euneos, who was Tramachus’ friend and also a well-liked and virtuous student at the Academy, seems to have drunk too much wine, put on a woman’s clothes and then stabbed himself repeatedly. However, Hercules notices almost immediately that the stab wounds on the body and in the cloths don’t match. He and Diagoras continue their investigation with renewed vigor.

Hercules is the main point-of-view character but the writing is omniscient rather than limited to the POV of the characters. However, that is probably because of the eidetic messages in the book. The pace seems quite slow at times but the mystery and the story lines are engaging the whole time. However, the eidetic images do distract from the story – just as they are supposed to do.

The second story line in the book is that of the fictional translator whose story is seen in the translator’s notes. He’s never named and the languages used aren’t named either except for the original language which is Greek. During the first chapter he notes that the book has eidetic images and symbols. He seems to be translating an earlier translation of the original text. He has never seen the original text. The earlier translator, Montalo, is a respected translator but seems to not have noticed the eidetic images even though he is reputed to be an expert in the field of eidetic texts. This book’s translator comments on the images he finds and tells about the conversations he has with other people about the translation. Then one night he is convinced that someone has broken into his house and changed the text. Yet, he continues the translation. He even starts to see himself in the text.

The eidetic images are a big part of the book especially in the end so anyone expecting a normal mystery story is probably going to be disappointed. Otherwise, it’s an excellent book.

*Just to be perfectly clear: the way that the fictional translator works in completely fictional: I don’t know any translator who would have started to translate a book without first reading it. Yet, this translator seems to be surprised by the events in the book and clearly has never read the end of the book. Now, a translator could work like that but I’m fairly certain that tactic would actually result in a lot of wasted effort. It’s really good to know what is and is not relevant. Not to mention that the translator would likely have to have read the book to know what to charge and how much time it would take.

Also, no translator’s notes could ever be like the ones in this book. No publisher would agree to leave in a lowly translator’s opinions of the philosophies in the book or the writing style; those are for the readers to figure out themselves. Details about the translator’s conversations (even if they are about the book s/he’s working on) or love life would certainly never be put into translator’s notes! And the traumatic events that the translator goes through later in the book would have been put into a separate book or more likely a newspaper article and not in the translated book.

Also, he doesn’t seem to have a publisher. When he starts to suspect that the text has been changed, he should have contacted the publisher. Or maybe this is his master’s degree translation or something. But even so, if the validity of the original text is in doubt that should be figured out first before continuing the translation! If you want to know how it ends, just read the rest. Then again, I suspect that the fictional translator doesn’t work in out world but in a parallel or alternate universe.

Booking Through Thursday

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well…)

I haven’t really thought about that before. But to me reading is reading written words no matter where they are: prose, poetry, subtitles, in a book, on a screen. Comics straddle the line between reading and looking at pictures and I tend to think that comics should have more pictures than words (otherwise, what’s the point?). Listening to an audiobook is just that: “listening”. I’ve noticed that I can’t concentrate all the time to listening as much as I have to concentrate on reading.

However, I don’t consider reading books to be “better” than looking at comics or reading subtitles.

In the fourth Amelia Peabody book Ramses in eight and the family returns again to Egypt. This time Emerson has managed to get at Dahshoor. However, shortly after coming to Cairo, the Emersons run into Kalenischeff who was a flunky of the chief villain in the previous book. Kalenischeff has attached himself to a wealthy heiress, Ms Debenham, and Amelia is convinced that he is running some sort of scam.

However, Emerson insists that they continue quickly to the excavation site. Before they have time to do so, however, Ramses is kidnapped and is saved by a mysterious man. He turns out to be an English drug addict so naturally the tender hearted Emersons hire him to watch Ramses. Also, Kalenischeff is murdered into Ms Debenham’s bed and the girl is missing. Amelia is convinced that the Master Criminal from the previous book is behind both of these events.

The Emersons leave for Dahshoor but they aren’t left alone for long. Among their baggage they find, to their astonishment, the sacramental vessels which were stolen from a Coptic Church nearby in the previous year. Also, soon they find a fainting girl on the desert. Emerson believes that she is one of Petrie’s assistants but Amelia suspects that she is actually the missing Ms Debenham.

I liked this book more than the previous ones (or maybe Emerson is finally growing on me!). It’s very humorous, especially the absurd ending.

Another of my reviews: Diana Pharaoh Francis’ the Cipher.

Four and a half starts from five.

Booking Through Thursday

Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

Yes, of course books and movies are different. Movies concentrate on the visual and are usually far more fast paced. Books can delve into a character’s inner thoughts and character development. Of course, not all books do that, either. But books lack the visual aspect completely. A writer can describe places and characters and a character’s movement or clothing but the impact isn’t the same. And as many others have pointed out in this respect reading a book is more intimate and leaves more to the imagination of the reader.

This is the second book of the adventures of Lord Meren and his adopted son Kysen set in the reign of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Unas, a humble priest of Amun is late one evening and he overhears two men plotting terrible things in the temple. Frightened, he tries to hide in a storage room but manages to find bowls which frighten him even more. In his fear, he breaks one of the bowls and takes the shards with him. In his house he burns the shards much to his wife’s consternation. He tries to talk with Lord Meren who is the Eyes and Ears of Pharaoh but his courage fails and he flees. Then he is pushed down from the high, new statue of Pharaoh.

Unas’ supervisor priest wants to just keep the matter quiet but the head carpenter takes the matter forward and it reaches Lord Meren. Because Pharaoh’s new statue is also a political statement against the growing power of the priests, Meren sends his son to investigate.

Kysen finds out that the priest had been behaving a bit oddly a few days before his death but can’t find any evidence that it’s a murder. But when a scribe is killed by no fewer than five cobras which have been left in his satchel, Kysen and Meren have to investigate. This angers the high priests of Amun who have just started to recover from the reign of the infamous Pharaoh Akhenaten who had displaced all of Egypt’s traditional gods in favor of the sun god Aten. Meren must proceed with caution so that he wouldn’t tip the precarious balance of power between the 14-year old Pharaoh and the priests. The matter isn’t made easier by Meren’s cousin Ebana who blames Meren for the death of his family at the hands of Akhenaten. Ebana is one of the high priests of Amun.

Meanwhile a group of Tutankhamun’s oldest friends returns to the palace from a diplomatic mission. They seem to be content and happy men but under the surface many of them bear a grudge towards someone in the royal family. Some of them are Tutankhamun’s half brothers and soon there are rumors that the boy is too young to rule.

I liked Robinson’s second book even more than the first. This book has more characters but they are also more entertaining. I enjoyed especially the easy camaraderie between the group of young men and the both sides of Tutankhamun: the teenager and the ruler.

This book had more political elements than the previous one, too.

Booking Through Thursday

Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?

Do you ever read manuals?

How-to books?

Self-help guides?

Anything at all?

I usually at least skim a manual and read the points which are relevant right now. If I can’t make it work, I might even return to the manual later.

I’ve read some gardening books if those count as as how-to books? But now I don’t have a garden and I so I don’t read them. I read the occasional book about writing or teaching dogs but not much else in this category. I don’t think I’ve ever read a self-help book. I didn’t even read any of the recommended books on how to write an MA dissertation.

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