Being read to isn’t only for children. If you, like me, work closely with complicated texts all day, however much you love reading, it can feel like an effort on workday evenings. But great world literature is just within earshot.
For a smaller language, radio might be the only access you have. After last week’s Nobel win, Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl has sold out in Finland, and though libraries here are wonderful, the waiting lists for it are huge. But it’s on national radio in translation by Marja-Leena Jaakkola.
A bigger language like English often doesn’t bother with other people’s stories if they have to be translated (not much more than 3% of the time). The BBC’s Reading Europe is a glorious exception. This week five writers show us round their favourite bookshops to give a snapshot of the society written on its shelves.
I’m half way through listening to Zygmunt Miłoszewski’s Entanglement in Antonia Lloyd Jones’ translation, and I’m gripped. When Henryk Telak seeks refuge and psychotherapy in a monastery, he ends up both committing suicide and murdered. The dramatisation is good: it makes effective use of “this is the BBC” news reports to get you up to speed with a web of intrigue in modern Warsaw, where post-communist and church powers are still very much at play and “everyone is pretending to be someone else”. Find part 1 on iPlayer now; part 2 is out next Sunday at 3pm UK time.
You wouldn’t think that a comedy about Hitler would be a hit in Germany, but it was. Timur Vermes’ Look who’s back is a new take on the Goodbye Lenin theme, in Jamie Bulloch’s translation. Hitler wakes up in 2011 Berlin and he hasn’t aged a bit, but his compatriots have changed, and see him as a figure of fun. The Turkish newspapers at the kiosk make him suspect an Ottoman takeover, and is that really “the chancellor, a dumpy woman who has all the charisma of a weeping willow” on TV?
“People don’t want to read when they don’t know what will happen tomorrow” says Elif Shafak, delving into an Istanbul bookshop. She might be right: but they still have stories to tell, and Reading Europe is a great place to start listening.