Sunday, 24 June 2012

Smilla's Sense of Snow - #9

This is one of those books I hope so much that the author did their homework and therefore all the interesting facts I learnt are true. This book at times is like reading a science textbook, but an interesting one, that has a murder mystery behind it. Maybe our educators could learn something from that (although as is the way with most "educational initiatives" there would be a 97% chance that they would make it incredibly lame).

This book spends half it's time in Copenhagen and then the other half either in Greenland from memories or actuality, or travelling to Greenland. I have therefore counted it (maybe in a slightly dodgy way) as a read for both countries. Coming from the humidity and heat of the Solomons to the icy chill of Denmark and Greenland in winter, suited my switch from Singapore back to icy Canberra.

The book was interesting and had a good pace to it. It did have some twists in it that you felt like you knew exactly what was going to happen in the build up, and then it threw you in a different direction. The writer had the lovely Scandinavian way of not patronising you, of taking you on a journey but allowing you to work things out for yourself along the way. I am beginning to *love* this way of writing as a wonderful refreshing change. And the ending was unlike any English book I had read before, which was infuriating but kinda cool.

Gripes. My English translation was titled "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow". I hate it. Smilla's Sense of Snow has this beautiful ring to it and conveys the meaning perfectly and concisely. The Miss is completely useless and redundant and is only there to let sexist English speakers know the gender of the protagonist. I bet that there are people who have put it down because of the Miss, or picked it up because of it, or gone "Oh thank you publisher for explaining this ridiculous foreign name to me on the cover as I am too stupid to pick it up in the first couple of sentences". Why does gender matter? Argh!

Also, and this is because I am the victim of my Australian upbringing, if it is an English translation could you please translate the German as well as the Danish. Place names were not translated thank god (overtranslations are sometimes worse!), and the Greenlandic words weren't translated but explained. The Swiss cook however spoke entire sentences in German which had important plot points in them without them being explained in English. I know that it was trying to portray him as an other, but you could say the German and then get him to translate it into English or something. Google translate and I formed a close relationship over the last few days, and I now know enough German (of words I memorised in order to not look them up again) to say "I am not a Swiss clock." Useful.

Lastly and most importantly, there were two sentences that nearly made me hate the book. They were jarring and not written like the entire rest of the book. They were unnecessary and I just don't know what happened. Either the author or the translator had a massive brain fart, and it really bugs me. I would be interested in knowing if anyone else had this feeling when they read this book. But these two sentences turned me from about to exclaim to my Mum from the back of the car that she had to read this book, to going nope, no way if this is what the rest of the book is like. Luckily, it wasn't and I will recommend it to her again, but with this disclaimer. Where the hell was the editor is what I want to know.

But besides these things, and the fact that it went on longer than I thought entirely necessary however I still very much wanted to read it, it was a great book. I am slightly cold still after finishing it, and have an overwhelming wish to travel to Greenland. 4 stars!

Next: To Chile to warm up with Zorro


  1. I have this on my shelf! I ended up with three Denmark books, whoops. I am interested in this "Scandinavian way" you mention, and while I haven't noticed it in particular, most of the Scandinavian lit I've read has been crime fiction. I'm curious to read it with that idea in mind.

    I also think a translator can make or break a book. I'm in the middle of The House of the Spirits and have a friend who is looking up some things in the original Spanish version for me. The translator, rather than just describing things like food and clothing, tried to find an equivalent that English speakers would be familiar with. It results in this sense of place that just doesn't quite work, because they seem so English! Anyway, it sounds like it only stuck out in small ways, so I'm looking forward to reading this.

    1. I was thinking about a couple of Denmark reads (which I will probably just read later). However a friend of mine who is Danish recommended this one to me as her favourite Danish book when I put the call out on my facebook for international reads for this challenge. How could I argue with that?

      I'd be interested if you have the same reaction I did, especially if you have a different translation. I keep on meaning to ask my friend what it says in the Danish. Otherwise it's a great translation.

      Is your House of Spirits translated by Allende herself or another person? I should check mine. I saw your group read thread with the translations of cakes, and thought that would annoy me to. I wonder if I even noticed it when I read it 8 or so years ago...