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My first book for Women in Translation Month in August is ‘Barakamon‘ by Satsuki Yoshino. I got it as a birthday present from one of my favourite friends. I read the first part of this multiple volume Manga comic series which has been translated by Krista Shipley and Karie Shipley.

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Barakamon tells the story of a young twenty-something calligrapher, Seishuu Handa. He is successful though he is young, having won many awards for his work. But he loses it when an elderly man criticizes his work and Handa knocks this critic down. Overnight, he becomes a person to be avoided by the calligraphy community. To recover from this, he takes a break and moves to an island. He thinks that the island will be calm and he can practice calligraphy in peace till things become better at home. Unfortunately, he hasn’t reckoned with the islanders. They are curious and intrusive, they walk into his home whenever they feel like it and he discovers that some children have established a base at his home for hanging out and playing games. This annoys him no end and disturbs his peace. But gradually he warms up to the islanders, because they have big hearts and help him when he is in need. Naru, a young girl who is in elementary school, becomes his best friend, always hangs out at his place and is his guide to the ways of life is the island. The experiences and adventures that Handa and Naru have, form the rest of the book.

I loved ‘Barakamon‘ for the way it contrasted city life and island life through the eyes of Handa. I also loved the charming island characters. My favourite character was Naru – she was really cool and awesome, always smiling and always upto something. There were no bad characters in the story and there were no black-and-white situations, and this made the story very realistic, which I loved very much.

In some places I found the translation odd – for example one of the characters said ‘Sonny‘ and many of the characters said ‘Yer‘. I am sure they did not speak that way in Japanese. But there was a note at the end of the book which said that people in that island spoke a dialect which was different from the Japanese spoken in cities and because the translators wanted to highlight that, they used words like this. I was happy to read that explanation, because it shone light on the challenges of translating dialect from one language to another.

I was also reading a Manga comic after a long time and it was an interesting experience to read from the back to the front and read the graphic panels and the dialogues from the right to the left. It annoyed me no end at the beginning, and I frequently found myself reading it the ‘wrong’ way, but at some point I got used to the Manga way and it was fun.

I loved the first part of ‘Barakamon‘. I can’t wait to read the second part.

Have you read ‘Barakamon‘? What do you think about it? Do you like Manga comics?

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