Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

"Beyond the Rice Fields" Giveaway Winners!

Happy Friday, all! We had two signed copies up for grabs of Beyond the Rice Fields, by Naivo, translated by yours truly, published by Restless Books. Please give a hearty congratulations to our two winners:

Twitter entrant @ritualgibberish
Blog commentator Christiana

I'll be contacting both of you shortly to get your mailing addresses!

Beyond the Rice Fields_cover.jpg

And THANK YOU to everyone who commented and spread the word! If you're interested in purchasing your very own copy of the book, you can, right here.


"Beyond the Rice Fields" Giveaway

I promised it would happen, and here it is! The first couple times I did this, I called it something ridiculous. And tradition must be upheld. Please, prepare yourselves for:

The Third Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual-or-Biennial-or-Monthly-or-Anything-Else A.M.C. Giveaway!

*assorted cheers and trumpets*

 Isn't it pretty??

Isn't it pretty??

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) paperback copy of Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated by yours truly, published by Restless Books, released this month. Each book will be signed by me and inscribed however the winners desire.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel to be translated into English from Madagascar. Without translation, the English-speaking world would have no Naivo, and no Madagascar. In light of this revelation, comment on this post with your favorite non-Anglophone writer, who you'd never have been able to read if it weren't for translation. (Bonus brownie points if you #namethetranslator!)
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #NaivoGiveaway

The Deadline: One week from today! Thursday, December 7, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Friday, December 8. I will then contact the winners for their email and mailing addresses. Anyone with a valid mailing address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: Did I mention this is the first novel EVER to be translated into English from Madagascar? And that it's amazing? (True fact, not my very biased opinion.) That's why.

Good luck to all!

You Can't Please Everyone

Beyond the Rice Fields is out. We've been getting some really nice reviews about it. (And there will be a giveaway coming after American Thanksgiving! Watch this space.)

Reviews are all subjective, though. One person's opinion. And people's opinions can vary wildly. I accept that. It's part of putting creative things out into the world -- no matter how much negative reviews might hurt.

And yet . . . sometimes you have to wonder.

Here's one review in Publishers Weekly. It includes this:

"Naivo’s encyclopedic attempt to capture Madagascar’s history is admirable, but the depth of that portrait comes at the expense of the novel’s characters: they are only fully realized in the novel’s thrilling conclusion, and only then as victims of “the foundational animosities” tearing the island apart. Nevertheless, Naivo provides readers with an astonishing amount of information about Madagascar’s culture and past."

Seems legit.

Here's another review from the Historical Novel Society. It includes this:

"The period of Queen Ranavalona’s horrific reign was one of intensity and violence, and yet for a few occasions near the end of the book, much of the historical context is superficial at best."
"Naivo captures a profound relationship between two people and how vastly our lives and experiences change on our various paths, while also illuminating the Malagasy experience."

Also seems legit.

*record scratch*

Wait. Wait a sec. So, on the one hand, the characters are sacrificed at the expense of the historical context, and on the other, the historical context suffers from the relationship between the characters?

Friends, I have translated a paradox. It seems congratulations are in order. :-P

Hey, at least people are talking about it.

Book 11: In Sickness and In Health

The End of My Career, by Martha Grover
Perfect Day Publishing, 2016

The New Deal (of my books): I'm reading books from my to-read shelf, because darn it, they need to be read. Afterward, I'll write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It is keeping me accountable, and will continue to do so.

Page 58 says this:


I ask my father to read an article about male entitlement and emotional labor.

"Can you just tell me what it says?" he says.

That's it.



"Couches" is an essay about Grover's, as she calls it, "year of suspenseful illness, while I waited to see if the drug worked, while I got slightly sicker and sicker." Several friends gave her keys to their apartments so she could have several couches in several neighborhoods available for her to crash on as her body gave out at various intervals each day. She is "exhausted and dehydrated from bouts of diarrhea from the experimental drug that I injected each morning and night." And yet. The essay closes with this:

"I enjoyed it. That's something I've never told anyone. That year was one of the best years of my life."

What a narrative. What a popping and soothingly different narrative.

Next up: Hi, This Is Conchita, by Santiago Roncagliolo, tr. Edith Grossman

Book 10: Oh, the Humanity

Foreign Gods, Inc., by Okey Ndibe
Soho Press, 2014

The New Deal (of my books): I'm reading books from my to-read shelf, because darn it, they need to be read. Afterward, I'll write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It is keeping me accountable, and will continue to do so.

I’m not generally a very fun person to watch sitcoms with. If something that resembles real life is being depicted, I have a hard time suspending disbelief. Especially when it comes to dumb characters. I just want to sit them down and shake some good, old fashioned common sense into them. Tell them to talk to each other. Just think about this for a minute.

I’m trying to come up with examples of this from sitcoms I’ve seen, but . . . it’s been a really long time.

Okay, so when I was younger, “I Love Lucy” reruns were on all the time. I could not for the life of me imagine how anyone could be that dense. Why would you perform in an opera if you couldn’t sing? Why wouldn’t you put something down to protect your carpet when cutting out a dress pattern, so you didn’t end up with a dress-pattern-shaped swatch of carpet? (I understand that Lucille Ball was a phenomenal comedian. It’s not her. It’s me.)

All this leads me to Ike. Poor, poor Ike.

Ee-kay. Ikechukwu Uzondu, the protagonist of Ndibe’s novel. I just wanted to take him by the shoulders, stare into his eyes, and explain to him how to deal with people. Then I thought, perhaps, that it was just a foreigner’s story, of not knowing how to interact with people in a completely different country, although he’d lived in the US for several years. But no, he has no idea how to be when he returns to Nigeria, either. For a while, I was frustrated.

But there is magic in this book. A bit of confidence here, an action against all odds there, Ike second-guessing his own choices . . . and I understood. I know Ike, I know his dreaming, I know his yearning, I know his feeling stuck. This book is a rare gem, one where I could see the ending coming (well, some of it, anyway), and yet the journey to get there was worth it. This is reality for so many people, coming from a place of nothing, trying to build themselves up, so of course any small mistakes are amplified, and economic factors blow up disproportionately to affect personality traits and expectations of social interactions. This is not a sitcom. Not some ineptitude to laugh at (although there are many humorous parts). But nor is it a sad state of affairs to be pitied. It is just life. In all its messiness and trials and joys.

P.S. Okey Ndibe is a Nigerian-American author. Know his name. Not only to find his books in the bookstore, but also to have someone else to list as a contemporary “African” author besides Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Next up: The End of My Career, by Martha Grover


Back in May, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

I spent a week and a half on my couch. That was all I could do.

I found a therapist. It took all the energy I had over about three days to set up an appointment.

Therapy -- specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT -- is working for me. Working wonders, in fact. Three months later, I started feeling like myself again, like a normal human. Perhaps not fully functional, but appropriately functional.

This isn't just a problem for me. 1 in 7 new moms gets PPD or some other form of postpartum anxiety, and new dads/partners can be affected, too. And contrary to popular belief, PPD can hit anytime in the first two years after your baby is born, not just the first few months. If it hasn't happened to you, you probably know someone who's been affected.

  • Wil Wheaton talks about his depression and anxiety a lot. Start here.
  • Hannah Hart made a video about what depression looks like to her.
  • Rob Loukotka, a friend and kickass artist, has been detailing his struggle with depression and work on Twitter.
  • Fellow dancer and Rochestarian Nicole Peltier has started writing about her own journey to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.
  • Here's PPD 101.

Work has looked really different for me over the past few months. Publicly, not much has actually changed. Sure, my blog went dormant for a little while, but that's happened before. And I was still posting on Facebook sometimes; Twitter, less often, as usual. I was a bit slower to respond to emails, perhaps. (Definitely.) From the inside, though . . . I was in survival mode.

Survival mode means nothing extraneous, nothing that's not absolutely necessary. No blogging. No emails. No pitches. No short stories. No submissions. No taking on new projects. Just pick one thing and make that deadline. (Or don't. Every single one of my deadlines over the summer was adjusted -- generally for several reasons, but my mental health didn't help.)

One thing at a time.

This includes final edits on the most important book I've ever translated.

My expectations for myself had to be radically altered. Expectations of productivity, of the division between work and family and home and personal, have changed drastically. But as I've progressed with my recovery, these altered expectations have actually proved useful. I've learned how to balance the work I want to do with the time I want to spend with my family, so that I don't feel guilty about one while doing the other.

I'm slowly, so slowly, so so slowly, letting go of perfection. This has been the goal for my entire life -- worshiped, idolized, fought and striven for. But practice doesn't make perfect, and perfection is unattainable. We are all human. Me, most of all. Slowly, slowly, self compassion is taking its place. Each day, every one of us does our best. And maybe my best today isn't as good as yesterday's best, or your best. But it's the best we can do. It's the best I can do.

For the past couple of months, I've had these grand plans of how eloquently I would describe living and working with PPD. But it's fracking hard to sit down and type out an announcement to the entire world that you're sick. That something's wrong. That you can't be a diligent worker bee at the moment. It's terrifying to admit that you have depression. I avoided telling people for weeks because of dumb, anxiety-brain reasons. I avoided telling people during the time when I needed the most support. And then it took me even more time to write this for you, my readers, the world, the Internet, to see for the rest of time.

Depression sucks.

But it gets better.

Talking about depression with people means that they talk about it with you. It's been staggering to learn just how many people I know deal with depression or anxiety or both. And it's been equally staggering to realize how many of those people are role models for me, in terms of the work that they produce. So, the realization follows: I can still produce amazing work. I can still be an admirable person. I can still be me.

A friend and colleague of mine has depression, and he's managing it very well. He's explained to me about his "mental colds", those mental health equivalents to getting a cold: you take it easy for a day or few, and you're back to normal in no time. And recognizing that mental colds are a good reason to take it easy can be . . . life-changing.

Depression does suck. But it really really does get better.

In the early stages of therapy -- i.e. once I could actually work again -- I got edits back on a comic book that I'd translated and delivered just as I was sliding into full-on severe PPD, maybe a day or two before I realized I needed help. I appreciate how good of a relationship I have with that editor, because they made only a passing comment on just how many changes they had to make. There were a lot of changes. The translation was awful. Forced, hackneyed, French sentence structures retained in English, several blatant (and easy to spot) mistranslations. Pretty close to the worst thing I've ever produced, very probably the worst thing I've ever delivered to a client.

The most recent graphic novel I did for them earned a separate email of compliments from the head editor. I've still got it.

Looking for help? Try these resources:

Week (or rather, Book) 9: Music and Literature

No, not the magazine, but:

A Greater Music, by Bae Suah
Translated by Deborah Smith
Open Letter Books, 2016

First order of business: Rather obviously, 40 Books in 40 Weeks has become an unattainable goal. I developed some health problems over the summer, which absorbed all my energy and time. This will probably also be the subject of a future blog post, however ironic that seems . . . However, I have kept reading books, and I enjoy sharing my reactions with all of you lovely readers. So, here's the new deal (not the New Deal; I don't have that kind of political power):
I'm reading books from my to-read shelf, because darn it, they need to be read. Afterward, I'll write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It is keeping me accountable, and will continue to do so.

This is the first book of Bae Suah's that I've read, and I intend to read all of them.

This is one of those books that you read not for what happens, but how things happen.

This is one of those books you read for how the narrator views the world.

This is a classical music lover's heaven in literary form.

This is a language learner's trials and tribulations in literary form.

This is being in love with the idea of a person.

This is not knowing if drowning is dying.

This is a small dog regulating your emotional state.

This is family being not the most important thing or preconception in your life.

This is such a better blank narrator for a reader to superimpose themselves on than Twilight.

"The sequence of past, present, and that time we call the future, exists in this successive form only as it appears to the eye. Such a sequence has no real existence in our mental world."

This is humanity.

Next up: Foreign Gods, Inc., by Okey Ndibe

Week 7 & 8: Lots of Strangers in Lots of Strange Lands

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Muddling Through in Madagascar, by Dervla Murphy
Overlook Press, 1989


Okay. Murphy, a travel writer, took a trip to Madagascar over thirty years ago. On the one hand, it's neat to see how the country has changed and evolved since then. But on the other hand . . . frick, this book was hard to get through. There's so much judgment based on tribes, race, "those people". There's so much entitlement of a white person saying "I just want a peaceful, uninhabited trek through nature, so let me just wander across the countryside, spooking all the people there because they equate white people with brutal colonizers." To her credit, at least she tries to puzzle out the reason that she worries more about plants and animals going extinct than people losing their lives and livelihoods.

I don't know. I suppose most people's reasons for travelling, for wanting to see the world, are pretty selfish. Goodness knows I've done my fair share of it. But to then turn around and write a book detailing the "primitive" nature of the different "tribes", playing into the completely incorrect assumptions that certain "tribes" are "more suited to intellectual and managerial work" than others, giving all the credit for technological advances to Westerners, listing out all the wonderful things colonization did for Madagascar, blaming Senegalese troops for the bloodletting in the 1947 rebellion, blaming tourism for many new problems, even saying that city girls who wore European clothes would have looked "so much lovelier" in traditional garb? It's so patronizing. Even racist. Makes my stomach turn.

Anyway. That's why it took me a few weeks to get through this book. But moving on, here are some useful things I learned from it:

  • The Tana-Tamatave train line was not only still running in the 80s, but was the primary method of travel between the two cities, as the Route Nationale I took in a taxi-be was in utter disrepair at the time.
  • Taxi-bes were NIGHTMARES 30 years ago. Health hazards. Torture. Awful, inhumane modes of transportation. But the only option for travel between many parts of the country. Makes me thankful for today's Sprinter vans.
  • Chinese companies had a huge presence in Madagascar in the 80s. I suppose they've all moved on by now due to a lack of precious metals or other valuable resources.
  • One of Murphy's observations was actually quite apt: There's a difference between not having money and being impoverished. Many families or communities who we would consider "poor" had actually been entirely self-sufficient, and are now struggling from being forced into a cash society. If you've never had to earn money before -- if you just work to feed your family and protect your community -- then there's a vast mindset shift to be made to become accustomed to the imposition of existing in a cash-based economy. That is, in fact, one factor that contributes to the poverty across Madagascar.
  • Religious missions still serve a very important purpose across Madagascar (in the 80s as well as today), because in many places, they're the only ones providing education or medical care. The government can't, and there aren't enough NGOs on the ground.

So, what is a travel writer to do? How is the best way to experience everything that a country has to offer, without passing judgment or invading or killing local culture? Who knows. Maybe it's best to have a reason for traveling, to be a scientist or biologist with a specific research project in mind. Maybe it's best to just stick to areas set up for tourists, and avoid bothering the people who don't want to be bothered. Maybe it's best to visit friends and family, have them be your guides.

I don't have the answers. I question all the time whether I just have "white savior" syndrome, whether I'm over-exoticizing the other, whether I'm using a Western system to take advantage of other people. I suppose, at the very least, it's good to keep in mind, to keep struggling with, to keep questioning. Never get complacent.

Also, don't get gout from unknown local alcohol. But that's Murphy's story to tell.


BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! In my struggle to muddle through Murphy's book, I went to the library to pick up the latest volume of:

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Image Comics, 2012 - present


The first hardcover bound volume is a close-up of a baby breastfeeding.

The first page of the first issue is the realest birth I have ever seen in a fiction setting.

THERE ARE NO VILLAINS. At least, not as such. Everyone is a real person, a real complex character with a complex personality and a set of wishes and needs and sometimes that means they are working against other people but it barely even matters if they're working against the main characters or not because they're not really heroes, either.

There are robots. Who have their own kingdom. Who can procreate. WHO HAVE SEX IN THE BOOK.

Six volumes in, one of the characters gets a prison tattoo, and it's just on the cover and it's never mentioned in the story, but it's such a meaningful and sad tattoo that I just sat and looked at it and cried for a bit.

The artist, Fiona Staples, has started getting top billing on many of the issues. Because she's just insanely brilliant, and Image Comics is recognizing that.

If you've never picked up a comic or a graphic novel, if you've always thought it was a medium that just wasn't for you -- and I totally get that, because I never read one until a friend pushed Watchmen into my hands in college, and I had to re-read the first three chapters once I figured out how to wrap my brain around reading in that format -- START HERE. START WITH SAGA. It's the realest story you'll ever read.

If I haven't convinced you yet (really?), here's some more convincing from Buzzfeed, back when the series was first starting.


Next up: A Greater Music, by Bae Suah, tr. Deborah Smith

Week 6: Through Feminism-Colored Glasses

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Collins, 2000

This book made me mad by page 6.

It's a bad one to read directly after feminism is for everybody. The whole meeting in the forest, it's supposed to be mysterious and sexy and yes, a little intrustive, I'm sure. But now I read it differently. Trespasser? Predator? A female would never be called those things. Or maybe it's because the main character in that cycle (there are three separate but interwoven stories) is a cis-hetero female. Who is alone. Attractive to a man. Attracted to a man, without wanting to be. Fine. Whatever.

Except it's not fine.

[Major spoilers coming]

Deanna's entire storyline is how her life has been driven/directed/led/affected forever by men. Her divorce is what pushed her into the Forest Service job on the mountain, alone, content, part of something bigger. That was her choice, but she was forced into a position where she had to make a choice because of her ex-husband. And then she spends the entire summer with a fierce battle raging in her mind because Eddie Bondo (clearly a whole person, because he always gets a last name) doesn't listen to her when she REPEATEDLY tells him to clear off. I mean, the whole idea of "oh come on, you know you want it"? That's disrespectful at best. Perpetuates rape culture at worst. (Seriously. In the workplace, that's considered sexual harassment.)

And then, in the end, she chooses to come down off the mountain, BECAUSE HE KNOCKED HER UP. In her late 40s. She goes back to the world, back to family connections, she's terrified of the dark: "What had changed, when she used to be so fearless? But she knew what had changed. This was what it cost to commit oneself to the living. There was so much to lose." Ugh. She's making her own choice, sure. She chooses to move in with her step-mom who she adores, she chooses to keep the baby, she chooses not to tell Eddie Bondo. But again, she's forced into a position where she has to make these choices because of him.

I enjoyed reading this book. It's gorgeous. Lyrical. I feel like I understand so much more about nature and its cycles now (having never lived off of the land myself). Birds crying for a mate, the beauty of coyotes and other predators in the balance of the ecosystem, chestnut trees fighting to survive. But then there's the idea of sex and reproduction as a search for eternal life among the birds and the bees (and other animals), and . . . something just catches in my stomach.

Well. I can enjoy a book while hating its characters. That's one of the marks of a well-written book. I enjoyed being frustrated to no end by Garnett S. Walker the Third's sanctimonious letters, his equating Unitarians with witches, his cognitive dissonance over pesticides and organic certification. I enjoyed learning with Lusa how to navigate a big family that seemed so inhospitable but was really just trying to hold itself together. I fell in love with coyotes. But the more you learn, the more complications and complexities you discover. In anything.

Next up: Muddling Through in Madagascar, by Dervla Murphy

Week 5: All That Is Known and Unknown

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

feminism is for everybody, by bell hooks
South End Press, 2000

Whoa. I needed this book.

I need this book.

Everyone needs this book.

Like. If you'd asked me if I'm a feminist before, I'd always say "sure", but apparently that was never part of my identity. It should be an integral part. I need to be an active feminist.

Yeah, I'm young, fine, I was born in the late 80s, but I thought I pretty much understood that, "way back when", women started wearing pants and eschewing bras if they wanted to, but I never understood just how much work other women had done on my behalf. How hard they fought. How easily all of this could be taken away. Reproductive rights -- we're still fighting for that. Equal pay -- we're still fighting for that. So how much of what women today enjoy as givens, what we take for granted, might vanish in a poof of conservative patriarchal whimsy?

But at the same time, here's something else I never understood: White Feminism. (Yes, capital W, capital F.) Everything that I've been conditioned to see as the goals of feminism, what we've already accomplished . . . most of that has been for the benefit of white upper-middle class women. Getting into the workforce? Most women in poverty, most women of color, they'd already been in the workforce in the 30s/40s/50s/60s. They'd love to have the freedom and financial flexibility to stay home with their kids. Why did I never consider this before.

And how there's a huge difference in being able to exist and succeed within the current white patriarchal society as a white woman -- being able to succeed in the way that white men have defined -- and completely redefining and restructuring society to be feminist. Friendly to everyone, conducive to everyone's success, whether male or female or both or neither or otherwise.

OK. There's a lot more for me to learn, and a lot more I've already absorbed in the last few years. Here are some other interesting links to consider (which have been helping me a little, so maybe other people will find them helpful, too):

And finally, if I haven't made this clear enough: for anyone who's never read this book before, GO READ THIS BOOK. Go find out who bell hooks is. Go understand why there's so much more to learn.

Next up: Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver