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Translated accounts
Kelman, James, 1946-
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Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2001.
Physical Description:
322 pages ; 22 cm
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Translated Accounts, James Kelman's first novel since the Booker Prize-winning How late it was, how late, is a groundbreaking and verbally dazzling vision of an unnamed nation under military rule, where the state is unchecked and liberties are few or nonexistent.

Through fifty-four "accounts" by an unknown number of unidentified individuals, translated from an unknown language into sometimes only approximate English, a harrowing narrative develops. Here is life in a totalitarian land, where privacy is nonexistent and existence unstable at best. Filtering the dark visions of Franz Kafka through the verbal brilliance of Samuel Beckett, Kelman has written a novel that is often shocking, yet surprisingly poignant, and totally unforgettable.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Booker Prize-winner Kelman, known for taking literary risks, departs from his native Scotland and Scots dialects to provide a literary collage of a land repressed by martial law. This is not the vivid portrait that might be expected from a writer who loves language, as Kelman deliberately mutes his presentation through translation. These 54 accounts, ranging from a single paragraph to 15 pages, are pieces of narrations, reports, letters, and interviews from several individuals, translated with varying degrees of skill into English. Translation flattens the differences between voices, which are from men in different stations in the state, and they combine to describe a climate of state-inspired terror perpetuated by "authoritys" and "securitys" in which there are disappearances, rape, mutilation, torture, murder--and sexual encounters, because life still goes on. Both the fragmentary nature of the accounts and the awkwardness of the translations filter the vividness of events and require the reader to work hard on some passages. Kelman has clearly labored to execute his intriguing concept, and selective readers will give it the effort demanded. --Michele Leber

Publisher's Weekly Review

Scottish writer Kelman, author of the Booker Prize-winning How Late It Was, How Late, here offers up a novel that is like a test case of Adorno's famous phrase, "to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." Adorno meant that, in the service of mass murder, language had cut itself off from its emotional base, the affection that precedes communication. In Kelman's novel, language is deprived of both its beauty and its grammar, and studded with ugly political jargon and neologisms. A note at the beginning explains that the "accounts" that make up the book are narrations of incidents "transcribed and/or translated into English, not always by persons native to the tongue." The accounts are testimonies from some unspecified killing field, with elements reminiscent of Rwanda, Yugoslavia and even the Cultural Revolution in China. In "sections," which are, presumably, holding areas, enemies of some kind are processed. Women and men are beaten, raped and murdered. People are under observation by "securitys," foreign observers interact with suspicious locals and bodies strew the landscape. Resistance cells, or "campaign formations," engage in self-criticism sessions. The unnamed narrators emerge and vanish in a haze of broken English, through which we glimpse a man in a transit area or camp, a resister and a man who may be with the government securitys, as well as others. The language has an ugly, gears-jamming feel to it, with sentences pieced together like: "All concentration now was on this demonstration, fully placed to the elderly man whose role so was primary." Kelman's experiment ultimately fails, since exhausting and desensitizing the reader does not necessarily lead to insight into the nature of state-sanctioned atrocity. Admirers of How Late It Was, How Late will appreciate what Kelman is trying to do in his newest novel, but even they may find it close to unreadable. (Oct. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Kelman's new novel takes place in an unnamed, vaguely European country in the present or not-too-distant future in the midst of what may or may not be a war. Moving through a landscape that appears increasingly bombed out as the book progresses, the unnamed narrator (or possibly, narrators) seem(s) to be involved in some sort of underground group opposing the country's totalitarian rulers. Ostensibly, these fragmented chapters are a series of first-hand accounts collected by another country's foreign office and roughly translated into English (or so the back cover blurb of the book says; there's nothing in the text itself, other than perhaps the title, to indicate this). Episodic by their very nature, these accounts have a shadowy, dreamlike quality that often makes it difficult to determine the actual truth of events described. Eschewing traditional plot, characterization, and dramatic structure, Kelman's experimental antinovel is a tour de force of a sort, but one that will lose all but the most dedicated readers long before its conclusion. For academic literary collections. Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.