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This book is like a series of connected vignettes. There isn’t really any plot, just minutely drawn moments in stories that interweave over the course of two months. While some of the writing is beautiful - as other reviewers have pointed out, the use of commas where semi-colons or periods would have been more appropriate was extremely distracting. I could not get immersed in the story because I kept wondering about the editing (or lack thereof).
Some of the passages, especially at the beginning, about the role of an interpreter were fantastic. And the setting of The Hague and the International Criminal Court was very interesting. As an attorney, it bothered me that in one of the story lines, the main character interpreted for both the Court and the defense team during the trial. I kept thinking about all of the conflict of interest issues that situation would raise, and like the grammar problems, it was just another distracting detail that I found made it hard to really enjoy the story.
“Intimacies” Is a deadpan noirish novel set in The Hague, where an unnamed female translator fluent in French and English has a one-year contract at the international court. The tone of the book is set early. Here, for example, is the translator/narrator visiting a friend for the first time:
“As I walked from the tram stop to her apartment, broken glass crunched underfoot. Jana’s building, a modest structure lined with balconies, was wedged between a public housing block and a new condominium of steel and glass.”
While Jana and her guest are having dinner, they hear some noise and some confusion. Eventually we learn what it’s about, and what we learn sets off sort of a subplot. But there are more moments here than plot elements.
As the narrator plods on (and I can’t think of a more attractive word) she meets several men, personally and professionally, and describes her reactions to each. One of the men is a former African dictator, now on trial, and this is the centerpiece around which all resolves.
All in all, the author leaves you with a succession of scenes, impressions if you like (can an Impressionist work be in monochrome?) and everything seems hushed, at a distance, through a mist. You’ll have questions.
Notes and Asides: The author, in order to show the narrator’s haste, or the rapidity of her thoughts perhaps, often ties sentences together with a comma rather than a period. This is obviously deliberate, and to cast blame on the editor is absurd.
As a long time teacher of English, I am very surprised that a book filled with comma splices would be published. Why didn’t her editor take care of these? They are grammatically incorrect and, for me at least, very distracting.
This is the second book I have read written by Kitamura. I also loved the first one, “A Separation.” Some negative reviews here almost blocked me from buying this one, but I’m glad I pushed them aside. Looking back, I can see almost no validity to the criticisms. Her writing is quite sharp and perceptive, often lyrical. The main character struggles with difficult issues in ways that prove illuminating. Kitamura is masterful in her story telling with much that is hinted rather than bluntly stated. I look forward to her next novel.
The author has a gifted way with words. But she disdains punctuation. Commas should not be substituted for semicolons. The jarring effect of repeated errors disrupts the flow and tempo of sentences and undermines the narrative. The reader is also subjected to a format eschewing quotation marks and an unwillingness to use normal spacing for paragraphs. So the effect is that of an arrogant author who seems determined to manipulate the reader. The narrative itself is distant and remote. Highly overrated.
The plot centers on transition, personal and professional. The writing is elegant. It flows without excess words to drag it down. It’s a story of a woman with no place to call home with two powerful male influences who are emotionally complicated. By coming to understand herself more than she understands them, she brings clarity and resolution to her two lives.
This is a novel without a plot. There are 3 distinct subplots but none of these are developed with any level of interest or detail. There is a love story, a little story about a mugging and a story about translating during a trial. But, there is no "story worthy" problem driving the novel forward. No real crisis moments. No instigating events.
The novel is quite difficult to read. When the characters speak, no quotations marks are used making it difficult to discern from the narration. Sentences are very long run-ons, many over 50 words.
The only reason that I gave it two stars rather than one is that I once visited the International Palace of Justice and I found the description of the mechanics around how interpreters work to be interesting. Also, the book is very short. So, while it is difficult to read, the pain of reading it doesn't last very long.
"Intimacies”, by Katie Kitmura, is the story of an unnamed first-person narrator who has come to The Hague to be an interpreter for the International Criminal Court, which hears the dark cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. (Imagine translating atrocities all day!)
In the six months since she arrived in the Netherlands, the interpreter has acquired a Dutch boyfriend, Adriaan, who has children and is separated from his wife. And she has acquired a friend, Jana, who is a bit enigmatic. Are the “intimacies” that the interpreter experiences with these characters, truly what they seem? A first-person narration assumes some intimacy with the reader…but are we “interpreting” her correctly?
At one point the narrator opines “…none of us are able to really see the world we are living in…we live in a state of I know but I do not know.” Is the interpreter correctly interpreting her own situation?
This is an atmospheric, psychological, often disquieting novel. The interpreter seems to be straightforwardly narrating what is happening in her life, but we suspect she is not a reliable narrator, we suspect that something is going on of which she herself (and maybe the reader as well) is not yet aware.
The Hague, is not a place I know much about. Nor did I know much about the International Courts. I did some internet searching to see photos and descriptions of the city and the Courts, which I highly recommend.
I found the various storylines rather dull. The moral dilemmas were mundane. The relationships she experienced were superficial, almost pointless in the telling. It is like being in someone's head and experiencing their every random thought in too much detail with no actual purpose for the reader. The setting was the only intriguing aspect of the book but even that was not flushed out enough for me.
I cannot fathom the high praise. The novel is quite thin, the narrator deeply uninteresting (though, of course, perceptive, intelligent, etc.) Imitation Teju Cole, who is, to some extent, imitation Sebald? The prose is unremarkable and the engagement with the plight of the translator and human rights quite void of new insight. You would find much more in, say, Antjie Krog’s Country of my Skull. I was interested in teaching this book in my Global Novel course, so I made it through... But really, rather read Aminatta Forna’s The Hired Man, a work with great poetic power, or even Le Carre’s Mission Song, if these themes are of interest.