book review: Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes

Translated from Spanish by Adriana V. Lopez

The basics: Waiting for Robert Capa is the story of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, two photojournalists covering the Spanish Civil War.

My thoughts: This novel has all of the elements you think I would love: characters based on real people, journalists, and a fascinating historical setting. I had such trouble with the writing, however, I could not relax and enjoy the story.

With a translated work, it's hard to criticize the writing. Truthfully, I don't know if it's a translation issue or a writing issue, but this novel suffered from two of my biggest pet peeves in writing. The singular/plural noun disagreement was atrocious. I know English is peculiar, but sentences such as "Each in their own place" and "When you don't have a world to go home to, one has to trust their luck" drive me bonkers. I'm a huge proponent of both gender neutral language and proper grammar; it's possible to do both. Second, and this gripe is even more personal, Fortes frequently used "this" without following with another noun. "This what?" I often scrawl across my student's papers. I like beautiful, strong language with clear antecedents. There were too many sentences that began "This is." It's weak writing, and, again, it's impossible to know if it's the work of Fortes or Lopez.

Perhaps because my students are prone to these very mistakes I found myself especially irked. Many readers will look past the awkward grammar and embrace this story of war and love, but usage problems kept me from engaging with this novel, which is a shame. I wish I could have gotten past the usage issues, but as I read this brief novel I struggled to not pick up my red pen and feel like I was grading papers.

The verdict: I may not be crazy about the book, but I do think it will make a great film because there is a crux of a beautiful, visual story in this novel. Michael Mann is adapting it for the screen, and I'm eager to see it.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: September 27, 2011 (paperback original)
Source: from the publisher via TLC Book Tours

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  1. I am reading a translated book right now (Kafka on the Shore) and am having language issues with it. Kafka doesn't have any erroneous word usage, unless you consider using Dollar instead of Yen when the setting is Japan! But the language is just not lit fiction worthy, I'm not sure how else to describe it. I sometimes feel like I'm reading a YA book and not literary fiction. I can see that I'll struggle with the same thing in the Robert Capa book - I have a crazy tendency to proofread as I read.

  2. Oh how disappointing! Those kinds of things bother me too and will take me away from the story.

  3. I would probably have been yanking out handfuls of hair when reading this one, so I can understand where it would have bothered you. I also wonder if it was just a matter of bad translation, or if it was the author's intent to phrase things in such an awkward way. I am sorry this one didn't work out for you.

  4. I'm starting this one later this week; I've a terrible grasp of grammar so we'll see if I notice and am bothered as much although I do find I get frustrated with problematic translations. Just read a Danish book that felt off to me, and I'm not sure if it was the translation or the story.

  5. Mmm, nope! I could probably not handle those types of annoying writing issues. I'm always curious, too, whether it's a writing or translation issue.

  6. I could see that these kinds of mistakes (especially if you are teacher and hypersensitive to these types of things) could take you right out of the story.

    I imagine it is difficult to translate a book and capture the spirit of the original but still make it work in the new language.

  7. I couldn't even finish the book, so I am glad to see I am not the only one who had issues with the writing style!

  8. I'm sorry the writing was such an issue for you since it seems like the book should have been something you really loved.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts as part of the tour.


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