Novellas in Translation Week: The Kids Are Not Alright, Melchor & Usami #NovNov22

To round off Novellas in Translation Week, I’m posting two mini reviews of two novellas in translation both featuring teenagers struggling with their everyday lives and going to drastic ends to try and improve their situations.

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes

Paradais is by turns depressing and impressive, blistering and terrifying. Set in Veracruz, it follows Polo, a gardener in a posh gated community who works all day and spends his evenings getting drunk with Franco, who lives in the complex with his grandparents. Polo cannot stand Franco, but puts up with him for free booze and to escape the suffocating atmosphere at home, where he lives with his badgering mother and pregnant cousin who flirts with him incessantly. He adores his cousin Milton, who has recently joined a narcos gang, and wants to try to get in on some of the action, seeing it as the only way out of his situation.

His life goal was to get the fuck out of there, earn some cash, be free, goddammit, free for once in his fucking life…

Francois overweight, lonely, addicted to porn and is sexually obsessed with Marián Morena, a glamourous older woman who lives in the housing complex, with her TV personality husband. So, when Franco concocts a plan to play out his fantasies in real life, Polo sees an opportunity to get some money, acquire some kudos with the narcos gang and find a way out of Paradais. He readily agrees, not believing that Franco is capable of violence. As Melchor introduces the outline of their ill-advised scheme, a sense of dread takes hold of the narrative, driving it towards an inevitable devastating conclusion.

Paradais is told in long, serpentine sentences and paragraphs and filled with harsh profanity and vicious misogyny, which makes it an extreme, often nightmarish read. It feels like Melchor is almost daring her reader to keep looking, keep reading, despite her best efforts to disgust. Sarah Hughes’ translation work is quite stunning, managing to capture the essence of Melchor’s rough vernacular. What is most striking is that this is not an exploitative book. This is how her characters talk, how they behave and despite the growing distaste for them, Melchor is never condescending.

Despite the violence and the depravity, she still manages to convey the fact that Polo is both a victim of the society he lives in, with its rigorous class constraints, and an agent of cruelty within it. Paradais is a vivid, pitiless novella that is both deeply disconcerting and incredibly brave, but not for the fainthearted.

Idol, Burning by Rin Usami, translated by Asa Yoneda

I bought Idol, Burning on the strength of Susan’s review at A Life in Books and I wasn’t disappointed. This intense novella focuses on Akari, a young Japanese high school student who has a difficult home-life, struggles at school (there are hints of potential undiagnosed dyslexia) and finds everyday life anxiety inducing. She pours all her energy into her obsession with Masaki Ueno, a member of the pop band Maza Maza. He is her ‘oshi’ (literally ‘push’ in Japanese) and she has a dedicated blog about him, transcribes all his utterances and interviews into a series of binders and works all the shifts she can at a local restaurant in order to attend concerts and buy every item of merchandise she can, relating to her oshi.

When news breaks that Masaki has hit a fan and an online backlash ensues, Akari finds herself unmoored and increasingly unable to face a life without her oshi.

When it came to my oshi, I wanted to offer him everything I had. “I’ll give you everything” sounds like a line from a cheap romance drama, but his existence and my witnessing of it were all I asked for.

This novella, punctuated by blog posts and internet comments, explores the dark side of teenage fandom culture with a sharp intensity. Akari’s obsession is fatalistic and extreme, and Usami’s prose (skilfully translated by Yoneda) portrays it and the hold it has on her fragile psyche artfully and with a heartrending poignancy. Her fandom has become a coping mechanism for a lonely, misunderstood life and while the intensity of the fandom might at times seem outlandish, Usami also depicts how that intensity is preyed upon by promoters and executives as a way to extract more money from young girls.

The novella length suits Akari’s story perfectly, bringing the reader into her tortured but single-minded thought process and the wonderfully ambiguous ending is much more satisfying than it first appears.

Novellas in November novels in translation

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

16 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Both sound powerful in their portrayals in their own way. I too, was convinced by Susan’s review to want to read Idol and yours adds to it. Paradias sounds compelling but I’m wondering if it’d be too disconcerting for me.

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  2. Melchor sounds like a terrific writer, but I don’t think I could read Paradis due to the subject matter…’depressing and impressive, blistering and terrifying’ seems spot on in terms of your description. Have you read Hurricane Season? I’m wondering how that compares…

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    • I haven’t read Hurricane Season Jacqui, but I have a copy. I’ll be interested to see what it’s like. I think Paradais worked because it was short, any longer and I think she may have lost the reader.

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